Laminate flooring is becoming more and more popular today in North America and all over the world, although it started as a European innovation. For households and offices which require a low maintenance flooring solution, laminate flooring has been known to be an effective choice for its attractiveness, durability, ease of installation, as well as for its reasonable price when compared to many other flooring options. However, despite the fact that laminate flooring is popular, there are a great many misconceptions and mysteries surrounding it in terms of how laminate flooring is made and how it differs from solid hardwood. This guide is meant to clear up these misconceptions and reveal some of these mysteries, as well as outline some of the major benefits of laminate flooring. Armed with this knowledge, it is hoped that eBayers can go forward and buy their choice of laminate flooring with confidence!
What is laminate flooring?
One of the first mistakes people make is to confuse laminate flooring with solid hardwood flooring. The two should never be thought of as similar, despite the obvious visual similarities that makes quality laminate flooring such an attractive choice. Laminate flooring is not comprised of any real hardwood species at all. In fact, the surface of a laminate floor is actually a highly rendered photograph, often of a hardwood species. This top layer, or decorative layer, is sealed by a resin-based coating which gives the laminate flooring board its resistance to many forms of abrasion. The two remaining layers of laminate flooring are the core layer and the backing layer. The core layer is most often made of high-density or medium density fiber board, which serves as a means to absorb the stress of footfalls and other forms of impact. The backing layer, otherwise known as the stabilizing layer, is the layer of the laminate flooring which binds all of the others together. All in all, each layer of the laminate flooring board is designed for maximum structural strength, although not all laminate flooring lines are created equal. For a more detailed breakdown of just how much stress each type of laminate flooring is meant for, you need to find out what the AC rating of the laminate flooring is.
What is an AC rating?
An AC rating is applied to every line of laminate flooring by an independent body known as EPLF, or European Producers of Laminate Flooring. A series of tests are designed and carried out in order to test each line of laminate flooring for stress resistance. The tests range from resistance to burning, to scratching, to impact, and even tests for resistance against abrasion caused by castors and other furniture legs. When the tests are concluded, those lines of laminate flooring are assigned an AC rating, which is the measurement of stress as applied to where the laminate flooring is to be installed. Here is a general guide to the AC rating:
- AC1 is suitable for lighter, more infrequent traffic, e.g. a bedroom.
- AC2 is suitable for general residential use in living rooms and dining rooms.
- AC3 can be applied to more varied locations, such as small offices and other light commercial locations
- AC4 can be installed in higher traffic commercial areas such as boutiques, busier offices, and restaurants.
- AC5 is more durable still and can withstand the traffic of heavier commercial areas such as department stores and public buildings.
All reputable manufacturers of laminate flooring adhere to these standards which are outlined by the industry for the benefit of consumers. It is important for consumers to note the AC rating on the laminate flooring they are considering, particularly with the idea of foot traffic, moisture, and other stresses that the laminate flooring will need to endure firmly in mind.
Tongue and Groove and Locking Systems
One of the key characteristics of laminate flooring, and one that is kept in mind when it is manufactured, is how easy it is to install when compared to other types of flooring. Of the many designs, some of the more efficient and mess-free laminate flooring lines are the “glueless” variety. With this variety, the laminate flooring is generally fitted together by means of what is called a “tongue and groove” design, with interlocking elements that slide into place and are made secure as each row is laid down. Unlike hardwood, no nails are required. Some types of laminate feature more sophisticated locking systems, designed to be put down and taken up again where necessary. With some fairly limited skills in carpentry, laminate flooring can be installed by do-it-yourselfers in most cases. Choosing to install laminate flooring commonly cuts down on expenses, as it is rarely necessary to hire an installer, although many homeowners do for the sake of convenience. For contractors, offering the option of laminate flooring to clients is often a time-saving option, as laminate flooring is more quickly installed than hardwood flooring, allowing them to take on more contracts.
Laminate flooring dos and don’ts
Generally speaking, laminate flooring is a low maintenance option that is easily installed, but there are a few things to keep in mind before purchasing laminate flooring as well as once they’ve been installed. Here are a few pointers when looking to maintain a laminate floor.
Do:Consider the area in which you intend to install your choice of flooring. Judge it for foot traffic and moisture levels in particular to be sure that your choice of flooring is appropriate. This is where it is handy to check the AC rating of your chosen laminate floor
- Choose a quality underlayment to protect against moisture coming from the subfloor
- Read any installation instructions you have very carefully.
- Hire a professional if you are unsure how to proceed
- Ensure that your subfloor is level, clean and dry
- When installing, leave a 10mm gap around the perimeter of your installation area as well as any fixed objects in the center. You will need to allow room for expansion as the laminate will respond to temperature changes over time
- Once the laminate flooring has been installed, be aware of any spills on your laminate floor and clear them up as soon as they happen
- Use a dry mop or a vacuum cleaner to keep the laminate flooring clear of dust and dirt
- Use protective pads on the feet of all furniture to reduce the risk of scratching the laminate flooring
- Install laminate flooring over carpet
- install laminate flooring in areas subject to excessive moisture
- Continue with your installation if your first row is not straight. The first row is the basis for the entire installation.
- Use wax, polish, or abrasive cleansers on your laminate flooring. This can ruin the finish and the overall look of the laminate
- Try to seal, lacquer, finish or sand your laminate floor
- Flood the floor when cleaning. It is important to minimize moisture levels on the laminate floor. If excessive moisture finds its way underneath the flooring, it can cause the boards to swell
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but is certain comprised of some of the key points in making sure that your choice of laminate flooring is one that is wisely considered. In all areas, it is always best to consult the experts directly when thinking about your flooring options. Contact your local flooring contractors who maybe able to point you in the right direction in terms of installation and usage.
Rob Jones is Communications Coordinator with BuildDirect, a leading online wholesaler of building products. Rob writes articles for commercial contractors and DIYers on features, installation, and maintenance of building materials used in commercial and residential projects. These articles focus on materials such as flooring, decking, roofing, and siding, and other related topics.