Laminate flooring is a multi-layer synthetic flooring product fused together using a lamination process. This type of flooring can accurately simulate almost anything — wood, stone, even photographs or scans of anything imaginable — by covering a photographic applique layer with a clear protective layer. The interior layer is typically composed of melamine resin and fiberboard materials.
Laminate floors have grown in popularity since they were invented in Sweden in 1977 under the name Pergo and arrived in North America in 1994. Because of their durability, hygienic nature and ease of installation and maintenance, laminate floors have become a low cost alternative to hardwood, stone and tile.
Glueless laminate (laminate planks locked together without gluing the tongue and grooves together) was invented in 1996, also in Sweden. However, a system for holding flooring panels together was developed by a competing Belgian company and released a year later.
Laminate flooring is typically packaged in a number of tongue-and-groove planks that can be clicked into one another. Occasionally, a pad is pre-attached to the backside of the planks to provide a faster installation than installing a pad separately and offers improved moisture and sound reduction properties.
It is vital to keep laminates clean. Dirt and other particles may scratch the surface in high traffic areas. It’s also important to keep them dry, as sitting water can warp or swell them, though some brands come with water resistant coatings. Adhesive pads on the feet of furniture are also a good idea.
Beware of inferior laminate products, which can look less than convincing in their emulation of wood or stone and become separated (creating gaps between the planks). It is also important to consider that laminate flooring is often made with formaldehyde and as such, air quality could be a concern due to the releases of volatile organic compounds. Some floors use a chemical process to reduce and neutralize such emissions.
HOW TO SELECT A LAMINATE FLOOR
From stone to wood to ceramic tile, today’s laminate floors can emulate almost any surface, making them a high demand, low cost option to the real things. Laminate floors are easy to install, easy to maintain and offer terrific resistance to stains and wear. But how do you choose which one is right for you?
What’s Your Style?
There is no limit to the colors, textures and finishes of laminate floors. The look and feel of rare exotic hardwoods or rich stones can be achieved thanks to a highly detailed photographic process. A laminate floor can be used in almost any room of your home. It can be sensitive to excessive moisture, though, so a bathroom or covered patio is probably not such a good idea for this otherwise very versatile product.
Laminate is its own flooring category and possesses its own features, performance benefits and styling. You can get a laminate hardwood floor with an oil finish or hand-scraped look; long, short, wide or narrow planks; 16-inch square tiles or stones; bricks; even photographs that you shot yourself (should you be so inclined).
How Will You Install It?
Installing a new laminate floor is fast, easy and not as messy as you’d imagine. Laminate is typically floated over a level subfloor. No nails, staples, glue or tape are required. You simply leave a fraction of an inch around the perimeter of the room and click your laminate together. It locks fast and tight with almost no gaps between the pieces. Planks can be cut with a hand saw or circular saw, so no special tools are required. Working around obstacles — such as floor vents, pipes and wall corners — often requires that you cut notches and shaped sections from the planks. In these cases, a jig saw or band saw works well.
Of course, the most important component of laminate is the underlayment. Like a carpet cushion, this is the soft subfloor that acts as a moisture barrier, absorbs sound and keeps the floating floor in place.
Some newer underlayments feature antimicrobial properties to keep mold from growing, should it ever get wet underneath. Some laminates come pre-attached to an underlayment padding.
An AC rating is a term used to indicate the durability level of laminate flooring. These ratings are applied by an independent body known as European Producers of Laminate Flooring. A series of tests are carried out in order to assess each line of laminate flooring for resistance to burns, scratches, stains and impact. Each product is then assigned an AC rating number. Here’s what they mean:
AC1: Moderate Residential
Suitable for moderate residential use, including bedrooms and closets.
AC2: General Residential
Suitable for normal residential applications like living and dining rooms.
AC3: Heavy Residential & Moderate Commercial
Suitable for all residential applications, plus light commercial use, including hotel rooms and small offices.
AC4: General Commercial
Suitable for all residential plus general commercial applications, including offices, boutiques and cafes.
AC5: Heavy Commercial
Suitable for all residential applications plus heavy commercial applications, such as public buildings, department stores, etc.
Not all laminate flooring manufacturers go by these ratings, but most of the best ones do use them. Look on the back of the sample boards for the AC ratings.
Courtesy of the World Floor Covering Assocation
Category: Interior Details