Real wooden floors can bring warmth and comfort to a room, turning ordinary dwellings into cozy cottages, gray office quarters into lounge-like spaces, and a house into a home. But with the current shortage of trees, and with forests disappearing all over the world, hardwoods will be harder and harder to come by.
There is a substitute, however, for hardwood floors. Laminates are sold as planks or panels, and are fashioned to look like wood, stone, or tile. These planks are made of thick, water-resistant material, and are shaped so that they fit together like snug, interlocking pieces. They are fitted through the floating installation method, where they rest on top of a subfloor, which may be made of plywood, concrete, or existing flooring.
Laminates can be made to look exactly like your hardwood of choice, be it mahogany, oak, or cherry. Because they aren’t made of real wood, they can withstand extreme impact, scratching, cigarette burns, and exposure to sunlight, all without fading or being heavily damaged. Not much is needed to maintain a laminate floor: all that laminates need are regular vacuuming, or a wipe-down with a damp mop or rag, and with no wax or polish at that.
Because laminates are stress resistant, they can be engineered for use most anywhere in the home, including wet areas such as the kitchen. They can also be built over heated concrete slabs – an advantage when laminates have to be fitted in countries with very cold climates. Laminates can be easily installed, and as they don’t need much cleaning or protection, need not be covered with carpets or rugs, which can carry dust mites or allergens. Thus, laminates are not only beautiful and cheap, they can contribute to healthy living as well.
Laminates, however, also carry their disadvantages. They can be scratched if heavy objects are dragged across them, or if large domestic animals – such as big dogs or cats – trudge or paw their way through them. They may be largely resistant to sun and scratches, but laminates might not be able to stand moisture. The laminate inner core is made up of a special strong material which is not especially resistant to excessive moisture. If moisture does seep into a laminate floor, the planks may be deformed, and may no longer be as scratch-proof and burn-ready as before.
Since laminates are installed above a subfloor, they can be noisy if walked on. As such, laminate manufacturers also provide special paddings to be installed in between the subfloor and laminate – not quite an advantage if you don’t want to spend more for a cheap, but nature-friendly hardwood finish.
Despite the fact that laminates are considerably cheaper than hardwood floors, and can be installed by most anybody who wants to fix their home up, any damage done to them is not easily fixed. Laminates are maintained through touch-up kits, or chip repair kits, but these kits are difficult to find, and are only designed to maintain the floor, not repair major damage.
Laminates have their goods and not-so-goods, but in the end, the decision all comes down to you. If you think you can install a floor on your own with minimal cost, and if you don’t have large animals for pets, then a laminate floor may be the best for your needs. However, if you aren’t quite sure what animals might come in the future, and if you are concerned about floorboards creaking, or getting misshapen from heat and moisture, then maybe cutting down a few trees won’t hurt.
Whatever the case, wherever you may be, laminates or not, hardwoods or floorboards, a house won’t be a home if the ground you walk on doesn’t appeal to your tastes.