Posted on Friday, January 30, 2015 3:15 AM
When you think of laminate flooring, does it conjure up images of “imitation” floors that are easy to discern from real woods or natural stone? If so, you might be surprised by the selection of high-end laminates available today.
Top flooring manufacturers such as Quick Step, Shaw, and Mohawk have applied the latest in flooring technologies to create laminate products that are far more authentic looking than ever before. With beautiful design options, impressive realism, and durability that allows for easy maintenance and long-term wearability, today’s laminates are worth a second look if you’re shopping for new floors.
A Few of the Perks
Far more affordable than many other hard flooring surfaces, laminate flooring features an abundance of designs that impressively replicate some of today’s most sought-after flooring, including domestic and exotic woods, ceramic tile, and natural stones such as slate, porcelain, and travertine. Styles range from traditional narrow planks to today’s popular wider planks and include varying lengths and an array of tile styles that make it easy to create your own unique designer look.
But today’s laminate is more than just good-looking replicas. A highly durable wear layer makes these floors extremely resistant to daily wear, moisture, staining, and fading caused by direct sunlight. And most laminates 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 floors below-grade level. Many laminates can even be installed over radiant heating systems – typically not an option with solid hardwood. And installations are literally a snap, as most flooring includes the latest in click-and-lock technology.
What to Look for in a Quality Laminate
Most laminates are comprised of four layers: a bottom backing layer for stability; a core layer made of high-density fiberboard and often a melamine resin for durability and water resistance; a thin paper image layer on which a digitally enhanced image is printed or embossed; and a top wear layer for added protection. Layers are then combined under incredibly high pressure and heat to produce a resilient sheet, which is then milled into planks or tiles.
Of course, as with any type of flooring, there are different levels of quality. So how can you tell the high-quality laminates from the lower ones? Here are a few things to look for.
Laminate planks typically range from 7 millimeters to 12 millimeters in thicknesses. While thickness doesn’t always 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 are also typically less noisy.
Abrasion Class (AC) Ratings
To assess laminate’s durability, the flooring industry uses the Abrasion Class rating system (also known as AC rating) as its standard. After extensive durability testing, laminates are assigned an AC rating between 1 and 5, with 5 being the most durable. Here’s a quick overview of each rating category:
- AC 1: Suitable for home use with minimal foot traffic (guest rooms, for example)
- AC 2: Suitable for home use with medium foot traffic (such as formal dining rooms or living rooms)
- AC 3: Suitable for home use with all levels of foot traffic (includes high-use areas such as entry halls, kitchens, and busy family rooms)
- AC 4: Suitable for home use in all traffic areas and for standard commercial use (such as an office building)
- AC 5: Suitable for heavy commercial traffic (busy retail stores, for example)
Laminate floors that fail any of the durability tests are not certified and are labeled "Unrated." Generally, this flooring is not recommended for long-term use.
Embossed in Register and Liquid Laminate
To produce laminate’s amazing realism, many manufacturers use an embossed in register (EIR) technique in which digitally enhanced images of natural materials are embossed onto a paper image layer that is pushed toward the tile surface, producing a raised image that adds more depth and texture to the surface. This embossing process is also used to mimic distressing techniques such as wire-brushing and hand-scraping.
A new technique that is further enhancing the overall look of laminate is liquid laminate technology. This process, which originated in Europe, uses liquid melamine to adhere the wear layer directly to the backing layer, eliminating the need for the top paper. Without the paper, the surface is much more transparent, which adds to the floor’s overall realism.
Have more questions about laminate? Ask one of our Barry Carpet flooring experts
. Or, if you want to see just how well laminate can capture the look of woods and natural stone, stop in our Barry Carpet showroom
in West Los Angeles.
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