Since the lamination process simply is the fusing together of two or more types of materials, and sealing them, the world of laminate flooring is full of choices. Wood, stone and tile are some of the most popular uses for lamination. Any type of grain and color of wood or layout of stone or tile can be captured, laminated and split into easily-assembled planks from which you can create a floor. The sky is the limit, sometimes making it difficult for consumers to settle on one choice.
Here’s one way to think about laminates—to divide them into different types and to try and settle on which type of laminate floor will work best for your project.
You can divide laminate into installation categories and you might want to select your laminate this way, ensuring you pick a floor with the kind of installation you prefer:
- Glueless-Click. Over two-thirds of today’s laminates fall under this easy-to-install, glueless click-lock category.
Note: some laminate floors come with a pre-attached underpad, making installation even quicker and easier. Laminate floors without a pre-attached underpad often require that an underpad be laid down prior to installation of the laminate floor to provide a level of cushion and sound absorption. Additionally, if the laminate floor is being installed on or below grade, or in an area subject to moisture, a separate thin plastic underlayment will need to be laid down prior to installation of the laminate floor to provide a moisture barrier (aka vapor barrier). This needs to be done whether the laminate floor has a pre-attached underpad or not.
- Glued Laminate. You’ll need to glue the joints together. While this makes for a very strong floor once installed, installation cost and time is higher than with a glueless-click.
- Pre-Glued. Here, the joints have a glue already applied to them, but may need to be moistened to activate the glue before you join them together.
You might want to pick your floor simply based on what the surface will look like. As we’ve said before, laminates are always evolving. Where there once was one basic surface to choose from, now there are many.
- Smooth. A plain finish just like a layer of varnish you’d associate with hardwood. Sometimes you can choose between high, medium and low gloss finishes.
- Embossed and/or Textured. Some laminates come with a textured finish. Regular embossing isn’t an exact match up with the grooves of the printed grain but does fool the eye into seeing a surface grain.
Distressed/Hand scraped. Hand scraped laminate flooring is now available—a process that up until recently was reserved only for engineered or solid hardwood floors. This process adds an antiqued look to your laminate floor.
- Embossed in Registration. This type of embossing matches the grain of the wood exactly for the most authentic embossed look.
- Keep an eye out for new laminate innovations, they’re happening all the time.
For those who look for durability as a way to decide on a laminate product, the AC rating is an ideal guide. Use it to check your expected usage, or foot traffic, against what the floor was built to withstand. AC stands for Abrasion Class and an impartial 3rd party has set the standard for 5 different categories of use and durability.
AC1 Moderate Residential. Built to withstand only light residential use. Suitable for closets or bedrooms.
AC2 General Residential. Built for moderate foot traffic. Suitable in residential spaces that don’t see a tremendous amount of wear and tear like dining rooms or living rooms.
AC3 Heavy Residential/Moderate Commercial. Built for all kinds of residential use including high–traffic rooms and even commercial spaces that have light traffic like offices without off-street traffic and hotel rooms.
AC4 General Commercial. Built to withstand every kind of residential use as well as more heavily trafficked commercial spaces that have off-street traffic like offices, cafes, and boutiques.
AC5 Heavy Commercial. Built for the busiest commercial uses and high–traffic spaces like department stores and government buildings.
As a general rule of thumb, the higher the AC Rating, the higher the price.