Laminate Floors Memphis TN
Olive Branch, MS
Hardwood, tile, vinyl, carpet. Marble, stone, bamboo, rugs. Does the number of choices have you floored? Over the past few years, another option has gained ground. An increasing number of Americans are choosing laminate for their floors, an option that's been in the United States for less than 10 years. Laminate, or engineered, flooring is durable, easier to install and maintain than other floor coverings, simple to replace and, at $2 to $5 a square foot, costs less than many other surfaces. Although laminate floors look like wood, and more recently, tile, stone and marble, they're actually photographs attached to a sturdy core backing and topped with a durable sealant.
Thanks to ever-advancing digital printing, improved image separation and pearlescent inks, patterns and images have incredible depth and detail, appearing very close to the material being mimicked. But the aesthetics are just part of the equation. Laminate flooring consumers are typically initially drawn by the durability factor; laminates usually resist scratches, dents and chipping. And they resist stains and won't fade, manufacturers say. It's perfect for heavy-traffic areas, particularly if children or pets are milling about. The kitchen is the most popular room for laminate flooring. The easy installation is another lure.
Some of the newest products don't even require glue. The tongue-and-groove planks simply lock into place and can even be placed over existing floors. Laminate flooring products made up 3.7 percent of the flooring-material market in 2000, according to Jon Namba, technical director of the World Floor Covering Association, a trade group that represents laminate, ceramic, wood, resilient, marble, stone, carpet and rug manufacturers. That figure has climbed steadily from 1.6 percent in 1997. "It's become a much more viable product. And it keeps evolving," Namba said. When laminate flooring was introduced in the United States in the mid-1990s, prices were comparable to hardwood and ceramic tile flooring. But as the number of manufacturers increased and the market became saturated, prices have come down. Up to 40 companies have cropped up at any given time, according to Angela Scenna, Pergo's director of brand marketing and public relations. Pergo, the granddaddy of the laminate flooring industry, brought its product to the United States from Europe in 1994.
The Swedes originally developed laminate products for kitchen countertops, tables and wall panelings. To make the successful transition to flooring, the product required improved durability to withstand the wear associated with a floor. A reinforced laminate was produced, gaining quick success in Scandinavia. It quickly circulated through the rest of Europe and came to North America in the early 1990s. During its first four years in the United States, Pergo experienced double-digit gains each year, according to Scenna. Pergo now has about one-third of the U.S. laminate flooring market. Other leaders include Wilsonart, Formica, Armstrong World Industries, Mannington Mills, Uniboard, Bruce, Alloc and Witex. Because laminate flooring is still a relatively new product, many consumers had reservations about using it early on. However, those apprehensions are evaporating as more Americans embark on home-improvement projects and improvements in machinery and manufacturing techniques lower prices.
In fact, observers expect demand for laminate flooring will continue to grow at double-digit rates. Along with wood and ceramic tile, laminates will be the fastest-growing segments of the flooring industry. One of the characteristics that distinguishes laminate floors from materials like tile and carpet is the manner in which it is installed. Laminate floors "float" over a variety of subfloors; they aren't glued directly to a substrate. It lies on top of your concrete, wood or existing floor. This technique allows the floor to expand and contract as needed in the heat and cold. Manufacturers say the strength of the finished unit allows heavy objects, like refrigerators, to be placed directly on the floor. The Layers Laminate flooring is made up of numerous layers. The most important component in the makeup of the material is melamine, which provides the flooring's strength and durability and is incorporated in more than one layer of the material.
Melamine fiber contributes to heat stability, solvent resistance and flame resistance. It is used in fire-blocking fabrics, like aircraft seating, firefighters' protective clothing, insulating thermal liners, and high-capacity, high-efficiency, high-temperature air filters. The bottom-most layer of a laminate floor plank is the backing.
It's usually a melamine plastic, which provides structural stability and moisture protection. A core layer, consisting of high-density fiberboard, particleboard or plastic, provides impact resistance. It also forms the tongue-and-groove locking system. Some manufacturers add melamine plastic resins, which improve moisture resistance. The decorative print film is the aesthetic layer, providing the floor's appearance - wood, tile, stone or marble. The flooring is topped with a wearlayer, a tough, clear melamine with aluminum-oxide particles. When the wearlayer is fused with the core through heat and direct pressure, it becomes hard and durable. The WFCA said the treated wearlayer is so dense it becomes extremely difficult to stain, scratch or burn. Many manufacturers say their floors withstand substances that would give most of us headaches on any other surface - red wine, crayons, nail polish, ink and grease. Namba, the association's technical director, said one of the biggest improvements made over the past few years has been in the construction of the core. Some manufacturers didn't include this layer in the product's infancy, which in many cases, resulted in curling.
Today's cores typically consist of a medium-density fiberboard or equivalent material, which has stabilized the material and reduced the incidences of curling. "But by far, the biggest concern has been in the joints and keeping them intact without separation," Namba said. In fact, the joints are the components that have undergone the most evolution during laminate flooring's young life. From glued to glueless to pre-glued, manufacturers are making it easier for do-it-yourselfers to successfully install their own floors. Keeping It Together Instead of nails or staples, some laminate flooring systems require glue to hold the floor together. Planks aren't glued to the floor, but to one another to create the floating floor. Laminate floors come in planks and squares of all shapes and sizes. The wood-like laminate is made in planks; laminate resembling tile and other stone-like material comes in squares. Each side of the plank or square has tongue-and-groove edges, which connect to one another.
Instead of being anchored to the subfloor underneath, each piece of laminate is coated with a bead of special water-resistant glue, locking the planks together and sealing the pieces from moisture. A plastic sheet is placed beneath the laminate to prevent glue from sticking to the substrate and help the floor float freely. In addition to glue, you'll need fillers and sealants. Colored fillers fix seam gaps between planks. Sealant is placed around the perimeter to keep moisture from entering. You'll also need a strap set for every 4 feet in the starter rows. This will make the job of pulling plant rows together easier. A tapping block will aid in lightly tapping two planks together. V-shaped wedges will ensure a small gap is left between the floor and the surrounding walls. A pulling bar will help you pull two pieces of laminate together. Namba said the gluing system has presented some problems - primarily with keeping the joints intact and keeping moisture out. The root of those problems, he said, comes from less-than-perfect installation.
"In some cases, there wasn't enough adhesive, in others it was improperly placed," Namba said. Manufacturers are refining the requirements for the gluing process and are coming up with simpler alternatives, ultimately making it easier for consumers to install floors themselves - and have an end product that holds up. Glueless and Pre-glued One of the more recent innovations in laminate flooring is installation without glue. Many manufacturers contend the glueless installation is 50 percent quicker than using glue. The planks fit together by an interlocking tongue and groove. Many top manufacturers introduced the glueless system in 2000. Under a licensing agreement with The Unilin Group of Belgium, Pergo and a host of other companies use the patented Uniclic technology in their glueless laminate flooring products. The product is geared for do-it-yourselfers. Pergo Marketing Director Scenna said the company estimates that 50 percent of its laminate flooring will be of the "click" variety in the next year or two. And a new pre-applied glue product from Pergo will hit store shelves this fall. Called CertainSeal, the product uses the same clicking system as the glueless product. But CertainSeal also provides a glue that activates when moistened. During the manufacturing process, Pergo applies an adhesive coating to the tongue of the plank. When you install the floor, you'll use a dispenser that applies just the right amount of water.
When the substance changes color, you know you have enough glue. Next, you tap the planks into a locked position. "Glueless floors are certainly the hottest growth segment in the laminate category. Still, 70 percent of consumers are buying glued floors because they are concerned about issues like gapping, water resistance or dirty seams," said Lars von Kantzow, Pergo president and chief executive officer. Pergo said CertainSeal has almost three times the joint strength of a traditional glueless click joint. A glueless laminate flooring product from Armstrong World Industries has the distinction of being the only flooring product to earn a Popular Mechanics 2002 Design and Engineering Award. Unlike standard tongue-and-groove designs, Armstrong's ArmaLock laminate flooring has a double-barbed tongue that fits a matching barbed groove. When the mating boards are pushed flat against the subfloor, the seam draws tight. "It makes installing floors almost as easy as walking on them," it was noted in the award's write-up. Finishing the Job Once the floor is installed, you can install matching molding pieces to provide the transition from the laminate floor to a different flooring material in an adjoining room. For example, many manufacturers offer a carpet transition molding. End moldings provide an ending for sliding doors, ceramic tiles and similar surfaces. A gently sloping hard-surface reducer is used for the transition between the laminate floor and a lower, hard-surface floor.
Some manufacturers make a quarter-inch decorative molding for expansion space between the floor and the wall. Other specialized moldings are made for stairways and wall bases. Industry representatives agree that laminates are durable, but proper care is required. Homeowners with laminate floors should keep moisture to a minimum. The trade association offers these tips:
Use felt pads or wide-based casters underneath chair and furniture legs.
Use extra care when moving heavy objects across the floor.
Place mats at all the doorways.
Vacuum the floor regularly using soft-brush attachments.
Wipe with a damp cloth or mop when needed.
Do not polish or wax laminate floors.
Never try to refinish or sand a laminate floor.
Do not use steel wool or any harsh cleaners.
Always refer to the manufacturer's care and maintenance instructions and recommendations. There are several techniques available for fixing any needed repairs. If a laminate floor develops minor scratches, there are special, color-coordinating pencils that can be used to color and fill in the scratch marks. For seam gaps, most manufacturers recommend colored filler touch-up products. And if chips, deep scratches or gouges develop, there are colored burn-in sticks that are best used with special electric knives. If a floor is severely damaged, the affected plank can be replaced without damaging the rest of the floor. Special tools, router bits and wood splines are available to aid in replacement.
Performance Standards One of the biggest obstacles facing the laminate flooring industry is its youth. It hasn't been around long enough to stand the test of time. So, a few years after laminate flooring products came to the United States, manufacturers and importers throughout the country and Canada formed the North American Laminate Flooring Association. Their primary objective is to create performance standards for laminate flooring. Performance requirements include: static load, thickness swell, impact resistance, light resistance, cleanability/stain resistance, radiant-heat resistance, wear resistance, dimensional tolerances and castor chair resistance. The American National Standards Institute approved NALFA standards in July 2001. Products that meet these standards will display a NALFA seal. Wilsonart Flooring was the first laminate to meet NALFA standards and receive certification. Today, many manufacturers offer warranties of up to 25 years. As laminate flooring grows from infancy to maturity, all indicators point to it's remaining a strong flooring option and continuing to nibble away at the market share. In addition to a growing number of styles and designs, ongoing research and development into ways to make installation and maintenance simpler promises to entice an increasing number of consumers. "I see laminate flooring as holding its own in the future because of the technology that is available for this product," said Namba. "Millions of dollars are being invested in state-of-the-art equipment that is years ahead of some of the other floor coverings being manufactured."