Laminate Floor Rating?

Q:  Is there any kind of laminate floor rating agency or list of laminate floor ratings?

A:  You’re more apt to find an objective rating system with older, more established types of building products than you are with laminate flooring.  Laminate flooring is still a fairly new industry and, as such, there are no true rating systems in place.

NALFA – What About Them?

NALFA stands for the North American Laminate Flooring Association, and is the closest thing you will find to a laminate floor rating system.  But be careful here.  This is like the fox watching the chicken coop.

NALFA is simply an industry-supported group that has no objective take on laminate flooring rating.  The manufacturers police themselves.

Given the fact that there is so much bad laminate flooring on the market–and I mean outright illegal bootleg laminate from lovely places like China–it really is a good idea to make sure that your laminate product is certified.
NALFA Quality Seal

In all fairness, this is not much different than anything else in the building materials industry.  Face it, this is not like the Fed supervising federal banks or anything.  It’s a loosely run industry with moderate standards.

You can sum up NALFA in one sentence from their website:  ‘…the NALFA seal sells.’  NALFA’s ratings are about selling, not about protecting consumers.

NALFA Laminate Rating – Better Than Nothing

Still, NALFA’s ratings are not complete bullshit. If a laminate flooring manufacturer wants their product to get the NALFA seal they must face, what the NALFA site calls, “a rigorous and demanding series of tests designed to evaluate its performance, durability, strength, and overall quality.”

To their credit, NALFA is transparent about the details of these tests (Laminate Flooring Specifications and Test Methods 2008), which must be performed by an independent laboratory.  Some of the things covered in the tests are:

  • Static load
  • Thickness swell
  • Light resistance
  • Cleanability

And many other categories.

NALFA-Approved Companies

Now, this may be an ass-backwards way of looking at it, but NALFA-rated companies do tend to look pretty good.  We have companies like:

  • Columbia
  • Pergo
  • Quick-Step
  • Shaw

And on and on.  So, at least from that angle, the better laminate flooring manufacturers are gravitating towards NALFA.  Social proof in action?  I suppose so, but I believe it.

Glueless Laminate Flooring – No Mess, Minimum Fuss

With glueless laminate flooring, you can have a hardwood look almost anywhere in your home – and with no mess, vapors, or finishing required. Using a tongue-and-groove configuration, laminate flooring is the leading alternative to solid wood floor installation today. Options for stone and ceramic flooring are available as well.

DIY Flooring

Less expensive than solid wood floors, glueless laminate flooring can easily be installed by do-it-yourself weekend warriors. Though it isn’t a bad idea to hire a professional; installing laminate flooring is one DIY project you may want to seriously consider. It might look daunting, but the flooring’s interlocking system is such that you could start building in an instant. For practice, simply start with a small area, such as an entryway, and then move onto an entire room.

Preparing the Subfloor

“Glueless” refers to the way laminate floors snap together, although you’ll rarely hear an audible snap–that’s just what it’s called.

The tongue-and-groove construction makes it easy to connect panels, at an angle or horizontally without damage. What’s more, glueless laminate flooring can be installed over any surface, aside from carpeting. If you have a carpeted room, you’ll need to pull up the entire carpet and prepare the subfloor beneath it.

Preparing the subfloor is the most labor-intensive part of installing laminate flooring. The subfloor must be flat, minus bumps or slopes. Any “valleys” will need to be leveled out before proceeding with installation. The subfloor must also be clean of any dirt or debris. You wouldn’t want to trap it beneath the floor.

Also, if you hear of a “floating system,” it means that the laminate flooring isn’t connected to the subfloor. Essentially, it is an independent layer built on top of another. However, the tongue-and-groove system will keep it secure from movement, since it will be flush against the wall.

Note: If your flooring doesn’t already have it attached, you’ll need to place an underlayment beneath it – between it and the subfloor. This extra layer will help abate any noise resulting from the floating (that is, unattached) system.

Subfloor Can Be Laid Straight on Joists (Seen Here) or On Top of an Existing Floor
Subfloor Can Be Laid Straight on Joists (Seen Here) or On Top of an Existing Floor

Things to Remember

Installing laminate flooring is becoming an increasingly popular DIY project. Big-brand stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot all carry a wide selection of glueless laminate flooring. They also have experts there to guide you through the installation. You’ll also have your installation tool kit to help answer the most common consumer questions. You should be fine. Once you get started however, keep it mind a few things:

  1. The amount of prep required will depend on the type of floor you currently have.
  2. Accurate measurements are key to a successful project. You want to configure your flooring abstractly first.
  3. For floating systems, use an underlayment.
  4. Approx. 48 to 72 hours prior to installation, remove the panels from their boxes and lay them flat on the floor of the room that they’ll be installed in. This gives them a chance to acclimate to the environment; expand and contract until it settles according to the humidity and temperature.
  5. Make sure you have a block of wood or other sturdy tool to tap the panels into place. This is the final assurance that the laminate flooring is properly aligned.

It’s as simple as that. If you follow the instructions provided by your hardwood store expert, as well as your installation tool kit, you should be well on your way to installing your very own DIY flooring.

Quick Step Laminate Flooring
Quick Step Laminate Flooring - Their Click and Lock Feature Requires No Glue

Quick Step Laminate Flooring

Q. What is Quick Step laminate flooring?

A. Quick Step laminate flooring is the flooring system developed by the Unilin Group, a Belgian-based company focused on the development of MDF and chipboards, roofing elements, shelving, and laminate flooring.

Founded in the 1960s, Unilin launched its Quick Step Laminate Flooring line in 1997. Its interlocking technology made Unilin a pioneer of glueless floating floors systems.

In the United States, this system is simply known as Quick Step, which makes use of the patented Uniclic technology — a tongue-and-groove system that snaps floor panels together for a tight, seamless fit. The panels can be connected at an angle or horizontally without damage. The system is entirely floating, making it an ideal choice for any room.

Q. What is the flooring made out of?

A. The boards are made of several layers laminated together. Hence it’s name: laminate. These layers include a watertight, high-density fiberboard, which has been designed to keep moisture out.  The top layer gives Quick-Step its “look,” while base layers provide a structural foundation.

Quick Step Laminate Flooring

Q. What are the advantages of Quick Step flooring?

A. The advantages of Quick Step flooring include:

  • DIY Projects:  Quick Step boards come in a range of dimensions, making them adaptable to fit any room size or style. The planks simply snap together, making it a good project for any do-it-yourselfer — even novices.
  • The Look:  Though it’s not “real” wood or tile or stone, you wouldn’t know it by just looking. Indeed, Quick Step laminate flooring is made to look and feel like the real thing. For the wood collections for instance, grains have been added to duplicate the texture of oak, pine, birch, etc.
  • Maintenance:  Unlike hardwood floors, cleanup of laminate flooring is but a mop away. Easy to care for, Quick Step flooring aims to simplify the process from installation on.

Q. What finishes are available from Quick Step?

A. Looking at Quick Step’s floor collections, one thing stands out: the variety. Laminate flooring no longer means wood floors exclusively. Today, laminate floors also mean ceramic and stone. How is this possible?

Like all laminate flooring, Quick Step uses photo imagery to create a perfect replica of a hardwood plank, a ceramic tile, or a stone slab. What’s more, texture is added these days by pressing a wood or tile structure into the top layer; thereby creating a sensory experience that echoes real wood, ceramic, or stone.

The variety invites creativity from interior designers, architects, and homeowners looking to reinvent their home. From its 11 collections, you’re looking at finishes named Everglades Mahogany, Chestnut, and Cameroon Acacia. These are just three of the evocative names and designs you can introduce into your own home.

Q: What kind of warranty comes with Quick Step laminate floors?

A. The warranties for Quick Step products are extensive, protecting buyers from any problems resulting from wear or the Uniclic system. The warranty typically protects buyers from staining, fading, moisture, and function. If you purchase Quick Step laminate flooring, ask about the details of your warranty specifically — citing what is usually included and what you’d like to have covered.

Is Mannington iCore Laminate Flooring or Vinyl?

Mannington iCore is not laminate flooring.  Or is it laminate flooring?   Which is it?

I was looking at this issue earlier today, in relation to an article about cheap laminate flooring.  I noticed that Mannington iCore advertised itself as being completely waterproof.

Huh?  I’ve never known a laminate flooring product to be completely waterproof.  Sure, there are ways to mitigate moisture problems with gluing the seams or simply installing in areas that don’t get huge amounts of water.  But waterproof?  The product description said that iCore was 100% a composite. Which does not describe laminate at all. Laminate is…laminated. It’s wood product-y stuff plus an image layer plus wear layer and glue and other stuff. But all composite?

So enough, the Mannington site fesses up to the issue and says.

iCORE®, although categorized as a laminate floor, is not the laminate floor you’d expect. iCORE® is an entirely new category of flooring…iCORE® is an Advanced Composite, an entirely synthetic product, which has a patent pending innercore construction. The entire product is waterproof.

Or, I guess they are fessing up, I’m not sure.  So, it’s a laminate but it’s not a laminate?  What gives, Mannington?
Mannington iCore Seconds Laminate Flooring

Pergo Accolade Just Means Attached Underlayment

Pergo brand laminate flooring has a line called Pergo Accolade, which sounds all cool and fancy and mysterious.  But the only thing that distinguishes Accolade from other types of laminate is attached underlayment.

Underlayment is the foam layer that you place above the vapor barrier and below the laminate itself.  It helps to improve the feeling of the floor under foot.  It also deadens the sound.

Rolling Out Laminate Flooring Underlayment - Is This So Hard?
Rolling Out Laminate Flooring Underlayment - Is This So Hard?

My view is this:

  1. Continuous “roll-type” underlayment is immensely easy to roll out.  It takes all of ten minutes.
  2. This roll-type underlayment is about as seamless as it gets.  Yes, there are overlaps, but they are minimized.  Nothing like having a separate underlayment on each board.
  3. Attached underlayment is yet another premium that drives up the cost of laminate flooring.

That’s just my take on it.

Hardwood, Engineered, and Laminate Floor Comparison

What is the difference between solid hardwood, engineered wood, and laminate flooring?  Here’s a guide to help you with the buying process:

Hardwood Engineered Wood Flooring Laminate Flooring
Real wood? Yes–all the way through. Yes–but only the top layer is the finish layer. No–none of it is wood.
Requires foam underlayment? No No Yes
Can be installed in basements No Yes Yes
Can be installed in bathrooms No, not recommended Yes Yes
Can be sanded Yes No No
Stain resistance Excellent–if wood is sealed; poor if wood is unsealed. Excellent–most engineered wood floor is sealed Excellent–flooring does not need sealing.
Insulating properties Excellent Fair Poor
Scratch and indent resistance (furniture, pets, kids, etc.) Fair Fair Excellent
Can be installed over radiant (heated) floor Yes–but not the best option Yes–recommended Yes–recommended
Ease of installation for typical homeowner Difficult–requires special tools Easy–provided you do not choose the nail-down installation option Very easy
Floating floor? No Yes and no–can be either nail-down or floating, depending on type of flooring chosen. Yes
Smoothes out irregularities in subfloor Yes–can bridge some small depressions and holes in sub-floor Yes–depending on thickness, can bridge some small depressions and holes in sub-floor No
Must be installed perpendicular to floor joists Yes Yes No–either perpendicular or parallel to joists.
Irregular and defective flooring materials a problem Yes No No

What is Laminate Flooring?

What is this mystery called laminate flooring?  Laminate flooring is confusing because it looks like wood but doesn’t behave like wood. What is it anyway?

Laminate Flooring is a Photograph of Wood Over Fiberboard

Laminate flooring looks amazingly like real wood. But it’s not. It’s a surface layer consists of one or more thin sheets of paper impregnated with resins (usually melamine). This surface layer is a photograph of wood grain, not real wood.

Under the wood-grain photograph is a base of high-density fiberboard. In other words, a wood-chip composite.

Laminate Flooring Snaps or Glues Together

Solid hardwood floors are nailed down to the sub-floor. Laminate flooring, on the other hand, snaps or glues together. Also, it is a floating floor.

Laminate Flooring Can Be Laid Over a Variety of Surfaces

It can be laid over most existing floors–ceramic tile, wood, or vinyl–except for carpet. And of course it can be installed on sub-floor.

Laminate Flooring is Thicker Than Vinyl Tile, Thinner Than Solid Wood

Laminate flooring is generally 1/2″ thick–compared to 3/4″ for solid wood and mere millimeters for vinyl tile.

Laminate Flooring FAQs

Find the answer to “What’s a floating floor?” and more of your basic questions about laminate flooring.

What’s the difference between snap-together and glue-together laminate flooring?

The most important difference is that glue-together laminate flooring forms a solid, impervious surface, so that moisture cannot penetrate through to the sensitive fiberboard substrate. Snap-together laminate flooring, though easy to install, has tiny seams between the boards through which moisture can penetrate.

What’s a floating floor?

A floor that is not attached to the surface on which it rests. The individual boards of a floating floor are attached to each other, either by snapping together or gluing together.

Does laminate flooring need to be sealed or waxed?

No. In fact, it cannot be sealed or waxed. Its surface is ready to walk on the minute you lay it down.

How do you clean laminate flooring?

Broom, vacuum, or damp mop with water. Be careful not to apply too much water to the surface; the mop head should be just barely damp. A quarter cup of vinegar in a 30 oz. spray bottle of water also works well. You can spot clean with Windex or 409. The good thing about laminate flooring is there are so many ways you can clean it without running the risk of damaging it.

Can I install laminate flooring in a bathroom or kitchen?

Yes. Laminate flooring will tolerate “topical moisture”: wet shoes and bath towels, normal dripping off when exiting a bath or shower, and small amounts of spilled liquids (quickly mopped up, though). Laminate flooring will not tolerate pooled water.

Installing Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is so easy to install, you can lay 300 square feet in one weekend–and even that is a conservative estimate.

All laminate flooring is installed differently, so be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions.

1. Ensure That Surface is Flat and Smooth

Unlike hardwood or engineered wood, laminate flooring will bridge only the tiniest gaps and irregularities. It is more of a cosmetic fix than a structural fix. Make sure that the surface on which you will install laminate flooring is nearly perfect.

2. Acclimatize Materials

Unwrap from protective covering and let laminate flooring acclimatize in the room where it is to be installed. The material must adjust to the humidity level of the room.

3. Cover Floor With Plastic

Lay down 6-mi plastic over entire floor surface as a vapor barrier.

4. Cover Plastic With Foam Underlayment

Foam underlayment recommended by the manufacturer goes on top of the plastic to absorb sound, bridge small gaps, and to make for an easier walking surface.

5. Run Laminate Flooring Planks Parallel to Longest Wall

Aesthetically, laminate flooring looks best when you run it parallel to the room’s longest wall. But it doesn’t have to go that way.

6. Lay Planks in Staggered Fashion

On the first row, begin with a full plank and continue row until you reach the wall. Cut board with a fine-toothed miter saw.

On the second row, start with a two-thirds-length plank and continue down the line.

On the third row, start with a one-third-length plank and continue down the line.

7. Glue or Snap Together

Depending on your laminate flooring material, you will either glue or snap the boards together.

8. Vary the Pattern

If you continue this same staggered pattern throughout the floor, you will call attention to the joints. So occasionally you will want to randomly stagger the boards so that the joints blend into the general appearance of the floor.

9. Cut Around Obstructions

Radiator pipes, cabinet corners, stairs–all are obstructions that you will need to cut around with a fine-toothed jigsaw blade.