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Laminate Flooring

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A guide to putting laminate floors in your home

Laminate flooring was a popular choice in Europe before the Swedish company Pergo brought it to the United States. There are now more than three dozen laminate floor manufacturers in the country, and the number is growing.

What is laminate flooring? It's a tongue and groove flooring system with a resin-based surface that is laminated, or bonded, to a wood-based core. The cores range from high density fiberboard to compressed kraft paper. The surface has a decorative pattern, often applied through photographic techniques, that is covered with a clear sheet of aluminum oxide. The bottom side of each laminate flooring piece has a protective backing. The flooring material is usually only one-third of an inch thick and thus can be laid over existing floors without significant transition problems to adjoining rooms.

The wear-resistant surface pattern can be hardwood, stone, or marble and is printed out much like a photograph. The pattern quality depends on how many times the photograph is screened, or printed, onto the vinyl. Each screening gives the pattern more detail and depth.

There are two types of laminate fabrication: direct-pressure and high-pressure laminates. Both deal with the manner in which the surface laminate and backing are bonded to the wood-based core. In the direct-pressure method, all materials are bonded to the core in a one-step process. The high-pressure method uses a two-step process, first gluing the materials and then bonding them under high pressure.

Laminate flooring is roughly comparable in price to finished hardwood flooring, but because it is prefinished, it goes down more quickly and easily. Each laminate piece is glued or snapped to the next piece rather than being nailed to the subfloor, as with traditional hardwood floors. A laminate floor thus floats over the subfloor and can readily expand and contract. The spaces between the flooring and the wall are covered with molding.


One drawback with a laminate floor is its susceptibility to moisture. Even though the cores are resin-soaked wood products, they may swell and warp the floor if sufficient water penetrates underneath. Laminate floors are not recommended for bathrooms or laundry rooms, where significant spills are more likely than the rest of the house.

Because the surface pattern is applied through a photographic process, laminate floors cannot be sanded down and refinished if worn or damaged.

Laminate floors should be laid on a special sound-deadening mat to reduce the "hollow sound" that some owners complain about after installation.

Installation Tips

The subfloor must be flat, with no high spots more than 1/8inch in every 4 feet. The floor must be firm, without springiness, and must not have any dips or gaps in it more than 3 inches across. The laminate floor should be placed in the house for at least 48 hours prior to installation so it can swell or shrink according to the house humidity in advance. A 1/4-inch gap must be left between the floor edge and the surrounding walls.

Repairing laminate flooring: Like any flooring material, laminate can be scarred, burned, or chipped. Most manufacturers have special rubbing pastes that hide scratches and burns. For a major crack or chip, the strip can be cut out and replaced.

Engineered Wood Flooring

Engineered wood floors are constructed by laminating several different layers of wood together. Engineered wood floors come either prefinished or unfinished. The top layer, which can be oak, maple, pine, cherry or other wood species, is the visible floor finish. The top layer can be sanded and refinished several times, if necessary.

Because the grain direction in each layer of wood opposes the grain in the next layer, the wood is dimensionally stable. It does not expand or contract as much as solid wood flooring. Because of this, engineered wood floors are an excellent choice for high humidity areas or installing on a concrete slab. The wood can be nailed or glued down or left to float.

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