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Laminate floors mimics the look of traditional woods while offering easy installation and lasting durability. At first glance, it can be difficult to spot the difference between hardwoods and laminate flooring. What appears to be a natural wood grain pattern is really a thin layer of decor paper (a photographic image) under a tough-as-nails protective film that is glued and pressed to a high-density backing board. Laminate Floors comes in an array of wood effects as well as stone and ceramic effects.

Laminate floorings main advantages are that it is easy to install, is very hardwearing and relatively inexpensive compared to real hardwood flooring.

Laminate flooring is a floating floor, which means it does not fasten directly to the sub-floor. Instead the planks are clicked together. This enables the floor to be fitted fast and with no real mess.

Most laminate floors today fit together with a click system with the most common being the UNICLIC system as used by Quick-Step. This is extremely easy and fast to fit. The ingenious UNICLIC-system has a special shape of tongue and groove. You simply place the tongue of one plank into the grove of another at an angle and press down. Their sophisticated and very accurate milled shape makes it possible to create a very tight connection during the installation. The floor can be walked on straight away.

If you are laying laminate flooring over a concrete sub-floor then you will fist need to lay down a damp proof membrane (DPM). This is basically a sheet of plastic usually around 5mm which helps protect the Laminate from moisture. On top of this goes the foam underlay this acts as sound absorption and also helps even out minor irregularities in the sub-floor.

Most manufactories now offer a combined DPM and underlay along with several underlay's that have better sound absorbing qualities
Most of the leading laminate floor manufactories now also have ranges of flooring that also include built in underlay. This underlay is pre-fitted to the bottom of the flooring and is usually of sound absorbing quality. You does not need to install this type of floor a secondary but if you are laying over a concrete sub-floor you still have to lay down a D.P.M. (Damp Proof Membrane) first.

Laminate flooring has been around in Europe for around 15 years and has seen massive growth in the past few years. In 2004 over 750 million square meters of laminate floors was sold worldwide this was an increase of 13% on the previous year. The biggest growth market is in the US with an impressive growth rate of 25%.

What are Laminate Floors made from?

Laminate flooring is usually made up of four layers:

1. Overlay (Wear Layer)
The top wear layer is provided by the melamine resin, a highly wear resistant material that makes Laminate Flooring so hard wearing. This top layer is very similar to the top layer on counter or kitchen work tops but is usually around 40% stronger. This makes the laminate flooring highly resistant to scratches, burns, dent’s, stains, etc.

2. DPL (Decorative Paper) or HPL (Decorative Paper + Add High Strength Paper)
It is the decorative paper which gives the laminate flooring its individual appearance, ranging from highly authentic wood reproduction, ceramic or stone designs. An important thing to look out for when purchasing laminate flooring is to understand the difference between DPL and HPL. We will talk about this latter

3. Core layer
This is made up of either high density fiberboard (H.D.F.). Or medium density fiberboard (M.D.F.) this is saturated in resins to make it extremely hard. Most manufactures also add a moisture resistant resin to the core. This is important as it helps keep the flooring protected against moisture penetrating the boards.

4. Stabilizing layer
The bottom layer is the stabilizing layer; this is what gives the laminate floor its stability. It is made up of moisture resistant resins.

How is Laminate Flooring Produced.

This is where DPL & HPL are different.

In the direct-pressure laminate process the decorative covering layer and stabilizing layer are pressed together onto the core layer.

While the high-pressure laminate process, on the other hand, the decorative paper and overlay are pressed onto special high-strength paper first. Only in a second stage is this so-called high-pressure laminate glued to the core layer. This makes the flooring a lot tougher and more resistant to dents etc.

How Is Laminate Flooring Graded

Apart from the different warrantees that manufactures offer and the difference between DPL & HPL the other thing to look out for when purchasing laminate flooring is industry standard load and traffic categories. These are broken into two different categories and are as follows.

Residential

Class 21 – Moderate Loads. Ideal for bedrooms etc.

Class 22 – Normal Loads, Ideal for living rooms etc.

Class 23 – Heavy Loads. Ideal for anywhere in the house (except bathrooms)

Commercial

Class 31 - Moderate Loads. Hotel Rooms, meeting rooms, etc.

Class 32 – Normal Loads. Offices, waiting rooms, etc.

Class 33 – Heavy Loads. Large offices, shops, public buildings

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