Laminated floors are an affordable alternative to traditional hardwood or ceramic tile flooring. They are constructed using a composite core made from wood scraps, sawdust, and resin. The core is topped with a sheet of paper that is printed to resemble wood grain or tile, and then sealed with a protective coat of urethane. Laminated floors offer a very realistic looking finish, and can be difficult to distinguish from real wood or ceramic, even up close. When choosing these floors, it can be helpful to know which features to look for to help you make your selection.
Most brands of laminated floors are rated using the AC laminate scale created by the Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring (ELPF). This organization developed this scale to measure the durability, wear-resistance, and hardness of composite floor products. The scale ranges from one to five, with higher numbers given to more durable and long-lasting products. A level one or two floor is best suited for residential applications, while levels 3 and 4 are generally used in commercial settings. Level 5 products are designed for heavy-duty commercial buildings such as schools and shopping malls.
To make the right choice, buyers should also consider installation methods. The majority of laminated floors are installed using a floating installation technique. This means that the laminate floats above the subfloor without the use of glues, nails, or screws. Instead, the planks lock together using integral tongue-and-groove connectors. If you plan to install these floors in areas prone to high moisture, look for laminate products designed to be glued together to help ensure a higher level of moisture resistance.
Laminated floors can be constructed using either a direct pressure of high-pressure manufacturing technique. Direct pressure units are constructed using a single-step process, where the paper top layer is pressed to the composite core under high heat and pressure. High-pressure versions use a multi-step process, where the core and top coat are added in layers at a much higher level of heat and pressure. While a high-pressure laminate floor will usually be more expensive, it can also be expected to last longer and perform better than direct pressure products.
Because laminated floors cannot be stained or refinished, it's also important to carefully compare color and finish options. Examine color charts carefully, and request physical samples before making your final selection. You'll find laminate in many different colors, styles, and grain patterns to match almost any decor.