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Laminate Flooring: Laying and Maintenance

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 19 May 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Laminate Floors Laminate Flooring

It is not hard to see why laminate flooring has become one of the most popular choices for floor coverings today and it is especially desired as an alternative to solid hardwood flooring. It is attractive, easy to clean and care for, extremely easy to install and offers exceptional durability and resilience under heavy wear and tear; all for a fraction of the cost. Furthermore, it is resistant to stains and scratching, as well as being impervious to most spills and burns. For active families with children and/or pets, it is the ideal choice and even in the commercial sector, it is ideal for areas of high traffic. It is also probably the greatest friend of the Do It Yourself home-owner. Being a floating floor system, it is extremely versatile and easy to install and replace.

Construction

Because laminate flooring is designed to replicate real flooring materials, such as wood, Stone or Ceramic, it usually comes in either planks or square tiles. Each plank or tile is made up of several layers of different materials, pressed tightly together. Most of the layers are composed of dense particle board, some treated with melamine resins or water-resistant sealers to protect this inner core from moisture. The top layer includes a printed film which replicates the look of real wood, stone or tile and is itself protected by a surface layer of tough, durable resins, designed to be almost as hard as diamonds and thus give excellent wear- and stain-resistance.

Modern manufacturers are adding further touches to their laminates to help increase realism, such as adding texturing to their surface layers. All planks and tiles are constructed in such a way as to have tongue and grooved edges on all four sides, which helps to secure the planks or tiles together. With modern glueless, snap-and-lock technology, this may be all that is needed to hold the laminate secure but suspended above the subfloor. In addition, a thin plastic sheet is placed over the subfloor before installation to help the laminate float freely above the substrate.

Installation

Laminate floors can be installed either via a glueless locking system or using planks pre-glued with special adhesives. Most laminate floors nowadays are installed using a glueless locking system. This can either be through a tongue and groove design that is reinforced underneath by a mechanical locking system made of aluminium or by a tongue and groove design which is built directly into the core of the planks and tiles and allow them to simply snap together during installation. This method is very popular as it is simple and quick and especially suitable for DIY installations.

Alternatively, laminate planks and tiles can come pre-glued by the manufacturer, using a specially formulated, water-resistant adhesive. This is only activated when moistened with a wet sponge during installation. It is also possible to obtain laminate planks and tiles which are not pre-glued and require manual application of special adhesives during installation.

In all three cases, the planks or tiles are directly floated over a subfloor, which can be plywood, concrete slabs or certain existing floor coverings as long as it is level and flat. This means that the planks or tiles are secured to each other and never to the substrate underneath. The great advantage of this is that it allows for contraction and expansion as the room environment and conditions change.

The underlay used to help the laminate floor float freely is usually polyurethane although more expensive materials are sometimes used, particularly to help with sound insulation and also to reduce moisture wicking up into the flooring. Remember also to acclimatise the planks to the room's conditions, just as with real hardwood, to prevent bowing and cupping and to make installation easier.

Care

Care of Laminate Flooring is very simple; just a regular vacuum using soft brush attachments should suffice, with the occasional wipe or mop by a damp cloth. Never use excessive water on laminate and immediately clean up any heavy spills. Although laminate is very resilient, it can be vulnerable to scratching by grit and small particles so keep your floor clear of these by regular vacuuming and the use of protective mats at entrances and doorways. Never try to polish or wax laminate and also do not try to sand or re-finish laminate flooring. Also avoid abrasive cleaners and steel wool; most mild household detergents should be sufficient. If properly maintained, laminate flooring should perform well for years.

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