Laminate Flooring Buying Guide

Durable laminate flooring looks like real hardwood (without the cost), and is available in many different styles including oak, walnut, hickory and maple. Laminate is also a great do-it-yourself floor project.

Laminate flooring in a foyer.

What is Laminate Flooring?

Laminate flooring construction illustration with wear layer, decor layer, core layer and backer layer.

Laminate flooring is a synthetic product made of several layers that are sealed together in the “lamination” process. Designed to be affordable and durable, laminate flooring consists of four distinct components: a wear layer, a decor layer, a core layer and a backer layer.
The wear layer helps resist scratches from daily wear, creates an easy-to-clean surface, and maintains a fade- and stain-resistant appearance.
The decor layer is a printed image that recreates the natural look of wood, tile or stone.
The core layer gives laminate its structure and dent-resistant properties. Laminate flooring is much more resistant to dents than real hardwood flooring.
The final backer layer provides additional support and stability.

Where Can I Install Laminate Flooring?

laminate flooring on walls.

Laminate flooring is very durable making it a great choice for high-traffic areas such as living rooms or foyers. But today’s laminate floors are not limited to specific rooms. The detail and style makes it a visually appealing flooring option. Waterproof materials and installation allow its use in kitchen and even baths. Laminate is also a great choice for basements — just be sure to read the product information on underlayment and installation requirements.
Using Laminate Flooring on Walls
Most laminate floor planks can be applied to interior walls (NOT ceilings or countertops).   Make sure your wall is clean and dry, plumb (vertical) and stable.  Follow the product instructions for preparing the substrate. You will probably need to prime the wall before installing.

Things to Know About Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring with a handscraped finish

Consider these key features to help you choose the right laminate for your home.
Thickness – Laminate flooring is typically available in 7-millimeter – 12-millimeter thicknesses. When you compare laminate, keep in mind that some manufacturers include the thickness of the product including the core and attached pad. All laminates provide a similar level of dent resistance. Thicker laminate is better suited to resist bending caused by uneven areas in your subfloor and reducing noise.
Width – Laminate planks vary from less than five inches to seven or more inches wide.
Finishes – You can choose from a seemingly endless list including cherry, chestnut, hickory, maple, oak, pine and walnut
AC Rating – The Abrasion Criteria (AC) rating represents wear resistance on a 1 to 5 scale. The higher the AC rating, the higher the durability. AC 3 and AC 4 are the most common residential products.
  • AC 1: Designed for home use with little foot traffic, such as in bedrooms
  • AC 2: Designed for home use with medium foot traffic
  • AC 3: Designed for home use in all foot traffic areas, including high foot traffic areas, like the foyer or kitchen
  • AC 4: Designed for home use in all traffic areas and can meet some commercial standards if warranted
  • AC 5: Designed to withstand heavy commercial traffic.
Texture – Laminate flooring is available in many types of textures and finishes to simulate the look of real hardwood flooring.
  • Embossed or Embossed in Register (EIR): A general, all-over texture, EIR better simulates the natural look of real hardwood flooring by adding depth and texture in alignment with the design of the décor layer
  • Handscraped: Though not actually handscraped, the laminate is pressed to look just like a real handscraped hardwood floor
  • High Gloss: This smooth, high-gloss laminate features a mirror finish and resists scratches and dents.
Underfloor Heating – Not all underfloor heating can be used with laminate flooring. For laminate-compatible systems, you many need to embed the mesh in thin-set or self-leveler before installing the flooring. Read the product specifications and instructions carefully before proceeding.

Waterproof and Water-Resistant Laminate Flooring

Installing backer rod and siliocone caulk.

Waterproof laminate flooring is available. In order to be waterproof, you’ll need to follow installation instructions carefully. Installation requires 100% silicone sealant and 3/8-inch foam backer rod around the perimeter of the room.
Water-resistant usually means moisture needs to be cleaned up within 30 minutes. Check the product information and warranty for details.

Tools and Materials to Install Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring tools.

Laminate flooring is a “floating” installation, meaning it isn’t fastened to the subfloor by glue, nails or staples. That makes installation very DIY-friendly, but there are some things you need to do.
Underlayment
Some products already have an acoustical pad attached to make installation easier. If not, you’ll need to install underlayment first. Underlayment provides moisture protection and thermal insulation as well as reduces sound minor subfloor imperfections. Underlayment with a moisture barrier is required when installing laminate over concrete subfloors, as moisture passing through the subfloor can cause your floor to expand. Always follow the flooring manufacturer’s instructions for moisture protection.
Some laminate floors have acoustical pads already attached to the product. Although the attached pad can make installation easier, these pads aren’t moisture barriers.
Watch our video on preparing your subfloor to prepare for laminate flooring installation.
Moulding

Matching and coordinating moulding / millwork pieces are available, including quarter rounds, T-mouldings, thresholds, reducers and wall base.
Laminate Flooring Tools
You’ll need a pull bar, tapping block and spacers to install any laminate floor. You’ll also need silicone sealant and 3/8-inch foam backer rod for any waterproof floor to work as intended in moist rooms.

 

Cleaning and Caring for Laminate Floors

Laminate floors in a living space

Help protect your laminate flooring investment by following the below care and maintenance tips:
  • Use a cleaner specifically designed for prefinished hardwood flooring and/or laminate flooring to clean your floor. Exercise caution with water, as it may damage laminate flooring.
  • Sweep or dust mop your floor at least once a week. This helps prevent scratching.
  • Clean spills and tracked-in dirt quickly to prevent damage.
  • Use area rugs or doormats in high traffic areas to reduce wear and collect dirt and moisture.
  • Prevent scratches and dents from furniture. Replace plastic casters and pads with felt or rubber tips. Don’t slide heavy objects across the floor.
  • Keep pet nails trimmed to minimize finish scratches.
  • Don’t use steam cleaners or jet mops.
See how your new laminate floor might look by ordering samples.

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