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A lot of folks still have the impression that laminate flooring is a cheap, plastic-looking alternative to ‘real’ wooden floors. Back in the eighties, when laminate flooring first hit the market, they wouldn’t have been too far off. Today, however, laminate flooring is a quality product in its own right, not just a knock-off of wooden flooring. High quality laminate flooring is durable, and looks so good some companies claim even the pros will have a hard time telling their laminates apart from their hardwoods. And even though many of today’s laminates are top notch, they are still usually 20-25% less expensive than hardwoods. Read on to see:

– How laminate floors compare to other non-hardwood flooring options
– What’s in a laminate floor
– What to look for when buying a laminate floor

How does it compare?

Appearance – Laminate floors vary widely in their look and feel. High end laminate floors have HD wood grain printed on them, and finishes can be made to look like the glossy top of a grand piano or a more muted matte. Cheaper ones can look like a piece of paper with wood printed on it under a sheet of plastic. Make sure to check out your selection in person before purchasing.

Environmental Impact – Do you want the look of a rare hardwood, but don’t want to contribute to the destruction of forests and biodiversity in rare and far-flung ecosystems across the world? Go with a laminate image of the wood you like, save some money and a tree.

Durability – It is durable. Good laminate is more wear resistant than real wood flooring. This makes it a good option for kitchens, or homes with pets. This doesn’t necessarily mean it will last longer, though. A solid wood floor can be sanded and refinished many times. Once laminate flooring is damaged, it can’t be fixed.

Resale Value – Laminate flooring is cheaper than hardwood, stone, or tile to purchase and install, but it won’t add the same value to your home when it comes time to sell. Still, it provides a look and feel that is a definite step up from vinyl, linoleum, or carpeting.

Installation – Laminate flooring comes in easy to install locking planks, making it a good choice for a DIY project. Be careful, though: poorly installed laminate flooring is more susceptible to moisture damage, and warranties don’t apply if you do something wrong during the installation.

What’s in a laminate floor?

A standard laminate floor board consists of five layers:

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A – The Laminate Layer: this layer does most of the work: it stops scuffs, nicks, dents and scratches, while protecting the decortive layer from UV rays and moisture.
B – The Decorative Layer: think of this layer as a picture. Laminate flooring can be made to imitate wood, stone, tile, and pretty much anything else. A brand new decorative layer can be almost indistinguishable from the material it is imitating, but it needs to be maintained in perfect condition. Any fading or water damage will make it look like what it is – a printed photo. That’s why getting a quality, warrantied laminate is so important.

C – The Core Layer is made up of Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) or high-density fiberboard (HDF)  This layer accounts for the bulk of the finished plank, and provides stability and durability.

D – The Backing Layer provides additional stability and blocks moisture from entering from below.

E – The Underlayment, sometimes grouped together with the backing layer, accommodates imperfections in the surface the floor is being mounted on, ensuring a level base and a level floor.

To create the planks you will see installed in your home, all these layers are bound together under intense heat and pressure, then cut into interlocking planks.

What to Look for When Buying

HPL or DPL: Is it High Pressure Laminate (HPL) or Direct Pressure Laminate (DPL)? Essentially, HPL floors are bonded together under higher pressure, which gives them superior impact resistance, better heat resistance, and better sound absorption. HPL should is generally used for commercial applications or high traffic areas of the home.

Decorative Layer Quality: some laminates are specifically designed to replicate the look and feel of high end wooden floors. These will be more expensive, but are a good option if you are looking for a distinct exotic wood, but don’t quite want to pay to have it imported from the southern hemisphere.

Thickness: laminate flooring comes in quite a few thicknesses. The bottom line is, the thicker the floor, the sturdier it will feel and sound. A thick board and a thin board make different sounds when you walk on them. You won’t fall through a thin floor, but it won’t have the sturdy feel of hardwood.

Warranty: when buying a warranty for a laminate floor, most people are thinking about their decorative layer. Because it is a printed image, it can be very susceptible to fading in the sun, water damage, or damage from anything else that manages to get to it. Warranties for laminate floors, like anything else, have a lot of fine print that can invalidate them if they are not installed or cared for properly, so make sure that if you purchase a warranty, the person doing the installation knows all the details, and make sure that the maintenance requirements aren’t excessive.

Laminate flooring is a great option in Austin because moisture, normally a leading cause of damage, is usually out of the picture. This article is just meant to allow you to further your thinking about which type of flooring might be best for your situation. There are exceptions to every rule, and choosing the optimal type of flooring should not be done without consulting an experienced professional in your area who knows your individual situation and needs. Call VanRossun at (512) 263-9244, and let us give you advice and a free estimate for your next flooring project.

Post Author: VanRossun