Carpeting might have traditionally been seen as the ‘default’ flooring choice for residential homes across the UK, but the tides are turning. Indeed, in recent years, more and more homeowners have started to appreciate the benefits of more hard-wearing alternatives and comfortably the most popular of those choices is laminate flooring.

As an affordable alternative to hardwood flooring, laminate is an obvious choice. Not only does it boast a similar aesthetic appeal, but it achieves most of what hardwood does without the cost or the maintenance generally associated with it.

Whilst the old argument against it might have been that carpet is more comfortable underfoot and somehow ‘warmer’, there have been great strides made in laminate floor production. Indeed,  when it comes to high quality, extremely durable flooring, laminate is perhaps the most popular type of flooring in the world, with sales continuing to grow. According to Catalina Research, the market rose by 3.3% globally in 2017, reaching a worth of just under $1 billion!

The Benefits of Laminate Flooring

  • It’s incredibly easy to clean, which is particularly handy if your house is home to pets or small children. It’s also surprisingly resistant to scratches, though it can swell if water finds its way between the cracks.
  • It’s easy to install, so as long as you have at least some experience in DIY, you should be able to install it without calling in the professionals.
  • It’s varied – as the material is man-made, it can be designed to mimic not just hardwood, but stone or any texture you might desire.
  • It’s inexpensive compared to hardwood and engineered wood and comparable in price to most carpets.
  • As it’s man-made, laminate will not shrink or warp due to environmental changes like real hardwood.
  • It’s flexible enough to be used in any rooms in the home but is particularly popular in dining rooms and kitchens. It also works very well with underfloor heating. The only room where it perhaps wouldn’t work is the bathroom, due to the high levels of moisture.

How is Laminate Flooring Made?

Laminate flooring is a hybrid man-made product that installs in a similar manner to genuine hardwood flooring using a simple and elegant tongue and groove system. It is created using a combination of particleboard woods with a top layer that acts in a similar manner to vinyl flooring in so much as its waterproof (if installed correctly) and firm, rather than soft.

The top layer is not technically wood, but a very high-quality image (which could technically be just about anything) given a durable plastic coating. The layers beneath are pressed panels of wood that are subjected to immense pressure to form individual sheets. These sheets are then laid down in strips and snapped or glued together.

Laminate construction is a modern process that wasn’t developed until the late 1970s in Sweden. The initial idea was to use intense heat and pressure to press wasted wood into useable flooring. It’s for this reason that laminate still holds a reputation as a ‘budget’ flooring solution. However, in the ensuing years, the process has been refined and perfected.

Most laminate flooring is made of three layers – the base layer, the wear layer and the image layer. The base (or core) layer is a wood composite blend that is formed by a combination of pressure, heat and chemicals. This layer is then pressed with an image layer, which features the photorealistic image the designers wish to display. Above this, a wear layer of durable plastic sheeting that seals off the wood and acts as a barrier to stains, scratches and plenty more besides.

Laminate Flooring Types

Within the realm of laminate flooring, there are numerous subdivisions to explore, each of which possesses different properties, Abrasion Class (AC) ratings (more on that later) and characteristics.

High Pressure Laminate (HPL) and Direct Pressure Laminate (DPL)

As already discussed, the core layer of any laminate flooring is produced by wood pulp being compressed a high pressure. The higher the pressure, the more durable your floor will be. HPL is created using more than 1000 pounds of pressure, whereas DPL uses half the pressure, so is less durable.

Thickness

Measured in millimetres, you’ll generally use thinner laminate on a more stable floor and thicker laminate in areas that are uneven or more sound absorption is required. You’ll generally find laminate flooring in basic sizes of between 6mm and 14mm and you’ll need to factor in not only the floor and the underlay (which might be attached to the laminate as standard) but also any doors, fireplaces or built-in cabinets in the room.

Width

The size of the individual floorboards will obviously dictate where they can fit and how many you’ll need in each room, they will also dictate the overall look and feel of the flooring. Between 3 and 6 inch is perhaps the most common width, with the smaller width boards often having the effect of making smaller rooms look larger. Wider boards, however, are better suited to larger or outdoor spaces. If you desire something a little more organic, however, you can also opt for multi-width options that will give your flooring more of a reclaimed wood vibe.

Finish/Texture

The primary benefit of laminate flooring is that you can achieve almost any finish you could possibly desire. From shiny high gloss for a contemporary look to more natural finishes that look and feel like authentic hardwood or stone, there are countless options and combinations to consider.

Edge

This refers to how the edges of the boards are cut and will dictate how they look – how defined the edges are and how comfortably they will snap together. Choices will vary depending on the manufacturer, but basic options are generally either square-edged (the most traditional and arguably ‘sleek’ option), bevelled or grooved. Rolled bevel boards boast a rounded edge, micro bevels are much finer, whereas deep bevels have a defined groove and painted bevels are more pronounced. The cut of the board will also impact how they lock together. Laminate generally doesn’t require the use of glues or nails, which makes it very popular amongst DIY enthusiasts. The locking systems typically used are tongue and groove systems (that lock together like puzzle pieces) and mechanical systems, which use aluminium locking systems mounted underneath the boards.

Style

The three primary styles of laminate flooring a 1, 2, or. 3-strip planks. This refers to the number of strips used within each plank, with 1-strip obviously offering the most authentic look and 3-strip generally being more cost-effective.

Extra Features

Besides the design of the flooring, there are a number of potential added features to consider. Certain base layers, for example, can be created with water-resistant cores and edges impregnated with wax sealant (perfect for the kitchen), and added layers of protection from spillages and stains. To further simplify the installation process, some laminate also ships with a built-in underlay, which also creates a tighter barrier and improves sound absorption, which is ideal for particularly noisy households.

Laminate Flooring AC Rating

Laminate flooring AC ratings refer to the strength of the floor against not only stains but swelling, scratches and even furniture (chair legs etc). Rest assured that as long as your flooring has an AC rating, it will have passed a number of tests, but you should pay close attention to that rating when selecting flooring for different rooms in the home.

Generally speaking, AC1, AC2 and AC3 are what you’ll find on flooring designed for residential properties, with AC4 and AC5 used for commercial purposes where there is a higher level of footfall and more frequent general use.

We’d always recommend AC3 for halls and kitchens, whilst AC2 should suffice for living and dining rooms. AC1, however, should only be considered in rooms that see only moderate traffic – bedrooms and guest rooms, for example.

Laminate Flooring Brands

The two laminate brands stocked by Big Warehouse Sale. Are Balterio and Kronospan, with Balterio offering a greater wealth of bolder luxury options and Kronospan specialising more in affordable and subtle laminate designs. Both brands also boast their own underlays and a varied number of different styles.