All About Laminate

how laminate floor is constructed

What is Laminate Flooring?

Laminate flooring is a composite made from multiple layers that have been fused together and imitates other natural flooring options like wood, tile and marble. Laminate layers always include a protective surface layer, a decorative layer, a layer of high-density fiberboard and a melamine resin layer.

Quick Definitions

The Different Layers of Laminate Flooring

Surface Layer – the protective layer that is transparent and provides defense against everyday wear and tear like heavy furniture, animals and high heels.

Decorative Layer – the high-definition digitally produced image that creates the appearance of another naturally occurring material used for flooring, such as slate or knotty pine.

High-density fiberboard (HDF) – the core of the final product, giving it structural stability while also providing moisture resistance.

Melamine Resin Layer – reinforces the HDF core, providing additional structure and resistance to moisture.

Additionally, some laminate flooring products include underlayment below the resin as a final layer.

Is Underlayment Important?

Underlayment is a key element when choosing laminate flooring. Different types of underlayments can provide one, several, or all, of the following; noise reduction, moisture protection, temperature insulation, the evening of imperfections in sub-flooring and minimization of flooring movement.

Foam underlayments are considered standard and offer insulation, along with a small degree of noise reduction. For subfloors above ground level, or installation over existing flooring, simple foam underlayments are often sufficient.

When installing laminate flooring at or below ground level, it is best to also use a moisture barrier, or choose underlayment which has combined the foam and moisture barrier. This added protection will prevent moisture from seeping into the laminate flooring and causing damage.

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Why should, or shouldn’t, I choose laminate flooring?

Laminate flooring was created in the 1970s as an affordable alternative to hardwood flooring. Although the quality of the images used in early laminates was good, the final product and surface often created a shiny, plastic look that was easily identifiable as a man-made product. Although the appearance and feel of laminate flooring has improved over time and can be nearly indistinguishable from real wood, the price point remains a key selling point.

AC Ratings

AC ratings are applied by the European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF) to flooring after a series of test that measure resistance to burns, scratches, stains and impact.

AC2

Considered suitable for general residential use in areas of moderate wear, but not recommended for high-traffic areas like a kitchen or entry hall.

AC3

Offers greater durability and is recommended for heavy residential and/or moderate commercial use. The commercial use would be for areas that receive a great deal of use but are not directly off the street, such as a hotel room.

AC4

The best option for general commercial that involves large amounts of off-street traffic, such as a restaurant.

Along with affordability, laminate flooring offers a durability that many natural surfaces cannot match. As a hard surface with a protective top layer, laminate provides a high level of resilience against common dangers to softer, natural surfaces. However, while laminate floorings stand up well to wear, their ability to be repaired when damaged is limited. While new technology allows for the replacement of single planks, unlike true wood flooring, laminate flooring cannot be refinished or resurfaced. More detailed durability information can be found in the AC rating.

Laminate flooring is not only budget friendly but eco-friendly, as well. Laminate flooring releases almost no VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions.

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Style Options for Laminate Floors

One Plank

Two Plank

Three Plank

Advanced technology now allows for nearly any visual illusion a homeowner desires, from traditional wood to stone or tile and even leather.

Exotic woods, like Brazilian Cherry, demand premium price points. However, a laminate that looks exactly like Brazilian Cherry provides a more affordable alternative. In addition to imaging, laminates have also advanced to offer textured finishes, with grained, hand-scraped and wire brushed options further enhancing the appearance of a true hardwood flooring.

Wood-look laminate flooring comes in 1-strip, 2-strip and 3-strip options. The number refers to how many “strips” of wood appear to be in each plank of flooring. 1-strip would indicate that a single plank of flooring appears to be a single strip of wood, whereas 3-strip indicates a single plank of flooring appears to be made up of three strips of wood.

Natural stone and tile floors are often cold to the touch, while a laminate flooring with the appearance of stone or tile and an insulating underlayment provides the beauty with a more comfortable temperature. Along with natural coloring, textured laminate flooring can also replicate the ridges and indentations of true stone and tile.

Laminate Thickness

Laminate flooring is available in varying thicknesses, measured from the top of the plank to the bottom surface. If an underlayment has been added, the measurement of the underlayment should be subtracted from the advertised thickness when comparing against similar flooring that does not include an underlayment. Plank thickness (not including an underlayment) begins at 7mm and increases up to 12mm.

Flooring of greater thickness does have some advantages when comparing two planks made of similar quality materials and differing only in thickness. The extra density provides increased resistance to damage from dropped objects, offers greater noise reduction and is easier to install. Additionally, thinner planks of laminate are not recommended for water-based areas like kitchens, bathrooms or laundry rooms.

Surface Edge Shapes

Eased/Micro Bevel are trimmed from the side toward the surface of the plank. Two beveled edges placed alongside one another create a v-shaped space along the seam. Beveled edges are only available on 1-strip flooring.

Beveled Edges are trimmed from the side toward the surface of the plank. Two beveled edges placed alongside one another create a v-shaped space along the seam. Beveled edges are only available on 1-strip flooring.

Square Edges are 90 degrees. The planks fit completely flush with one another to create an unbroken surface. Square edges are available on 1, 2 and 3-strip flooring.

Pillowed Edges can be considered a “rough” version of a beveled edge, where the edges are gently rounded, rather than a well-defined angle. Pillowed edges are only available on 1-strip flooring.

How is Laminate Flooring Installed?

Proper installation of laminate flooring is fairly simple and straightforward when compared to natural hardwood flooring.

Any area in which hardwood flooring may be installed should be clean, dry and flat. Minimal imperfections in a sub-floor can often be remedied with the proper underlayment or floor-leveling products. Once the appropriate underlayment (if necessary) has been laid out across the entire surface, the laminate flooring can then be installed.

Laminate flooring is always a floating flooring, in that the laminate “floats” over the subfloor and/or underlayment, it is not affixed to the subfloor or underlayment in any way. Laminate flooring is secured in one of the following ways:

Glue down installation requires the installer to add an adhesive bead onto joining (tongue and groove) edges of the laminate planks or strips to bind them to one another.

Pre-glued laminate flooring already has an adhesive applied to the tongue and groove sections.

Glueless installation is an adhesive-free system wherein the planks or strips are affixed to one another through a “locking” system which requires no adhesive whatsoever.

Different Moldings

Wall base and quarter round moldings serve a functional purpose – filling any space/gap between flooring and a wall, as well as covering the seam where the two meet. Transitions are moldings that function where laminate flooring abuts a surface other than a wall.

T-moldings are used between two surfaces of equal height, often to provide room for natural floor expansion or allow the flooring panels to change direction.

Reducer strips are placed along the edge of flooring when it abuts a surface that is lower in height.

Thresholds are moldings that allow for movement and/or expansion space while creating a smooth finished transition. An example would be flooring meeting a sliding door.

Bullnose stair moldings are rounded, while square nose stair moldings have 90 degree corners.

Stair nose moldings are used on the edges of significantly raised surfaces, like stair steps.

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