The various flooring materials available today often make it hard for homeowners to decide which to choose. Whether it is for a renovation or a new build, there is more than one factor to consider in selecting a floor material. To simplify the process, let us begin with one of the most popular and economical choices available today, laminate flooring.
What is laminate flooring?
Simply put, laminate flooring is synthetic and explicitly designed to mimic the look of natural materials like wood and stone. Each piece of laminate flooring consists of four layers fused together through a process known as direct-pressure laminate construction (DPL) or high-pressure laminate construction (HPL). Once the product is finished, you will have pieces of laminate flooring that are ready for installation using a click fit system. The four layers are:
- Backing paper
- Core or High-Density Fibreboard
- Decorative paper
In the past, laminate flooring had a somewhat negative reputation because of poor manufacturing quality. Much has changed since then and today’s laminate flooring has superior quality and looksthat the untrained eye will have difficulty in distinguishing from the real deal. Traditionally, laminate flooring came in designs that mimicked hardwood floors. But these days, there are more varieties to choose from. You can find laminate flooring material designed to look like ceramic tiles and stone.
Different types of laminate flooring
Choosing laminate flooring depends on specific characteristics. Determining which feature is most important will guide you in the selection process.
- Laminate flooring thickness. Thickness is a critical defining characteristic in choosing laminate flooring. Laminate plank thickness is designated in millimetres, and some of the most popular choices include 8mm, 10mm, and 12mm. The rule of thumb when selecting the right thickness is that the better the subfloor stability, the thinner the laminate. You’ll need a thicker laminate if the subfloor is slightly uneven, made of wood, or if you need better soundproofing. When choosing the right floor thickness, you also need to consider the space available underneath doors, cabinets, and appliances. Another factor that affects the thickness of the laminate is the underlayment. You need to verify if the laminate you are purchasing comes with padding that is added to the thickness. In case you are buying underlayment separately, you’ll need to add the depth of the padding to the thickness of the laminate plank.
- Laminate flooring texture. Different types of laminate flooring texture are what makes it versatile. You can choose a laminate finish depending on what your desired aesthetic is. The most popular laminate flooring finish is that which looks like hardwood. Some of the different types of laminate flooring finish you can choose from include matte finish, satin finish, natural wood finish, oiled wood finish, and high gloss finish.
- Laminate flooring plank width. Laminate planks come in a variety of widths which can drastically impact the overall look of the floor. In most traditional installations, a wood floor has thinner planks and so does laminate. But these days, modern fittings favour wider planks which appear more rustic and natural. Choosing a specific width is more of a personal preference, rather than a design requirement, and depends on what appeals to you and what you find suitable for the space you want it installed in.
- Laminate plank edge type. This characteristic defines the cut of each laminate plank and affects the resulting look of the floor. Depending on the edge type, laminate flooring can either have defined edges or float seamlessly. Laminate planks with a square side which finishes at 90-degree angles look traditional and sleek. On the other hand, if you want a more modern appearance to your flooring, choose a micro-bevel edge where each laminate plank has finely rounded corners. Another contemporary option is laminate flooring with V-groove edges with unique, defined edges similar to the letter ‘v’. This edge type gives the laminate a ‘solid wood’ plank appearance.
- Laminate plank locking system. Laminate flooring is popular for DIY installation because you won’t need to nail it down. Instead, laminate features a glue less locking system where you can snap each plank together to create a continuous floating floor surface. Each manufacturer patents their locking system which can be categorised as either tongue and groove or mechanical.
- Laminate flooring plank styles. The plank style is different from the laminate design. For example, a 3-strip plank has the appearance of three narrow strips of laminate in one plank. A 2-strip plank design, as the name suggests, appears like two strips of laminate in one plank. The plank style affects the overall look of the floor and gives it a more natural appearance.
- Laminate features. You can choose extra features when buying laminate floorings such as spill protection, scratch protection, and a water-resistant core. These features help improve the durability of laminate flooring and determine suitability for high-moisture areas of the home.
Deciding what type of laminate flooring to get is not always as easy as it seems. But with the help of an expert, you can narrow down your choices and find the best option that fits your needs.
The difference between laminate flooring and engineered wood
It is not uncommon to find yourself confused by different flooring terminologies. Although laminate is pretty much a household name already, some still confuse it with other flooring material such as engineered wood. Although neither of these two flooring types would qualify as natural wood, engineered wood flooring is closer to hardwood floor in the sense that it contains a thin layer of real wood on top.
What is engineered wood flooring?
Similar to laminate flooring, engineered wood flooring also consists of several layers of material fused together. The top and bottom layers usually contain natural wood. The core, on the other hand, is made up of multiple layers of plywood crisscrossing in different directions to achieve structural durability.
This method of engineered flooring construction achieves stability against possible expansion or contraction caused by exposure to moisture and temperature changes. As such, engineered flooring is typically best suited for rooms that are exposed to humidity or on top of concrete slabs.
Benefits of laminate flooring vs benefits of engineered wood flooring
Since both laminate flooring and engineered wood are popular alternatives to hardwood, it is best to compare the benefits of each type of flooring so that you can make a better choice between the two options depending on which parameters are more important to you.
- Appearance. Both laminate and engineered wood floors look almost similar to hardwood. Some laminate floors manufactured today seem even more realistic than before. Laminate consists of a thin photographic layer which can replicate all types of natural wood while engineered wood contains a thin veneer layer of real natural wood. When it comes to appearance, engineered wood has a bit of an edge because it contains natural wood and not a photographic layer only.
- Cost. Budget is always a determining factor in choosing which type of flooring to select. High-end laminate flooring installation costs around £12 per square metre while high-end engineered wood can cost up to £55 per square metre. If you are looking for a more economical option, then laminate wins hands down.
- Maintenance and care. Laminate is usually easier to clean, especially when it comes in a smooth finish. Compared with other flooring types like carpet, laminate flooring is safer for people with allergies and other respiratory health problems. The top layer of laminate is also resistant to minor scratching which means it can take a beating even after years of use. Engineered wood has similar benefits because it is also easy to clean and does not trap allergens and dust particles. In general, both engineered wood and laminate are easy to clean and maintain.
- Durability. Laminate flooring is ideal for areas of the home with high foot traffic. The top layer of laminate makes it resistant to wear and tear. Since laminate is both durable and economical, it is a popular flooring choice for offices and other commercial establishments. Engineered wood is designed to improve on the many properties of natural wood, including moisture resistance. It is also relatively durable and can withstand heavy use but not as much as laminate can.
- Ease of installation. Laminate flooring is known to be DIY-friendly and easy to install because of its interlocking design used by laminate manufacturers. Laminate installation also takes less time than other flooring types. Although not as DIY-friendly as laminate, new versions of engineered wood come in designs that feature an interlocking method. You can also buy thin planks of engineered wood that can be glued or nailed to the subfloor. Overall, laminate wins when it comes to ease of installation and DIY suitability.
- Resistance to moisture. Depending on the installation, you can make laminate flooring relatively resistant to moisture. However, engineered wood fares better in this area because the plywood layers naturally block water. In some homes, engineered wood can be installed in high-moisture areas like the basement.
- Environment friendliness. There has been much progress made in making laminate flooring more sustainable. Nowadays, about 85% of laminate flooring is made from recycled or recyclable materials. But since laminate is synthetic, it emits volatile compounds. Before selecting a particular type of laminate flooring, always check the floor score certification to minimise exposure to volatile compounds. On the other hand, engineered wood is made primarily of organic materials such as scrap wood. Therefore, engineered wood is the greener choice.
- Pet-friendliness. Homeowners also need to account for damage caused by pets to their flooring. As such, laminate is the better option because the top layer is naturally scratch-resistant. Engineered wood consists of a top layer made from natural wood which means it will also be prone to scratching.
- Compatibility with radiant heating. Radiant floor heating is the latest trend in space heating today. Fortunately, both laminate and engineered wood work well with a radiant heating installation. Nevertheless, always check with your contractor if there are required specifications in case you plan on installing radiant heating.
- Resale value. Since laminate has a reputation of being an economical flooring choice, it does not always fare well in impressing potential home buyers. Engineered wood, on the other hand, has a better reputation because it is almost similar to hardwood and has a classic appeal.
The bottom line is, choosing between laminate and engineered wood depends on which characteristics are most important to you. Each choice has distinct benefits and disadvantages to keep in mind which can help you select the best option.