Laminate Flooring Buyer’s Guide
Benefits | Step 1 – How to Choose | Step 2 – Design & Lifestyle | Step 3 - Other considerations
Step 1 - How to choose a laminate floor
A relatively new introduction to the North American market, laminate floors have been a popular choice for flooring throughout Europe for over 20 years. In fact, European manufacturers continue to lead the market in quality laminate floor production. Brands such as Haro Tritty consistently offer tough, beautiful laminate flooring that stands the test of time.
Learn more about the unique qualities of laminate floors to make a choice that’s right for you.
What is laminate flooring?
Laminate is a manufactured flooring product with uniquely durable features. The surface pattern that you see in laminate is actually a photograph printed on the surface of the material. While you can find laminate floors in different styles to mimic all kinds of natural materials – such as the Haro Plaza series - laminate floors that typically look like wood dominate the market. Although most laminate looks like hardwood, it is not made from any hardwood species. In fact, there is no solid wood used in its construction.
How is laminate flooring made?
Laminate consists of 4 layers, each constructed with a specific purpose:
1. The backing layer
The backing layer is designed to provide structural integrity to the product and to provide a barrier against moisture. Backing layer materials will vary depending on the manufacturer, and range from paper to a thin melamine. The materials used to construct the backing layer can affect product longevity, so look for laminate or melamine backings to better protect against water damage and provide stability for your floor.
2. The core
The core can be made of a variety of materials, again depending on the manufacturer. Most commonly, you will find a core of HDF (high density fiberboard) or MDF (medium density fiberboard). Both are durable, engineered wood products treated with resins to make them very hard. Look for quality laminate floors with where all exposed edges are treated in resin to resist the swelling effects of water. The Haro aquaTec treatment system gives you the guarantee that Haro laminate floors will always stay in good shape.
3. The photographic layer
Beneath the surface layer on top of the core, you will find a high-resolution photographic image of a real hardwood board. This layer is sometimes referred to as the décor layer and is what gives laminate it’s wood-like appearance.
Just like a photo, image resolution and laminate printing processes can vary depending on the manufacturer. Poorly reproduced images are susceptible to color changes over time, so look for a quality photographic image.
4. The wear layer
The wear layer is the surface of the board. It carries the texture of the product, seals the photographic design and provides an extremely hard surface to resist foot traffic and other wear and tear.
Wear layer coatings are made out of tough materials, typically a resin coated cellulose and aluminum oxide or melamine. Wear layers are given an abrasion class (AC) rating for durability. Look for an AC rating of 3 or higher for a beautiful, hardwearing finish.
The 4 layers are fused using one of the following methods:
1. Direct –pressure (DPL). Here, the laminate is assembled all at once, then heated and pressed under extreme pressure to form a bond.
2. High-pressure (HPL). A more recent innovation often found in premium brands, here, the top and bottom layers are first treated separately and then fused again to the core layer under extreme pressure.
Yes, laminate flooring is a floating floor
Today’s laminate flooring comes ready to assemble, as smooth or textured individual planks with tongue and groove edges. These edges slide together with a glueless click joint or locking system allowing the floor to be quickly assembled by hand or with a mallet.
Historically only available as a glue-down board, quality laminate is now manufactured as a floating floor, which means the boards snap together into one solid piece and the floor is left unsecured on a subfloor. This makes today’s laminate 50% faster to install, with less mess.
Wear ratings and what they mean
Grades and Level of Use
As with most types of flooring, laminate comes graded for quality – good, better and best. The grade determines the quality and variances of pattern, durability and moisture resistance, the length and extent of the warranty (usually 15-30 years), and of course, the cost of the product. Grades also determine the typical application the laminate is suited for – residential or commercial.
The Level of Use is a measure expressed in a combination of numbers, with the first number indicating the product’s suitability for residential applications, and the second for commercial installations. These numbers are included in a pictogram you’ll see in brochures and on the box.
Level of Use
When assessing laminate flooring, weigh each factor carefully against the price of the product and choose the highest grade you can afford, to ensure a good-looking, lasting laminate floor and the best value for your money.
Abrasion Class (AC) ratings
In addition, laminate is given an AC rating (see below) to measure resistance to moisture, burns, abrasions, impact and stains. The AC determines whether the product is suitable for a particular residential or commercial application.
ABRASION CLASS (AC) RATINGS
|AC1 - Moderate Residential
||Suits light traffic areas such as bedrooms and closets
|AC2 - General Residential
||Suits medium traffic areas such as living rooms and dining rooms
|AC3 - Heavy Residential/ Moderate Commercial
|| Suits all rooms in a home and light traffic commercial spaces
|AC4 - General Commercial
||Suits all rooms in a home and medium traffic commercial spaces
|AC5 - Heavy Commercial
||Suits high traffic commercial spaces such as department stores
Keep in mind, most residential rooms need no more than an AC rating of 3, which is also suitable for commercial use in spaces such as hotel rooms and small offices.
Shop for quality, not thickness
Thickness is not necessarily an indicator of quality. A 12mm laminate may seem like your best choice because you see more material, but without quality of construction you’re simply paying for more fiberboard.
Contrary to common belief, board thickness has no bearing on how well your laminate floor will hold up over time. In fact, it is the materials and methods used to manufacture the product and the quality of the embossing that makes for a beautiful, long wearing floor.
Look for an ISO rating of 9001, which is a certification of quality management and product quality, and ISO 14001, which certifies environmental commitments. Our Haro Tritty line meets and exceeds these designations. Read more about their commitment to quality.
What to look for in a laminate floor:
• A strong backing layer and dense core layer
• Boards that are engineered to connect tightly and sit level when they snap together - look for dense, treated edges that create a seamless snug fit that will stay locked over the life of the floor
• An authentic, well printed hardwood reproduction
• A UV surface to protect the image from fading
• A wear layer with an abrasion class (AC) of 3 or higher
• A grade suitable to the application, your needs and budget
• A ISO 9001 rating for production and management quality
• A ISO 14001 rating for environmental commitment
Advantages and disadvantages of laminate floors
• Laminates are generally more affordable than their hardwood look-alikes
• Laminates are durable, low-maintenance and long-wearing, suitable for busy family homes
• Laminates are available in a wide variety of colours and styles to suit the personality of any room
• Laminates are easy to install and hypoallergenic once installed
• Laminates don’t increase the resale value of a home as much as engineered or solid hardwood floors
• Because they aren’t real wood laminates can’t be refinished
Laminate floor installation considerations
A smart choice for DIYers, laminate is a breeze to install on almost any existing substrate and hassel-free to replace if ever an individual board becomes scratched or burned.
Unlike hardwood, laminate is a very versatile product that can be easily installed on nearly any dry subfloor, above or below ground. It is typically installed over concrete or plywood subfloors, radiant heat concrete slabs or directly on top of ceramic tile, vinyl or linoleum and parquet.
Underlay is a must when installing laminate and provides a number of benefits:
• It helps soundproof the floor
• It protects the floor from moisture
• It increases underfoot comfort and warmth
There are many types of underlay available on the market. After years of research, we found the Floor Muffler to be the best underlay product available today. The Floor Muffler has a very high STC rating (73) and IIC rating (74), to help create a more solid, authentic sound, and not the hollow sound commonly associated with laminate floors.
Installation dos and don'ts
• Ensure that your subfloor is flat, dry, and smooth
• Use Floor Muffler to lessen laminate floor ‘echo’
• Install your floor per the manufacturer’s instructions or hire a professional to install your floor if you are unsure how to proceed
• Ask if your installer will remove furnishings, drapes and artwork before installation, as most installers are not insured for this type of work
• Take extra care when installing over radiant heating and read instructions carefully
• Acclimatize boards for 48 hours before installation
• Inspect boards for defects before installing
• Leave an expansion gap of a minimum of 10mm around the room perimeter and at room transitions to allow space for the floor to move during temperature changes
• In kitchens, to create greater water resistance in the seams of your floor, run a small bead of waterproof glue in the groove before clicking the planks together and wipe off any excess before it dries
• Keep extra boards in storage for minor repairs down the road
• Install in consistently wet areas such as bathrooms and laundry room
• Install over carpet
• Treat or seal your floors after they are installed unless otherwise indicated by manufacturer’s instructions
| Step 1 – How to Choose | Step 2 – Design & Lifestyle
| Step 3 - Other considerations