Types of Laminate Flooring and How to Choose

laminate flooring

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With so many laminate flooring options on the market, how do you choose the right one? Whether you're shopping flooring for a renovation or planning your new build, you'll soon learn that the term "laminate flooring" gets tossed around quite frivolously. In fact, few people outside of knowledgeable builders and flooring salesmen know exactly what laminate flooring is.

Laminate flooring consists of multiple layers pressed together. The visible layer is a high-definition printed image protected by a transparent wear layer. This design allows laminate flooring to mimic a wide array of flooring materials at a fraction of the cost—the most popular recreation being hardwood. Unlike real hardwood flooring, which has been utilized for hundreds of years, laminate flooring is a relatively new invention, arriving on the scene in the mid-70s.

Laminate Flooring Materials

As mentioned above, true laminate flooring consists of a transparent wear layer, a decor layer (image layer), a core layer, and occasionally an additional layer of underlayment.

However, other flooring types such as engineered hardwood—a more premium layered flooring product consisting of a real hardwood top layer are categorized alongside laminate flooring. Vinyl plank flooring is also commonly confused with laminate but has a different composition made entirely of synthetic materials.

As you might expect, each of these flooring materials has different strengths and weaknesses, as well as different price points.

Laminate vs. Engineered Hardwood vs. Vinyl Planks
Material   Price Per Square Foot
 Laminate Flooring  $1 to $6
 Engineered Hardwood  $2 to $15
 Vinyl Plank Flooring  $1 to $7

Laminate Flooring Patterns

Because laminate flooring is designed to mimic traditional flooring materials such as hardwood, the patterns follow suit with a similar plank length and width. However, laminate flooring can be found with thicker or thinner planks, which can better suit the space in which it's installed.

Wide Plank: Wider planks are great for larger rooms and can make the laminate look sturdier and oftentimes more luxurious.

Narrow Plank: Thinner planks are ideal for smaller rooms and uneven subfloors, as the narrow planks better accommodate imperfections.

Laminate Flooring Features

Waterproof Laminate Flooring

Best for: Kitchens, bathrooms, basements, kids, pets

Let's clarify: The term "waterproof" is a little misleading when it comes to waterproof laminate flooring. Nearly all laminate flooring, waterproof or not, features a fiberboard core layer. Fiberboard, if exposed to moisture, will swell and won't return to its original shape. These products can be called waterproof—if installed correctly, water will not penetrate the top layer, meaning it will never reach the fiberboard layer. When you read the fine print, you'll find stringent installation guidelines with numerous clauses that void the warranty if not adhered to.

That being said, most waterproof laminate flooring will perform well and never let water penetrate the surface, though we still recommend you wipe any spills quickly.

Water-Resistant Laminate Flooring

Best for: Dining rooms, living rooms, accent walls

The difference between waterproof laminate and water-resistant laminate is the amount of time each resists water. If installed properly, waterproof laminate should hold water on top until the water is cleaned up or evaporates. However, water-resistant laminate will resist water penetration for a period of time, but it will eventually get through the surface.

Choosing a Laminate Flooring Material

Some laminate flooring prioritizes water resistance, others prioritize scratch resistance, while others are designed to make installation as quickly and easily as possible. Choosing the best laminate flooring for your home is as simple as finding the product that combines the attributes that you find the most valuable. Here are a few key attributes to keep in mind when choosing your laminate flooring:

  • Activity: The amount of activity your household sees should be the top determining factor when choosing laminate flooring. From kids to pets to high foot traffic, not all laminate flooring is built to last. Pay close attention to the flooring's AC rating (abrasion class/criteria), which represents how durable it is.
 AC Rating  Activity Level
AC1  Light traffic
AC2  Moderate traffic
AC3  Heavy traffic
AC4  Light commercial traffic
AC5   Heavy commercial traffic
  • Resale Value: Premium laminate floors that are properly installed can increase your home's resale value, but don't expect the same return as hardwood flooring. Generally, consider the flooring you're replacing. If the laminate flooring is an upgrade, it will make your house more marketable and can even increase its value.
  • Price: Laminate flooring has come a long way and you no longer have to buy the most expensive option to install a high-quality product. Additionally, laminate flooring is easy for most DIYers to self-install, meaning huge savings on labor. Generally, lower-priced laminate floorings will have lower AC ratings, lower-quality image layers, overall thinner material, and less water resistance. Waterproof ratings, high-definition image layers, thicker materials, and higher scratch resistance all come at a higher price.
  • Installation Methods: If you plan to install your laminate flooring yourself, make sure you pay close attention to the installation method of your chosen material. Glued laminate requires gluing which can be quite a mess, while click-lock simply locks together at the edges. For most DIYers, click-lock laminate flooring is appealing, as it's quick and easy (and even fun) to install. But, even click flooring is broken into four categories that alter the installation slightly. Before installation, pay close attention to the proper installation method of your product and gather the necessary tools.
 Installation Method  Installation Requirements
 Angle/Angle  Requires the edge and end to click in at two different angles.
 Angle Tap  The edge locks in at an angle, then the ends are tapped together with a hammer and a tapping block.
Angle Drop  The edge locks in at an angle and the ends sit against one another.
 Angle Drop With Clip  The edge locks in at an angle and each end is further secured with a slide-in clip.