Not to be confused with the 1970’s style laminate flooring we all outgrew, today’s laminate is sustainable, cost-effective and durable. Read on for more about the new age of Laminate flooring.
My history in the floor covering industry goes back into the early 1970s, when I worked in my family’s floor covering store. Our business was mostly residential carpet, resilient flooring, and a little bit of wood. The most popular floors for residential kitchens were vinyl tile and sheet products. When I left for the commercial side in 1992, laminate flooring had not yet arrived. By the late 1990s it had, and quickly became a very popular option for residential kitchens. Many characteristics that made laminate popular then are still relevant today; Affordable, Sustainably Produced, Durable, Authentic designs and ease of installation. Today’s laminate also features technological advancements. Its water resistance allows even better performance. Advances in embossing and sheen levels create design realism that even experienced professionals confuse with real wood.
What is Laminate?
Laminate is a “floating floor” panel with a mechanical locking system that “clicks” together without any adhesives. This multi-layer flooring is made by permanently bonding melamine impregnated paper to a high-density fiberboard (HDF) with heat and pressure. The bottom layer or balancing layer, protects the flooring from moisture. The water resistant core layer provides a rigid and dimensionally stable base as well as indentation resistance. The design layer incorporates the beautiful and realistic faux-wood or natural stone image. The melamine top layer provides protection against stains, fading, burns, scratching and wear. Laminate is a very hard flooring material, so it’s not only durable but sounds and feels like the real thing.
“PVC Free” building materials are increasingly in demand today, and laminate floors do not contain PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) or formaldehyde. Manufacturers create the core layers by using wood and wood by products and Laminate floors meet all indoor air quality certifications such as Green Guard, CARB II, TSCA Title VI, PEFC and LEED. Some manufacturers Laminate flooring is fully recyclable, and the manufacturer and the products are CO2 negative!
Laminate standards are governed by NALFA (North American Laminate Flooring Association), an accredited ANSI standards developing organization that publishes installation standards, testing and performance criteria that are the benchmark by which all quality laminate flooring is measured. Their website contains commercial and residential Buyers Guides, white papers and educational opportunities for users and specifiers of Laminate.
Ease of installation
I remember talking to my father in those days about the popularity of laminate for his business, and how different it was than the resilient flooring he and I had grown up with. Installing resilient floors usually involved a lot of substrate preparation, such as removing old floors, and/or installing new underlayment like plywood. Laminate requires less preparation because it is a rigid “floating floor” and does not glue down. Substrates still need to be flat and level, without any dips or high spots, but they don’t need to be “smooth as glass” as they do for a glue down resilient flooring. One of the most important factors for installing floating floors is to allow the recommended expansion space around the perimeter of a room, and often within the flooring field on very long runs. This allows the floor to “float” (expand and contract) with environmental changes. For the same reason, it’s also very important not to fasten anything through the floor or install anything heavy on top, such as millwork, cabinets, a reception desk, or other heavy weight. You must install these items first, and the flooring installed around them, allowing the recommended expansion space. Matching moldings are available to cover the expansion spaces and take care of transitions, stair nosing, and other trim pieces.
When laminate hit the U.S. in the 1990s, laminate countertops were still very popular – everyone was familiar with its durability. Incorporating the same characteristics into a floor makes it a tough material.
To identify the abrasion durability differences between products, European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF) created “AC (Abrasion Class) Ratings.” This follows a scale of 1 to 6, often referenced in marketing materials for Laminate flooring.
NALFA publishes NALFA-01, the industry standard for laminate flooring and a white paper titled, “Making Sense of Wear Resistance & AC Ratings” that clarifies the “durability” question even more:
To Quote NALFA:
“Abrasion Class is only one component of product durability; other properties such as impact and stain resistance also come into play when describing how durable a laminate flooring product really is…..NALFA certifies laminate flooring in four different levels, from Residential to Heavy Commercial. NALFA certification includes the same sort of testing that the European standard uses when determining its abrasion classification (AC rating), but the NALFA levels consider more than this single test. Each level has its own criteria for wear, scratch, impact, and stain….Products with a NALFA logo have been tested against 14 different quality criteria and classified to a NALFA certification level based on those results …
Other consideration when selecting floating floors for commercial use is exposure to rolling loads. Excessive rolling loads can damage or negatively impact tongue and groove floating floors, causing failing joints.
Most laminate flooring manufacturers offer extensive warranty protection against stains, fading, and moisture damage. However, it pays to take the time to specify the right product for the specific application. These standards can help in that regard.
As always, we’re here to help make the right decision, write accurate specifications, and follow your project through to completion.
Many thanks to Bobby Glennon of Kaindl flooring for his assistance on this article.
DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS? Send them my way at Christopher@spartansurfaces.com
Christopher Capobianco covers the NY Metro and Connecticut area for Spartan. He’s a fourth-generation floor coverer whose family has been in the business since the 1930s. For 36 of the last 43 years, he’s had roles in retail, distributor, and manufacturer sales. The other seven years were spent in floor covering training and technical support. He also has been a part time columnist for various flooring magazines since 1988 and is a long-time member of the ASTM Committee on resilient flooring. You can reach him here.
Spartan Surfaces, a subsidiary of Floor & Decor, is a specialty flooring supplier headquartered in Bel Air, MD. Employing over 150 team members, Spartan holds warehousing and offices in Maryland and Minnesota with showrooms in D.C.and Chicago. Its geography encompasses eighty-five percent of the United States, with continued expansion on the horizon. Taking a human-centered approach, Spartan prides itself on great people dedicated to great products, great families, great friendships, and great happiness. Whatever you’re working on, we’ve got you covered!