Today's homeowners have a greater variety of flooring options to choose from than ever before. From solid wood flooring to engineered hardwood to laminates to vinyl in a vast array of styles, colors and textures, the possibilities are endless. In fact, there are so many options that it can be hard to decide which one is right for you. Becoming educated on what each type of flooring is, how it is made and the strengths and weaknesses of each will go a long way towards narrowing down the right flooring option for you.
What is laminate flooring?
To start with, many consumers are confused about the difference between vinyl, laminate
and engineered hardwood flooring. Laminate and engineered hardwood flooring are both "planks" of flooring that are laid and connected by a tongue and groove system of some kind, leaving a smooth,
seamless look. Engineered hardwood flooring is created by gluing a thin slice of genuine hardwood to a series of base layers and generally coated with a protective coating of some kind. Laminate
flooring utilize essentially a picture of a natural element like wood or stone, which is then laid over a series of base layers similar to those used in engineered hardwood. Because of advanced
digital photography technology, today's laminates can be almost completely indistinguishable from natural materials, but are much more durable and easier to care for.
Vinyl flooring is printed on large sheets, which generally come on a large roll and is installed much like carpeting. Vinyl flooring is generally thin and needs to be installed over a perfectly smooth base or it will show lumps and bumps. Engineered harwood and laminate floor installation tends to be the easiest and most forgiving, as they essentially "float" over the surface of the floor. This means they can generally be installed right on top of concrete, old tile or old wood flooring without creating any unsightly lumps or bumps.
What is embossed laminate?
Laminate flooring is created by heating and pressing several layers of materials together.
The higher the heat and the more pressure that is applied, the more durable the flooring tends to be. Laminates are rated on a scale that ranges from AC1 to AC5. AC1 rated flooring is generally a
low quality laminate with minimal durability. On the other end of the scale, a flooring with an AC5 rating is great for commercial use and high traffic areas. The trade off, however, is that the
highest heat and pressurization causes a rougher finish. The best laminates for homes will be those in the AC2 to AC3 range, because they will be durable yet still have a smooth, more natural
Direct pressure lamination is the most economical, with most AC1 - AC3 laminates being created by this method. Direct pressure laminates are generally made up of 4 layers and fused together at between 300 and 600 pounds per inch (PSI) of pressure and around 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
The stabilizing or base layer is often coated with a substance that increases water resistance. A core layer is then laid over the base, followed by a decorative layer that gives it the appearance of being made of wood, tile or stone. The core is sometimes also coated with a resin to increase durability and water resistance. The final layer is a protective layer, which sometimes includes a UV treatment to protect against sun damage. High pressure laminate (HPL) is generally created by using 5 layers rather than 4 and fused together at 1300+ PSI.
Embossing takes place in the heating process. As the laminates are heated up, a metal plate that contains a pattern is pressed into the surface material. This creates convex and concave ridges in the laminate, which gives it a more natural look. Since laminates are essentially created by taking a picture of a natural material and laying the picture on top of base layers, they lack the natural grain and texture of raw materials. The embossing process gives the laminate a grain or a texture that makes it almost indistinguishable from flooring made of natural materials like wood or stone.
Types of embossed laminates
There are four types of embossed laminates known as small, middle and large and EIR or
Embossed In Register laminates. Small embossed laminate is used for fine grain woods, as it creates a small, even, uniform texture throughout the laminate surface. Middle and large embossed
laminates have a wider, deeper pattern that mimics larger grain wood looks. The best laminate flooring, however, generally utilizes a newer technique known as EIR or synchronized laminate.
Small, middle and large embosses flooring creates essentially a machined look that looks more natural than laminates without embossing, but doesn't actually match up with the grain of the wood in the "picture" or image layer. EIR or synchronized embossing actually matches up the embossing with the grain of the wood in the image layer giving it the most realistic look of all. EIR or synchronized laminates are almost completely indistinguishable from flooring made of raw or natural materials and are generally the best laminate flooring on the market.
Because of the advances in laminate flooring that create a more and more natural look, laminate flooring is becoming one of the most popular choices in flooring and making its way into higher and higher end homes. Laminate floors give homeowners the look of high end materials, while still being far more durable and easy to care for. Where solid wood and even engineered wood floors can warp and buckle over time in areas of high humidity or be ruined by flooding, standing water or even too much cleaning, laminate floors stand up well to all three.
In addition, thanks to modern coating techniques, laminate floors will often last a few decades, while still retaining a fresh, clean appearance. Solid and engineered wood floors still have to be refinished every few years and are susceptible to pitting, scratching and gaps being created by the natural expansion and contraction of the wood. Laminate floor installation is also quick, convenient and easily accomplished by professional installers.