What is Laminate Flooring and How is it Made?
Laminate FlooringIt’s an amazing manufacturing process by which four layers are fused together in a single press operation at high heat at over 300˚F using direct-pressure laminate (DPL) construction. DPL is the most typical fusing method used to manufacture residential laminate flooring. Let’s review each of the four layers starting with the bottom layer [labeled “D”]: Layer D: Backer paper At the base of most laminate flooring planks is a bottom balancing layer that keeps the board straight. The backer seals the back of the laminate board so its dimensional stability isn’t compromised in any way, for example by moisture. Some laminate planks have foam padding added, eliminating the need for an underlayment; underlayment or padding enhances the acoustical quality of the floors when you walk on it. Layer C: HDF core or board The core layer of laminate flooring is high-density fiberboard (HDF). There is also medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which should only be used in light, residential applications such as bedrooms. Both HDF and MDF are made from softwood fibers that are broken down, combined with a wax and resin binder, and formed into panels using heat and pressure. However, HDF offers superior stability and strength compared with MDF for the production of laminate flooring; it makes a better floor. During the manufacturing process, the HDF core will be milled to absolute, micron-precise tolerances. The edges of each plank will be cut to specific profiles to make them easily and consistently fit together for a snug, reliable installation according to one of four locking systems. The extreme micron-milling precision required for these locking systems panel profiles is only possible with an HDF core. Layer B: Decorative paper Next comes the decor or decorative-paper layer. The decorative paper is a high quality printed design that gives the laminate plank its distinctive appearance. That appearance can be a realistic reproduction of wood, stone or marble in a multitude of colors and patterns, as well as such non-traditional designs as leaves or grass, artwork or paint splatters. Layer A: Wear or overlay layer The top laminate flooring layer is the wear or overlay layer. Aside from putting the finishing, lustrous touch on every plank, it serves several important functions that enhance the floor’s durability: The wear layer seals and protects the surface of the laminate floor from everyday minor wear and accidents such as scuffs, scrapes and scratches commonly caused by pet claws, shoes, kids toys, furniture legs, vacuum cleaners and the like. It shields the decorative paper layer from harmful ultraviolet rays that could fade the color. Most people like big open windows. Problem is that if those windows face south or southwest, prolonged exposure from sunlight can subject the floor to a big dose of ultraviolet rays. UV rays can actually create photodegradation (fading) that breaks the chemical bonds in color. In essence, the color gets “bleached” over time from the sun without proper Wear Layer protection. You’ll notice a range of finishes (from near matte to high-gloss) in the wear layer depending on the desired style of flooring. Laminate flooring options: Consider these key features to help you choose the right laminate for your home: Thickness Laminate is typically available in 7mm, 8mm, 10mm and 12mm thickness. (Note one mm is equal to .039 inches). Thus, a 12mm “thicker” laminate generally equates to a ½ inch board. Some retailers will market the product including the core and attached pad so be careful when comparing products. All the products have a similar dent resistance rating but a thicker board (12mm v. 7mm) is better suited to prevent bending if you have an uneven subfloor. AC Rating: This rating is a 1 to 5 representation of laminate’s resistance to wear. The higher the AC rating, the higher the durability. AC 1: Designed for home use with little foot traffic. AC 2: Designed for home use with medium foot traffic. AC 3: Designed generally for all foot traffic including kitchens, foyers and hallways. AC 4: Designed for high residential foot traffic and can meet low commercial standards. AC 5: The most durable rating. Suitable for high foot traffic in commercial applications. Due to the high level of aluminum oxide necessary to achieve durability, the finish may appear cloudy. Attached Pad: Some products have an acoustical pad attached for easier installation. Typical Ratings: Thickness AC Rating Warranty 8 mm 4 lifetime residential 10 mm 4 5 yr commercial/lifetime residential 12 mm 4 lifetime residential/ 10 yr commercial 8 mm 3 20 yr residential (some higher) 7 mm 2 10 yr light residential use Common issues: 1. Installing the wrong laminate for the level of use. 2. Failing to properly prepare the subfloor or failure to use a proper underlayment. 3. Failure to acclimate the material to the home prior to installation. 4. Failure to allow for expansion of the material – the most common source of cupping/warping. 5. Improper cleaning – never use water or bleach on a laminate floor. 6. Failure to use area rugs near exterior doors to absorb moisture upon entry. 7. Installing laminate at south/west facing windows with direct afternoon sunlight Laminate will often discolor in direct sunlight. 8. Installing laminate in wet locations such as baths/laundry areas.