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Laminate Floor Basics

Looks like wood: Weathered Rustic Cherry laminate flooring from Formica.

Laminate flooring mimics the look of traditional woods while offering easy installation and lasting durability. Hallways, foyers and family spaces, bathrooms, and kitchens are all suitable candidates for laminate flooring. Where hardwood floors are forever being protected from sand, spills, and muddy pets, laminates are made to handle the rigors of an active home.

At first glance, it can be difficult to spot the difference between hardwoods and laminate flooring. What appears to be a natural wood grain pattern is really a thin layer of decor paper (a photographic image) under a tough-as-nails protective film that is glued and pressed to a high-density backing board.

Sold under brand names like Formica Flooring, Wilsonart, Armstrong, Pergo, and Quick-Step, the flooring material is made in one of two ways. High-pressure laminate, or HPL, uses a two-step process. First, the decor paper, protective film, and core materials are joined using heat and pressure. These layers are then adhered to a high-density fiberboard backing piece. The second process is called direct laminate, or DL, where all the layers joined in a single pressing. Direct laminates tend to be thinner and work better where transitions between different flooring materials are an issue, like where the laminate floor meets a tile, carpet, or vinyl floor. High-pressure laminates have more layers and glued surfaces, which in some cases provides a more stable material over time.

A Durable Option

Laminate planks from Quick-Step are installed over a moisture barrier, which does double-duty by leveling any uneven areas of the floor. The planks snap together, and do not require glue or nails.

The type of traffic a floor will be subjected to is a main factor to consider when choosing a flooring material. Durability is laminate flooring’s biggest asset. Because of the high-density backing board, laminates are resistant to gouges and punctures. Stains and scuffs have a hard time penetrating the high-pressure laminate coating. Sliding chairs and dropped pots and pans that will quickly add “character” to wood floors have little affect on laminates.

Laminate flooring can be installed over many existing floors, including wood, tile, vinyl, and linoleum. Most laminate flooring systems are floating, which means they do not fasten directly to the plywood subfloor (or existing flooring material) with nails or glue. Rather, they utilize an interlocking system that is held together with an adhesive. The adhesive holds the flooring material together, while allowing the subfloor below to move independently of the laminate. The adhesive also helps seal off the core material from surface moisture. Many manufacturers now offer glueless, snap-together systems that require no fasteners or adhesives.

Cost and Scheduling
Basic oak strip flooring is around $10 to $13 a square foot, installed. Laminates range from $7 to $11 per square foot, installed. More exotic varieties of hardwood flooring quickly rise in price. With laminates, the wood character comes from a photographic image, so they are about the same price for any grain or finish option.


Trim and Style Options

Like hardwoods, there are many different types of trim and transition pieces available for laminate floors. Transition strips, end caps, stair nosings, moldings, and baseboard are all available for most finish applications. Some companies also offer floor registers for heating and air vents. To add detail, there are “intarsia,” or inlaid, designs available. These pieces have inlaid patterns that can set off a large field of flooring or be used as a border around the perimeter of the room.

Flooring installation is one of the later phases in a typical remodeling project. Solid hardwood flooring stock should be in the room where it will be used at least three weeks prior to installation. This allows the wood to acclimate to the average moisture content and heat of the house. If material is laid too early, it can dry and shrink and the joints between boards will open up. Laminates only need to be on site a few days prior to installation.

Maintenance and Repair
Laminate floors require very little maintenance. The material handles surface moisture well, but if the core material gets wet it can expand and damage the flooring. In bathrooms and kitchens, make sure that surface water is wiped up after spills and over spray. Unlike hardwood, laminate does not require sanding and refinishing every few years. Routine cleaning with a vacuum or damp mop is all that is needed. The process for repairing damaged boards is similar to that of hardwood. Precision cutting and fitting is required, so a professional should be hired to replace any damaged pieces.

Credit: Renovate Your World