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.
The protective surface layer is transparent and provides defense against everyday wear and tear like heavy furniture, animals and high heels.
The decorative layer is the high-definition digitally produced image that creates the appearance of another naturally occurring material used for flooring, such as slate or knotty pine.
A High-density fiberboard (HDF) provides the core of the final product, giving it structural stability while also providing moisture resistance.
A 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.
* Extra Credit: Some underlayment is now made with cork, which provides a natural form of moisture resistance.
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.
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.
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.
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 is 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 is the best option for general commercial that involves large amounts of off-street traffic, such as a restaurant.
Laminate flooring is not only budget friendly but eco-friendly, as well. Laminate flooring releases almost no VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions.
* Extra Credit: Allergy sufferers can breathe easy with laminate flooring because the surface resists dust and allergens.
What sort of style options are available for laminate floors?
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.
* Extra Credit: Embossed in Register laminate flooring (or EIR) matches the enhanced texture of laminate flooring directly ot the image on the surface of the laminate. This is particularly impressive on the replication of wood grains.
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.
Another feature available in laminate flooring are surface edge shapes. The lengths of planks can have square, beveled or pillowed edges.
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.
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.
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.
* Extra Credit: Glueless installation is the most popular and common method of laying laminate flooring.
What should I do at the perimeter and/or edges of my laminate flooring?
To complete, enhance and showcase your new laminate flooring you’ll want to consider finishing trim, like moldings and transitions.
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.
Stair nose moldings are used on the edges of significantly raised surfaces, like stair steps. Bullnose stair moldings are rounded, while square nose stair moldings have 90 degree corners.
How can I prevent damage to my laminate floors?
There are several precautions you can take to help ensure your laminate floors will look beautiful for years to come. A little preventive maintenance goes a long way!
Rugs and mats offer a stylish opportunity to protect your laminate flooring from dents and dings. By placing rugs or mats in high-traffic areas, like entrances, bathrooms and kitchens, you can avoid excessive wear while showcasing your design style.
* Extra Credit: Avoid rugs with rubber or petroleum-based backings. These backings can trap moisture and cause damage to the flooring. Instead, use underlayments that have been recommended by the manufacturer.
Furniture coasters, also called pads or glides, can be an excellent barrier to place between heavy furniture and your floor. These come in many different shapes, sizes and materials, allowing you to choose the appropriate option for your furniture and flooring.
* Extra Credit: Plastic wheels on furniture make for easy moving, but can also cause heavy scratching.
Periodically rotating rugs and furniture (with the appropriate protection) will help prevent changes in color, over time, due to differing levels of sunlight. Window treatments can also reduce sun exposure.
Although not nearly as susceptible to denting and scratching as hardwood floors, it’s still a good idea to avoid high-heeled shoes and keep pets’ nails or claws properly trimmed to avoid scratches.
As with any home furnishing, the best prevention is through maintaining a clean product. Laminate floors should be swept daily and vacuumed weekly.
How should laminate flooring be cleaned?
Regular maintenance of laminate flooring includes sweeping and vacuuming. Other methods may also be performed if so advised by the flooring manufacturer.
When sweeping, use a good, quality broom that won’t scratch your floors. Laminate flooring should be swept daily, particularly in areas of high traffic.
When using a vacuum to clean laminate floors, a wand attachment or dust mop is best. Avoid vacuums with beater bars, as they can damage the surface of laminate flooring.
Although there are many products available to wash, mop and “polish” floors, be cautious. The first issue is moisture. Excessive moisture can cause the deterioration of laminate floor layers. Using a wet mop is never recommended because of the standing water involved in the process. For extremely soiled areas, when washing is necessary, consult your manufacturer’s guidelines for appropriate techniques and products.
Additionally, avoid applying wax or wax-based cleaning products. Laminate flooring does not require waxing.
Are there green, or eco-friendly, laminate options?
Laminate flooring is naturally “green” due to its composition. While offering the look of a true hardwood or stone, laminate planks are not produced using natural wood or stone, saving old-growth hardwood trees and reducing quarry mining.
The core of laminate flooring is made primarily from pre-consumer recycled waste and, at the end of its life as flooring, can be reused and recycled into new flooring or used as waste-to-energy.
The North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) offers certification to manufacturers that meet strict eco-conscious guidelines ensuring zero negative environmental impact during manufacturing, installation or disposal.
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