Where and when laminate flooring is a great DIY option

Laminate flooring was originally developed in Europe and it first came to North America in the early 1990s. I remember trying some of this strange stuff for the first time in 1993.

The representative was from a company I’d never heard of before — Pergo — and they told me that laminates were going to become the next big thing in flooring. I didn’t believe them, but now “laminate flooring” is a common household term.

All laminates are based on a high-density fibreboard core covered with a decorative outer layer that simulates wood, stone or tile. Some laminates are available in plain colours, too.


Neighbouring pieces fit together with tongue-and-groove edges, without attaching to the underlying floor at all. Original designs required all these edge joints to be glued together, but most modern laminates these days click together with a self-locking, glue-less tongue-and-groove joint. This is what they mean by “click” flooring.

I happen to like laminates a lot — at least, the right kind of laminates. That’s why I’ve chosen to install them in a couple of places in my house and have recommended them to homeowners for years.


That said, laminates aren’t perfect. Here are the straight facts.

Laminate flooring fact #1: It’s fast, easy and simple to install

Most people recognize that laminates are fast and easy to install with a minimum of mess inflicted on the rest of the house. What you probably don’t understand is how very simple the work really is.

With a little help, it’s easy for a do-it-yourselfer to install 500 sq. ft. of laminate flooring in a day. It got to the point where my youngest helper could quickly and easily install the flooring all on his own, unattended, as fast as any carpenter.


Professional installation costs are typically 50 per cent extra on top of flooring costs alone, so there’s good money to be saved if you put it down yourself.

DIY success is easy, provided you understand several essential tricks.

Laminate flooring fact #2: It’s tough (at least some of it is)

Laminates can be exceptionally durable, but not always. And this is where disappointment sets in for some homeowners who select a particular laminate without sufficient understanding.


Too often, people unwittingly choose a low-priced laminate without realizing that there’s a huge difference in physical durability across all laminate choices.

The best versions are tough enough to happily endure use in stores and restaurants where people walk on the floor all day long wearing gritty street shoes.

At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find laminates that chip and scratch with annoying ease. And since damage like this can’t be repaired flawlessly, you need to choose a product that’s tough enough by design.


So, how can you get a sense of the real-world durability of the laminates you’re considering? Two ways:

  1. Look at products that are specifically rated for heavy residential or light commercial applications. Laminates with an AC (or abrasion criteria) rating of 3, 4 or 5 are plenty tough.
  2. Buy a single bundle of your favourite product and temporarily click it together in the highest traffic area of your home for at least several weeks. Besides giving you an accurate sense of resistance to scratching and chipping, you’ll also see how the flooring shows dirt. Many dark colours look terrific in the showroom but show dust and grime much more readily than lighter designs. Try some out first and you’ll avoid nasty surprises.

Laminate floor fact #3: It’s compatible with in-floor heating

Besides speed of installation, laminate flooring is also one of the best wood-type options for installation above radiant in-floor heat.

It resists drying and shrinkage better than solid wood floors, and it requires no nails that might puncture the plastic heating pipes that carry warm water.


Laminates simply float, installed over a thin layer of medium density foam underlay that compensates for the inevitable small bumps and depressions in the underlying subfloor.

Want to install your own laminate flooring? Download a complete, illustrated how-to guide here.


Fixing gaps in laminate flooring


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About the Author

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell has been helping Canadians with home improvement, gardening and hands-on living since 1988. Visit for videos, stories and inspiration.



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