What’s under your feet (or however you get around) is as important as anything when it comes to home. That’s why this fall, we collaborated with The Home Depot on an A to Z guide that’ll give you the confidence to make flooring choices you’ll love. Check out the A to Z handbook here.
Often cast aside as a style that doesn’t offer form and function, laminate is actually a jack-of-all-trades material that deserves serious consideration for your home.
Budget-friendly, hardwearing, and easy to install, laminate is the accessible flooring built to withstand pretty much anything and look good doing it, with plenty of options available at The Home Depot.
First, a few clarifications
Laminate is not the same as engineered hardwood, which has a plywood core and a thin veneer of actual hardwood on its surface (for more on hardwood — engineered and not — visit letter H). Instead, laminate is a type of flooring made up of several layers, detailed below from the bottom up:
- A moisture-repelling base layer, often made from melamine or plastic, that gives the boards stability
- A resin-soaked fiberboard “core” layer, which helps give laminate its signature dent-resistant properties
- A “print” or “design” layer, where a pattern of the material the laminate will resemble — like a hardwood such as oak or natural stone — is placed
- A protective “wear” layer of clear, hard plastic or resin that secures the print layer and coats the top
Thanks to its construction method, laminate’s design options are pretty much endless, from the “pattern” itself to the type of finish that makes it extra durable. Since the planks are pre-finished ahead of installation, there will be no unwelcome surprises about mismatched colors or differences in wood grain when it arrives.
It can stand up to (almost!) anything
Due to its layered method of production, laminate is one of the best materials on the market for high-traffic areas. High-quality laminate can be counted on to stand up to toy spills in living rooms and soccer cleat stampedes in entryways for at least a decade (and often two). However, it’s still important to take into consideration just how much repetitive motion the flooring will see, particularly when it comes to selecting the finish of the top “wear” layer.
The rule of thumb is to save “high gloss” laminate for less-busy spaces, and choose a more forgiving finish — like something low gloss, embossed, or one that’s been “hand-scraped” to look like wood — for places where a dog-and-cat wrestling match might break out.
For additional help in selecting an appropriate product, consult the laminate abrasion class (AC) rating system, which was created in 1994 to help customers understand a certain product’s durability. Numerical rankings range from AC1 (laminate that is suitable for moderate wear, like a guest bedroom) to AC6 (laminate that is suitable for a public space, like a grocery store). Almost all laminates for home use will fall somewhere in between AC1 and AC3, a category of laminate designed for busy residential interiors. Any number above an AC3 is generally uncomfortably hard for normal at-home activities, like walking in socks, and definitely not what you want to feel underfoot when sneaking downstairs for a midnight bowl of ice cream.
Installation is a snap (and lock)
Like most engineered hardwood, the majority of laminate planks are installed using “click-and-lock” technology, interlocking securely atop a previously existing floor or subfloor without using any sort of adhesive, nails, or other agents. (It’s sometimes called a “floating floor” for this reason.) This approachable installation method — in addition to laminate’s reasonable price point — makes it a popular option for people who are on a budget or might want to DIY a flooring upgrade.
“For this kind of floating floor, you need very few tools,” says general contractorJoe Truini. He notes that the tools you do need — like a tapping block to ensure boards are securely set in place — can easily be purchased in a kit. “You might not even need a saw, and could possibly just rent a laminate flooring cutter that looks like a giant paper-cutter guillotine.”
Boards typically come in either 8 millimeter or 12 millimeter thickness, and unless the laminate is made with pre-attached underlayment, a high-quality underlayment is necessary for creating a walking surface that doesn’t feel uncomfortably hard and uncushioned. (Visit letter U to learn more about underlayment.) Generally speaking, thicker laminate is more forgiving in installation, which helps hide any dings or nicks in the subflooring, and feels more like hardwood. It’s also a strong contender for a place where actual hardwood can’t go: basements.
But, notably, it’s best to keep this flooring out of bathrooms and laundry rooms, since the majority of laminate doesn’t stand up well to pooling water.
Play by the rules
This might seem like a no-brainer but, particularly for laminate, do not skip over the manufacturers’ instructions — or risk potentially losing your warranty. This attentiveness doesn’t end after your floors have been beautifully installed by the book. On the contrary, it’s every bit as important, if not more so, for how you tackle cleaning and upkeep over the lifespan of the flooring.
“Laminate floors are more resistant, but that doesn’t mean that they’re bullet proof,” says Carolyn Forte, Good Housekeeping’s Home Appliances & Cleaning Products Director. She notes that most laminate manufacturers recommend specific cleaning products for their floors. “The point is that you don’t want to damage the finish, and you also don’t want to leave a residue, because residue will dull the floor.”