If you haven’t walked through a flooring center in a few years, put it on your short list of things to do. While you’ll still find hardwood, carpet and tile products, you’ll be amazed at the dozens of laminate flooring options that closely mimic ceramic, stone and wood flooring. Some brands, like Pergo, the granddaddy of laminate flooring, are so realistic you might not know you’re looking at a synthetic product; but when it comes to Pergo versus laminate flooring from other sources, there's a wide range of quality.
The Birth of Laminate Flooring
Decades ago in Sweden, engineers at the Perstorp flooring company got the creative idea to make a flooring product by laminating synthetic materials to fiberboard. The goal was to create easy-to-install planks that matched the beauty, but not the expense, of hardwood flooring. After years of trials, the company introduced its new flooring to rave reviews in Europe, and by the mid-90s, the Pergo line of laminate flooring was a staple in most lumberyards and do-it-type centers in the United States. Soon other manufacturers were picking it up and creating competing products of their own
Most Pergo versus laminate flooring from other companies have samples that look similar in the showroom. Subtle differences, however, can mean the difference between a sturdy floor that retains its beauty for years -- and a thin floor that dulls soon after installation and squeaks every time you walk on it. Laminate thickness ranges from 7-millimeters to 12-millimeters, with the thicker laminate being better suited for installation on floors that are slightly out-of-level, or for those times when extra sound dampening between floors is desirable.
Thicker laminate, however, doesn’t always translate into superior laminate. To determine quality, look for the product’s “AC” rating, which appears on the outside of the box. A rating of “AC-3” or “AC-4” means the laminate is strong enough to hold up to regular foot traffic without showing wear. A rating of “AC-5” denotes the most durable laminate around, but this laminate is typically for commercial applications. The lowest ratings, “AC-1” and “AC-2” are better suited to low traffic areas, like bedrooms or guest rooms, and they’re more likely to make noise when someone walks across the floor.
Most residential Pergo laminate products earn an “AC-4,” rating, making them among the best choices for attractive residential applications. Surface texture doesn’t affect the quality of the laminate, but high gloss finishes resist scratching better than embossed surfaces that closely mimic the texture of real wood or stone. The biggest factor in durability is how much aluminum oxide is present in the surface layer. The more aluminum oxide, the stronger the surface. Commercial AC-5 rated laminate contains the most aluminum oxide so it’s very durable, but the high level of the chemical tends to make the surface a little cloudy.
Floating Floor Installation
Laminate flooring comes in planks, rectangles and squares, but it all installs in similar fashion to create a “floating floor.” It’s not going to fly off like a magic carpet, but the laminate does not attach to the subfloor beneath. Instead, the pieces feature tongue-and-groove assembly that snap together to create a solid surface. Laminate flooring manufacturers bill their products as do-it-yourself friendly, and if you’re experienced with power saws and can measure and cut precisely, you’ll have no problem installing one.
This type of flooring requires a vapor barrier. Like the laminate itself, barrier products range from inexpensive polyethylene sheeting to dense poly-foam padding that helps deaden sound between floors. The most user-friendly laminate comes with a dense poly-foam pad already attached to the planks, which reduces installation time. Pergo makes a number of laminate options that come with attached pads and you may want to consider this when evaluating Pergo versus laminate flooring made by other manufacturers.
Only a few tools and supplies are necessary for installation. You’ll need a circular saw for cutting the ends of the boards and for ripping them lengthwise. You’ll also need a jigsaw for making intricate cuts when fitting the laminate around cabinets or doorjambs. Other essential tools include a measuring tape, a pencil and a chalk line. Some types of laminate require the application of a tiny bead of glue in the groove of one plank before snapping two planks together.
Caring for a Laminate Floor
Laminate floors need special care, but it’s not difficult to keep them looking good. Dry mops, with disposable static sheets, are available in supermarkets and hardware stores. Don’t wet-mop your laminate floor, which can allow water to run between the planks and cause the fiberboard to swell. Vacuuming and sweeping works well for removing daily dust, and when you need a more thorough cleaning, try spraying a laminate floor cleaner on a dry mop. Keep in mind that laminate only looks like wood; don’t apply wood polish, which can make dull the surface.
Pergo laminate comes with some of the best warranties in the industry, ranging from 25 years to limited-lifetime warranties for its residential flooring products. Other brands come with comparable guarantees, but this is tricky area. Laminate flooring manufacturers will only cover the cost of replacement flooring if you can show that their product was defective. The catch is that if you do not follow strict installation specs, you won’t stand a chance of making a successful claim. Standard warranties are not transferable, meaning the manufacturer won’t cover the flooring after you sell your house to someone else. Every box of laminate flooring contains a warranty sheet. Take the time to read it carefully, especially if you’re considering buying a budget brand.
Glenda Taylor writes for Networx.com.