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Monthly Archives: February 2007

  • Find Vinyl That Will Last

    What Is Vinyl Flooring?

    Vinyl flooring is basically a synthetic version of linoleum flooring. First produced in the English/Scottish region in the late 1800s, linoleum floors are made by taking linseed oil and oxidizing it to create the cement known as linoleum. Then this cement is mixed with ground wood flour and other ingredients and poured onto a backing, which was first made from jute, but today can be made from jute, felt, or a number of other products. While linoleum is still produced today, and is popular as one of the all-natural, ecologically friendly options for floor covering, most manufacturers produce far more floors from a vinyl resin made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic that is more durable, easier to produce and less expensive than linoleum.

    Different manufacturers produce vinyl in different ways, and even floors made by the same manufacturer may have different materials added to the resin to give the finished product certain properties. Plasticizers are oily liquids that make the product softer and more pliable, stabilizers help the vinyl maintain its color and not fade or yellow in sunlight, pigments give the vinyl its color, and fillers like limestone or clay increase its strength and thickness. For the most part, the specific formulation of a vinyl product is a secret, but when you see advertised features like "extra soft" or "colorfast", you can be sure that they have extra plasticizers and stabilizers, respectively.

    How Are They Made?

    The typical construction of vinyl floors may differ, but starts out the same way, with a backing made of felt or vinyl. Then with sheet vinyl, they lay on the vinyl resin cement that forms the core of the product. With inlaid vinyl, that core is constructed from chips of vinyl laid in a pattern to create the decoration for the floor. With vinyl made via the rotogravure method, the vinyl core is applied in one sheet, which then has a design printed upon it. In both cases, the resulting product is covered with a thin wearlayer of vinyl or urethane, then placed under extreme heat and pressure to finalize the product. Vinyl tile is generally the same, except that some vinyl tile is made with a calenderizing technique that squeezes the vinyl to a specific thickness, then the finished product is shaped or cut into the size of the tile.

    Watch The Backing

    The backing of the vinyl can be an important part of the product. Most vinyl floors are made with a felt backing, which is similar to the jute backing used on early linoleum. This felt backing helps give vinyl its trademark resistance to water. However, felt backed products are prone to curling, so adhesive must be applied to the backing, which soaks in the glue and attaches itself to the subfloor, holding it in place. Some newer products use a fiberglass backing. This type of backing is much sturdier and less pliable, so it is less prone to curling. As a result, fiberglass-backed floors can be installed without glue, and can be topped with much softer vinyl material without having problems staying straight on the subfloor.

    Wearlayers Determine Wear Resistance

    Another important part of vinyl construction is the wear layer. The wear layer is one of the most important parts in terms of durability, and often is directly correlated to the price and warranty of the product. Traditional vinyl products will use a normal vinyl wear layer, which provides basic stain resistance, strong resistance to moisture and fairly strong durability. Some of the more advanced vinyl floors will have a urethane wear layer that may feature various additives to increase strength. Urethane wearlayers provide strong resistance against scratches, scuffs, and most household stains. They will vary in thickness, and better vinyl floors will have thicker urethane wearlayers that are mixed with particles of aluminum oxide, ceramic or other materials that increase resistance to scratching and abrasive wear.

  • Shopping For Vinyl Floors

    Vinyl Flooring History

    Sheet vinyl was actually the very first form of vinyl flooring. Linoleum flooring appeared as early as the 1860s in Scotland, and it appeared in the US a decade later. It became extremely popular in the post-industrial revolution era, since it was inexpensive to manufacture and a cheap floor covering for low-income families to afford. Over the next several years, the resilient flooring industry boomed, mostly the newly created resilient tile flooring, which saw other materials using the same design appear on the market, like asphalt, cork and rubber. Vinyl tile first made its appearance on the market in 1933, but due to shortages of vinyl during World War II, it didn't catch on until the late 1940s. By the 1950s, however, vinyl had become the most popular hard surface floor covering in the country. Over the years, resilient flooring has evolved through various technological innovations: cushioned backing, no-wax finishes, and assorted specialty items like no-slip and static-free products. Recently, vinyl has benefitted from new technological innovations like new embossing techniques and advances in wearlayer construction that has made modern resilient flooring stronger and more attractive than ever.

    Sheet or Tile?

    Resilient flooring comes in one of two forms, sheet and tile. Each looks the same, but there are important differences. The biggest difference is that vinyl tile is manufactured in tiles typically not more than a foot wide, while sheet vinyl comes in large rolls several feet wide and a hundred feet or more in length. This means that sheet vinyl can feature far more distinct patterns and doesn't experience the seaming problems that occur with tiled floors. Additionally, because it is built in mass quantities, sheet vinyl is also usually less expensive. On the other hand, vinyl tile is usually easier to install, since the small pieces are easier to lay. And while large patterns on sheet vinyl can create problems when trying to match pieces together, vinyl tile is generally far simpler.
    [inset]One factor that must be considered when purchasing sheet vinyl is seaming issues. Most sheet vinyl flooring has some sort of pattern, and if you don't purchase enough extra vinyl, you may experience problems when trying to match your flooring up between pieces. How much excess material you need to purchase may differ depending on how wide the pattern is spaced, but generally, about 10-15% extra should be purchased. Be sure to ask a flooring professional to find out exactly how much extra material they would recommend for your particular choice of flooring.[/inset]

    Luxury Vinyl Tile

    Worth noting is that some vinyl tile is made to be much stronger. This tile, called Luxury Vinyl Tile or Vinyl Composition Tile, has been long used in commercial areas where there's a lot of traffic or moisture like school kitchens and bathrooms or in hospitals. But today's luxury vinyl tile incorporates modern embossing techniques, making it a more attractive option for household kitchens or other areas where tile or laminate would otherwise be used. The advantages of Luxury Vinyl Tile are that it is nearly waterproof like other vinyl floors, but is also far more durable and can last nearly a lifetime once installed. As a result, Luxury Vinyl is more expensive, but is an excellent alternative to solid sheet or vinyl tile as well as laminate or ceramic tile. In fact, the new advances in design technology can make a Luxury Tile almost indistinguishable from ceramic, porcelain or stone tiles.

    Vinyl Flooring Installation

    Installation can differ by the type of floor. Most sheet vinyl floors, some solid vinyl tile floors and all luxury vinyl flooring must be installed with an approved adhesive, though some glueless sheet vinyl can be installed with special adhesive tape. Additionally, some vinyl tile will come with an adhesive preattached to the backing, making it unnecessary to purchase any extra adhesives. But all vinyl floors come with specific instructions for the individual product. Be sure to check for the manufacturer's installation instructions for your floor.

  • The Look Of Vinyl

    One of the most important considerations to any flooring buyer is color and appearance. People often will buy a floor of lower-quality or a higher price if they like the appearance more. However, vinyl floors have the widest range of designs and colors out of any type of flooring. Because all vinyl patterns are printed onto the floor, the possibilities are literally limitless. The chances are good that you can find any pattern or color you want in a number of different price ranges and from a number of different brands, so don't be afraid to shop around!

    Vinyl Patterns

    Different decors require different design considerations, but for most situations, your best option is to pick a vinyl floor that blends in with its surroundings. Most vinyl floors are not made with one solid color, nearly all varieties of vinyl will have a type of pattern. So finding vinyl to match its surroundings can mean getting a floor with a brick or stone pattern, a floor with a rustic wood pattern, or any of the many varieties of geometric patterns or floral designs. However, some vinyl floor styles can provide a strong accent that truly makes the room stand out. A high contrast pattern like a checkerboard design or a richly colored brick or tile pattern with bright grout colors can give a room a truly distinctive appearance.

    How Reflective Should It Be?

    Additionally, you should take the amount of gloss into consideration. Gloss is the term for how much light is reflected off the floor. High gloss floors will appear shiny once installed, and will feature a lot of glare from sunlight or bright indoor lighting. Other floors feature a low or satin gloss level, meaning that it will reflect very little light and will usually appear the same way no matter what the setting. All vinyl floors fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Most low-priced vinyl will be high gloss, but some high-priced vinyl styles feature a high amount of gloss as well. Low gloss floors tend to be easier to maintain, as high-gloss floors may need to be polished to maintain their appearance. If a realistic pattern is important, consider finding a floor with low or satin gloss. However, if you want a floor with a polished appearance, like marble or other reflective materials, high gloss can be a positive. Overall, gloss level may or may not be a factor in your buying decision, but you should be aware of the possibilities.

    Vinyl Pattern Printing Methods

    One important factor when considering resilient floors is the type of construction. Generally, vinyl is made in one of two ways. The first and oldest type of construction is called inlaid vinyl. This method takes pieces of fused and compressed vinyl and attaches them with heat and pressure to the primary backing layer. It is the more expensive method, but generally results in a more durable and longer-lasting floor. Also, because the design layer consists of several tiled pieces of vinyl, it is typically limited in range to tiled or geometric designs. This method is used for some sheet vinyl and for all vinyl tile. Similar methods are used in the creation of similarly structured floors like cork, rubber and asphalt. The other method that is used for some sheet vinyl is called rotogravure. This method lays a gel-like layer on top of the backing, then prints the pattern on top. Vinyl floors created like this can have an indefinite number of designs and are usually cheaper, but not as durable and more prone to wear damage like rips, gouges or indentations.

    Realistic Textures

    One of the latest innovations in vinyl flooring has been embossing techniques. By combining realistic designs with vinyl layers that have been textured, embossed vinyl floors are made to more closely resemble natural materials like stone, tile or hardwood. And some of the best vinyl floors feature embossed-in-register construction, which uses unique and realistic patterns in conjunction with matching, equally realistic textures. These floors can be nearly indistinguishable from real wood or tile, and mimic the look and feel of the very best laminate flooring at a reduced cost.

  • A Brief History of Laminate Flooring

    Laminate flooring is easily the newest type of floor covering on the market, and continues to build strength. High-Pressure Melamine laminate had been used as a material for kitchen countertops, tables and other household hard surfaces for years, but it was considered too weak to stand up to the kind of wear caused by everyday foot traffic. But in the early 1980s, Swedish manufacturers created a product that started with a dense paper base, then had special resins mixed throughout the paper to give it strength, then had a paper with a design placed on top. The whole thing was then placed under extremely high pressure, which bonded the layers together. The resulting product was far stronger than the laminate currently in use, and over the years became even stronger.

    Laminate became popular quickly as an alternative to the hardwood floors available at the time. While hardwood was packaged mainly in extremely long planks that required special transportation, laminate boards were half that length and easily carried in the average car. Additionally, hardwood floors of the time required a professional to install correctly, while laminate floors had an easy glue-down"floating" installation that could be placed over any subfloor, even existing flooring! As a result, the product created a new do-it-yourself flooring market that is still very much alive today.

    Over the years, the popularity of laminate spread from Sweden to the rest of Europe, then expanded to the US and other countries, and is still spreading today. The product line of laminate has grown from wood patterns to stone, tile and more, and new advances in technology have made them increasingly realistic in appearance. They have grown even stronger, becoming more resistant to wear and able to handle all types of traffic in any environment. And with new advances developing all the time, laminate has proved to be a strong force in the floor covering industry and arguably has driven the fast technological innovation in both hardwood and vinyl floors trying to compete.

  • Pricing and Costs of Laminate Floors

    For some people, price is not a major issue. But laminate is one of the best product in terms of price versus performance. Most laminate can provide excellent durability because it's built into the product. Certain factors can make a difference, though.

    Why the Cheapest Floor May Be Too Costly

    What separates a cheap floor from an affordable floor is most often durability. While the laminate material is stronger than other materials, many "bargain" floors will be a greater cost in the long run, because they are too thin to handle years of traffic, have a thin veneer wearlayer that makes your floor wear more quickly, and have tongue-and-groove edges that are more likely to form gaps over time. As a result of these structural issues, these floors often have short warranties, and often have the same pattern on every board, making the overall appearance of the finished product far less attractive. Plus, because they almost always have to be installed with glue, you'll have to pay for adhesive, and in many cases, will have to hire someone to install it. So going with the cheapest laminate flooring available is a very bad idea.

    For not much more per square foot, you can find a truly good deal. These floors come with strong construction, durable wearlayers, and can often be found with a glueless installation! Additionally, floors like this from a major manufacturer will typically carry decent warranties as well. So before buying the cheap floors advertised in the paper, take some time to consider what the true bargain floor is.

    Laminate Floors Look Good At Any Price

    If price is not as big a concern for you as attractiveness or strong durability (pet owners pay attention), there are a number of options in between. Most of the common floors from manufacturers will be only slightly higher in cost than the bargain priced floors, but are stronger, more attractive and easier to install. And if you want a floor that will look as close to real wood or tile as possible, floors that feature textured embossing use a special technique to give the floor a feel that more closely mimics natural materials. And embossed-in-register floors take it a step further, taking their texture directly from the pattern on each board! These floors are often nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, and look absolutely stunning.

    All laminate floors tend to be less expensive than actual hardwood or tile, however. And the most expensive laminate floor will almost assuredly be less than the most expensive hardwood.

  • Colors and Styles of Laminate Flooring

    Although laminate can be made into any shape and with any appearance, it is almost always made to resemble existing hardwood, tile, stone, marble or other patterns. The wide majority of laminate sold and produced uses wood patterns, but while most laminate stone and tile doesn't have the range of selection that you might find in luxury vinyl tile, it is an excellent and extremely durable option if you find a pattern you like.

    Laminate is a Great Alternative to Wood Flooring

    But if you're looking for a wood pattern, laminate offers an unlimited array of options. Not only that, but while hardwood species vary in price due to availability, an exotic laminate pattern is just as inexpensive as a regular oak design. However, not all patterns are available in all price ranges, you'll typically find the most patterns in the mid-priced floors, and more fashionable patterns in the highest-priced floors.

    Decorating the Room With Laminate Floors

    One key point to consider when selecting a design is the mood of the room. If the floor will be in an area with a very formal appearance with lots of white, you may want to consider a light colored floor, like bright tile, natural maple or ash, bamboo, or a whitewashed design. If it will go in a room with lots of bright, bold colors and a very fashionable design, consider taking advantage of laminate's natural affordability and pick an exotic wood pattern like Brazilian Cherry, Tali, Santos Mahogany or even a bold dark wood like Wenge. If it will be in a room with a warm, relaxed, lived-in appearance, then pick a design like oak, cherry, hickory or walnut. The possibilities are vast, but if you take the time to examine your options, the odds are good that you'll find a floor that makes the statement you want.
    If you want a floor with a rustic, historic appearance, then there are some guidelines to keep in mind. Generally, wide-plank floors with beveled edges are the best choice, particularly ones labeled as rustic or aged. Additionally, if you pay a little more, some of the newest laminates have the look of hand-scraped hardwood, giving your floor the instant appearance of old, worn planks like in an old cabin or historic home with the benefits of modern technological advances.

  • How to Find a Laminate Floor That Lasts

    How Laminate Floors Are Made

    Laminate construction varies, but in general, it starts with brown paper, melamine resins and premium print paper for the top layer. The brown paper is pressed through rollers with colored resins that soak into the paper, then is dried and cut into sheets. The print paper is also soaked with melamine, but is soaked in a vat before going through the rollers and uses clear melamine resins to ensure that the paper does not alter the appearance of the design.

    Next, the design layer is added, a piece of extremely high quality paper with a pattern printed on it. If the design is especially light, a white sheet may be inserted below it to make sure the bottom layers don't cause the top to yellow. At this point, there is a big difference in laminate construction. Direct Pressure Laminate (DPL) floors leave the wear layer and design layer separate and fuse both onto the core in the next step. High Pressure Laminate (HPL) presses the wearlayer and decorative paper together with an underlying layer of special extremely high-strength paper, then this layer is what is pressed onto the core. HPL floors are much stronger than DPL floors.

    The brown papers are stacked to the specified height, then the top layer(s). A plate is often put on top to give the floor a specified texture. Then the whole thing is sent into a press with extremely high pressure (between 800-1500 pounds) that is slowly heated to close to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This is often done using ultra-violet light, which makes sure the design does not discolor in the process. The temperature has to be very closely monitored to make sure that it bonds together with just enough heat to make it stick together permanently.

    When this process is complete, the finished product is trimmed and sanded to specification and formed into planks or tiles.

    A Laminate Floor's Durability is Built-In

    The strength of the product is directly tied to the construction of the laminate. Products with thicker or a greater number of sheets of the underlying brown paper or with a high density of melamine are far more durable than ones with fewer and thinner sheets or with fewer melamine resins used in the process. So when examining a floor for durability, look directly to the core and weight of the product. Typically, the thickness and weight will directly correspond to the warranty issued as well. Additionally, the top wear layer has the same significance. If the wearlayer is thick with lots of dense melamine, it will perform much better under duress than a thinner wearlayer.

    An Easy Way to Compare Laminate Floors

    All these factors combine to determine the strength of the floors. The EPLF (European Producers of Laminate Flooring) have a system to make finding a specific floor's strength much easier. Each floor is rated on a numeric scale from AC1 (21) to AC5 (33). This scale rates laminate products on wear and abrasion resistance, and the higher the number, the better the floor. This can be important, because if you are placing the product in a high-traffic area, an AC1 (21) or AC2 (22) floor may wear out quickly, whereas an AC4 (32) or AC5 (33) will be extremely long-lasting in all but the heaviest of areas. For most residential areas, though, a floor rated AC3 (23 or 31) will do just fine.

    About Laminate Wear Layers

    The other factor that determines a floor's durability is the finish, or the wear layer type. All laminate floors are (as described above) made with a melamine finish, but many feature special additives that provide the floor with even more strength and resistance to abrasive wear; the most common of these is aluminum oxide. A naturally occurring compound, aluminum oxide is most commonly found on natural aluminum products, particularly ones used in outdoor settings with a dull appearance. This compound is known for its extremely high resistance to corrosion and excellent durability. When added to the melamine wear layer, it prevents most damage from everyday wear, as well as aiding in stain prevention and repelling water.

    Warranty and Durability Are Not Necessarily Related

    The core and the wearlayer are usually the only factors that affect the warranty. Even a millimeter (less than 1/25 of an inch) of thickness in the core can be the only difference between a floor with a 10 year warranty and a floor with a 15 year warranty. And two companies may both offer a 15 year warranty, but one may be costlier and better constructed than the other. Always base your buying decision on the thickness or wear rating of the floor, not on the warranty.

    How Laminate Floors Are Made

    [url=displaytype.php?f=6&t=1]Laminate[/url] construction varies, but in general, it starts with brown paper, [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melamine]melamine resins[/url], and premium print paper for the top layer. The brown paper is pressed through rollers with colored resins that soak into the paper, then is dried and cut into sheets. The print paper is also soaked with melamine, but is soaked in a vat before going through the rollers and uses clear melamine resins to ensure that the paper does not alter the appearance of the design.

    Next, the design layer is added, a piece of extremely high quality paper with a pattern printed on it. If the design is especially light, a white sheet may be inserted below it to make sure the bottom layers don't cause the top to yellow. At this point, there is a big difference in laminate construction. Direct Pressure Laminate (DPL) floors leave the wear layer and design layer separate and fuse both onto the core in the next step. High Pressure Laminate (HPL) presses the wearlayer and decorative paper together with an underlying layer of special extremely high-strength paper, then this layer is what is pressed onto the core. [url=http://www.laminateflooringco.com/a-high-direct-pressure-laminate.html]HPL floors are much stronger than DPL floors[/url].

    The brown papers are stacked to the specified height, then the top layer(s). A plate is often put on top to give the floor a specified texture. Then the whole thing is sent into a press with extremely high pressure (between 800-1500 pounds) that is slowly heated to close to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This is often done using ultra-violet light, which makes sure the design does not discolor in the process. The temperature has to be very closely monitored to make sure that it bonds together with just enough heat to make it stick together permanently.

    When this process is complete, the finished product is trimmed and sanded to specification and formed into planks or tiles.

    A Laminate Floor's Durability is Built-In

    The strength of the product is directly tied to the construction of the laminate. Products with thicker or a greater number of sheets of the underlying brown paper or with a high density of melamine are far more durable than ones with fewer and thinner sheets or with fewer melamine resins used in the process. So when examining a floor for durability, look directly to the core and weight of the product. Typically, the thickness and weight will directly correspond to the warranty issued as well. Additionally, the top wear layer has the same significance. If the wearlayer is thick with lots of dense melamine, it will perform much better under duress than a thinner wearlayer.

    An Easy Way to Compare Laminate Floors

    All these factors combine to determine the strength of the floors. The [url=http://www.eplf.com/en/]EPLF (European Producers of Laminate Flooring)[/url] have a system to make finding a specific floor's strength much easier. Each floor is rated on a numeric scale from [url=http://www.eplf.com/en/img/laminate/load_and_traffic_categories_800.gif]AC1 (21) to AC5 (33)[/url]. This scale rates laminate products on wear and abrasion resistance, and the higher the number, the better the floor. This can be important, because if you are placing the product in a high-traffic area, an AC1 (21) or AC2 (22) floor may wear out quickly, whereas an AC4 (32) or AC5 (33) will be extremely long-lasting in all but the heaviest of areas. For most residential areas, though, a floor rated AC3 (23 or 31) will do just fine.

    About Laminate Wear Layers

    The other factor that determines a floor's durability is the finish, or the wear layer type. All laminate floors are (as described above) made with a melamine finish, but many feature special additives that provide the floor with even more strength and resistance to abrasive wear; the most common of these is [url=compare.php?n=FNSH&v=Aluminum Oxide&f=6&t=1]aluminum oxide[/url]. [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alumina]A naturally occurring compound[/url], aluminum oxide is most commonly found on natural aluminum products, particularly ones used in outdoor settings with a dull appearance. This compound is known for its extremely high resistance to corrosion and excellent durability. When added to the melamine wear layer, it prevents most damage from everyday wear, as well as aiding in stain prevention and repelling water.

    Warranty and Durability Are Not Necessarily Related

    The core and the wearlayer are usually the only factors that affect the warranty. Even a millimeter (less than 1/25 of an inch) of thickness in the core can be the only difference between a floor with a 10 year warranty and a floor with a 15 year warranty. And two companies may both offer a 15 year warranty, but one may be costlier and better constructed than the other. Always base your buying decision on the thickness or wear rating of the floor, not on the warranty.

  • Why Laminate is the Easiest Floor to Install

    Laminate floors are the easiest flooring options to install, even for someone with little to no experience. Many can be installed without glue and with only the most basic of tools. Different specifications may affect the installation, however.

    Look Between the Planks

    First, you should know that different floors have different edge types. These edges affect not only how the floor looks, but can also affect the installation.

    Square

    Several floors offer square edges. These floors have a completely straight corner, and will show no visible seams within the floor, creating a clean and stunning visual effect. However, they are also some of the easiest to wear, and can create more visible gaps if the flooring is moved.

    Beveled

    In contrast, some floors offer a beveled edge. This means that each floor has rounded edges with seams visible even from a distance, creating a more natural and realistic look. These edges also hide dirt and dust more easily than square edges, and even if they begin to form gaps over time, they will be much less noticeable. However, because the gaps are bigger, they also collect dirt and dust more easily, and can be more difficult to clean with a dust mop or vacuum brush.

    Microbeveled

    Most floors feature an edge that combines the best features of square and beveled edges while minimizing their weaknesses. Called microbeveled or eased edges, these pieces are rounded slightly on the sides with seams visible when viewed up close, but not noticeable at a distance. Floors with these edges hide dirt and dust better than square edged floors, but are easier to clean than beveled edge floors.

    Grout

    Many tile floors will feature a different style of edge called grout edge. These floors have simulated grout lines on the sides to give the tile a rounded appearance, but are usually microbeveled or square edges on the edge of the actual piece to make it more realistic. Some wood floors use this technique, too, particularly hand-scraped floors with a very wide bevel but a square edge below the visible surface that minimizes any gaps between installed boards.

    Finding the Perfect Fit

    But the biggest part of installation is the tongue and groove on each board. Laminate flooring is usually installed by fitting the tongue on one board into the groove on the next. Sometimes this process requires glue to hold the boards together, but many modern laminate floors have a locking edge that requires no glue to hold together. Typically this is achieved by using a tongue raised on the ends and a groove that is longer on the bottom to allow the tongue to slide in underneath and lock into the groove. One of the most well-known creators of this installation process is Unilin, who patented their Uniclic system that is now licensed for use in hundreds of different floor styles by numerous manufacturers around the world.

    Glueless laminate flooring is usually pretty inexpensive, but not all locking systems are alike, so examine the system in place before deciding on a floor. Faulty tongue and groove systems can be difficult to install and tend to break apart easily.

    Is Glueless Laminate Worth the Cost?

    Whether a flooring has a glueless installation mechanism or not usually has little to do with the durability of the floor. In fact, glued laminates will usually hold more strongly than glueless laminate floors. The difference shows in the price. With glueless installation, your only costs are the costs of the laminate, the underlayment, and any trim you might need. But with floors that require glue, you have to pay extra to buy the adhesive. Additionally, if you have little experience with flooring adhesive, you may want to bring in a professional flooring installer, and that can be expensive as well. So although floors without a glueless installation are less expensive in the short term, the long-term costs can easily outweigh the benefits.

    Cushioning the Floor

    Speaking of additional costs, one cost that must be considered is underlayment. Because laminate floor is almost always far less thick than hardwood and because it "floats" over the subfloor rather than actually being attached, underlayment is a necessary companion to laminate flooring. Because of this, all laminate warranties require underlayment to be used, and any flooring professional will tell you the same thing.

    Of course, not all underlayment is the same. Laminate underlayment can be made from a variety of materials and thicknesses. Some of the most widely used types are made from foam (polyethylene, polypropylene, vinyl, etc), cork, synthetic fiber, recycled gypsum wood fiber, and combinations of these. What is required for your floor depends on what is underneath the laminate and how far above ground level the floor is.
    Some manufacturers require a specific brand or type of underlayment for use with their products. Be absolutely sure to check the warranty and installation guidelines for your product before looking for an underlayment.

    Moisture Barriers

    If the floor is below ground level, in any environment with high humidity, in areas prone to mold or mildew, or over carpeting, a moisture barrier (usually a thin layer of polyethylene film) is necessary. Typically, the recommended type of laminate underlayment in these situations is a combination of foam padding with a film moisture barrier. This is often called "Two In One" or "Combo", and usually meets the bare requirements for floors installed on any type of subfloor except carpet, where separate foam and film layers must be used. Other options include a rubber underlayment with a moisture barrier or cork, which resists moisture naturally.

    If the laminate will be installed on or above the second floor of the building, moisture barrier is often unnecessary. In these cases, foam underlayment is the bare minimum, though a denser material like cork or rubber may be necessary to reduce sound levels on lower levels.
    Some floors offer preattached underlayment. Floors featuring this product are usually just as strong as floors with separate underlayment, so this is definitely a plus if you are considering it as an option.

    Noise Reduction

    Sound levels are another consideration with laminate floors, too. Because laminate floors are very dense and don't attach to the subfloor, you will often hear noise when walking across it. This can be minimized using the proper underlayment. As mentioned, cork has excellent noise reduction qualities for floors not requiring a moisture barrier. Fiber is often used to absorb noise, but the thickness and density of fiber necessary to properly reduce noise is often much harder than other options. And as one of the densest underlayment materials available, rubber is the best at absorbing noise.

    For most typical usage, though, the best option is a material called closed-cell foam. Most typical foam is made using open cells. For an example of this, just think of the soft, cushiony foam used in some sponges or found in some boxes used to protect delicate products like computer accessories or lightweight breakable objects. Closed-cell foam is more like styrofoam. Made to be stronger and more likely to hold its shape when put under pressure. Of course, the type of closed-cell foam used in underlayment is much softer than styrofoam, but the same principle is at work. Most of the time, this type of padding will have an attached moisture barrier to make it usable in any environment, and is strong enough to dampen most of the noise created by laminate traffic. As a result, for the majority of usage, this type of underlayment is the most recommended, and except for special circumstances, is probably your best bet.

  • Laminate Floors That Look and Feel Just Like Hardwood

    Many modern laminates utilize a process called embossing. Often seen on metals with textured surfaces like coins, this process uses a plate with a pattern to squeeze a surface (in this case, the paper used in the design layer) in a way that it reproduces that pattern on the surface. This may be done in two ways.

    Normal Texturing

    The first and most common is called blind embossing. This imprints a set pattern on a blank paper, and the printed pattern does not exactly match the texture. This creates a realistic feel to the floor, but not comparable to the wood or tile it is attempting to reproduce.

    If you are considering a hand-scraped hardwood floor, be sure to consider an embossed-in-register laminate floor as well! Often these products can provide a nearly identical look and feel with the added performance benefits and lower price of laminate flooring.

    Detailed Textures

    The second process, somewhat new to flooring, is called [url=compare.php?n=SRFC&v=In-Register]registered or in-register embossing[/url]. This process actually applies a pattern that directly matches a pattern already printed on the floor to give it a dimensional feel that is nearly indistinguishable from the reproduced surface. This process is more expensive than other methods of embossing, because each plank within a style may have a number of different patterns, so producing a unique texture for dozens of styles could require hundreds of plates or foils. However, if a floor with this technique is within your price range and you want something that looks exactly like the real thing, this may be an excellent option.

  • About Hardwood Installation Methods and Warranties

    How Hardwood Floors Are Installed

    One of the other factors to consider when purchasing a floor is the installation method. This can potentially affect cost, since some types of installation are best left to people with experience. If you are not experienced, you may have to hire someone who is, which can cost a lot in both money and time. Other forms of installation are much more friendly for those who have little experience installing hardwood floors.

    Nails

    First, for nearly all solid hardwood flooring, using nails to attach each board to the subfloor is the only option. This usually requires a professional nail gun, nails, and a lot of other special tools and experience. Solid floors should be installed by a qualified hardwood professional experienced in installation.

    Staples

    For engineered floors, there are usually more options. Many engineered floors are far too thin to be nailed to the subfloor, but they often can be installed using a stapler and special staples. Usually this type of installation must be done on a wood or plywood substrate, but can be an excellent choice for many hardwood floors and is much more friendly to amateurs than the nail-down method. However, it still requires skill with a staple gun to do properly.

    Glue

    Another option for engineered floors is to use glue to attach the boards to the subfloor. It is the only method for installing an engineered floor over concrete, but can be preferable to staple-down installation on a wood or plywood subfloor as well, since it thoroughly attaches each piece to the substrate. This can be relatively simple to do, but if you have an uneven subfloor, it may not be the best method to do yourself. In other words, attempting to glue down an engineered floor on an uneven surface without the proper equipment and knowledge can severely reduce the life of your floor. If you don't have both of those things, hire a professional.

    Floating

    But by far the easiest installation type is the "floating" method. This is most often found on engineered longstrip floors, but can also be found in some planked floors, and even some thinner, specially designed solid floors. This installation method is very simple and can be used over any subfloor, so if you don't want to pay the money to hire an installer but lack the experience to use glue or staples, this is your best bet. In fact, even those with plenty of experience prefer a floating floor simply because it saves so much on time and equipment. This type of installation will require you to use an approved underlayment, a tool resembling a crowbar called a tapping block, some small pieces of plastic called spacers, and unless it is advertised as a "glueless" installation, will require a small amount of glue on the edges to hold the boards together. It may also be a bit more expensive than other engineered floors. But compared to the cost and risk of a do-it-yourself staple-down or glue-down installation, it is by far the better choice for non-professionals.

    Hardwood Warranties

    The final consideration to use when deciding between floors is the warranty. Warranties are different for every product, so be sure to check with the manufacturer for your specific product to see terms and conditions. In general, though, you'll find the same basic warranties for hardwood products:

    Finish

    The most common of hardwood warranties, this warranty states that your floor won't wear down from everyday traffic. This warranty can be anywhere from 1 year to a lifetime, but usually, they'll range between 10 and 25 years. Typically, this warranty only covers wear caused by normal household foot traffic, and won't cover damage from improper care and maintenance, damage from installation or manufacturing defects, any damage from external problems like insects, a pet's nails, moving heavy objects without proper protection, fading from exposure to the sun, damage from heels or spiked shoes, water damage, etc. It also requires that you follow the manufacturer's maintenance instructions, and will likely be voided by using a vacuum without brush or wand attachment, cleaning the floor with soap and water, oil or ammonia based cleaning products, or mopping with water.

    Structural

    This warranty usually warrants against severe structural damage that shouldn't occur under recommended conditions, like warping, buckling, cupping, or other damage. Another guarantee only provided for engineered hardwood states that the plies that form the core of the product won't separate under normal humidity and usage. This will probably be voided if you don't follow the installation instructions provided by the manufacturer or if your floor is poorly installed. Make sure you know the humidity level limitations and ensure that the area installed stays within those limits. If you don't fully protect the floor against subfloor moisture damage, the warranty will likely be voided as well.

    Manufacturing Defects

    Sometimes called a Pre-Installation warranty, this warrants against any strongly noticeable defects in the appearance of the floor. The first thing you need to remember is that once this floor is installed, this warranty will usually be voided, so be sure to check your flooring thoroughly for any problems before proceeding with the installation. Relatively minor differences in grain or color won't be covered, since they naturally occur in any wood floor.

    Adhesive Bond

    Guarantees engineered floors installed using a glue-down installation won't lose their bond with the subfloor when all installation instructions are followed. This means that your subfloor must have been thoroughly dry without any history of moisture problems and that you used the proper adhesive specified by the manufacturer.

    Moisture Damage

    Guarantees that glue-down engineered flooring will not experience structural damage from moisture eminating from the subfloor. This is dependent upon following all installation instructions to the letter and upon the subfloor having met all requirements set by the manufacturer.

    Radiant Heat

    Guarantees that floating floors installed over heated subfloors won't experience severe structural damage when properly installed. Doesn't protect against cracking from seasonal changes, gaps that develop between boards or delamination.

    Sanding

    Guarantees that your floor can be resanded a specified number of times without wearing through when done properly. Most often applicable to solid floors.

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