DEAR TIM: My husband and I are looking for flooring for our new home. We have seen samples of the new plastic laminate flooring. Is this the same material that is used for plastic laminate countertops? Do you feel it is the ultimate flooring product? Are there limitations as to where it can be used? S. T.
DEAR S. T.: Plastic laminate is not really new. It has been in production and use for over 25 years. It is a European product that was introduced to the United States marketplace in 1994. The manufactures of carpet, sheet vinyl, ceramic tile, and hardwood are concerned. There is a strong possibility that this new flooring material will capture nearly 18 percent of the flooring market in the next four years.
As you might expect, several of the major domestic manufacturers of plastic laminate have jumped at this opportunity. You and I as consumers will benefit. The product will continue to improve and pricing should become even better than it is today. While this new flooring material is by no means perfect, it offers distinct advantages over traditional flooring materials.
The laminate flooring materials actually offer the advantages of traditional flooring materials bundled into one product. These new materials are often installed over a foam cushion. The cushion offers resiliency similar to carpet and sheet vinyl. New printing technology allows the paper which produces the color and pattern to be incredibly realistic. This allows the laminates to compete against hardwood flooring. The space age clear plastic wear-layer can resist cigarette burns and indelible markers. In the past, this advantage was held only by ceramic tile.
Ease of installation is another advantage. Laminate flooring can be installed quickly with a minimum of tools. Often they can be walked on the following day. The individual pieces are milled so that they interlock with one another. Special glues are used on the interlocking edges of the flooring pieces. Most laminate products are installed over the existing floor in a floating fashion. The individual laminate planks are not glued or nailed to the floor below. Once the glued edges dry, you basically end up with a singular, giant piece of flooring.
Laminate flooring can be installed over virtually any material. To obtain the most satisfactory results, the existing flooring should be in good, sound condition. It should also be as level as possible. Loose or rotten subflooring, missing tiles, etc. should be replaced or secured prior to covering with laminate. Laminate flooring can, in some instances, be installed over thin carpeting!
This new flooring material is comparable to traditional plastic laminates. However, the clear plastic wear layer is often 20 times more durable than the one on your kitchen countertop. Beneath this hard plastic coating one often finds a 1/4 inch core of medium or high density particle board. The underside of the particle board is coated with a thinner laminate which helps to protect the particle board from absorbing moisture.
Laminate flooring is fantastic but it is not perfect. It can be damaged just like any other flooring. Any floor that is not subjected to excessive moisture is a great location for laminate. Should the particle board core be subjected to moisture extremes, it can swell and buckle. For this reason, it is may not be a good idea to install laminate flooring in a bathroom environment.
If you decide to install it in your kitchen, you must watch spills and how you mop your floor. The high density particle board cores tend to withstand moisture better than medium density cores. Basements that are prone to periodic leaks may cause problems with laminate flooring. Be sure to consult with the manufacturer prior to installing your new floor.