Last year our family chose to install new flooring in the kitchen and dining room. With existing oak floors, it was a decision based on the substantial scratch damage being inflicted by our two big dogs during their frequent charges to the front door to scare off unwitting knockers and postal carriers.
My better half and I also wanted to brighten the place with something fresh and new in anticipation of a new baby girl — also known as "nesting."
Strapped with a stretched budget, we selected laminate flooring because of its durability, price and ease of installation, and what we got was the look of a brand-new wood floor for a lot less money.
"Laminate floor is very easy to install, durable and as close to something like ceramic tile or hardwood as you can get without the big price tag," says New Trend Mill Outlet's Al Pankonin, a 35-year veteran of the flooring industry. "It's also the easiest product for customers to install themselves, and very easy to maintain."
To make it even better, laminate flooring options are practically limitless. The surface is a high-resolution image printed on the top layer — replicating all styles of stone, ceramic and wood finishes. Unlike the real surface it's replicating, laminate flooring won't scratch, stain or chip and is typically more water-resistant.
"Wood, for example, is very limited," says Pankonin. "Real hardwood is more dent-prone as it ages than laminate, and laminate can go over almost any surface on any level of the house, including uneven floors. Plus laminate starts at less than half the price of wood."
What makes laminate so impervious to wear and tear is that it's compiled from machine-made materials compacted together and bonded. Unlike hardwood, its surface is nonporous and coated with aluminum oxide to take on heavy foot traffic.
Choosing the right floor
Choose a laminate floor that meets your needs. If you're installing in areas where water is common, such as kitchens and bathrooms, water resistance is important, so make sure the floor has a thick core treated with water-resistant chemicals so it won't swell with moisture. Also make sure the floor has water-resistant tongues and grooves.
"Generally, I don't recommend using laminates in the bathroom unless you have 100-percent control of moisture content," adds Pankonin.
"Anybody with any type of hands-on work experience can install laminate floors," says Pankonin. "Basically, all you need is a tape measure, straight edge and a couple of different saws."
Any of the laminate flooring you select will have detailed instructions on the packaging. A big advantage to these floors is that they are glueless and can be installed over almost any flooring. Make sure all existing floors are fixed to the subfloor, so repair or secure any loose planks or tiles. We chose to lay down a special foam padding under the laminate floor to help insulate and create a sound barrier.
With a tongue-and-groove system, laminate planks are clicked into place and into each other to create what's called a "floating" floor. Besides the time it takes and the miscellaneous frustration that can occur with any project, it's actually kind of a fun experience and can make anyone feel like a professional installer. Plus you'll save up to 40 percent by installing yourself.
Compared with the thorough cleaning — and products — required to keep up wood, stone or tile floors, laminate-floor maintenance is a breeze. With big dogs like ours, a lot of shedding hair ends up on the floor, so care involves sweeping daily and mopping about once a week.
"You basically just dust it to keep it clean," says Pankonin. "In most cases, cleaning products aren't necessary, although none will hurt the floor. Spraying it with a mist of white vinegar or water works just as well."