Laminate Flooring FAQ’s
What is laminate flooring?
Because laminate flooring, which arrived from Europe more than a decade ago, is relatively new to the American market, and because it so closely resembles other hard surfaces, there’s a mystery surrounding it. Basically, laminates are the result of a direct-pressure manufacturing process that fuses four layers into one extremely durable surface.
I’ve seen laminate that looks just like real wood or ceramic tile. How do they do that?
Yes, laminate flooring has become the flooring of choice for many homeowners due to its ability to closely emulate today’s most popular hard surfaces. Using photographs, laminates lock in the realism of a hardwood strip, weathered or natural stone and traditional brick. When these floors first came to the U.S., they were often simple looks and patterns. Today, laminate floors offer an unparalleled level of realism heretofore unattainable. With embossing and now embossed-in-register technology it’s getting more and more difficult to tell the difference.
Then why buy a laminate floor, and not just get the real thing?
Laminate’s real claim to fame is its durability and ease of maintenance. Since most come with an aluminum-oxide wear layer — one of the hardest substances known to man — it can stand up to kids, pets, traffic and more. Plus, the great thing about laminate flooring is not only does it closely emulate other hard surfaces, but it does it at a fraction of the cost and with no natural material drawbacks.
What are the average costs I should expect?
Generally speaking, laminate flooring will cost anywhere from $1 to $6 per square foot, depending upon the quality of design as well as thickness, with installation running about $1 to $4.50 per square foot, including underlayment. However, keep in mind that installation costs can vary greatly, depending upon geography as well as subfloor preparation needs. Your retail flooring specialist will be able to provide you with an accurate installed cost estimate.
How long will my laminate floor last?
With proper care and maintenance, a quality laminate floor should last 15 to 30 years, which is on par with other types of manufactured flooring, but considerably less than that of genuine stone, ceramic and other natural materials.
Can a laminate floor be refinished, like hardwood?
No, laminate floors cannot be refinished or recoated.
I’ve seen really cheap laminate flooring being sold on the Internet. Is this the same laminate flooring found in flooring retail stores?
There’s one thing you should be careful of when buying a laminate floor: quality. Unfortunately, there are a lot of cheap laminate products being imported from countries such as China, so it’s important to buy from a reputable and reliable retailer and to buy the best you can afford, depending upon the setting.
How much laminate flooring will I need?
Although your retail flooring specialist will take detailed measurements, you can get a sense of how much laminate flooring you will need by measuring the length and width of the rooms where your new laminate flooring will be installed and then multiplying the length by the width to determine the estimated square footage. Also, add approximately 8 to 10 percent to your total square footage to account for cutting, installation errors and variation in floor design.
I know that water is a concern for laminate flooring. Does this mean that I can’t put laminate flooring in my bathroom?
Laminate flooring can be used in virtually any room of the house. Although it’s true that laminate floors do have some sensitivity to excessive moisture, if you plan on using laminate flooring in your bathroom, you’ll need to take special precautions to prevent water from contacting the core material of the flooring, such as sealing around the perimeter of the floor with caulk or sealant. Be sure to discuss the installation procedure and care and maintenance of your laminate floor with your retail flooring specialist.
I’ve heard people refer to laminate as a “floating” floor. Does it really float?
Well, no, but because the laminate floor tiles or planks attach to each other via an interlocking tongue-and-groove glueless system rather than to a subfloor, they are said to float.
Can you put a laminate floor over any type of flooring?
It is possible to install a laminate floor over virtually any existing floor, except high-pile carpet.
How are laminate floors different than hardwood flooring?
Though resembling hardwood flooring, laminate floors are constructed of several materials bonded together under high pressure; no solid wood is used in its construction. The substance of laminate flooring lies in particleboard core, which is sandwiched between a moisture resistant underlayment and high-resolution photographic image of the wood species being mimicked. This photographic layer is then topped off with an extremely hard, clear resin-coated cellulose layer that makes the floors nearly impervious to dents and scratches. Laminates mimicking stone and ceramic tiles are created in a similar fashion.
What are the advantages of laminate flooring?
Aside from sparing the life of trees, particularly rare, exotic species, laminate flooring has several advantages over real hardwood flooring. First, comparable visuals and designs can be achieved at a fraction of the cost to the end-user. Secondly, laminate flooring can be installed both above and below grade, where hardwood flooring can only be installed above grade. Another big advantage is that laminate flooring is installed without nails or glue, making it a perfect choice for do-it-yourselfers. Lastly, laminate flooring is extremely durable, easy to maintain and can be easily replaced.
How do laminate floors lock together?
The entire laminate floor industry turned to mechanical locking over five years ago as a means of alleviating claims associated with installers using either too much or not enough glue. While there are several versions of mechanical locking available today, the most popular methods rely on either adjoining the edges of two boards on an angle and snapping them into place or lying them side-by-side and slightly tapping together.
Are there any disadvantages to laminate flooring?
While laminate flooring inherently contains a few drawbacks they are mostly contained to a few installation concerns. Primarily composed of compressed wood chips, laminate flooring’s core board is susceptible to swelling when exposed to moisture. Thus, it is recommended to never install the product in bathrooms or washrooms where run ins with water are likely. Also, because it is a floating floor, laminate flooring requires expansion joints for most installations to prevent the floor from buckling due to natural reactions to the environment.
Wood Flooring FAQ’s
Which type of wood floor is right for me, solid or engineered?
That depends on where you want to install it. Both solid and engineered wood floors are made using real wood, so both are environmentally friendly.
Solid Wood Floor
Solid wood flooring is exactly what the name implies: a solid piece of wood from top to bottom. The thickness of solid wood flooring can vary, but generally ranges from 3/4” to 5/16”. Solid wood can be used in any room that is above grade (above ground). One of the many benefits of solid wood flooring is that it can be sanded and refinished many times. Solid wood floors are ideal in family/living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, and even kitchens and powder rooms. About the only place you can’t use solid wood flooring is in the basement, but there’s a solution for that area too.
Engineered Wood Flooring
Engineered wood floors are real wood floors that are manufactured using multiple layers of wood veneers. The layers that you can’t see can be of the same species, or of different species. The grain of each layer runs in perpendicular directions, which makes it very dimensionally stable. This means that the wood will expand and contract less than solid wood flooring during fluctuations in humidity and temperature.
Engineered floors can be nailed or stapled to a wood subfloor, or glued down to a wood or concrete subfloor. This makes engineered wood floors ideal for slab and basement installations, but they can be used in any room either above or below grade. While this type of flooring can be sanded and refinished, it cannot be done as many times as solid wood flooring.
Which wood species is right for me?
Choosing the right species of wood flooring for you is strictly a matter of your style, budget and personal preference. More than 50 domestic and imported species of wood flooring are available to achieve a unique look. Check out the species gallery.
Do you like light woods like ash or maple? These species generally make a room appear more open and airy.
Do you like medium woods like hickory or oak? These species generally make a room appear more warm and cozy.
Do you like dark woods like walnut or mahogany? These species generally make a room appear more stately and refined.
Imported species can offer even more color options.
Once you decide on a look, you should consider how your floors will be used. Are you a retired couple living alone, or a busy family with young children and pets? Each wood species is rated for its hardness and durability using something called a Janka scale.
The Janka scale below gives a good indication of how likely a wood is to dent or show other wear. For example, domestic black cherry is ranked at 950 on the Janka scale, while Brazilian cherry is ranked much higher at 2,820, nearly three times the hardness of the domestic species. The domestic black cherry would be a good choice for the retired couple since their floor will see less traffic, while the Brazilian cherry might be a better choice for a busy family with young children and pets.
Is a factory-finished floor or a site-finished floor better for me?
Each method has its own benefits and advantages, and choosing the right method will depend on the level of customization you want to achieve, and your personal preference.
Job-site Finished Floor
A job-site finish is one that applied on the job site, in the room where the flooring is being installed. With a job-site finished floor, you can choose the type of finish to be applied to your floor, which will impact maintenance, as well as the stain, if any, and sheen of the final product. In other words, a job-site finished wood floor offers you unlimited possibilities for customizing the final appearance of your floor.
However, because your floors will be sanded and finished in your home, you should expect noise and dust, and some disruption to your home. In the past few years, many dust containment systems have been developed to help control dust and debris, so be sure to ask your contractor if one can be used for your installation. You also will need to allow time for the finish to dry on-site, during which time you will not be able to walk on your floor.
Factory-finished Wood Floor
With factory-finished wood floors, the finish is applied in the factory, long before it reaches your home. While many options are available with factory finished floors, you will not be able to achieve the same level of customization as you can with job-site finished wood floors.
A major benefit of factory finished floors, however, is that there is minimal dust and noise during the installation process. You also will be able to walk on your floors immediately after they are installed.
My room is 400 square feet, but we’re being told to order 450 square feet of flooring. Is this really necessary?
Yes. As a general rule, you should plan to order 10% more flooring than is needed for the installation. Much of the material will be cut to fit the exact space, and once the boards are cut, they likely cannot be used elsewhere in the room because the end tongue or groove will have been removed. Once that happens, that board can no longer adjoin with another board, so there is some waste involved.
You may need to order slightly more or less depending on the room. For example, if you need to work around stairs, a bay window, a fireplace, and a closet, you may need to have more than 10%, but if the room is square with no interruptions, less than 10% may work. Your contractor is your best resource for helping you estimate the material that will be needed to complete the job. Find a professional in your area here.
I’ve seen different finish sheens on wood floors; some are shiny and some are not. Which is better?
It really is a matter of preference. If you choose to install a site-finished floor, you can choose any sheen that you like. Satin gloss finishes offer the most shine, and will reflect the most light. Semi-gloss finishes offer some shine, and will reflect some light. Satin or matte finishes offer the least shine, and will reflect the least light.
Generally speaking, the less sheen, the less you will notice small scratches and other wear that is normal with wood floors. If you choose to install a factory-finished floor, you will be limited to the sheen available for the material you select. All sheens will offer the same protection for your floor, so it truly is a matter of which look you like best. They come in Satin Gloss, Semi-Gloss and Matte.
I’m concerned about pets scratching my floors. Is there anything I can do to prevent this?
There are several things you can do to minimize scratches from pets on your wood floors. Place scatter rugs at all doors to minimize the amount of dirt and grit being tracked in, especially if your pet likes to dig. Your best defense, however, is to trim your pet’s nails regularly. If scratches occur, as they might whether pets live in the home or not, keep in mind that the scratches most likely will be in the finish only, and not in the wood. If this situation occurs, consult with a professional wood flooring contractor for specific recommendations about how to repair the scratches, and minimize them in the future.
How do I keep my floors looking new?
All hardwood floors should be cleaned regularly. To accomplish that, simply sweep, dust mop or vacuum the floors with the beater bar turned off to remove dirt and grit from between the floor boards.
Avoid using a wet mop or steam mop on hardwood floors as water and steam can dull the finish, or even damage the wood over long periods of time.
Place throw rugs at all entrances, avoiding those with rubber backs, which can discolor wood floors.
Special rug mats can be purchased from a wood flooring retailer that will protect the floors from discoloration. Throw rugs will help keep outside dirt and other debris from scratching the floors. Scratches also can be prevented by placing floor protector pads on the bottoms of the legs of any furniture that comes into direct contact with the floors.
When spills occur, be sure to clean them immediately with a dry or slightly damp cloth. Allowing spills to remain on the wood floors could damage the finish, and possibly the wood. Avoid walking on the floors with sports cleats or high heel shoes that are in disrepair. These can scratch the finish, or even dent the floor.
Finally, when the floor begins to look a little dull, use a wood flooring cleaner recommended by your installer to renew the luster. Be sure to use the product as directed, and use only products that are compatible with your wood floor as using the wrong type of cleaning product could damage the finish, and possibly damage the wood as well.
How long after I order my floors will it take before they are installed?
That depends. Site-finished floors will take longer to install than factory-finished floors since the finish needs to be applied, and dry, on site.
Depending on the type of finish used, you can expect that there will be multiple coats applied, and that each coat will need to be sanded before the next coat is applied, and also will need to dry thoroughly before the floor can be walked on. In addition, all wood flooring, whether job-site finished or factory-finished, will need to be delivered to the job site and allowed to acclimate for a period of time before the installation can begin. This can take several days depending on the material being used.
This is a very important part of the installation process because the wood must reach equilibrium moisture content (EMC) with the job site conditions to ensure a long-lasting, high-quality installation.
I’ve seen instances where wood floors fade over time. Is there anything I can do to prevent this?
Wood floors are one of the few flooring options that become more beautiful with age. Like all natural things that experience change over time, wood floors will experience subtle color changes as they age. This is a natural process that will add to the beauty and character of the floor.
Different species of wood flooring will experience color changes at different rates. In general, more-common species such as oak and hickory will experience minimal color change over time, while less-common species, like American cherry and Brazilian cherry will show more color change over time. These changes are natural, but can be minimized with a little prevention.
Two factors influence color changes in wood floors: sun exposure and the finish that is applied to the floor. Over time, prolonged sun exposure will cause wood floors to change color. Think about how skin reacts when exposed to sunlight. Wood reacts in much the same way, and you can minimize this effect by periodically moving rugs and furniture to limit that exposure.
The second factor that can cause wood floors to change color over time is the finish used. Oil-modified finishes will amber over time, giving the floor a slightly yellow appearance. In contrast, water-based finishes generally will remain clear over time, minimizing long-term color changes.
Installation is so expensive. Why can’t I just do it myself?
Installing wood floors is a lot more complicated than painting your walls or replacing the hardware on your kitchen cabinets.
First of all, you will be spending several thousand dollars on material alone, so if you damage it, it’s not as easy as buying another $30 gallon of paint or $200 of hardware and starting over again. Plus, wood flooring requires special tools that you will likely have to rent and will have little experience using.
More importantly, however, you will need to make sure the room you’re working in is flat, that the subfloor material will work for wood flooring, and that no moisture issues are present that will damage the wood long-term. Testing for moisture requires special tools as well, and you must test both the subfloor and the flooring to ensure a successful installation.
In addition, you will need to know how to center the room, how much space should be left for expansion gaps, how to work around obstructions like closets, fireplaces, bay windows, staircases, and cabinets, and if you make cutting mistakes, you may end up running short on your material and not have enough to finish the job.
In some cases, you may not be able to exactly match the lot, much like running short of paint sometimes results in a slight color difference when mixing a new gallon.
The bottom line is that installing wood floors is not recommended as a DIY project. In the long run, you will save money and time by using a professional. You can find one in your area here.
What kinds of carpet should I be looking for?
Although a knowledgeable salesperson will help guide you through the carpet-buying process, it’s important for you to look for a durable carpet product. Durability depends on three important factors — the type of fiber — nylon is the strongest, most resilient carpet fiber used today — yarn twist and pile density. You should find the right balance of all three.
Isn’t the color I choose for my carpet a totally personal choice?
Of course, it is, and if it’s snowy white you want, snowy white you shall get. However, you should know that light-colored carpets will show more soil and require more maintenance than darker colors, which are more effective in high-traffic areas. Also, multi-colored and patterned carpets are especially effective in hiding soil.
Do I really need to know about carpet fiber?
The performance and quality of a carpet is directly related to the amount and quality of the fiber that goes into the pile. The better the fiber and the more densely it is packed, the better the carpet will perform. Thin, less dense carpet will lose its surface appearance faster. So the answer is, in a word, yes.
What’s this I hear about a corn-based carpet fiber?
Well, hold onto your scarecrows! Mohawk has introduced the first bio-based fiber that’s made partially from corn sugar. SmartStrand, made with DuPont Sorona polymer, represents a breakthrough in carpet fiber technology, producing a superior type of carpet fiber that combines exceptional durability with permanent, engineered in-stain protection that won’t wash or wear off, while, at the same time, offering environmental benefits such a reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions vs. petroleum-based carpet fiber.
Will my sales representative let me take samples home?
But, of course! It is important when selecting your color carpet that you take the time to look at samples, preferably large ones, in your home both by daylight and lamplight in the evening. The color you choose will look different under different lighting conditions.
What about padding? Should I ask for a better pad?
Often, a certain level of padding will be included in the quoted installation price of your carpet, and you will have the option to upgrade.
What about carpet cushion?
The cushion under your carpet is one of the most important considerations when buying new carpet. It is the base that helps the carpet retain its texture and appearance. A cushion is sold by its thickness and density. A pad that is too soft will adversely affect the performance of the carpet, and a pad that is too thick interferes with the anchoring of the carpet. For residential installation, a cushion of no more than 7 / 16 -inch thick and no less than 1 / 4 -inch thick with a 6 pound per cubic foot of density or equivalent is recommended. (A cushion of 3 / 8 -inch thickness with a 6 pound per cubic foot of density or equivalent is recommended for berber style carpets.)
Will there have to be a seam in the room?
A seam may be required during the installation of carpet, depending on the dimensions of the room. If there must be a seam, it should run perpendicular to windows in order to minimize the light that reflects off of it.
What is the difference between shading and color fading?
While shading is simply the result of the change in direction of the carpet pile due to pressure from footsteps and vacuuming, color fading is more serious. Color fading of carpet occurs when particles of oily soil deposited on carpet fibers cause gradual but significant dulling of colors — the color is not lost, but hidden under the film. Cleaning your carpet regularly will help avoid color fading.
My carpet looks like it is shedding. Is this normal?
Some shedding is common in new carpet with a cut pile. The loose fibers are easily removed with regular vacuuming. This should not affect your carpet’s quality and should diminish after a few weeks or months depending on vacuuming frequency.
Why are some carpets measured by square yard and others by square foot?
Although carpet once was measured solely by the square yard, measuring carpet by the square foot has become standard and puts it in line with the measurement of other floor coverings, such as ceramic tile and hardwood.
I heard that new carpet can make people sick? Is this true?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, like many other household products and furnishings, new carpet can be a source of chemical emissions. Carpet emits volatile organic compounds, as do products that accompany carpet installation such as adhesives and padding, and some people report symptoms such as eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches; skin irritations; shortness of breath or cough; and fatigue, which they may associate with new carpet installation. Carpet can also act as a “sink” for chemical and biological pollutants including pesticides, dust mites, and fungi.
Therefore, when purchasing carpet you should ask your retailer for information on selecting lower emitting carpet, cushion and adhesives. Additionally, before new carpet is installed, you can ask your retailer to unroll and air out the carpet in a clean, well-ventilated area.
You also should consider leaving the premises during and immediately after carpet installation or, optimally, schedule the installation when the space is unoccupied.
Opening doors and windows to increase the amount of fresh air indoors will reduce exposure to most chemicals released from newly installed carpet, and during and after installation in a home, you can use window fans and room air conditioners to exhaust fumes to the outdoors. Ventilation systems should be in proper working order, and should be operated during installation, and for 48 to 72 hours after the new carpet is installed.
Be sure to request that your installer follow the Carpet and Rug Institute’s installation guidelines, and if you find your new carpet has an objectionable odor, contact your carpet retailer.
What are ceramic tiles made of?
Just like all ceramic products (china, washbasins, etc.) ceramic tiles are made from a mixture of clay, sand and other natural materials. Most often, the mixture is pressed or extruded into the shape of a tile and then fired at high temperatures (somewhere between 1000°C and 1250°C).
What’s the difference between porcelain and ceramic tile?
Most types of tiles are made from clay and a mixture of other materials and then fired at very high temperatures to create a dense, durable surface.
Ceramic tiles , or non-porcelain tiles, are usually made from white or red clay, are fired in a kiln and coated in a glaze that gives it color. They work for both floor and wall applications, but are usually softer and easier to cut than porcelain tile. Carry a PEI rating of 0 to 3, or light to medium traffic. No-porcelain tiles are good for light to moderate traffic but are more prone to chipping, scratches and wear than porcelain tiles.
Porcelain tiles are usually made from porcelain clays and are fired at much higher temperatures, which make them even more dense and durable than non-porcelain tiles. True porcelain tiles have a water absorption rate of less than 0.5 percent, giving them frost resistant. Some porcelain tiles are glazed with color like ceramic tiles. Other porcelain tiles are “full body”, which means the tile carries its color throughout its entire thickness making them impervious to wear and appropriate for high traffic areas. Most porcelain tiles today have a PEI rating of 5, or suitable for heavy-duty traffic.
Be careful about what is advertised as porcelain tile. Since not all ceramic tile is porcelain, buying your flooring from a reputable dealer will ensure that you are getting the quality you pay for.
Does Ceramic tile work for every style of decor?
Yes! Tile is a fashion-forward flooring option. There are many different styles, shapes and colors to choose from Today’s ceramic and porcelain tiles come in both bold and neutral hues, unique shapes and sizes, and can even mimic the look of materials found in nature, such as stone and wood. Your local tile showroom will have many displays that showcase the different styles of tile, including rustic, traditional, contemporary, exotic and transitional.
Where can I use ceramic tile?
You can consider ceramic tile for every room in your home.
It’s an obvious choice for kitchens and bathrooms — two rooms that need hard-working surfaces that can stand up to moisture, heat and stains. Glazed tile repels cooking stains and spills and will not retain smoke or cooking fumes. It’s also a safe product to have around heat and flames. In the bath, installing slip-resistant tile on the floor can help guard against dangerous falls. Shower areas, backsplashes and floors can be easily cleaned with water and many household cleaners.
Entryways can really benefit from tile flooring. High-quality ceramic and porcelain tile stands up to dirt, dust and a lot of foot traffic. An easy maintenance program of sweeping, vacuuming or light mopping will keep them looking their best.
Sunrooms and enclosed porches are always stylish with tile. The glazed surface keeps the room looking bright. Glazed ceramic tiles won’t alter their color after years of sun exposure and heat.
Tile is also appropriate for living spaces and can help liven up your decor when paired with other types of flooring. You might, for example, use tile for the entry or perimeter of a living room and install a square of carpeting or an area rug under sofas and easy chairs.
Tile can define traffic pathways, lead the way outside through sliding and French doors, and create a practical laundry room.
What are PEI ratings?
This is the most common abrasion resistance test that you see when shopping for tile. The Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) created this test to identify the abrasion resistance of tiles.
PEI I: Floor tiles for light duty wear, such as bathrooms and bedrooms in private residences where soft footwear is used.
PEI II: Floor tiles for light duty wear, such as bathroom and bedrooms in private residences where normal footwear is used.
PEI III: Floor tiles for medium-heavy duty wear, such as dining rooms, living rooms, kitchens, entrances, and hallways in private houses where normal footwear is used without outside access.
PEI IV: Floor tiles for heavy duty wear in all rooms in private houses and public buildings where normal footwear is used, excluding dance halls and compulsory traffic areas.
PEI V: Floor tiles for heavy duty wear for very heavy traffic.
Darker grout colors are easier to keep clean than lighter ones
Small grout joints ( 1 / 4 -inch) have a more contemporary feel and are easier to keep clean. A larger grout joint ( 1 / 2 -inch) feels more rustic.
Choose the right size tile for each application. Large rooms will benefit from bigger tiles, such as 16 x16 inches, 18 x18 inches or even 20 x 20 inches. Smaller spaces, such as bathrooms, will look best in tiles 12×12-inches in size or smaller.
Ask your local flooring dealer for advice on coordinating different types of tile and mixing tile with other flooring materials.
Use a reputable installer to ensure the look and longevity of your tile installation.