The popularity of laminate flooring is due, in great part, to being a relatively inexpensive substitute for wood or stone. Practically every type of stone or wood is available in a laminate version with special designs -- such as wood inlays -- providing the option of embuing any room with a classic feel.
Laminate flooring was invented in 1977 by the Swedish company Pergo®. The company name has become synonymous with laminate floors although many other brands now exist. Laminate flooring is composed of three layers: an inner core made of resin and fiberboard materials, a glue backing for ease of installation, and a photographic image of wood or stone with a clear protective layer over it. The material is sold in planks which permits the installer to stagger the joints for a more natural-looking floor.
As with all flooring products, manufacturers' warranties vary in their coverage and longevity. For example, Pergo offers a 25-year warranty to the original purchaser of the floor covering. According to its website:
Laminate flooring is durable, easily maintained, and costs less than the natural materials it is made to imitate. It is reasonably easy to install for the do-it-yourself homeowner as most laminate products have tongue and groove construction that permits the planks to be clicked into one another. Laminate flooring provides good sound insulation and is very popular in multi-story homes, apartments, and condos.
As with any smooth flooring surface, it is important to wipe up spills quickly and to sweep up dust, dirt, and sand regularly so the small particles don't scratch the top layer of the floor. Adhesive pads should be installed on all furnishings, including appliances, to protect the floor from scratches and dents. Floors must also be kept relatively dry; sitting water or moisture can cause the planks to swell and/or warp.
Glue-free laminate floors have been known to gradually become separated leaving visible spaces between planks. The top layer of laminate floors is simply a thin protective coat with an image of stone or wood. This material shouldn't, therefore, be used in high-traffic areas because once the surface layer wears off, it cannot be refinished. Some laminate flooring is now available with thin wood veneers laid over engineered substrates that allow refinishing at least once.
The core material in laminate floors is made of wood that would otherwise be wasted and sent to landfills. As the top layer is simply an image of wood, it reduces the need to cut trees for its production. However, petroleum-based resins are used in the manufacture of laminate and the production process uses substantial electricity in the necessary pressure-treatments.
Homeowners with concerns about indoor air quality may be swayed away from laminate because it is often made of melamine resin, a compound made with formaldehyde. Releases of volatile organic compounds into the air are common in building materials made with formaldehyde. Also, laminate floors cannot be refinished or recycled; therefore, when laminate is worn, the whole floor must be replaced and the old materials sent to a landfill.