Shopping For Laminate Flooring

Shopping for Laminate Flooring

Homeowners who want the look of popular high-end flooring – but not the costs, are finding that laminate flooring can be a great option. But if you are among the skeptics who hear the word “laminate” and immediately think of hollow-sounding, imitation flooring that is easily discernible from the real thing, you may be surprised. Today’s high-end laminates include authentic-looking textures, beautiful design options, and impressive realism that can make these durable floors hard to tell from the real thing.

The Advantages of Laminate Flooring

Far more affordable than many other hard flooring surfaces, laminate flooring features an abundance of look-alike design options that can impressively replicate some of the most sought-after flooring. Styles include the looks of popular domestic and exotic wood species, as well as ceramic tile and natural stones including porcelain, travertine, and slate. Laminates can range from narrow boards to wide planks in varying lengths, and tiles come in an impressive selection of designer looks.

Laminate flooring for kitchesBut in addition to creating great-looking floors, today’s laminate offers far more durability. Laminate’s highly durable wear layer makes floors extremely resistant to daily wear, moisture, staining, and the possible fading caused by direct sunlight. And these floors are easier and often less expensive to maintain than other flooring types. Installation is also easier, as most floors can float over a variety of subfloors, including concrete and rooms below-grade level. Many laminates can even be installed over radiant heating systems, which is not generally an option with solid hardwood flooring. The latest click-and-lock technology makes DIY installations literally a snap, further reducing installation costs.

Laminate’s Construction

There are many laminate flooring products on the market today that run the gamut of quality. To determine a high-quality laminate, it first helps to understand how a typical laminate plank is constructed. Most products are comprised of 4 basic layers:

  1. Bottom backing layer – Also know as the balancing layer or stabilizing layer, this layer’s main function is to create a stable and level support for the plank.
  2. Core layer – Comprised of a high-density fiberboard, this layer generally contains a melamine resin for durability and water resistance.
  3. Image layer – This thin (often paper) layer is printed or embossed with a digitally enhanced image of a specific wood grain or stone finish, replicating the look and feel of the natural surface.
  4. Top wear layer – This layer provides laminate’s superior protection against stains, fading, scratches, and scuffs. For added durability and moisture protection, many manufacturers include aluminum oxide particles and melamine resin in this top layer.

These layers are combined under an incredibly high-pressure heat process that results in a resilient sheet, which is then milled into planks – often with added click-and-lock systems.

In comparing laminate flooring, following are a few things to consider.

High-Pressure Laminate vs. Direct-Pressure Laminate

Bruce Laminate FlooringWhen shopping for laminate flooring, you may come across the terms DPL or HPL. This refers to the type of pressure construction used to produce the laminate planks.

Direct-pressure laminate (DPL) generally uses 300 to 500 pounds per square inch (PSI) of pressure, which allows for more flexible melamine to be pressed into each sheet. Most manufacturers use a direct-pressure laminate process, as its flexibility helps in the creation of more realistic-looking patterns.

High-pressure laminate (HPL) floors are made using more than 1,300 PSI, resulting in a thicker decorative layer. HPL construction offers superior impact and heat resistance, as well as better sound reduction, and overall stability. This maximum durability makes HPL most suitable for commercial use.

Overall Plank Thickness

Laminate flooring is typically available in planks that range from 7 millimeters to 12 millimeters in thicknesses. While thickness doesn’t necessarily determine dent resistance, a thicker laminate will help prevent bends in the floor that can occur if the subfloor is not completely level. Thicker laminate products can also help reduce noise.

AC Ratings

The durability of a particular laminate can be determined by the floor’s Abrasion Class rating, more commonly referred to as AC Rating. This rating system, which was originally created by the Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring (ELPF), is currently the worldwide industry standard for gauging the durability of laminate flooring products. Ratings are assigned to products based on extensive testing requirements, which include staining and impact testing, testing the effects of small burns, checking for water absorption and swelling, and determining potential abrasion from furniture legs and castors. If a floor meets or exceeds the basic requirements in all of these areas, it is granted an AC rating between 1 and 5. The higher the AC rating, the more durable the laminate. Here’s a brief description of what each rating means:

  • AC 1: Designed for home use with minimal foot traffic (for example, guest rooms).
  • AC 2: Designed for home use with medium foot traffic (for example, dining rooms and living rooms).
  • AC 3: Designed for home use with all levels of foot traffic, including high traffic (for example, entryways, kitchens, busy family rooms, and playrooms).
  • AC 4: Designed for home use in all traffic areas and can meet some commercial standards (for example, office buildings and salons).
  • AC 5: Can withstand heavy commercial traffic (for example, hotels and department stores).

Laminate floors that fail any of the durability tests are not AC certifiable and are thus labeled "Unrated." Typically, “Unrated,” products will not hold up well under long-term use.

Realism

Mohawk Laminate FlooringEvolving technologies have allowed laminate manufacturers to produce products that look amazingly real. Digitally enhanced images of natural materials are commonly embossed into the image layer. With embossed in register (EIR) techniques, an embossing die pushes the paper surface forward, producing a raised image that adds improved depth and texture to the laminate surface. Laminates can also be pressed to replicate distressing techniques such as wire-brushing and handscraping.

Liquid laminate technology is also making its entrance into the laminate market. This technique, which originated in Europe, adheres the wear layer to the backing layer with liquid melamine, eliminating the need for the top paper. Without the top paper, the transparency of the surface is improved, enhancing the flooring’s overall look.

Don’t Forget a Quality Underlayment

To get the full warranty coverage, many manufactures require installing a quality subfloor, also referred to as the underlayment. A smooth, even underlayment will protect floors from damage and will cushion the flooring, making it softer and more resilient underfoot and also helping to reduce the clicking sound often associated with laminate.

For floating installations, underlayments should also include a moisture barrier. This is especially important for below-grade installations such as in basements, installations over concrete, or in rooms with high humidity or moisture. Many underlayments come with an attached moisture barrier. But if one is not attached, adding a separate 6mil plastic sheet as a moisture barrier is recommended.

Warranties

Laminate flooring warranties for residential use range from 5 years to lifetime. Generally, the better the warranty, the more likely the product will hold up to daily wear. For full warranty coverage, some manufactures require a professional installation and the installation of a specific underlayment. As with any flooring product, it’s always important to understand the terms of the manufacturer’s warranty before making your purchase.

Find Out More

Want to find out more about laminate flooring from a flooring expert? Find your local laminate flooring stores.

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Overall Rating: 4.2 stars - 5 reviews

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Date: June 11, 2016
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
I now feel ready to make a decision. Thank you.
By:
Date: January 25, 2016
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
Very helpful, just need to find construction and value of laminate choice I have made
By:
Date: December 14, 2015
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
Very nice article. It gave pertinent, understandable information that helps me in making an informed decision.
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Date: October 3, 2015
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
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very helpful helps to get sq footage as well thanks so much
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Date: August 31, 2015
Page Rating: (1.0/5)
Comments:
I wanted a comparison of the different laminates, ie Pergo vs other manufacturers

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