Real wood is the gold standard when it comes to floors because they add beauty and comfort to a home, but they may not be right for every situation

There are ways to get a high-end look, plus low-maintenance at an affordable cost. Real wood floors are expensive, need constant upkeep and may not stand up to an active family with pets. So what are your alternatives? I have three words for you: hardwood laminate flooring. You’ll be amazed at how it performs underfoot.

Picture This

First, let’s get some terminology out of the way. Hardwood flooring is just that. It’s made of real wood. Another type of floor you’ll hear about is engineered flooring. It’s made up of composite materials on the bottom with a thin layer of real wood on the top, very much like plywood. Hardwood laminate flooring, on the other hand is… well, it’s just a picture. It’s made up of layers of material, too, including a waterproof backing, resins, top coats and a photographic image of wood.

The images are so good, you can find any type of wood and wood finish you want. Pine, oak, bamboo, or exotic woods like Brazilian Koa or Tigerwood. If you had to buy the real thing, it’s would be a budget buster. The technology is so good today, you can even find laminate flooring that has the texture of real wood so you get these beautiful, realistic looks that stand up to almost anything you can dish out.

When shopping for a laminate floor, pay attention to the AC rating. That stands for abrasion coefficient and it measures the thickness of the top coating. The ratings go from one to five, with five being the most durable. Commercial floors that get a lot of wear use AC4 or better laminate; while residential flooring can get by with a rating of AC2 or better. The rating was developed by the Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF). Check out their online resource for more information for the rating system.

A DIY Dream Floor

The best thing about laminate flooring is how easy it is to install. It only takes a few hours and a couple of tools to finish an average room. Laminate flooring comes in tongue and groove planks that literally snap together and can be laid over any solid surfaces, including old wood floors, subfloors, vinyl and even tile. Carpeting should always be removed first.

An underlayment goes down first to cushion the floor and reduce noise. Then all you do is lay and snap the planks together. Trim pieces as needed. The key to a professional look is to take your time, get a good fit and finish with quarter-round trim over the baseboards.

High moisture areas, such as a bathroom or mudroom will likely come with glue-together installation instructions. That’s to avoid water seeping between the cracks. Not all laminate floors work in every application, so make sure to buy the right floor for the right application and follow the manufacturers’ guidelines.

Easy Care and Easy on the Eyes

One of the best reasons to use laminate flooring is it’s almost maintenance free. It’s not much more than wipe up and go. Clean any spills right away so the liquid doesn’t seep through the cracks between the planks that could cause the floor to swell and buckle. Vacuum often to pick up the any dirt and grit that might scratch the surface. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendations for a cleaner or use a gentle, nonabrasive cleaning to damp (not wet) mop.

Scuffs and scratches are part of life, especially if you have an active family. Luckily, repair kits can make the scratches disappear and help keep your laminate flooring looking new.

Installing Laminate Flooring from HGTV

Floor Picks: Engineered and Laminate Flooring from Better Homes and Garden

Laminate Flooring from Wikipedia