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Laminate flooring is a flooring product which is made by layering a thin sheet of decorative material over particleboard or a synthetic base. The decorative material can be designed to look like wood, stone, or tile, and it is generally covered with a coat of sealant to prevent it from breaking down. A classic example of laminate flooring is Pergo brand flooring from Scandinavia, although a number of companies all over the world also manufacture this product.
The advantage to laminate flooring is that it is almost always cheaper than the thing it is trying to imitate. In other words, the cost for installing a maple floor can get quite prohibitive, but laminate which is designed to look like maple can be relatively cheap to obtain. Laminate flooring is also designed to be very easy to install; people with no construction experience can often put a laminate floor together with minimal effort. The low cost and easy installation are appealing to many consumers.
Some companies are able to make laminate flooring from recycled material, which is another appealing feature for eco-conscious consumers. Whether made from new or recycled materials, laminate flooring comes in the form of planks which must be fitted together. Some brands snap together like a puzzle, while others must be glued or nailed to each other. It is typical to install a layer of subflooring material under laminate flooring to reduce noise and moisture vulnerability.
The primary disadvantage to laminate flooring, of course, is that it isn't the real thing. Although modern laminates are extremely durable, they are not as sturdy as the flooring products which they imitate. Some styles are vulnerable to spills and water damage, and as the laminate is scuffed, the base underneath can start to show through. However, modern laminates are a far cry from early versions; many companies make excellent laminate flooring which is barely distinguishable from the real deal, and it can provide a lot of flexibility for homeowners on a budget.
Home supply stores usually sell laminate flooring along with subfloor material and tools which can assist with the installation, like soft blocks to knock the flooring together. It is also possible to custom-order laminate in a particularly desired shade or style, and some companies will also create laminate flooring patterns in different tones for an additional fee, for homeowners who want medallions and other ornamental devices in their floors. These stores also provide guides for installing the flooring, and some will recommend installers, for people who are not interested in assembling their own floors.