Laminate flooring is made from a thin layer of plastic laminate printed with a design layer, bonded to a base layer of high-density fiberboard (HDF), and topped with a clear wear layer. It is a remarkably versatile material that can be manufactured to look like almost any material, including hardwood, stone, or even metal. Laminate is probably the best option for a DIY floor installer as it’s made specifically for easy installation. It’s also a low-cost alternative that still offers an attractive appearance.
Easy to install: Laminate plank floors use a modified form of tongue-and-groove connections, sometimes known as “click-lock.” This is one of the easiest flooring materials for careful DIYers to install, though surface preparation is critical.
Many design choices available: Laminate flooring has now been around for decades, and manufacturers offer an almost infinite range of styles and designs, many of which are fairly good mimics of hardwood or natural stone.
Inexpensive: Good laminate flooring can usually be purchased for less than $3 per square foot, with installation adding $2 to $8 per square foot. With total costs that are usually well under $10 per square foot, laminate flooring is only slightly more expensive than vinyl.
Can be scratched: Over time, it is almost impossible to avoid scratching the clear wear layer on laminate floors, as owners of active dogs with unclipped toenails can attest. Better quality laminates have thicker, more durable wear layers, but even with these, the floors will eventually get scratched.
A hard surface: Although they can closely resemble hardwood, laminate floors have even less resilience than wood, and a fall on a laminate floor will hurt and perhaps injure. This may not be the best choice in a bedroom for young children or older adults.
No insulation value: Laminate floors offer no thermal protection, and the hard surfaces tend to echo sound in a hollow fashion. A good quality underlayment may help dampen the sound somewhat.
Difficult or impossible to repair: Unlike hardwood, laminate flooring is almost impossible to repair when the damage becomes extensive. While it is theoretically possible to disassemble and replace individual planks, it is more common for the entire floor to be removed and replaced. And unlike hardwood, which can be resurfaced several times, laminate flooring cannot be refinished.
May have a “cheap” feel: When they were first introduced, laminate flooring was an innovative product that was seen as somewhat high-end, but in today’s real estate market, laminates are sometimes viewed as a bargain-basement choice when compared to hardwood, porcelain/ceramic tile, or even luxury vinyl.
Not a green product: Laminate flooring is plastic, and like most plastics, it can take many, many years (perhaps centuries) to break down in a landfill. Unfortunately, there is almost no recycling market for old laminate flooring thus far, and when discarded it usually winds up in those landfills.