Of all the words searched on google related to flooring, the number one word is Laminate. Why is that? Is that really the most popular flooring used in America today? It might be, but it might also be that there is a lot of confusion out there about what is actually laminate flooring. Any kind of floor covering that is not carpet is typically referred to as a “hard surface”. Hard surfaces include laminate, but also include wood, tile, resilient flooring (ie. Vinyl), and luxury vinyl tile. And even the wood category includes solid hardwood and engineered hardwood, prefinished and sand and finish. With so much confusion about them all, we have compiled a description of these different types of hard surfaces so that you can decide which one is best for you.
Laminate—Laminate flooring has the look and feel of real wood flooring without consisting of any actual “hard” wood. It is made up generally of four layers. A backing to protect the product from moisture, a medium or high density fiberboard that provides the basic structure of the product, the design layer, which is a picture of the “wood” it is intended to look like, and a wear layer. It is installed by clicking together the individual pieces of laminate and is “floated” on the floor, meaning that it is not glued or stapled to the sub-floor. The pros to laminate are that it can be incredible durable and resistant to scratches and scuffs that wood is often susceptible to. It is also relatively easy to install and can mask some problem areas with a less than perfect subfloor. It tends to cost less than a hardwood floor. The cons include the sound it can make because it is floating, and it requires more additional “transition” pieces to hide the required gap around the edges of the floor. Depending on the density of the core, it can be more or less susceptible to moisture.
Engineered Hardwood—Engineered wood is a thin layer of hard wood glued on top of several thin layers of a composite wood, usually glued together perpendicular to one another, making engineered wood more stable than a solid hardwood. Engineered wood comes in every species of wood that you might find a solid hard wood. The pros to engineered wood include the stability which makes it less likely to show gapping than a solid hard wood, and less susceptible to humidity in a home. It can tend to be less expensive than solid wood, and can be installed in a variety of different ways, lending itself to be installed in locations that solid wood can not. The cons are that there are so many different levels of quality. The thicker engineered woods can be resanded, but the thinner ones can not. It is more prone to “face checking” or tiny cracks in the face of the wood, and are susceptible to water. While engineered wood and laminate have many similar features, engineered wood has real wood on top and can be floated or glued or stapled down.
Luxury Vinyl Tile/Plank (LVT)—This product is different from sheet vinyl and can closely resemble real wood or tile for a fraction of the cost. Like laminate, LVT consists of 4 layers, the vinyl backing, the vinyl color layer, the picture, and the urethane coating on top (WFCA). It is different from laminate in that it is glued to the floor. It comes in a wide range of looks and levels of quality and can be used both in residential and commercial settings. Some of the tile products can even be grouted to give it more of a “true” tile look. It’s pros are that it is inexpensive, relatively easy to install, very water resistant and looks amazing. The biggest con is that the subfloor needs to be pretty flat and so underlayment or preparing the sub-floor can increase the cost. It also can have problems with denting or scratching when things are rolled or dragged across it, but the products that have higher wear layers can help with this.
Solid Core Vinyl Plank—This is a relatively new product with the benefits of both laminate and vinyl. It is made of a solid vinyl core that is waterproof and has a locking system much like laminate so it “floats” on the floor. Pros to this product are that it can be installed without an underlayment much like laminate but is extremely water resistant so is great for bathrooms, laundry rooms and kitchens. It has all the best features of laminate and vinyl. The main con to this product is that it is a bit more expensive than vinyl, which can often be offset by not needing the underlayment. A great new up and coming product. Hopefully you now have a better idea of which product is best for you and your setting. There are so many different products out there and have varying levels of quality which work in different settings. Call us and we can help you determine the most beneficial product for your individual needs.