Laminate floors are quickly becoming the flooring of choice for active families and homeowners. If you love real wood or stone floors but find they are too expensive, laminate floors are probably your best option.

What you are seeing when you look at laminate flooring is a picture of high quality of real wood or stone that has been placed on top of MDF with ultra strong, clear plastic covering. Most laminate floors are self clicking without the use of glue. This enables you to take up the flooring when necessary for repairs or moving.

Laminate flooring is durable, easy to clean, and the many styles and colours can almost duplicate more expensive floor treatments. Because of its versatility, it comes in different grades for the home. These grades, which are approved by the Association of European producers of Laminate Floors (ELPF), are guidelines for every area of the house. Called hardness ratings, they range from AC1, which is designed for low traffic areas such as a bedrooms, to AC5 which can be used in heavy traffic areas such as a commercial enterprise. Your choice is determined by the area of the home in which you would install the flooring: for example an AC3, which is suitable for just about any high traffic area of the home.

Designed to look like wood flooring, laminate is cheaper because it does not need to be nailed, sanded or finished and is quite resistant to scratches, denting, fading and stains.

Available in a large number of colours and styles, some laminate flooring is designed to mimic various wood grains, others look like ceramic tiles. In the years since it was created, laminate flooring has become a mainstay in the home decorating industry. Because it can be put right on top of an old floor, laminate is considered a great choice for people looking to update or upgrade their old floors.

Directions for installing laminate flooring

Generally, experts recommend installing laminate flooring parallel to the longest wall in the room. However, if lighting is a concern, you might want to run the board perpendicular to the window; the seams will look better. There is also the option of installing the flooring on an angle. This last option requires more work and cutting skill, but it can be quite attractive.

The exact installation of your laminate flooring may vary. The following install instructions focus on the most popular type of laminate flooring: board-style planks with tongue-and- groove construction.

Start on the left side of the room and work to the right. Place spacers along each wall to set up the expansion zone. Set the first plank down and add another piece of the flooring to the right, lining up the short ends and locking them into place.

The laminate flooring will probably need to be cut lengthwise for the last row. Line up the flooring pieces on top of the last row of installed planks. Use a plank and a spacer to trace the contour of the wall onto the board that will be cut.

Preparing to install laminate flooring

Before you begin the actual installation of your new laminate floor, you have to prepare the existing floor. First off, the subfloor should be flat. If it is made of concrete, grind off any high spots, low spots should be filled with levelling compound. All carpeting and carpet padding should be removed unless the carpeting is a quarter inch (6mm) thick or less. Make sure to remove any remaining debris or adhesive residue. You want a clean, flat surface to work with so your new floor can look its best.

Next remove trim and doors. Skirting boards removal is optional. Keep in mind that you will need to install new quarter round moulding at the end of the job to cover the expansion zone around the perimeter. If the drywall doesn't meet the floor in any spots, create a solid wall surface with a 2 to 3 inch wide (5 to 7 cm) facing strip of quarter-inch (6mm) plywood at the stud.

The appropriate under-layer material will depend upon what type of subfloor you're setting the laminate on. Some laminate flooring products have the under layer attached to the planks. Because laminate is noisier and harder than wood, the under layer cushions the floor and helps reduce noise.

Measure the area you want to cover and add 10 percent for waste. To avoid ending up with an unusually narrow board at the finish wall, measure the distance between the starting and ending walls. Divide by the width of the board. To balance the room, add the amount left over to the plank width and divide by two.

If the room's relative humidity is between 45 and 65 percent, a minimum quarter to half inch (6 to 13 mm) gap or expansion zone between laminate flooring and walls must be left around the perimeter of the room and any fixed vertical surfaces such as pipes, cabinets or staircases.

Undercut door trims and door jambs. This allows the floor to move. Check the height of the new floor against all doors that open into the room as it may be necessary to trim the door to accommodate the change in the floor's height.

Some laminate flooring products need to be acclimated to the room for several days before installation. Manufacturers will recommend that the room be kept at a minimum temperature, around 18 degrees Celsius, for 2 days before, during, and 2 days after the installation.

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Laminate flooring does not require special cleaners or polishes to maintain it. In fact, manufacturers recommend that you don't use abrasive cleaners or soap based detergents on this flooring. A dust mop or vacuum cleaner with a soft brush is sufficient to clean it, followed by a damp mop and drying with a soft cloth. Stubborn stains such as tar or oil can be cleaned with acetone or fingernail polish cleaner, followed by wiping with a damp cloth.

Because of the nature of its design, manufacturers recommend that some caution be used on laminate floor installations. You should not wear stiletto heels when walking on the floor. Tables and other objects with concentrated weight on the flooring should utilise felt pads to avoid damage.

Although this may sound like a lot of extra work in the house, the cost savings are well worth the extra effort to maintain a laminate floor.

A beautiful floor is the key to ambiance of a room and laminates fits the bill.

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