Cost to Install Laminate Flooring: The Complete Guide
Laminate flooring is perhaps the most popular choice for those who want the look of natural wood on their floors for half the price. With a multitude of looks and colors to choose from, and the benefits of quick installation, durability, and no more carpet stains, it’s a no-brainer. On average, expect to pay $750–$2,500 per 100 sqft for your new floor materials and installation, but a commercial level floor with radiant heating underneath can cost up to three times that.
This pricing guide covers:
Laminate flooring is a manufactured product made to look like planks of real wood. It’s made of three layers:
- Particle board coated in resin
- An image or pattern printed on material embedded in resin
- A durable top layer of aluminum oxide chemical
It’s all laminated together using heat, compression, and adhesive during the manufacturing process. Some also come with moisture backing—a water seal placed around the particle board—and/or underlay made of cork or foam.
First invented in Sweden to look like regular planks in 1977, tongue and groove interlocking planks began to become the preferred design in 1997. In addition to the lower cost, the tongue and groove construction of each board facilitates an easier, faster installation—the boards line up and are clicked into one another.
Laminate Flooring Benefits
- Easy to install
- Can be installed over existing flooring. It’s a floating floor.
- Easy to uninstall
- Lays dry, no special cutting needed, snaps together
- Comes in more sizes than real wood
- Lower cost and installation cost than real wood
- Low maintenance
- Available in looks like slate, hardwood, ceramic, and brick
- Available in any wood color or grain, but be aware that names like black wood don’t necessarily mean the flooring will be black.
- High gloss
- Durable for up to 30 years, stain resistant, mold resistant, can have antimicrobial resin
- Resists UV rays
- Laminate has more bounce and give
- Fiberboard is made of recycled materials that can be recycled at the end into agricultural filler or energy.
- Using laminate flooring can contribute to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) credits.
Vs Real Wood Flooring
- Real wood takes longer to install
- Can’t be installed over existing flooring
- Special cutting needed
- Needs to be sanded and finished or can come prefinished
- Can come with tongue and groove applied
- Absorbs a variety of colors/stains
- Real wood costs $5–20/sqft or $12–$20/sqft installed, depending on the availability of the wood you want. Laminate costs $1–$5/sqft or $2–$8/sqft installed.
- Real wood flooring costs about 62% more to install
- Low maintenance
- You might get less on resale of the home with laminate floors compared to real wood, as wood floors are seen to be longer lasting.
- Wood has a rich, natural look and texture
- Real wood appeals to those who dislike anything that looks even mildly fake.
- Many types of wood are available that can be stained and finished to your preference. Laminate cannot be stained.
- Real wood might be more appropriate for the overall look of the house.
- Wood lasts for up to 100 years if maintained properly compared to laminate’s 20.
- Can be sanded and refinished to last many decades
- Can discolor in sunlight/UV rays
- Harder on the knees
- Hardwood needs sanding and refinishing if not prefinished.
- Engineered wood can wear down and can’t be refinished unless the top layer is thick, so with bad damage in one area, you might have to replace the whole floor, whereas with wood, you can replace the affected planks.
- Real wood can be saved once it’s time to replace it.
- Wood doesn’t emit VOCs—volatile organic compounds
- Wood is naturally biodegradable
- Comes directly from trees, a sustainable source
Common to both
- Both engineered wood and real wood can warp.
- Both can grow mold.
- Both can be used with radiant heat.
If you’re having a hard time making a final decision on which type of flooring to get, talk to your short list of local flooring contractors who have been in the flooring business for a long time, like Carpet City in Norwalk, CT, who says, “We specialize in personal service to recommend the right product for your project and not just to make a sale.”
Types of laminate finishes
There is a range of different treatments available to round out the finish you are looking for in the floor for your home. Originally created as a product to simulate the look and feel of wood, newer products on the market also create the look and texture of stone floors. Typically, each finish has a different installation cost. Some of the more frequently chosen textures include:
- Hand scraped: By using a special technique, laminate boards can be given a surface texture like that of a hand- scraped wood floor during the manufacturing process. Hand-scraped boards can cost an average of $4.50/sqft.
- Embossed in Register (EIR): This technique adds embossed texture in the laminate board to match the printed grain. These boards will generally average around $3/sqft.
- Embossed or textured: While not matching the embossed look with the underlying printed grain, it still provides the authentic look of hardwood grain. Averages around $2.40/sqft.
- Smooth/gloss: No indented texture is applied. Instead, it matches the look and feel of a varnished piece of wood, often with options that include low-, medium-, and high-gloss finishes. Smooth finished laminate averages around $2/sqft.
Underlayment is either built in or separate to the flooring planks you buy. It’s a recommended addition as it:
- Absorbs sound
- Acts as a thermal barrier
- Gives a softer walk
- Can even out the floor
Plus moisture barrier
Add a moisture barrier, especially if laying over concrete floor, as it will prevent moisture from getting into the laminate flooring. If you don’t, the flooring could expand, leading to cupping and gaps. The plywood will get wet, swell, and never be okay. (Consider the additional measures of glue locking and silicone caulk if you’re determined to put your flooring in a high-moisture environment, such as a bathroom.)
Don’t, however, add a moisture barrier over an existing wood floor, because it will trap moisture and damage the subfloor. Use a foam underlayment instead, or whatever is recommended by the manufacturer of the flooring you buy. If the existing wood floor has no torn edges or seams, you can lay a new floor directly over it. Planks have to be tightly fitted
Keep in mind that underlayment is also the word for thin plywood or fiberboard, which could already be on the planks, but the separate kind usually comes in rolls of polythene foam, heavy foam, or felt. If you’re buying underlayment roll, get the roll as long as your room to avoid breaks.
TrafficMASTER has a few types that come with a 25-year residential warranty to take care of moisture protection, thermal insulation, and sound reduction in the form of 2.5–3.5 fanfold XPS foam or PE foam on a roll. It costs $30–$60/100 sqft from local dept. stores.
Levels of thickness
When looking at the thickness measurements of laminate flooring, keep in mind that it’s measured from top to bottom of the plank, no matter if the underlay is included or not. Even then, the thickness alone won’t tell you if you are buying quality flooring or not. What really counts is what the core is made up of and what the durable top layer consists of. Look for the term HDF—high-density fiber—to ensure a floor of quality. Most planks come in 8–12mm of thickness.
Benefits of thicker floors
- Better sound absorption
- Easier installation
- Better resistance to fracturing/impact resistance
AC/abrasion Class Rating
Also important to take into consideration is the flooring’s AC rating. Use it to check your expected usage, or foot traffic, against what the floor was built to withstand. An impartial third party has set the standard for the five different categories of use and durability.
- AC1 Moderate Residential: Built to withstand only light residential use. Suitable for closets or bedrooms.
- AC2 General Residential: Built for moderate foot traffic. Suitable in residential spaces that don’t see a tremendous amount of wear and tear, like dining rooms or living rooms.
- AC3 Heavy Residential/Moderate Commercial: Built for all kinds of residential use and high-traffic rooms, and even commercial spaces that have light traffic—like offices without off-street traffic and hotel rooms.
- AC4 General Commercial: Built to withstand every kind of residential use, as well as more heavily trafficked commercial spaces that have off-street traffic like offices, cafes, and boutiques.
- AC5 Heavy Commercial: Built for the busiest commercial uses and high-traffic spaces like department stores and government buildings. Commercial flooring has four layers, with the extra layer backing the fiberboard.
NALFA Certification Seal
Look for the NAFLA seal to make sure the prouct you are buying is recommended. According to a 2007 report from BusinessWire, “Builders and Homeowners Benefit from NALFA Certification Seal,”
“Performance requirements for NALFA products include but are not limited to: static load, thickness swell, impact resistance, light resistance, cleanability/stain resistance, wear resistance, dimensional tolerances and castor chair resistance. Products are approved in three categories: commercial, light commercial and residential.”
Installers must meet industry background requirements or go through NALFA training programs and testing.
Popular brands and prices certified by NALFA include Clarion Laminates, Columbia Flooring, Kronotex USA, Mannington Mills, Mohawk, Pergo, Quick-Step, Shaw Industries, and Torlys.
It might speed up the process to visit a contractor’s showroom so you can look at and compare all the above features from different manufacturers. Camptin Designs in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA, says, “Visit our full service showroom to pick surfaces, do a meet and greet at the property where the project will take place, do a full walkthrough of the project, and then receive a full concept board with 3D drawings of the finished project with an estimate of job.”
Materials are prorated, only partially based on depreciation. Uniclic® and Unilink® warranty periods are both pro rata 33 years for flooring and 25 years for accessories. Other manufacturers vary their warranties from 5 years to a lifetime, covering things like defective planks, fading, staining, and expected wear.
A number of things can void the warranty:
- Not installing on a level floor
- Using the wrong cleaners or steam mops on it
- Water damage, floods, buckling
- Scratches, abuse, cuts, dents
- Commercial use
- Installation errors
If your flooring arrives in poor condition, send it back immediately or you will not be refunded for it.
Most contractors will warranty their labor for a number of years, like Abdinoor Flooring in Dracut, MA, who says it, “fully warranties flooring products according to the manufacturer’s warranty and installations for the life of the product.”
- Installing laminate floors on stairs and landings will add more to the price because of the extra trimming.
- Fall can be a busy time and more expensive, whereas after Christmas might open up better deals.
- I Got a Guy in Jordan, MN, says, “Don’t ask the price per square foot number, you will always be low-balled. ... A company will advertise a price per square foot number ... but there is also a price per square foot for pad, steps, removal, furniture moving, etc. The only way to get a good quote is to have somebody come out and quote you. If they offer you a discount to sign right away, it’s because their first number was a rip off.”
Whether you do it yourself or have a contractor do it for you, the process for your new laminate flooring goes as follows:
- Order flooring. A contractor can usually get it at a higher discount. Be sure to order slightly more than is needed.
- Deliver flooring or pick it up yourself.
- Acclimatize flooring for 24–48 hours in the rooms you’ll be installing it in. This will adjust it to the local humidity. Make sure all other contracting work is done before acclimatizing it—all window installation, painting, AC work, etc.
- Remove furniture or include it in the contractor’s bid.
- Remove all baseboards and trim.
- Remove old flooring, if needed – This cost will add to the bottom line on your quote, in addition to the labor and flooring materials. Removing carpet and underlay should be a fairly inexpensive task as long as there is no repair work needed on the concrete below, but you may need a carpenter to remove old subflooring—around $70/hour. Most carpenters will be able to remove the subfloor in a 200 square foot area in about a day at a cost of $400–$550.
Carpet usually won’t make for an acceptable sub floor. Removing carpet yourself isn’t too difficult, but if it’s glued to the concrete, you might damage the concrete floor, which will then need to be patched. You’ll also need to scrape any glue off the floor.
- Dispose of old flooring.
- Level and prep sub floor – sub floor must be flat/level within 3/16” from one end of a 10’ room to the other. Sand or patch to get this.
- Install underlay, if needed. It usually isn’t if installing over existing wood. Make sure it’s approved by the laminate flooring manufacturer.
- Install new flooring with planks parallel to the main view of the room. Make sure room is left for expansion: 1/8”–1/4” based on manufacturer’s requirements. If this isn’t done, the flooring can buckle or separate at the joints.
- Reinstall baseboards, quarter rounds, T-molding, flush stairnose, and stepnose.
- Put back furniture.
If you live in a climate that is cold most of the year, you can install radiant heating under the floors, in the walls, and in the ceiling. Radiant systems work with most types of laminate flooring.
Water system: Using an open direct, closed, or indirect system, hot water heats the home via tubes connected to a water heater. Either install tubing between the floor joists or on your existing sub floor.
Electrical system: Heating wires are preinstalled in the underlayment. Products like ThermoFloor can be used with laminate flooring with attached underlayment backing. Sixty square feet of mats of 240V is about $600.
Protection and Maintenance
- Place doormats inside the front and back door to avoid having outside dirt grind into the flooring.
- Stick felt protectors under furniture legs and anything else that might scratch the floor.
- Place spill mats under baby chairs and water bowls.
Laminate flooring can build up static electricity because you’re walking on plastic, which is not conductive. This affects music and computer equipment—causing static to come out of the speakers—so when shopping, seek flooring with an anti-static wear layer of conductive carbon materials. You can also lessen static by:
- Increasing the humidity in the house to avoid dry air.
- Not letting dust build up.
- Not scuffing your feet along a kitchen floor, which “can create charges as high as 25 kV,” according to The Spruce.
- Wipe up water quickly.
- Don’t use a steam cleaner on it. Damp mop, if necessary, with as little water as possible.
- Don’t use cleaning solutions that leave waxy buildups or that are formulated for tile floors. They leave laminate flooring looking soapy and dull. A mild vinegar solution can work well.
- Also avoid scouring powder or steel wool.
- Don’t sand or use floor polish or wax.
- Consider using products like Zep Laminate Floor Refinisher—a no-rinse polyurethane finish—can revitalize and shine up dull, scratched laminate floors.
Hiring your contractor
Once you’ve decided on laminate flooring, check out the contractors on HomeGuide to see which ones are near you and have the following:
- Good reviews
- A good Better Business Bureau rating
- Insured and bonded
- Plenty of years of knowledge and experience
- Include furniture moving in the quote
- Include old flooring removal and disposal in the quote
Once you’ve narrowed it down to your final three, ask for a comprehensive quote to include start and finish dates and cleanup. Morningstar Flooring in Hawthorne, NY, says, “The best advice to follow is that if the person on the phone is rushing you, then move to someone else. It is important that the contractor takes the time to develop a relationship with their clients. Much can be said about someone only interested in chasing a dollar.”
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