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Laminate Flooring Buying Guide Basics

The Abrasion Rating System, or AC Rating, was developed by the European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF) and used worldwide as a tool to measure the strength and durability of laminate floor types. Laminate's strength is determined by its resistance to factors such as: moisture, standing liquid, cigarette burns, abrasion, impact and stains. Depending on its results, the laminate floor is then placed in one of the 5 following categories:

  • AC1 Moderate Residential: This type of laminate flooring is best for residential spaces with light traffic such as bedrooms or closets.
  • AC2 General Residential: AC2 laminate floors suit spaces like living rooms and dining rooms which see medium levels of traffic.
  • AC3 Heavy Residential/Moderate Commercial : Suitable for all rooms in the house and commercial spaces receiving light traffic. (Few residential spaces will require laminate floors with an AC rating higher than 3). AC3 is the most common rating of laminate flooring.
  • AC4 General Commercial: Suitable for all rooms in the house and commercial areas with heavier traffic.
  • AC5 Heavy Commercial: Generally only necessary for high–traffic spaces like public buildings or department stores.
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Your Environment

Over time, extreme humidity, dryness and/or temperature exposure can cause your laminate floors to expand and contract. Fortunately, there are ways in which you can reduce these harmful environmental effects and increase the longevity of your floor. Use the following tips as a guide when determining what precautions you may need to take.

Humidity and Temperature

While laminate flooring can handle higher and lower extremes of humidity better than other types of flooring (such as hardwood and bamboo), it's made from wood fiber and can still suffer damage. Try to avoid installing laminate in rooms that receive high levels of humidity; such as an unventilated bathroom that's frequently used for long showers.

Recommendation: To prevent damage to laminate flooring caused by extreme dryness or humidity levels, use a humidifier (for low humidity or dry climates) or a dehumidifier (for high humidity) to reduce expanding. How they work: a humidifier releases moisture into the air, while a dehumidifier absorbs and traps moisture from the air.

Sunlight

Some laminate floors come with a surface wear layer designed to prevent fading from sunlight exposure. Laminate floors that do not come with this fade–protective coat can fade and discolor from sun exposure.

Recommendations: Look for laminate with a surface wear layer that minimizes sunlight damage, called UV protection. Some manufacturers also offer floor warranties that cover fading. Reduce sunlight exposure in your home by covering windows with curtains, blinds and external solar screens.

Traffic

Where some laminate floors are made to only handle moderate residential traffic, others are designed for commercial use and can withstand excessive wear and tear. The amount of traffic your laminate floors can handle depends on how it rates according to the Abrasion Rating System (AC rating). All manufacturers use this rating system to denote the durability level of their laminate floors.

Recommendation: For an extremely durable laminate floor, choose floors with an AC3 rating or higher. These types are designed to withstand heavy levels of traffic.

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Room–by–Room Practicality

Laminate flooring works well in most household areas and can accommodate many lifestyle needs. Before running out to purchase materials for your laminate flooring project, read our recommendations for laminate in different rooms in your home.

General Rooms

Living Room/ Bedroom/ Office/ Den

Some types of laminate floors are tough enough to stand up to a great deal of residential traffic, making them ideal for living rooms or dens.

Recommendation: Make sure that the AC rating of your laminate floors match the level of traffic you expect in that area. (Keep in mind that higher AC ratings denote stronger laminate types). Also, note that High Pressure Laminate (HPL) is more durable than Direct Pressure Laminate (DPL). HPL is comprised of 5 or more laminate layers and can withstand a higher level of traffic than DPL – which only consists of 4 layers. To learn more about the differences of HPL and DPL, refer to our Types of Laminate section.

Wet Area Rooms

Bathroom/ Kitchen

The resiliency of most laminate floors makes them a good choice for kitchens; however caution still must be taken to ensure floor's performance. Laminate flooring is made using wood materials, and just as with other wood floor types, standing water can cause damage. This is one reason why many manufacturers do not recommend laminate installation for bathrooms.

Recommendation: When installing laminate in kitchens and bathrooms, make sure that caulk (compound used to seal joints and cracks) is applied around areas that may suffer leaking water. This includes the entire perimeter of the room and every place where joints are glued together. Some manufacturers do not honor warranties when laminate is installed in the kitchen or bathroom – so make sure that you refer to the manufacturer's guidelines or speak to a flooring professional prior to purchase.

Lifestyle Elements

Before purchasing laminate flooring for your home, many factors should be considered. Do you have pets? Do you have children? Do you have special needs? While it's important to choose a floor which accentuates the natural charm of your home, it's just as, if not more important to choose flooring which best compliments your lifestyle. Read the following section to learn how laminate floor accommodates different needs.

Pets: Laminate holds up well to most pet use. However larger pets with claws and nails can scratch the surface on some types of laminate. Floor damage incurred by pets is not covered under warranty, so preventative measures are recommended.

Recommendation: One way to minimize surface scratches is by keeping pet nails trimmed. You can also lay down area rugs in popular pet areas, such as doorways, hallways, and living room. Some manufacturers and local flooring retailers have color–coordinated pencils you can use to fill in scratches that are already in the laminate.

Children

Laminate flooring is designed to handle wear and tear better than other wood types (such as hardwood and bamboo), making it a good choice for children. The more cost–effective option, Direct Pressure Laminate (DPL), is made up of 4 different layers: backing, core, and decorative. The core is comprised of a high density fiberboard (HDF) which allows the floor to handle the shock of localized impacts (such as dropped objects and toys) without denting. Laminate also doesn't stain easily – making it an ideal surface for kids who are prone to spills.

Recommendation: Tough spots – such as oil, crayon, paint and ink – can be removed with acetone (nail polish remover) and a clean cloth. Always try to clean an inconspicuous area first to be assured that the cleaner will not damage for the laminate floor. Minimize markings and dirt spots by placing rugs in areas where children most commonly play. (Make sure that any rugs and mats you use are non–slip to prevent accidents). For more active kids, choose a laminate floor with a high AC rating (AC3 and up) to reduce the risk of damage.

Noise insulation

The smooth hard surface of laminate has a tendency to amplify indoor sound. In order to reduce the level of noise in your home, consider installing an underlayment. Underlayments are placed between the sub–floor and laminate surface, and certain types have sound deadening properties that can even minimize overhead noise (when installing upstairs). There are two types of ratings that measure the insulation properties of certain materials: (1) Impact Insulation Class (IIC) which measures the response of material upon contact with footsteps and dropped objects, and (2) Sound Transmission Class (STC) that measures a material's response to airborne noise such as music. When purchasing an underlayment for sound, look for either of these ratings.

Recommendation: Solid cork and standard foam underlayments are popular for their density and resiliency. You can also purchase laminate flooring with an underlayment already attached. This option can reduce the time and cost for overall installation.

Special Needs

Wheelchair floor damage can be both inconvenient and costly to fix. If you or someone in your household uses a wheelchair, it's important to choose a suitable floor surface. Laminate floor types (AC3 and up) are ideal for wheelchair and walker users because they're more durable and resilient.

Recommendation: Choose a smooth surface over embossed and a High Pressure Laminate (HPL) with an AC rating of 3 or higher. For more flooring options, check out our article on Wheelchair Floor Surfaces.

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Basic Care

Keep your laminate floors looking new by following by following these simple directions.

DOs

  • DO use floor cleaners recommended by the manufacturer or flooring professional.
  • DO follow the directions closely on all laminate floor cleaning products.
  • DO purchase a floor–cleaning kit specific to your floor's finish.
  • DO sweep, vacuum, and dust your floor.
  • DO wipe up spills immediately after they occur.
  • DO use ice and a plastic scraper to remove wax or gum.
  • DO shake area rugs outside and then vacuum to remove gathered dirt and debris.
  • DO place door mats at entry ways to minimize the amount of dirt tracked onto the floors.
  • DO put rubber floor protectors underneath chair legs, TV stands, and other furniture.
  • DO use non–slip mats in high traffic areas and potentially wet areas.
  • DO remove oil, ink and other tough spots with acetone (nail polish remover) and a clean cloth.

DON'Ts

  • DON'T use scouring powder or abrasive and chlorinated cleaners.
  • DON'T use a buffing or polishing machine.
  • DON'T use a vacuum with a beater bar.
  • DON'T wax your laminate floors.
  • DON'T let dirt, grime and sand build up.
  • DON'T polish, lacquer, or wax your laminate floors.
  • DON'T use soap, oil, or water–based detergents as this could cause your laminate floors to warp (and may even void your warranty).

NOTE: beater bars: hard bar located on the revolving brush roll which helps push the roll away from the ground in a quick "beating" motion.

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