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All about laminate flooring: Understanding your options

Woman installing laminate flooring in a renovated room, close-up.
Guido Mieth/ Getty Images

Laminate flooring has come a long way in recent years. Rather than just a cheaper alternative to natural wood or stone flooring, laminate flooring is available in a spectrum of styles to offer a beautiful and durable complement to any decor.

When purchasing laminate, there are a lot of variables to keep in mind, like the surface on which the floor will be laid, in what room it’s going, cost and the look of the space. Read on for the ultimate guide to laminate flooring, including what to consider when buying and laying the floor in your newly designed space.

What is laminate flooring?

Laminate flooring is sometimes called a “floating floor” or “floating tiles” because it can be laid right on top of existing linoleum, subfloor or on any hard surface, including concrete, without gluing it or fastening it to the floor. It’s made by bonding four layers of materials together, coated by resin on the top and bottom. 

Laminate flooring consists of:

  • Wear layer: The wear layer is the top layer of flooring that gives the whole floor a shiny, finished appearance. It also gives the floor much of its strength and durability. It protects the flooring from pet’s claws, chair legs, kids’ toys and all other daily wear. It also protects the printed layer from the sun’s rays, which could otherwise discolor it over time. 
  • Printed layer (or decor layer): The printed layer is the look of the flooring — the pattern or markings you see. It can look like natural wood flooring, stone or marble, and comes in a variety of colors and patterns.
  • Fiberboard layer (or core layer): High-density fiberboard (HDF) is made up of processed softwood, which is mixed with resin and wax. This layer is formed with both heat and pressure, creating panels. The panels are then cut so that they “click” together, eliminating the need to attach each board with the floor or another board.
  • Backing layer: This layer helps to keep the flooring straight and even, and is sealed to keep out moisture, so your flooring shape and stability won’t be compromised from underneath. Some higher-end laminates also include foam padding, eliminating the need for a separate underlay for the flooring.

Where to install laminate flooring

Laminate is manufactured to be tough and sound regardless of where it’s installed. Still, extra steps may be necessary when it’s installed in basements, bathrooms and kitchens. When installing below grade (below ground level like in a basement), a moisture barrier should be installed between concrete and laminate to keep natural humidity away from the flooring. In bathrooms, laminate can outperform hardwood for ease of cleaning. But particularly in full baths where moisture is common, glue should be used between laminate planks to make sure any drips or leaks in the bathroom don’t make their way in between floorboards. For kitchens and baths, silicone sealer is also recommended where the floor butts up against walls, tubs and toilets.

How to buy the best laminate flooring

Now you know where you can install laminate flooring, but how do you choose the best laminate flooring to buy? There are a few factors to consider:

Types of laminate flooring

Laminate flooring can resemble anything, but it most commonly mimics the look of stone, tile or wood. Though the patterns can be relatively convincing, their repeating nature often gives away their manufactured origins. Laminate flooring also comes in glueless “click” format, while other types need glue applied during installation. Others still come “pre-glued,” but may need the glue to be moistened when the floors are laid. 

Laminate flooring thickness

Available in thicknesses of 6 to 12mm, a laminate plank’s thickness will determine its sound insulation, its resistance to warping over time and how well it masks imperfections on the floor beneath. A smooth subfloor will allow for a thinner plank, while a thicker plank will be necessary for more uneven floors. Generally speaking, thicker planks are more expensive to buy.

Laminate flooring width

Just like many other flooring types, laminate comes in planks of various widths, ranging from 3 inches wide to 7 inches or more. Which you choose will depend on price, the size of the room and personal preference. Smaller spaces often do well with narrower planks, both for looks and for ease of installation, while a big, wide room may look better with wider planks.

Texture of laminate flooring

While many laminate floors offer a smooth, even surface, others are textured or embossed to more realistically imitate natural materials. Some have wood grain-embossed textures or are bumpy like natural stone. Laminate floors are also available in a distressed-look to mimic antique floors. Patterns and textures may hide wear and tear on the floor, and testing shows deeply textured floors don’t suffer damage as quickly as smooth ones. Personal preference and ease of cleaning will be deciding factors in which texture you choose.

Read laminate flooring reviews

Any new flooring is a big investment in a home, so get as much information as possible before making any firm choices. Reviews and ratings are a great way to determine the right flooring for you. In particular, seek out AC (Abrasion Criteria) ratings which determine the durability of the flooring. It is especially crucial to consider AC ratings when flooring a kitchen, a well-used hallway or an entryway of a home. AC ratings range from AC1 to AC6. Lower-range AC ratings are manufactured using direct pressure laminate, while AC5 and higher are created using high-pressure laminate. Generally speaking, higher-traffic areas of a home should do well with an AC3 or AC4, while lower-traffic areas like bedrooms can use a lower AC rating.

Installing laminate flooring

One of the reasons laminate floors are so popular is because of their ease of installation. Panels are manufactured to fit tightly together, so DIY installers can easily put the floor down themselves, sometimes completing a whole room in a day. To install a laminate floor, you will need the following tools:

  • Circular Saw
  • Jigsaw
  • Hammer
  • Tapping block

Depending on the space, a mitre saw might also be useful for cutting the wood panels into shape.Professionals can also install the flooring at minimal expense because the panels go in very quickly. Generally speaking, installation can cost about $2 to $3 per square foot.

Man laying laminate flooring planks. Oak effect planks being placed over insulating foam underlay.
esp_imaging/ Getty Images

Compare laminate flooring cost

Laminate flooring ranges from $3 per square foot to around $7 installed, while flooring alone can range from $1 to $5 per square foot. Factors that go into pricing are thickness and the AC rating of planks, whether the flooring has pre-attached underlayment or no underlayment and by brand name. Pergo and Mannington flooring, for instance, will generally set you back more than laminate flooring from Shaw.  

Top laminate flooring brands


Pergo manufactures laminate, rigid vinyl and hardwood floors that are widely available. Pergo’s floors are known for being extra tough, with superior wear, scratch and water resistance. The company has been making laminate for over four decades, and their top lines are:

  • TimberCraft
  • Outlast
  • Portfolio

TimberCraft is a realistic wood-look panel that’s completely waterproof, making it well suited to the areas of the home at risk of getting wet. 


Mohawk is a flooring brand that’s been around since 1878. Their RevWood Plus series of flooring is coated in Hydroseal, a waterproof and scratch-resistant coating. You can opt for the All Pet Plus protection (an extra available warranty) to cover pet accidents and damage. Mohawk’s best-known laminate lines are:

  • RevWood 
  • RevWood Plus


Mannington takes a step into more environmentally-aware flooring manufacturing. I laminates are made from 70% recycled materials, and the company also gives its floors FloorScore® certification for better air quality inside the home. Its laminate lines are:

  • Restoration
  • Revolutions Plank

Mannington’s Restoration collection comes in a huge selection of colors and features SpillShield®Plus waterproof technology. 

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