Laminates were first developed by a Swedish company in the 1920’s for use as tabletops. In the 1970’s, this method was expanded to flooring, and the new style gained popularity first across Europe, and then in the United States. Less expensive then many traditional floors, laminate flooring comes in a variety of sizes, styles, and durability ratings.
Laminated flooring is made up of four layers. The top and bottom are composed of cellulose paper saturated in a melamine plastic resin. This coating protects the design and is scratch, burn, scrape and stain-resistant. The decorative layer, which comes next, is cellulose paper with a photo or print of the desired design. The core of the flooring is made from dense fabric or wood particle, and treated to be waterproof.
Most laminates are processed by the direct pressure method, which assembles all four layers together, and then presses and heats them to form a bond. A new high pressure method has been developed and is being used on the costlier, high-end brands. In this process, the top and bottom layers containing the plastic resin are treated separately, and then fused to the decorative and core layers under high pressure.
Most laminated flooring is designed to imitate hardwood floors, though some mimic tile or stone. There are a variety of colors and styles, and the plank sizes may vary in width and length. While it is apparent that the flooring is not real stone or hardwood, it does offer an attractive, economical, and easy to install option that is 15 times stronger than a traditional wooden floor. They are easy to maintain with just a damp mop and a citrus cleaner, or water mixed with vinegar or ammonia.
Originally, laminated flooring had to be glued down and left to dry for 24 hours. Now, most brands come with a tongue-in-groove construction which simply slides together and requires no nails or glue. This style is called a floating floor, and while it is easy to install, it can be noisy and create echoes. One way to mitigate any noise problems is to install some type of pad, usually cork, under the flooring.
The Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF) has developed an AC rating system based upon a series of quality control tests checking resistance to abrasion, impact, stain, burn and scuffs. An AC1 rating is the lowest, and this product should be used only in low traffic areas. On the other hand, AC5, the highest rated product, is generally used for commercial areas with extremely high traffic. AC2 and AC3 ratings are considered good for domestic use. If laminated flooring fails to meet the minimum standards in any of these tests, it is denied a rating. While there are now several laminated flooring manufacturers in the United States, the European rating system is the only one in use.
Engineered flooring was developed in the US prior to the introduction of laminated flooring, and the two are sometimes referred to by the same name. Engineered flooring, however, is made up of thin wood layers without the screen print or plastic coating. The bottom layers are similar to plywood, with narrower strips of pre-stained oak, maple, or cherry wood about .18 inch (3 mm) thick on top.