Factors to Consider to Find the Best Laminate Flooring for Your Needs.

There is a very large variance in the quality of laminate flooring available in today's market. Each manufacturer has their own technique of manufacture and surface treatments and each claims to be more durable than their competitors. Manufacturers highlight the strongest technical aspects of their floors to prove they beat the competition but this information is often not fully understood by consumers and can be misleading. There are however certain factors to look out for that will enable you to evaluate whether a particular floor is the best laminate flooring for your particular needs.

(1)Surface Treatment:

This is the very top layer of the laminate floor. The surface treatment is the chemical finish applied to the floor at the factory that protects your floor from wear and tear. This layer will ensure that your floor is scratch, water, fade and stain resistant. Typically, surface treatments are made from a resin coated cellulose or melamine. The best laminate flooring surfaces will include Aluminium Oxide to prevent scratching and a UV treatment to prevent fading in sunlight.

Quality laminate floors are tested for wear and tear and assigned an official abrasion class (AC) rating. This AC rating is the measure of the floors ability to withstand repeated abrasion, which is an indication as to how well your floor is protected against micro scratches caused by everyday dust and dirt. AC1 is the lowest and AC4 is the highest rating. Click here to read more about AC ratings..

(2)Photographic Image:

The photographic layer consists of a photograph of real hardwood. This photo should be high definition (HD) to capture all the nuances of a real hardwood floor. The quality of photos does vary and a quality laminate floor should be difficult to distinguish from the real thing. The quality of the paper on which the photo is printed is an important aspect as low quality prints can change color and fade over time due to exposure to direct sunlight.

(3)Manufacturing Method:

Two methods are used in the manufacture of laminate floors. High Pressure Laminate(HPL) and Direct Pressure Laminate(DPL). Direct pressure laminate is made up of four layers, while a High Pressure Laminate is made up of a minimum of 5 layers. The addition of Phenolic Treated Sheets make the HPL a stronger and more dent resistant. The catch is that it comes with a higher price tag. By far the majority of laminates available on the market today are Direct Pressure Laminates(DPL). Today's Direct Pressure Laminates are more than capable of standing up to the heaviest foot traffic in a residential environment and are rated as high as AC4 which denotes suitability for heavy traffic.

High Pressure Laminates (HPL):

HPL is made up of a minimum of 5 layers and is more dent resistant and stable than HPL. It is the Phenolic treated Kraft sheets that give HPL its additional strength. The best quality high pressure laminate flooring products will have a Phenolic treated Kraft sheet on either side of the laminate core.
Note: Due to their higher cost of manufacturing, there are not many high pressure laminate on the market. However the only applicastion where a HPL is really reaquired is for commercial applications.

High Pressure Laminate flooring (HPL)

High Performance Wear Layer
Durable protective surface resists scuffs, stains and fading.

Decorative Sheet
Provides a broad range of stunning visuals in both wood grain and natural tile looks.

Phenolic Treated Kraft Sheets
Helps provide additional impact resistance and sound deadening properties.

Penetrating Seam Sealant
Hot wax-oil emulsion treatment penetrates HDF fibres for long-term moisture protection.

Water-Resistant High Density Fiberboard
Provides improved structural integrity and additional moisture protection

Phenolic Treated Kraft Sheets
Helps provide additional impact resistance and sound deadening properties.

Balancing Layer
Made from the same HPL material as the flooring's surface, the balancing layer helps keep flooring panels level and ensures a better installation.

Direct Pressure Laminates: (DPL)

Direct Pressure Laminate Flooring (DPL)

By far, the majority of laminates available in today's market are DPL. DPL is suited to all residential environments including heavy traffic homes. Some DPL laminates are also suited to commercial environments and as such carry a warranty that covers commercial use. However, for commercial environments it is advisable to use a HPL. Aside from commercial environments, DPL is suited for all residential use. Many times consumers are sold on the idea of installing only a high pressure laminate in their homes, and are then frustrated to find that there are actually very few available on the market. Therefore keep in mind that a quality direct pressure laminate is perfectly suited to heavy duty residential traffic.

Made up of four layers:

  • 1. An impact resistant top layer provides a protective finish.
  • 2. The high quality printed design layer in various colors and patterns.
  • 3. A high density fibre board (HDF) comprises the core.
  • 4. The bottom balancing layer to equalize pressure and keep the board nice and straight.

(4)Laminate Core:

The laminate core is the middle part of a laminate floor, and this is the part that gives the floor stability. Laminate cores range in thickness from 7mm to 12mm for the best quality laminate flooring, with a thicker core usually denoting a more stable product. Thicker cores feel and sound more like real hardwood when walked upon.

Laminate flooring is a floating floor and is thus not affixed to the sub-floor which can result in a hollow sounding floor that additionally magnifies the sound of footsteps. A thicker core means less floor movement and also dampens sound. Another way of combating sound and floor movement is to use a good quality underlayment. Click here to read more about underlayments. Keep in mind that a thicker core does not mean that the laminate is of a higher quality. When determining if a laminate is quality, all the factors have to be considered.

Laminate cores are composite products and made of either Medium Density (MDF) or High Density Fiberboard (HDF). HDF is a better quality product as it is denser and this is more stable and absorbs more sound. Additionally, good quality fiberboard should be treated with water repellent chemicals. Better quality floors have cores that are completely impregnated with the water repellent chemical, including the boards locking mechanism.

(5)Locking mechanism:

Joint integrity can be an important factor, especially when placing heavy items on your laminate floors. Laminate floors are engineered to withstand normal day to day wear and tear and are designed to withstand the weight of normal household furniture. If you wish to place an extra heavy item of furniture on you floors, such as a very large fish tank, you might want to consider purchasing a floor that has an aluminium locking system. The best laminate flooring option for wet areas will have joints treated with water repellent chemicals, such as paraffin wax, which is impregnated into the tongue and groove of the floor boards.

(6) Attached Underlayment:

Although not very common, some laminate manufacturers attach underlayment directly to the underside of the laminate boards. The only advantage to this is the saving in installation time, although not much.

There are however a few disadvantages. Firstly, the quality of the attached underlayment might not be of a high quality, and it is never advisable to add more than one layer of underlayment which precludes you from adding a second underlayment of better quality. Essentially you are locked into the underlayment that is attached. Additionally, it is better to have a continuous underlayment as this provides better moisture protection from the subfloor.

Summary:

While taking all these factors into consideration, keep in mind your particular application and this will help you decide which is the best laminate flooring for your home.

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