Increasingly, wooden laminate floors are being selected as a floor finish. Peter Mayer of Building Performance Group considers the options, key durability criteria and whole-life costs

Wooden floors have become increasingly popular in the domestic and DIY markets, whether they are specified due to the whims of fashion or through a perception that they are easier to maintain and healthier than carpet. However, with the growing popularity of laminate options, not least in the commercial market, there is now more to specifying wooden floors than appearance and ease of cleaning. Initial cost needs to be considered alongside replacement costs for the expected usage and environment.

Unlike with solid wooden floors, the repairing or reconditioning of laminate floors once the surface layer is worn is not an economical option. Laminate floors offer a relatively low capital cost and short-life flooring option, which is ideal in situations where replacement of floors is considered after five or 15 years.

To make a well-informed decision about whether to specify laminate flooring, the following durability criteria, installation issues and cost comparisons should be considered.

What are laminate floors made from?

Wood-based laminate floors generally comprise:

  • A decorative surface layer, which is typically a high-pressure laminate to EN 438. The decorative component may be a print with a wood appearance or a real timber veneer and is protected with a clear lacquer.
  • A core material of particleboard to European standard EN 309 or medium- or high-density fibreboard to EN 316
  • A backing layer on the underside of the board to balance the stresses induced by the surface layer.

Durability criteria for laminate floors

Choose a laminate floor suitable for its expected use. Commercial laminate floors are largely distinguished from domestic by their ability to withstand greater abrasion and impact.

The European standard for laminate floor coverings, BS EN 13329, defines three levels of use – moderate, general and heavy — for domestic and commercial environments. The grade of flooring required for domestic areas with heavy-duty use is called class 23 and is broadly equivalent to the moderate commercial grade class 31 for areas with low or intermittent use. The use classes in BS EN 13329 set out laminate flooring’s resistance to typical causes of failure including abrasion, impact, staining, cigarette burns, damp and the effect of a furniture leg or castor chair. The commercial general grade class 32 for classrooms or small offices has an abrasion resistance more than three times that of the domestic general grade class 22 for living rooms or entrance hallways.

Unfortunately not all manufacturers categorise their laminate floors according to BS EN 13329. They may offer alternative test criteria by which to compare and select floors. Steer clear of laminate floors that do not declare their performance.

Enhancing performance of laminate floors

Getting installation correct is critical to ensure laminate floors perform as expected. Remember to follow the relevant guidance in the European standard for installation of laminate floor coverings, BS EN 8425.

Key installation issues

  • The subfloor should be sound, level and flat.
  • Wood-based materials respond to changes in temperature and humidity. To minimise this subfloors and laminates should be conditioned to the temperature and dryness levels required by the flooring manufacturer before and after installation.
  • A moisture-resistant barrier under the laminate may be required to prevent construction moisture migrating from the subfloor.
  • Underfloor heating systems pose particular challenges. Heating data including rates of heat change, maximum temperatures and operating conditions should be determined. The manufacturer should confirm that the flooring system will not distort under the expected hydrothermal regime.
  • Where floors are glued together, use a water-resistant adhesive to grade D3 as classified in the standard for wood adhesives BS EN 204. Resist the temptation to walk on the floor until the adhesive has set – allow at least 12 hours.
  • Interlocking laminate floors do not require adhesive, creating potential savings on installation costs.
  • Include expansion gaps and joints to accommodate movement of the laminate floor in response to temperature and humidity changes.

Key in-use issues

  • Reduce the risks of abrasive damage from external grit and dirt carried in by foot traffic using entrance matting at doors. This should extend to at least 3 m to be effective.
  • Consider extra cleaning during wet weather to ensure speedy removal of potentially damaging debris and also to minimise slipping risks.
  • Use non–abrasive cleaning equipment and clean the floor with a damp cloth – never flood the floor with excessive water.

Table notes

  • l The costs, maintenance and cleaning regimes are based on 100 m2 floor area.
  • The costs include materials and labour for installation, cleaning. maintenance and replacements for the floor coverings.
  • No maintenance has been priced for the domestic floors, as this would not normally be paid work in a domestic premises.
  • Floors are either solid oak or oak appearance.
  • Costs vary depending on solid wood finish, depth and width as well as composition of laminate floors.
  • Best value should be determined from a whole life assessment using project specific criteria.
  • A discount rate of 3.5% is used to calculate net present values.
  • Associated components such as subfloor, underlays, dampproof membranes and soundproofing have not been included.

Further information

  • Building Performance Group specialises in whole life performance using software tools to determine best value options based on life cycle costs, pay back and cost benefits analysis.
  • Consultant Building LifePlans’ construction durability database at has durability information for 800 components.
  • For further information contact Peter Mayer at p.mayer@bpg– or 020-7583-9502.

Related files/tables