Budget Elegance: What is Laminate Wood?

What is laminate wood? Is it a viable way to spice up your flooring?

Or, has it gone the way of shag carpeting?

In the past, laminate wood flooring had a bad reputation.

It was cheap looking. And, no one with any taste purposely installed it in their home.

But, in recent years laminate wood has enjoyed a resurgence. What's the buzz about?

Find out why laminate wood is a solution to budget elegance.

What Is Laminate Wood Exactly?

laminate flooring

Is it vinyl flooring? Is it like hardwood floors?

The answer is none of the above. But, that's not necessarily a bad thing. This flooring choice is a good solution for people who want the look of hardwood without a headache.

One of the things that sets this flooring apart is the way it's made. Laminate flooring is generally manufactured by layering four different materials.

These layers are fused to form a durable flooring plank. And, they may look like different natural surfaces like tile, stone, and wood. Take a closer look at the layering design:

Bottom Layer

First, the bottom layer stabilizes the flooring. It is also moisture resistant.

Core Layer

     The next layer is usually fiberboard. This high-density material is impact resistant. And, it helps provide stability to the planks.

Third Layer

Next, the third layer of the laminate floor contains the detailed image. This is where the natural wood grain finish comes from. Higher quality laminate wood is very realistic looking.

Final Layer

Lastly, is the protective layer. This helps with durability and longevity. And, it's one of the main reasons why laminate wood is so appealing. It may help prevent stains, scratches, and gouges.

These layers are fused together in one of two ways: DPL (Direct Pressure Laminate) or HPL (High Pressure Laminate). HPL is typically more expensive because it has a fifth layer that consists of specialized high-strength paper. HPL flooring is very strong, and good for very heavy traffic areas. But, most residential floors only need DPL laminates.

Why Do You Need It?

Not everyone has a generous budget for hardwood floors. And, sometimes money is not the issue, but wear and tear may be a concern. Both potential problems are addressed when choosing laminate wood.

Additionally, it's also relatively easy to install. Most planks are available in a "lock and click" method of installation. And, this means that everyday users can install their own flooring. You would need to be comfortable with DIY basics, though.

Who Is It For?

The great news is that laminate wood is for practically anyone. It's scratch and gouge resistant. So, that's good news for pet owners. It's also stain-resistant for high traffic areas. Or, households with children.

Also, it's hypoallergenic for anyone with allergies and can't have flooring with small particles. It's relatively cheap. And, it still looks stylish.

Laminate Wood is Best For:

  • Budget conscious

  • Pet-owners

  • Households with children

  • Anyone with allergies

  • High-traffic areas

Installation and Tips

Installing laminate wood can be easy. But, you do need some basic home DIY knowledge. So, if you are not comfortable with home improvement projects, it may be good to get some help before attempting it yourself.

Laminate Planks

The planks typically come in two varieties: snap and lock, or glue together. You may still find the glue plank options. But, manufacturers are moving towards the popular "snap and lock" installation instead.

Snap And Lock Planks

"Snap and lock" or "click and lock" planks are exactly what they sound like. The planks have groves that line up and lock into place. These tongue and groove planks make using adhesive virtually unnecessary. These planks "float" above the subfloor which is one of the reasons it's so easy to install.

But, some people still like to place laminate glue in the grooves of these types of planks as an extra reinforcement for high traffic or high moisture areas. If you do want to do this, it would be best to read the manufacturer's instructions first. Some materials may be compromised by using certain types of glue.

Glue Together Planks

Finally, laminate planks that glue together are an older way of installing this flooring. Though many manufacturers are moving away from these planks, you may still find them. They may be a little more difficult to install because you need to glue the planks to the subfloor.

Many people still swear by this method though because it may be more durable than floating snap and lock planks.

It Floats

One of the perks of going with laminate flooring is its "floating" feature. This means that you generally don't have to do intricate preparation of your floor beforehand because it "floats" above most flat flooring.

This is different than other types of floors because they usually need to be nailed or glued down.

As long as your floor is clean and level, you can simply lay your new laminate plank flooring on top. Some floor types that don't need pre-flooring preparation include: plywood/OSB, ceramic, vinyl, and concrete.

Manufacturers may vary, though. Make sure to consult your enclosed installation guide before starting.

Surface Types Available

There are many types of laminate wood surfaces available. They range from simple to photorealistic. The industry introduces new surfaces all the time but, here are some of the most popular types:


First, the smooth finish is plain but popular. It is sometimes available in different gloss finishes and faux wood types.

Textured or Embossed

Next, this laminate wood has texture. It may not match the print of the grain. But, at first glance it may look like wood.

Hand Scraped or Distressed

Also, a newer laminate wood surface is this antique look. This process makes your flooring look stylishly aged.

Embossed in Registration

Lastly, the embossing for this flooring matches the grain print. So, it looks more authentic to real wood but, maintains all the perks of laminate.

What Is Underlayment, and Do You Need It?

Underlayment is a foam layer between the subfloor and the laminate planks. Some laminate wood manufacturers call for this layer in the instructions. Other manufacturers may include it as the bottom layer of their planks.

There are three basic options for underlayment. One is a padding to cushion your steps. The next is a padding and moisture barrier combination. And, the last option includes an acoustic barrier along with moisture barrier and padding.

If your laminate has an underlay attached to the bottom of the planks, it is usually a padding with an acoustic barrier. But, this may vary depending on the manufacturer.

Why would you need it? It serves as an insulation between laminate wood and subfloor. And, it may also eliminate clicking or hollow sounds when stepping on the floor. Lastly, a moisture barrier protects your flooring just in case moisture slips between the cracks and joints.

What Do You Need to Get Started?

Installing laminate wood flooring can be simple. But, you need the right tools to get started first. This may include:

  • Tape measure

  • Rubber mallet

  • Saws (table, chop, jig)

  • Tapping bar

  • Pull bar

  • spacers

You may also need some type of underlayment but, the exact type may depend on your flooring manufacturer.

Also, don't forget protective gear such as knee pads. Installation involves long periods of kneeling so knee pads or a folded towel may help.

Quick Installation Overview

You may need in-depth instructions or videos to install your laminate wood flooring. However, here is a basic installation overview:

  • Start from the left side corner of the room

  • Cut the tongue off the planks

  • Using spacers, run planks parallel to the wall

  • Insert one end of the plank to the other, line up at an angle, and lock into place

  • At the end of the row, measure, and trim

  • Start a new row in a similar pattern as the first

  • Fit the next row planks by lifting previous row a little

  • Give a sharp rap to the new line to lock

  • Snap into place by pressing down

  • Continue for the rest of the room

  • Trim last row so that it matches the first row

Maintenance for Laminates

Laminate wood is easy to take care of but it is not invincible. So, follow these cleaning tips to maintain your flooring:

General Cleaning

First, clean dirt, dust, and grit from your laminate floors using a dust mop. You can also use a vacuum with a wood floor attachment or a soft brush.

To clean your floors with liquid, use a mop or damp cloth. But, don't use too much water. Too much liquid can damage your floors and slip between the cracks. Also, dry your floors thoroughly with a soft cloth.

Clean Up Spills Immediately

Next, don't let spills or water linger on your floors. Clean them up immediately with a paper towel, cloth, or sponge.

Avoid Harsh Cleaners

Also, you want to avoid using certain cleaners on your flooring. This includes abrasives and soap-based detergents.

Other Cleaning Methods To Avoid

Lastly, to ensure your flooring lasts a long time, avoid using scouring pads or steel wool. They may scratch the panels. Also, do not use polish or wax on your laminate wood.

Using a steam cleaner may also damage your floor surface so avoid cleaning with one, too.

Final Thoughts

What is laminate wood? By now, you know that it is a stylish and inexpensive flooring alternative. Its durability makes it a cost-effective option. And, it's ideal for virtually everyone.

So, for anyone who wants beautiful floors without a hefty price tag this may be a great solution. With its easy installation and beautiful prints, it's a great option for remodeling your home with budget elegance.

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