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Laminate Flooring: A Low-Cost Alternative To Hardwood

By Frank Jossi Rise Writer
Oct 24, 2020

For homeowners looking for a hardwood covering at a lower cost than the real thing, laminate flooring may be the answer. It has sustainable attributes, cleans up well, takes plenty of abuse, and lasts for years.

Laminate flooring has been in the market for years, with a host of manufacturers involved in creating different versions of it. Home improvement and flooring stores will offer you lots of brands and wood textures, widths, and colors.

The flooring comes in light, grey, and dark wood, with patterns of narrow or wide planks that mimic hardwood. Whatever the flooring design, the boards have the same width and length to make for simple installation. Laminate flooring widths span from roughly 7.5 to more than 8 inches wide and approximately 47 to 54 inches long, depending on the brand.

There is a lot to learn about laminate flooring. Let's get into it by answering some commonly asked questions.

Choosing Laminate Flooring

What Is Laminate Flooring?

Laminate flooring consists of thin fiberboard with a pattern printed on it to resemble wood. Hardwood's most significant competitor has remained laminate for many years because of its lower cost and flexibility.

How Is Laminate Flooring Made?

Laminate flooring has layers. The bottom layer, a melamine backer, creates a water-resistant foundation. The melamine backer has the same thickness and similar materials as the topcoat, giving laminate balance and helping the planks stay flat after being installed.

Composed of high-density fiberboard (HDF), the core layer contains water-resistant elements while providing stability. It's considered the most critical layer. Resin allows the board to acclimate to humidity and changing temperature levels while preventing the development of cracks and gaps. HDF's density reduces noise from movement. 

On top of the core, the "visual" layer carries high-resolution 3-D photography of wood planks. Different images, including those of narrower planks, create non-repetitive patterns like those found in hardwood. Manufacturers glue the photos to fiberboard in a highly sophisticated process that results in a natural wood look.

The final layer complements the visual layer and protects against water and wear—the melamine urethane-based aluminum oxide finish shields against damaging light, dinging heels, spills, and abrasions. The topcoat can mimic wood's imperfections while offering a variety of wood-like finishes.

Is Laminate Flooring Eco-Friendly?

Recycled materials form more than 70 percent of laminate flooring. Laminate manufacturers process and glue together wood particles from hard and softwoods. Wood scraps, bark, and sawdust get used in laminate processing. Melamine, the resin that keeps the board together, often requires a reaction with formaldehyde. However, the level of formaldehyde needed has dropped over time. To ensure low formaldehyde levels, consumers should look for products designated CARB, P2, E1, or E0.

Laminate flooring can help achieve LEED points under the Materials and Resources category, Credit 2 - Environmentally Preferable Products (MRc2), due to its recycled content. Recyclers also seek laminate flooring because a market exists for it.

Toucan Laminate Floor Anderson Floors
Toucan Laminate Floor. Photo Credit: Anderson Floors

Is Laminate Flooring Installation Sustainable?

Yes, because laminate flooring sits on top of an underlayment composed of filaments and fibers that form a vapor layer. The laminate sits on top of the underlayment, and the planks snap together. As a result, installers need no glues or fasteners to create the floors.

Does Laminate Flooring Have Negative Impacts on Indoor Air Quality? 

Compared to other materials, laminate doesn't contain any air-damaging chemicals. Whatever chemicals in laminate tend to stay inside the board; by being completely sealed from the outside, no harmful chemicals can escape.

Home Depot Laminate Flooring
Laminate Flooring. Photo Credit: Home Depot

How Long Does Laminate Flooring Last?

Laminate flooring lasts 15 to 25 years or longer if located in low trafficked areas. However, hardwood floors do last longer, as long as a century, in older homes.

How Much Does Laminate Flooring Cost?

Typically laminate flooring costs from less than $1 to $3 per square foot. Add in labor, and the price jumps to $3 to $8 per square foot. More splashy designer flooring can cost as much as $10 to $12 per square foot.

Mono Serra Laminate Flooring BMR
Mono Serra Laminate Flooring. Photo Credit: BMR

How Much Does Laminate Flooring Installation Cost?

The average range of professionally installed laminate flooring runs from $1,411 to $3,395, with most homeowners paying around $2,352. Per square foot, costs range from $2 to $8 per square foot, with the high range preserved for hickory, cherry, acacia, and beech finishes.

How Do You Cut Laminate Flooring?

DIYers should use a table saw, circular saw, miter, hand saw, or utility knife. When cutting flooring with a table saw, do-it-yourselfers should add support on both sides. Experts suggest a diamond blade because laminate can be tough to cut. Adding clamps when using a hand saw to anchor boards will help create cleaner cuts. Chipping can be a problem with any saw when cutting laminate. Be careful. Adding masking tape along cut lines reduces chipping.

What Tools Do You Need to Install Laminate Flooring?

Start by wearing safety glasses. Grab a hammer and the following tools:

  • A jigsaw (and or oscillating saw)
  • Carpenter squares
  • A tape measure
  • A level
  • Clamps
  • Tapping blocks and a caulk gun
  • Also, have 3/8 inch spacers to separate the floor planks from the walls slightly.

Laminate flooring expands. Space offers the flooring breathing room and will not get noticed when covered by baseboards.

Install Laminate Flooring DIY Creative
Install Laminate Flooring. Photo Credit: DIY Creative via YouTube

How Do You Install Laminate Flooring?

You can find plenty of great videos on installing laminate flooring online because many people do it themselves. But, here is a quick rundown:

  1. Prepare the sub-floor by making it smooth and clean.
  2. Place laminate flooring boxes in the room where they will be installed for at least 24 hours to allow for acclimation, especially when it's a basement.
  3. Lay down the underlayment if the laminate board does not incorporate it into the bottom layer.
  4. Measure the room's width from one wall and divide the distance by the width of planks you plan to use. That gives you the length of the final rows.
  5. In arranging the planks during installation, some experts start near one wall. Others start a few feet away. Snap planks together to create a starter row. If you must cut a plank to finish, you can re-use the remaining board on the next row. Just make sure it's at least a foot long. This technique will give the rows, and the floor, a staggered, natural quality.
  6. Start the next row next to where you began the first row, sliding and snapping together the planks' sides. (Tip one board up to snap it into the next one.) Use tapping blocks to create a strong seam. Remember to install the 3/8 inch spacers when adding pieces next to the walls.

How Do You Care For Laminate Flooring?

Clean up spills immediately since water and laminate do not mix. Sweep floors with a brush broom. Place maps under baby high chairs and dog or cat water and eating bowls. Floor mats near doors help reduce wear and tear. Use water and a small amount of vinegar for mopping. Wring the mop out of the water before cleaning each section of the floor.

Cleaning Laminate Floors

How Do You Clean Laminate Flooring?

Avoid any cleaning ingredients promising a shine. They build up wax on laminate floors and become hard to remove. Avoid pine-scented cleaners because they leave a residue and off-gas. Murphy's Oil does not work well, either. When cleaning, try homemade cleaners like a little bit of vinegar combined with water.

When using mops, ring them out before starting on the floor. Laminate doesn't like too much water. Do not use abrasive sponges or steel wool on the wood. If you vacuum laminate floors, avoid rotator brushes or beater bars.

How Do You Remove Laminate Flooring?

Wear protective glasses and gloves because laminate can be sharp. Start by removing trims and baseboards. Organize them for later re-installation. At a spot where the floor enters another room is an excellent place to begin removing boards.

Take out one by unhooking it from the grove by hand or by using a six-inch drywall knife. Then continue unsnapping and removing boards row by row.

If the flooring has glue at the bottom, pull back a row at a corner and add lacquer thinner to the loosened boards' opening.

Golden Select Sandstone Laminate Floor Costco
Golden Select Sandstone Laminate Floor. Photo Credit: Costco

Many homeowners have long known that laminate flooring offers a durable, attractive, and low-cost option to hardwood. DIYers find installation relatively easy. Consumers who like green products will appreciate the flooring's recycled content and recyclability rather than sending a large volume of construction waste to landfills.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-06-19T02:56:11+0000
Frank Jossi

Article by:

Frank Jossi

Based in St. Paul, Frank Jossi is a journalist, editor and content strategist. He covers clean energy in Minnesota for Midwest Energy News and writes frequently for Finance & Commerce. His work has appeared in more than 70 local, national and international publications.