Laminate is a popular alternative to traditional hardwood flooring, since it replicates the look of real wood very well. Other products can replicate the look of ceramic or stone flooring.
Laminate flooring can be hard to distinguish from hardwoods. (Photo by Angie's List member Lawrence K.)
In most applications, if you looked at a cross section of a laminate floor, you would see four layers: the backing, the inner core, the image design (or veneer) and the wear layer. The process of connecting or fusing those layers together is called lamination. The two interior layers are composed of fiber board and melamine resin. To achieve the look of wood, ceramic or stone, a photographic applique is applied to the surface. Some laminate wood flooring products may use an actual super-thin slice of wood known as a veneer. The final layer is a clear substance applied on the top to provide protection.
On average, laminate wood planks are about four inches wide. Ceramic or stone laminate tile is around 12 to 15 inches in diameter. Laminate comes in any color and can be finished with a high gloss for a shiny effect or a low gloss for a matte effect. It is very durable and easily handles heavy traffic, kids and pets.
Water or spilled liquids should not sit on the surface; otherwise the planks will warp or swell. Overall, laminate requires very little maintenance, just basic sweeping, cleaning and moping.
Laminate has a range of performance levels, which will affect the price, as will the thickness, durability, quality of the design and embossing. On average, laminate costs about $1 to $7 per square foot. Laminate planks are placed on an underlayment made from foam or film that sits on the subfloor. The underlayment helps reduce noise and moisture, while creating a solid foundation. The underlayment may add $1.00 to $2.00 onto the price.
Laminate floors come as tongue and groove planks that simply click together. Often, there is a glue or sticky underside that is designed to adhere to the floor. However, there are types of laminate flooring that use joining mechanisms and other styles that lock together without nails or glue. This makes installing a laminate floor a job that most homeowners can tackle themselves.