How should I choose a laminate floor?

How should I choose a laminate floor? They’re much less expensive than solid wood, and laminates are looking less artificial than they used to. What should I make of the big difference in laminate prices that I see?

It’s true that there is a wide price range for different laminate flooring, and there are significant differences from brand to brand. It mostly boils down to durability, but there are other considerations, too.

  1. laminate_flooring_steve_maxwellDurability of Laminate: Laminates can be very resistant to abrasion and scratching or very easily damaged, depending on how it’s made. And while it’s not commonly advertised, the laminate industry has developed a numeric scale for measuring the toughness of specific laminate flooring products. It’s called the abrasion class rating (AC) and it’s a scale that goes from 1 to 5. Laminates with an AC5 rating are suitable for the toughest commercial situations, where lots of people will be walking on the floor in boots and shoes. AC1 laminate is much less robust. For residential use I recommend an AC rating of 3 or 4. I wouldn’t buy a laminate until I got a reliable answer about its AC rating.
  2. Flatness of Subfloor: Even thick laminates aren’t thick enough to be self supporting, and since they click together they require a flat floor for quiet performance. Most manufacturers allow no more than 1/4″ of unevenness in a ten foot radius, and that’s pretty flat. More unevenness than this and laminates will make noise as you walk on them.
  3. Choosing the Correct Colour: And finally, you need to recognize that some darker laminates show dirt and dust more readily than lighter coloured types. Since laminates come in bundles, I recommend you buy one bundle of the stuff you think you want, click it together in some prominent part of your home for a week or so, then see what it’s like to live with the colour. I know several people who are forever distressed by the marks they can see on their dark laminate floors.