Tremendously durable and exceptionally eye-catching, laminate flooring is a reliable hard surface option that checks all the boxes when homeowners are shopping for versatile flooring. But how is this popular flooring made, and what gives it its longevity and appeal?
Laminate flooring is manufactured by fusing layers of material with high heat and enormous pressure. The finished product – a solid piece of flooring topped with a picture layer and a clear coat resin – replicates the look and feel of hardwood or stone flooring, depending on the laminate’s design.
There are four layers in laminate flooring:
Bottom Layer – Paper, plastic, or melamine comprises the bottom layer of laminate. Its purpose is to provide the plank with moisture resistance, balance, and structure. Melamine is considered the highest quality material as it offers the best strength and stability to the flooring.
Core Layer – This critical layer, composed of medium- or high-density fiberboard (MDF or HDF), compressed wood particles (usually recycled) mixed with resins, polymers, and plastics, creates the body of the flooring. The plastic or resin in the MDF/HDF is important for moisture-resistance, acclimation to humidity, and temperature changes. The core layer is sometimes called the substrate.
Visual Layer – The decorative visual layer is made using high-resolution 3D photographic images of wood grain or stone (depending on the material’s design) glued down on planks then covered with a clear finish. Multiple images are used throughout the lot of laminate flooring to ensure a natural look. Today visuals offer incredible natural stone and hardwood realism with virtually unrepeating patterns for authentic-looking finished floors.
Topcoat – The final layer, the topcoat, is a translucent, clear finish put over the visual layer to protect both the image and core layers. The topcoat layer is designed to resist fading caused by UV rays from the sun and stains from spills, scuffs, scrapes, and dings from pets, children, and day-to-day life. Style-wise, the topcoat also provides the undeniable texture and character that gives laminate planks their authentic quality.
A laminate product may or may not include an underlayment, which helps absorb some of the imperfections in the subflooring, as well as reducing noise and softening impact when walking. Often, underlayment includes an additional moisture barrier, helpful to installations in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and any rooms that will experience increased moisture.
All laminate flooring receives an Abrasion Criteria (AC) rating, measuring wear resistance on a scale from 1 to 5. Most residential laminate products fall within the AC 1 to AC 4 range. The AC rating that’s needed for the laminate floors in your home will depend on the needs of the specific rooms receiving them and the general activity level of the household.
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