Laminates are beautiful and have evolved throughout the years, continuing to serve the commercial flooring industry in terms of performance, looks and lifespan. There are reasons for this, and these will be thoroughly explored and discussed to place a greater emphasis on this very superior floor type.
Laminate flooring is constructed with several different layers of various materials that are thermo-fused together to form planks and tiles. The four basic laminate flooring construction layers are: a wear layer; a photographic image layer; an inner core layer; and a backing layer.
This is the transparent top surface that protects the floor from being scratched/stained/scuffed and it also protects the printed design layer below. The wear layer is a combination of melamine and aluminium oxide particles, which makes it extremely durable.
- In-register embossing – Several manufacturers have developed specialised methods of texturising the top layer (called in-register embossing) to add more authentic realism to the flooring, the most authentic of which seems to be in-register embossing. Many also offer bevelled plank edges to give the floor an even more realistic appearance.
Photographic Image Layer
This is the layer with a photographic image of either a real hardwood plank, ceramic tile, stone or some other material. These images are extremely clear, vibrant and realistic which, combined with texturising of the top layer, create a true, authentic-looking floor appearance.
Inner Core Layer
The inner core is generally made from high-density fibreboard and is used to form the locking mechanism. The core is the base for the photographic image and wear layers. Some manufacturers also saturate the inner core with melamine resins or a water-resistant sealer to help protect the inner core from moisture, however, this does increase the costs of the product.
The backing layer is fused to the inner core to add stability and create a barrier that helps protect the plank from moisture and warping. The backing layer is melamine impregnated to balance the moisture uptake with the wear surface. The inner core and backing layer combined are what really make up the overall thickness of each plank. Planks range in thickness, with the thicker planks being more rigid to help overcome minor irregularities in the subflooring.
When purchasing commercial material it is vital to know how a material is rated for use and to ensure that the appropriate grade is specified for the intended application. South Africa makes use of the European Producers of Laminate Flooring’s (EPLF) set of guidelines and expectations. This system offers general advice and application-oriented recommendations for underlayment laid loose under floating laminate floorcoverings.
Laminate Flooring Design Options
There are several options available when selecting laminate flooring. Laminates can be printed to look like anything but are often produced to look like natural materials such as exotic hardwoods, bamboo, and even cork. This makes it easy to find a laminate flooring design that matches the look one is after when trying to create a unique look according to specifier’s needs.
The natural appearance of a laminate floor can be reinforced through the use of a special underlayment that is installed beneath the laminate material in order to reproduce the sound a hardwood floor makes when it’s walked on. Details such as bevelled edges can also add a decorative aesthetic appeal.
There are numerous features that can make commercial laminate floors ecologically friendly. They are often produced containing a large percentage of recycled materials, and can also be recycled at the end of their lifecycle into energy or agricultural fillers.
The benefits and drawbacks of laminate flooring
Versatility – with the technology available to date, laminate floors are able to emulate the look of natural floorcoverings such as timber. This gives specifiers and interior designers free range in terms of design and enables them to offer their clients an array of design options.
Cleaning – The wear layer of a laminate floor protects the material from stains and some spills, thereby simplifying the cleaning and maintenance process. Typically, the only requirement is regular sweeping or vacuuming of the floor to remove grit and dirt which can slowly erode the floor’s wear layer over time.
Installation – The installation of a laminate ‘click-lock’ floor is one of the easiest projects to undertake. A sheet of underlayment material is rolled down and the planks or tiles are just snapped together over it.
Goes anywhere – Laminate flooring can be installed over almost any existing floorcovering with the exception of carpet. This removes the hassle and expense of having to remove old flooring installations before installing new laminate material.
The elements – Laminate flooring is resistant to several outdoor agents. The wear layer protects it from stains and smudges due to dirt and mud, making it ideal for hallways and entryways.
Health – Laminates are naturally resistant to the growth of mould and bacteria. They can also be treated with special allergen-resistant and anti-bacterial coatings to make them even safer.
Acclimation – Hardwood needs to sit in an environment for three to six weeks so that it can acclimatise to the temperature and pressure of the area before installation, whereas laminates can be installed in as little as 36 hours. This is a big plus point for those faced with strict deadlines and a short period of time to install a floor successfully.
Refinishing – Laminate floors cannot be refinished. They have a single wear layer and when that is damaged, the individual piece needs to be replaced.
Sound – Walking on a laminate floor produces a hollow sound. This can be minimised by using a dampening underlayment which helps to simulate the sound of natural hardwood flooring.
Unnatural feel – While laminates can simulate the look of hardwood, stone, brick or tile perfectly, the feel of the floor is not the same as that of its illusion counterpart. While embossing can provide a textural surface for laminates, the material itself has a man-made feel making it obvious that it’s not a natural floor. However, those specifying laminates are looking for the imitation of a floor that appears natural and are not necessarily driven to achieve a natural feel.
Hard – Laminate flooring can be quite hard and unyielding underfoot. Even cork or foam padding on the back will not generally alleviate this characteristic.
Lifespan – The lifespan of a laminate floor is dependent on the quality of the material and the thickness of the wear layer. Most laminate floors come with a warranty, however it is important to check the terms and conditions of that warranty before making a purchase. Care should be taken to adhere to the manufacturer’s installation instructions or one risks voiding the warranty and losing its protection.
Laminates remain a popular choice for several reasons as noted above. As with any floor type, there are pros, and cons that cannot be avoided in totality, but certain actions can be taken to ensure that the best installation results in the best-looking laminate floor possible.
Need to know:
- The four basic laminate flooring construction layers are: a wear layer; a photographic image layer; an inner core layer and a backing layer.
- South Africa makes use of the European Producers of Laminate Flooring’s (EPLF) set of guidelines and expectations. This system offers general advice and application-oriented recommendations for underlayment laid loose under floating laminate floorcoverings.
- The natural appearance of a laminate floor can be reinforced through the use of a special underlayment that is installed beneath the laminate material in order to reproduce the sound a wood floor makes when it’s walked on.
- With the technology available to date, laminate floors are able to emulate the look of almost any other floor type.
- Most laminate floors come with a warranty, however it is important to check the terms and conditions of that warranty before making a purchase.