Laminate flooring is a durable and versatile wood flooring product that has the appearance of real hardwood without the heavy price tag. While it looks like hardwood flooring, laminate flooring is actually several layers of wood and other materials bonded together under high pressure. Typical, this kind of floor covering consists of a moisture resistant layer of high density fiberboard, followed by a layer with a high definition photo of natural hardwood, and finished with a very hard resin-based coating. Generally, laminate flooring provides a similar look and feel to hardwood, but costs less and is easier to install.
Some people may find it challenging to tell the difference between laminate and hardwood floors, but there are distinct differences, aside from the immediate appearance, that separate the two. Many people consider hardwood to be a superior flooring choice to laminate, but there are advantages to laminate flooring that make it an attractive option as well.
Laminate flooring can be installed above and below grade, which means it’s a great option to get a durable high-end look in your basement without the worry of moisture damage. It can also be installed over the top of virtually any other flooring surface.
Some hardwood is engineered, which means that it is composed of several layers of different wood with a veneer as the top layer. Laminate flooring also takes on this same composition, but has a top layer that’s an HD photo of hardwood with a transparent finish.
Overall, laminate flooring is an affordable hardwood alternative that’s durable, easy to maintain, and can be installed below grade.
The term floating floor means that all aspects of the floor are connected to each other, but none of them are connected to the supporting floor underneath. Essentially, all laminate flooring is considered floating flooring because it simply rests on top of the existing or sub flooring underneath.
If you’re installing laminate flooring over concrete it’s important to use a moisture barrier. Concrete floors have the ability of storing lots of moisture and water, which can be detrimental to laminate flooring. Avoiding contact between the two is essential to the longevity and health of your laminate flooring.
Laminate flooring looks great on stairs, but it’s important to note that the installation needs to be done differently. Laminate flooring is engineered to be installed in large spaces that run up against walls. When applied on stairs, laminate flooring has one open side, which compromises the way it’s installed. To remedy this problem simply use wood glue underneath and in the joints of the laminate flooring for additional strength. Additionally, if you’re planning on using any moldings or transitions they should be nailed down.
If the damaged plank is near the edge of the room, then you’re in luck. Simply take apart the laminate flooring from the edge of the room until you reach the position of the plank. Replace it with a plank of the same size from your leftover stock. If the affected plank is in the middle of the room there is a much more complicated way to fix it, which should be handled by a professional. Contact Global Alliance Home Improvement Products to be referred to a professional laminate flooring installer.
An AC rating is a measurement of the hardness of the laminate flooring, and is the official rating system used by the Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring. The AC rating systems measures a variety of aspects of laminate flooring including: abrasion, resistance, impact resistance, thickness, swelling, stain resistance, and burn resistance. Here is a list of AC ratings and descriptions of areas where they’re best suited for use:
● AC1 - Suitable for areas that receive light infrequent traffic such as a bedroom or closet.
● AC2 - Suitable for typical residential use in places like dining rooms, hallways, foyers, and living rooms.
● AC3 - More durable and can be applied to more high traffic locations such as small offices and other small commercial locations.
● AC4 - Useful for higher traffic commercial locations like lobbies, boutiques, busy offices, and restaurants.
● AC5 - Very durable and is suited and built to withstand heavy commercial traffic in areas like department stores and public buildings.
The best laminate flooring installations use several types of moulding, as needed, to join similar or different flooring types or levels, to join covered and uncovered flooring and to protect flooring edges where they meet walls while creating a visually appealing decorative “bridge” between floor and wall. Unlike your laminate flooring, which “floats,” or simply rests on the subfloor without being secured to it, transition mouldings are attached to the subfloor or the lower wall at floor level. Depending on the types of moulding as well as the surfaces they’ll be joined to, these pieces can either be attached using a track and screws—in doorways, for example—or using either nails or an adhesive. For the best adhesive to use for your specific flooring project, contact your Global Alliance Home Improvement Products consultant. The following are several examples of moulding types that serve the purposes mentioned above:
T-Moulding: This moulding is so named because when its short edge is viewed from the side, it creates a T-shape. T-moulding is used to join two flooring surfaces of the same height, either in a doorway (or archway) or in the middle of a very large room. In the second case, the moulding’s purpose is mainly to preserve the structural integrity of the floor.
Reducer Moulding: This type of moulding lets you join two floors of different heights, such as the lovely rustic grey laminate flooring you’re thinking of putting in your dining room, with the cream-colored vinyl flooring you’ve got your eye on for the kitchen. Other flooring types besides vinyl that might not be as thick as your laminate flooring and would therefore require reducer moulding might include wood flooring, ceramic tiles or a floor that’s carpeted with low-pile carpeting.
Baseboards or Wall-Base Moulding: Installed at the base of the wall just above your laminate flooring, baseboards are one trim component that lets you craft a finished look by creating a continuous line from floor to wall.
Shoe Moulding: Most often used in conjunction with baseboards—though it can also be used alone—shoe moulding is attached either to the bottom edge of the baseboard where it meets the floor or to the bottom edge of the wall where it meets the floor. This softens the transition between floor and baseboard or floor and wall by eliminating the hard 90-degree angle to create a more attractive look. Shoe moulding can also hide unlevel flooring by covering the gap it leaves between floor and wall, doing so even more effectively than a baseboard can alone.
Quarter Round: Much like shoe moulding but rounder on the visible side, quarter round is somewhat less suitable as a baseboard enhancer—though this may partly depend on taste as some people do seem to prefer it over shoe moulding. Technically speaking, however, quarter round is usually better suited for use in other places where you’d like to soften a 90-degree angle, such as on a windowsill, between a cabinet and a wall, or between the wall and ceiling, as a sort of sparse crown moulding. In general, it's better to stick with shoe moulding when embellishing a baseboard since it doesn’t protrude as far out from the wall and therefore looks less obtrusive and more appealing than quarter round does in this application. Quarter round may also get in the way of furniture you’d like to tuck a little closer to the wall.
In most cases you should be able to install laminate flooring with an underfloor heating system without encountering any problems. However, it’s always wise to check with the flooring manufacturer prior to purchase to find out whether the specific type of laminate flooring you plan to install is one that is suitable for use with this type of heating system.
The best laminate flooring does offer a fairly convincing visual alternative to hardwood. Modern manufacturing methods have allowed flooring designers to closely replicate the appearance of a variety of natural hardwoods. While not identical, the best laminate flooring presents a strikingly attractive alternative that is difficult to tell from the real thing without looking very closely. This is what makes it a great choice for budget-conscious homeowners who love the look of hardwood.
Laminate underlay is always recommended when installing laminate flooring. The only time it isn’t necessary to install laminate underlay separately is when the padding is already attached to the flooring you’ve purchased. Yet, not all flooring, even among the best laminate flooring available, offers this option—a fact that might be considered a plus since it will give you more freedom to choose the type and thickness of underlay that will work best for your needs. In some cases, even when the underlay is already attached to the flooring, you may want to add additional padding to provide more effective cushioning and subfloor leveling and better sound dampening properties.
Several types of underlayment are available to help you better fit the specific requirements of your flooring project and more closely match the characteristics of the subflooring surface that will receive your new laminate floor. Which type will be the best laminate flooring underlay for your needs will depend on a variety of factors, including which specific functions you’d like your new flooring to fulfill.
Foam Underlay: Polyethylene (PE) foam is the most commonly used laminate underlay. It comes in two basic types: one with moisture-proof backing and one without. These two basic PE foam underlays are also available in various thicknesses that feature different sound-dampening abilities, with each one rated to dampen sound up to a specific decibel (dB) level. Packaged in rolls of various widths and lengths, PE foam can be used with or without an additional vapor/moisture barrier. Bear in mind, however, that with concrete subflooring, the un-backed type of foam underlay will require the installation of a vinyl moisture barrier prior to laying the laminate flooring to protect it from moisture damage.
Cork Underlay: Cork is one type of underlay that’s used with laminate flooring specifically for its sound-dampening qualities. However, it also works well as a thermal insulator, which gives you the additional benefit of increasing the R-values of your home’s insulation. Second only to rubber underlay for acoustic dampening ability and to felted wool for thermal insulating ability, cork, while more expensive than foam, is still less costly—and more widely available—than rubber. (Felted wool, however, cannot be used as a laminate flooring underlay since it isn’t suitable for use with any type of rigid flooring but is designed specifically for use with carpeting.) Being a naturally derived material, cork is an environmentally friendly underlayment choice—one you can feel good about using if you can afford its higher price tag. Cork is also a material that can wick away a certain amount of moisture, which can help protect your laminate flooring from moisture damage. It can also be used to raise the height of your floor if needed. Cork underlayment is available in sheets or rolls. When installing cork underlay, the edges of adjoining sections should abut and not overlap in order to create a level base for your laminate flooring to rest on.
Rubber Underlay: Rubber offers the best acoustic sound-dampening ability of all the available underlayment types. However, because rubber can be subject to off-gassing of the chemicals used in its manufacture, creating potential issues for the chemically sensitive, and because it often emits a strong odor as a result, many homeowners consider cork superior to rubber, since no unpleasant odors are associated with its use. While off-gassing will decrease over time and eventually stop, the price of rubber underlay is so much higher than other laminate underlay materials and its scarcity so much greater that most people opt for other types, with PE foam being most common and serving most people’s needs.
For superior sound-dampening without a lot of additional work, you can select Sound Absorb System, or S.A.S., flooring instead of installing standard laminate flooring and adding a separate layer of acoustic underlay. This will save you both time and trouble. If your subfloor is made of concrete or another mineral material, you will generally still need to install a vapor or moisture barrier in addition to the S.A.S. laminate flooring you’ve selected. However, with this type of subfloor you would be required to do this anyway, even without Sound Absorb System flooring. So, essentially, by using S.A.S. flooring whenever your goal is to minimize sound transfer through the floorboards of your home, you will save yourself one step of the installation process. And if your subfloor is not a mineral subfloor—i.e. it is not made of concrete, stone, or asphalt—you’ll be able to eliminate the moisture or vapor barrier step, as well, making your plan to install laminate flooring that offers excellent sound-dampening qualities a simple, one-step process.
Your subfloor, or substrate, should be structurally sound, firm and capable of supporting the weight it will be called upon to carry. This will include the flooring itself, the furniture that will be placed in the room and the people who will use it. If the concrete is cracked and crumbling, your best bet would be to consult a professional who will be able to assess the suitability of the surface for your flooring installation and make any repairs that may be needed to ensure the success of the project. Your subfloor should also be clean, dry and level. Uneven concrete subfloor surfaces should be sanded with a concrete grinder to even out high spots and/or leveled off by using an appropriate leveling compound to fill in low spots, as needed. For best results, before installing your new laminate flooring you should make sure there is less than a 3/16 inch height difference every 10 feet. It always pays to make sure your subfloor is up to the task before installing your new laminate flooring, so it’s very important not to skip this step.
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