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What's Wood That is Not Wood?

Laminate flooring offers alternative to traditional wood

Thomas Edergeton, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in Vienna, likened selling a house to selling a car.

“Most everybody has a car,” Edergeton said. “What do they do when they have a car to sell? The first thing they do is they get it washed, sweep out the dirt to make it look better. That’s absolutely true with a house.”

Cleaning, upgrading appliances or painting are some of the ways to improve the value of a home. But what about those homeowners who aren’t planning to sell any time soon? What enhancements can they make to increase the value of their home while giving them a benefit to enjoy while they’re living there?

“If you’re remodeling your house or if you’re having a house built [a new floor] adds value to your house,” said Erik Doctrow of Realtor’s Floor Service.

A moderately priced alternative to such traditional flooring materials as hard wood, vinyl and ceramic is laminate, a pressed-wood product which comes in a variety of finishes.

“A consumer will most likely be considering vinyl, hardwood or ceramic versus laminate,” said Angela Scenna of Pergo, the Swedish company whose American operations are based in Raleigh, N.C. “They have to go through a number of situations in their minds when they’re trying to pick floor.”

“Wood is often considered the gold standard if you want that wood look,” said Scenna. “Wood, of course, requires an expensive sub floor preparation. Often, if you’re remodeling a home you have to be out of the home, especially if you’re buying hardwood that has to be sanded and finished. You would have to have very specific sub floor preparation which would not be required with a laminate floor.” Laminate floors are resistant to fading and staining, which is not the case with wood.

Vinyl and ceramic floors have their own drawbacks. While vinyl can be more economical and easier to install, it tends to fade, yellow or tear. Ceramic tiles require lengthy installation and sub floor preparation. “A lot of people feel that tile is cold and grout lines get dirty. It also can crack,” said Scenna.

“Often, people may want wood but choose vinyl because it’s less costly than wood, and laminate may be something in that middle ground where they feel it’s appropriate,” said Scenna.

Pergo, which is one of several companies that manufactures laminate, makes both glued and glue-free types of flooring. Glue-free laminate strips snap together and make for a faster installation. However, if the new floor is to be installed in an area where standing water could be a potential problem — such as the kitchen or a bathroom, Pergo recommended using a glued-laminate floor. Areas where leaks are possible, around sinks or bathtubs, should be sealed with a mildew-resistant silicone sealant.

“If you even compared a glued-floor to hardwood, you have significant savings in time because sub floor preparation is less because you don’t have to nail every plank to the floor,” said Scenna. “By the time you go to the glue-free product, it’s going to go about 50 percent faster than glue.

Laminate can be installed on top of most existing wood, ceramic, or vinyl floors. To install directly on the concrete sub floor, all carpets and pads as well as parquet and strip wood must first be removed.

Laminate flooring floats above the sub floor. Therefore, it’s never glued down. The glue in glued-floor laminate is used to adhere planks of flooring together.

Before beginning installation, determine whether the concrete sub floor is flat by sliding a level across the floor. Low spots can be filled in with Portland cement leveling compound. Then, a layer of polyethylene film is spread over the entire sub floor. Doorframes will need to be undercut to make room for the laminate, and then a foam underlayment is spread over the floor. The underlayment helps to soundproof the laminate floor.

Determine which way the length of the laminate strips should run and then place 1/4-inch spacers against all the walls. During installation, the spacers help maintain a 1/4-inch expansion area along the walls. The spacers will be removed when installation is finished.

Begin by snapping together two rows of laminate planks about two-feet away from the base wall. Once the rows are finished, slide them against the base wall. Continue adding rows across the room, cutting planks with a hand or table saw when necessary.

Glued laminate installs in much the same manner as non-glued laminate. The only difference is that glue is used to adhere the planks together. As each row is added, installation straps are used to hold the planks together.

“Personally, I think there is a level of skill required,” said Scenna. “You need to be comfortable with hand tools. You need to be able to handle a saw. You don’t need to have a table saw in every situation, but there is still some geometry involved. You need to consider yourself a handy, do-it-your-selfer. We recommend that people choose a Pergo-endorsed installer if they feel that they can’t install it themselves.”