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How to Choose Laminate Flooring

by Nikki Willhite

Out of all the decorating decisions I have made for my homes through the years,  my recent choice of laminate flooring for my current home was one of the hardest.

I have had small amounts of laminate flooring in my home before, but choosing a color and style to replace so much carpet throughout my home was not an easy choice. Laminate lasts for years. If you make a bad choice, you are stuck with it.

If you are choosing laminate for several different rooms in your home, such as the family room, kitchen and bedrooms, you are dealing with different colors, varied windows treatments, and many types of furniture. It can be difficult to choose a laminate that will look good in all the rooms of your home.

It would have been easier if I was willing to settle for a very "safe" solid color laminate, but I wanted something different. I have been so "safe" for years with my decorating decisions, I knew that I could do something a little different and more of my personality in my home. I was willing to go out on a limb, so I had a lot of options to consider.

I would have loved to install real wood, or even engineered hardwood. If you buy real wood on sale it is not that much more money than a good quality laminate. The kicker for us was that the installation cost was much higher for wood than laminate. My husband has reached the point where he just can't do much work on his knees, nor does he possess either the tools or the skill to do it. So laminate it was.

One for the first things we did was to compare the quality and price of laminate at the stores in our area. It didn't take long to discover where we would buy it.  We found Lumber Liquidators  had not only the greatest selection, but the best prices on laminate and installation.

Then came the "shopping trips." I use the term "shopping" loosely. I must have made a dozen trips to the same store.  The more I went, the more I changed my mind and the more confused I became. I couldn't decide if I wanted to go with modern gray tones or warmer brown tones. Then there was light floors vs. dark floors, and different patterns. Throw in rustic versus smooth and my head was swimming.

We also soon realized we needed to learn a lot more about laminate. Not all laminate is created equal. Higher quality laminate is more durable and looks more like real wood. We had to decide on a hardness rating in addition to the price. We also learned that if you got laminate with a "V Grove", it looked more like wood.

After reading reviews and studying all we could about laminate we made the decision not to go lower than 10 mm on the thickness of the wood and that we would buy a quality pad to put  under it.

Then we started taking home samples- lots of samples. As I  suspected the darker colors were just too dark for our home in Seattle. Since I have always liked light wood, it was an easy decision to limit ourselves to a lighter color. We also decided that although we liked the rustic look, we didn't live at the beach or in the mountains and it didn't feel right for our traditional home.  I found myself increasingly attracted to floors that were smooth with a little gloss, so we added that to our list of decisions.

Finally we were down to the color and pattern. I think part of the problem of my indecision was that what I really liked was some of the wood I couldn't afford. However, there was one design of laminate that appealed to me. It was a bit quirky, and at first my husband just rolled his eyes.  Finally, after he realized it met all the criteria (price, V-Groove, color, smooth, slightly shiny exterior), he eventually started giving it more serious consideration.

The month we purchased our flooring, that particular flooring was featured on the front cover of the store's decorating magazine. It looked awful! However, I was pretty sure it was because this warm light and medium flooring was photographed in a room with battle gray walls.

I could not be certain I would like this flooring. It was far from a safe choice.  I knew I was going out on a limb, but when my husband finally agreed with me we decided to pull the trigger and get it. I had hope that I was going to be very happy with this flooring,  but I also knew things could go terribly wrong.

As gut wrenching the process was to choose the flooring, the install was even more difficult. Unless you want to pay a lot more money for your installation, you have to remove all your furniture from your rooms and pull up the old flooring yourself and dispose of it. Pulling up and disposing of old carpet is quite a job. 

In our case, we decided to do the project in stages.  These "baby steps" made it easier and gave us someplace to store the removed furniture.

I do not recommend changing all your flooring when you've been living in a house for over a decade and you have limited strength. We had some help from our sons, or we couldn't even have done it. As it was, it took forever, and about killed us!

However, in the end it turned out well. The chance I took on my flooring worked out. I love it. I still can just sit and look and admire the different patterns and the colors.  It was just what this old house needed to make it more casual and give it more personality.  The pattern is called Rocky Mountain Maple and you can get a good look at the quirky pattern in the picture at the bottom of the page.

I have found it wonderful living with laminate. Removing the carpet made the house very fresh and clean. Laminate can make an older house feel like a new house. We had a lot of unexpected pleasant surprises with the laminate.  The heavy dining room chairs which we struggled with on the carpet are now easy to slide out.  It is easy to move all our furniture around. Cleaning is easier.  Having the house wheelchair friendly will be a good selling point if we decide to leave and is good insurance for our future also.

Should you decide to put laminate or wood in your home, do your homework. Don't be rushed into a decision that will affect you for a long time. Consider all the factors, and give it some time.  You may change your mind a few times until you finally feel confident in your decision.  Finally, no matter how pretty the choices that you find above your budget, remember to do what is best for your pocketbook and your family.

rocky mountain maple laminate flooring

About the Author: Nikki Willhite, mother of 3 and an interior design graduate, has been writing and publishing articles on the topic of frugal living for over a decade. Visit her at - where you will find hundreds of frugal living tips and articles. Frugal Happy Families- more than just money! 



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