Recently a customer asked us: “What differentiates a good quality laminate floor from a cheap one?”
To which we replied:
Laminate Inner Core: There are a variety of different materials used to make the core board of laminate floors but they all basically break down into two categories; particle board vs. high density fiberboard (HDF). HDF is denser than particle board. The denser the board the less movement you will see in the floor from expansion and contraction. Excessive movement in the floor leads to both buckling and/or plank separation issues.
First we want to emphasize that laminate flooring mimics hardwood flooring in that it is negatively affected by excessive moisture. This is why better quality HDF core boards (which are naturally more water resistant due to their density) are treated with a melamine resin which dramatically increases water resistance. The biggest benefit being that your boards will be significantly more resistant to cupping. Cupping is when the edge of a board curls up. Of course additives such as these increase the cost of making the flooring.
Locking Systems: Better quality laminates tend to have stronger mechanical strength to their locking system. The stronger the locking system the less likely the planks will be to separate when exposed to the “forces” created by everyday foot traffic.
Some locking systems (UniClic) have additional benefits engineered into the product that create a water tight fit on the surface of the product which helps prevent moisture and liquid spills from penetrating the joints in the flooring.
Recycling: Many higher quality boards are comprised of recycled content reducing the environmental footprint of the product. Not all companies have the resources and technology in place to utilize recycled materials; check the back of the board.
Wear Surface Performance: Performance of a laminate floor’s wear surface is another key differential between better and cheaper laminates. Although the components of wear surfaces today are similar the quality of ingredients is frequently not equal. The standard wear surface is aluminum-oxide enhanced urethane. With that being said there are many different qualities of urethane that are used. Lower quality urethanes will not provide the hardness, scratch resistance nor stain resistance that a higher quality urethane will provide.
Also, the particle size of the aluminum oxide is a factor; cheaper urethanes use larger particles which increases the cloudiness of this layer. Greater cloudiness lessens the clarity of the image layer just below. At the end of the day a proportionately mixed wear surface will not only perform better but will also add to the beauty of the visual.
Image Layer: Finally, an indication of better quality laminate flooring is the in the quality of your image layer. Better laminates use high resolution images. Why is this important? The more realistic the image (and we are talking wood/stone/tile) the better it looks. By better we mean the clarity/sharpness/realism of that image in comparison to the natural products. The end result should be that it is not obvious that the board is man-made.
Also better boards tend to use a single visual per board opposed to the butcher block or multi-tile layout per board. After all, real wood/ceramic has only one set of joints between boards/tiles. By emulating this single visual better laminates promote the realism of the species or stone being represented. In cheaper laminate it is typical to see a two plank design. Meaning, two sets of plank joints; one joint occurs in the image and one is the actual joint between the boards.
Unfortunately, the laminate flooring industry as a whole does a poor job of explaining these differences. Generally, your older and better flooring manufacturer’s (such as: Mohawk, Shaw, & Mannington) tend towards offering better quality laminate floors. Why? They don’t want the problems that are inherent with lessor quality laminates. There is a lot of less expensive (and we mean inexpensive) laminate floors in the marketplace today and it has its role but not for the homemaker that wants a product that will give them honest service during its lifetime.
Generally, the more expensive the product the better quality overall and the longer the product will perform under normal household conditions. To see the latest laminate flooring fashions and get a free flooring estimate please see our 12 Chicagoland flooring stores for our store nearest you.