Is Wood Laminate the Right Material for Your Home? | #Blog Post 14
What are the pros and cons of using a wood laminate in your house? The first step is to identify the material’s composition and the role it plays in the industry.
Wood laminate is a multi-layer manufactured material typically consisting of four layers – a melamine backing layer at the bottom that provides some water-resistance and structural strength, a layer of compressed wood fibre that gives structure and wear-resistance, a printed photographic layer that gives the laminate its appearance, and a final melamine wear layer that protects it from everyday wear and tear. It is available as small tiles and comes in different grades, from the cheapest AC1 to the most expensive AC5. AC6 grades exist but aren’t widely recognised as a large step up from AC5.
Laminate flooring has a reputation for being a cheap and convenient flooring option – it costs far less than other materials and can be installed very quickly, much like vinyl but with the classier option of a hardwood print. Many homeowners and business owners use it when they wish for a fast, no-frills flooring option at minimal cost. But its suspiciously low price does bely some major shortcomings. Without further ado, let’s put this material through our gauntlet of tests in part three of our four-part series on interior materials.
This section describes how well laminate stands up to everyday abuse over the course of its lifespan, from the mundane like falling objects and age-related discolourations, to more insidious evils like mould and bacteria growth.
Scratch Hardness: 3/10
Scratch hardness describes how easily a material is scratched. The wear layer of wood laminate generally has a rating of 3 on the Mohs scale of hardness. A material can only be scratched by another material of equal or higher rating on this scale. For comparison, a copper penny rates 3, while your fingernail rates 2.5, meaning your floor will likely be scuffed or scratched by dragging chair legs or even fine grit underfoot. Wood laminate’s performance here is far from impressive.
Indentation Hardness: 5/10
Indentation hardness describes how easily a material gets dented by a prolonged force, like the weight of a heavy shelf. While this property varies greatly with the grade of laminate used (AC1 – AC6), no specific data was readily available for indentation hardness. However, there was an abundance of impact resistance data in European tests for laminates. AC1 – AC3 can withstand an impact of a 0.8kg object falling from 1 metre, equivalent to a filled water bottle dropping from waist height. AC4 rates up to 1.5kg from a height of 1 metre, while AC5 rates up to 2kg from 1.2 metres. Overall, at the highest and most expensive rating, expect to see dents or chips when dropping anything heavier than a cast-iron pan from waist height.
Laminate flooring isn’t widely used as a long-term flooring solution, thanks to its less than ideal wear resistance and the low cost of replacement. We expect to see some terrible ratings in this section.
While most wood-based floorings have terrible water-resistance in general, hardwood floors and parquet have the benefit of a protective varnish or polyurethane coating for water-resistance, while laminate floors do not. Laminate floorings also have seams between each individual tile that make them vulnerable to any significant amount of water. Once water gets into a seam, the compressed wood fibre layer swells and the affected tiles must be replaced. Again, terrible water-resistance here.
As with most other materials, laminate flooring is prone to discolouration from exposure to sunlight. Having furniture, like sofas or rugs, over a spot all but guarantees a patch of unevenly coloured floor. Not good, but not the worst thing either.
Laminate flooring’s greatest strength in this department is its low cost of replacement. However, your consideration should not stop at cost. Besides the inconvenience of having contractors in your house on a semi-frequent basis, there is the issue of availability of replacement materials. Like any other consumer product, laminate tiles can change in design and form over the years. If you install a design or model that was nearing the end of its production life, you can bet that replacement tiles may run out a year or two down the line. Each design is also produced in 4-5 different patterns to give your floor a generally non repeating design – having two tiles of the same pattern side by side would be an obvious eyesore. Thus, even if your laminate’s design is still in stock, you absolutely shouldn’t count on specific tile patterns being available.
If you’ve followed our previous posts, you know the spiel – pores are holes, holes trap dirt, bacteria love dirt, and no one loves bacteria. Wood laminate has an entirely non-porous surface, which calls our rating into question – why not a perfect 10? Well, simply because seams are an unavoidable part of a wood laminate floor. While not as bad as grout between ceramic tiles, these seams still trap a significant amount of dirt and make conventional cleaning with water and household cleaners impossible without damaging the floor.
Corrosion Resistance: 5/10
The wear layer of wood laminate is made of a melamine resin, similar to that used in plates, cups, and kitchen utensils such as ladles. While the material is known to stain sometimes, it is generally chemically stable and thus corrosion-resistant. However, our rating still has to take into account the presence of seams – having the world’s hardest shield doesn’t quite matter if you can be stabbed in the side. Chemicals that seep into seams will cause bloating and require repairs. Again, this rules out the use of all but the tiniest amounts of liquid cleaners, limiting you to specific laminate cleaning solutions that may not be optimal.
This section is about the look and feel of a wood laminate flooring. Since these properties are perceived so subjectively, this section will omit any scoring. It’s entirely up to you, as a homeowner, to decide if the material’s aesthetics are a pro or con.
Appearance-wise, wood laminates are a cheap alternative to hardwood flooring. While critics believe that wood laminates lack all the depth and character of real wood, modern advances in design and manufacturing have resulted in wood laminates that give a perception of depth and very finely detailed grain. Such higher quality laminates are virtually indistinguishable from hardwood at a distance.
Texture-wise, wood laminates have a softer feel underfoot and produce far less noise than hardwood. They are also more moderate in temperature and lack the defects in natural wood that can be felt even beneath a coat of protective varnish.
The Big Question
At the end of the day, is a wood laminate the right flooring for you? Here are some things you should consider; frequent replacement of damaged tiles and the inconvenience such works entail; possibility of suboptimal replacements due to a lack of stock; counter-productively high costs for higher grades of a generally low-durability material.
Any homeowner who chooses a wood laminate floor must be prepared to fork out for repairs and bear the intrusion of contractors whenever any major damage occurs. Furthermore, to enjoy the benefits of a good laminate flooring, you’d have to pay a premium for higher grades of laminates — a price point at which you may be better off getting flooring material that is far sturdier and less temporary.
If you’re looking for a material that has the hardiness unique to synthetic products, and the character or depth of a natural material, you may wish to check out a metallic epoxy coating. Besides having elite-tier damage resistance and durability, metallic epoxy coatings have a level of customisability and depth for design that can’t be found elsewhere. For a better idea of how the material can benefit you and your family, head over to this post. If you already know about the material and would like a more personal discussion of the nitty gritty, you may book a free, no-obligations consultation with one of our experts.
Stay tuned for the final segment of our four-part series next week, where we’ll discuss the properties and suitability of vinyl!
Check out “How Good Is Wood: Is Wood The Right Material For Your Home? | Blog Post #12” for a more detailed comparison to hardwood flooring options.
or “Is Marble The Right Material For Your Home? | Blog Post #10” for a unique look on marble.
For the benefits on metallic epoxy, you may head to: