Laminate wood flooring is a type of man-made floor covering that is a less costly alternative to traditional hardwood floors. In addition to its relative cost, there are many benefits to using laminate wood flooring instead of real flooring. Laminate wood flooring also has some drawbacks, but before examining its pros and cons, it is necessary to understand what modern laminate is constructed of.
Laminate wood flooring is sold in planks, just like traditional hardwood, however laminate planks are not solid wood, but four different layers pressed together. The bottom layer of laminate is composed of melamine plastic which makes the laminate planks more stable than all species of traditional hardwood. Additionally, the melamine plastic helps resist moisture that may come from the subfloor.
The next layer of laminate wood flooring is the dense inner core. Most laminate manufacturers make their inner core out of pressed particle board or high-density fiber board. Varying density within the core helps to distinguish budget laminates from the best laminate wood flooring products on the market.
On top of the core of laminate wood flooring there is a decorative layer. The decorative layer is a photograph of wood grain. The photo is very high resolution, so the picture mimics a real hardwood floor. Similar to the core, the best products on the market look identical to their real wood counterparts. In some cases the photos are so spectacular, flooring experts have difficulty telling the difference between laminate and real hardwood. Because laminate flooring is not real wood, faux versions of exotic hardwoods are readily available.
The final layer is the wear layer, which is a coating of aluminum oxide mixed with melamine resin which creates extra durability. According to the Moh’s scale of hardness, aluminum oxide is the second hardest natural surface known to man next to diamonds. Aluminum oxide protects the laminate from scratching and denting caused by shoes, furniture and dropped items.
Unlike hardwood floors, laminate wood flooring is relatively water-resistant and may be used in high moisture areas such as bathrooms and basements. In addition, laminate flooring is more durable than real hardwood. The aluminum oxide coating helps with stain resistance and also decreases fading which may occur in the sunlight. Laminate floors are most often easily installed as glueless floating floors.
Along with all of its benefits, laminate flooring has a few drawbacks. Because of the construction of laminate flooring and the way it is installed, walking on laminate makes an echoing sound. This sound can be reduced by special underlayment, but it still is higher pitched and different than walking on a traditional hardwood floor. Laminate may never be refinished. Once it is damaged, it must be completely replaced. Even though laminate is moisture-resistant, it may still warp in high moisture areas, even causing the top two layers to begin to peel back from the planks.