A laminate floor looks like wood (or stone or tile, depending on the pattern you select), but it’s not—so it costs less and keeps its like-new look for longer. Each generation of laminates looks more realistic and holds up better when it gets wet.
What it is: Laminated planks are made from processed wood chips, which have been ground to dust. The wood fibers are mingled with resins to make the product moisture resistant. That mixture is pressed at high pressure and heat to make a board, which is overlayed with paper that bears the likeness of the wood, slate or tile that the product intends to mimic. The paper is impregnated with melamine for structural stability, and then overlaid with a wear layer that resists scratches, dents and everyday wear and tear.
Benefits: A lower-cost alternative to solid or engineered wood, laminate floors are stain resistant, will not fade when exposed to sunlight and won’t burn, even if you drop a cigarette. Plus, laminate floors are a cinch for a handy do-it-yourselfer. You don’t have to nail them to the subfloor; they’re glued or they “float.”
Challenges: Their biggest drawback might be the noise they make when you walk it; laminate floors sound a bit hollow. Most manufacturers sell special underlayment pads that help alleviate the noise. A couple of other notes: The floor you lay the laminate planks on must be level. Also, if you manage to damage a laminate plank, it’s not easy to repair.
Maintenance: Laminates are easy to care for. Just sweep your floor with a dust mop to keep the dust away, and spray on a bit of manufacturer-approved laminate floor cleaner to pick up spills. A caution: While newer versions of laminate floors are more resistant to water than older generations of the material, they are not designed to perform in standing water. Clean up wet spills and tracked-in mud quickly to avoid problems.
Cost: Laminate flooring is among the most affordable flooring. Most prices include underlayment.