Unlike this wood floor, laminate floors are resistant to stains and damage.

© iStockphoto/Shawn Gearhart

How to Buy Laminate Flooring

­If you're looking for laminate flooring, the first step is to figure out whether laminates are right ­for you. Laminate floors are more durable and longer-lasting than many of the materials they imitate, and higher-end designs can be used anywhere in the home. Laminates also require less maintenance than hardwoods, which often need sanding and resurfacing after five or six years of use. Because laminates have a durable coating on top, they don't scratch or gouge as easily as hardwoods do.

However, if a laminate floor isn't properly maintained -- for example, if you let water collect between the planks -- edge swelling can result. This isn't typically covered under the warranty. Many budget-brand laminate floors can't be used in bathrooms or kitchens because of moisture issues. If you're installing laminate flooring in a high-traffic area, choosing a budget brand may mean that the wear layer will fade after a few years. This also isn't covered by the warranty.

After considering all this, if you decide a laminate floor is your best option, shop in brick-and-mortar stores so you can see for yourself what the product looks and feels like. Even though pictures online and in brochures can give you a good idea of what the product looks like, you can't get a true feel for it unless you take the time to shop in person. Conduct preliminary research using catalogs and online shopping guides as a time saver, but don't make a final decision unless you are in a store with samples of the flooring in front of you. Shop around in various big-box stores and their competition to compare prices, options, grades and durability. Ask about warranties offered by the various stores, including their costs. Be sure to do your homework on extended warranties before spending the money to buy one -- some are expensive and end too quickly to be useful.

­Passing on an extended warran­ty doesn't necessary leave you without protection, though. You'll want to be on the lookout for basic warranties offered by the manufacturers. The warranty should cover moisture damage -- typically­, it will stipulate that the floor must be installed properly in order for this to be in effect -- as well as staining, fading and wearing of the decorative or photographic layer. Be sure to read the fine print and note what is and is not covered by the warranty.

Prices of laminate flooring range from $1.00 per square foot for budget choices up to more than $11.00 per square foot for premium and high-end choices. The more exotic the material you are trying to mimic, the higher the price is likely to be be. Embossed finishes will also add to the price.

When purchasing your flooring products, you'll want to buy more than the exact square footage of your room. Contractors who install these floors typically buy an extra carton of flooring to ensure there's enough in case of mistakes or hard-to-fit areas. You'll also need to finish off edging and molding with matching products. These finishing touches, particularly where the flooring meets another flooring type, are important for the overall appearance of the room.