There are four basic components, or layers, of laminate flooring, each of which plays a specific role in the look and durability of the floor. Here they are, from bottom to top:
- A plastic, paper or melamine backing layer, also known as the balancing layer, stabilizes the floor and resists moisture.
- Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) or high-density fiberboard (HDF) makes up the water-resistant substrate layer, or core layer. Both MDF and HDF are composed of wood fibers that are compressed together with adhesive and resin.
- The photographic, decorative or pattern layer gives the floor its realistic appearance. This layer is essentially a photograph, typically constructed with multiple sheets of paper sandwiched with melamine resin. Realistic colors and pearl-sheen ink give the image depth and a realistic look. The pattern layer starts with one large photograph of wood grain, which is segmented into sections the size of the desired laminate plank. Because the same photograph is used for many planks, it is possible to have repeating patterns in a case of planks.
- The protective top layer is the wear layer. It's typically constructed from an aluminum oxide clear coat. The coating can range from low to high gloss depending on the consumer's tastes. This layer prevents moisture penetration.
These layers are sandwiched together and fused using high heat and intense pressure. Some planks have a thicker core than others, which affects the overall durability -- the thicker the product, the more rigid the floor will be. The core of the product is typically measured in millimeters and is dependant on the grade of the product and the manufacturer. There are four common thickness measurements for laminate flooring:
- 6 millimeter (least cost, least durability)
- 8 millimeter
- 10 millimeter
- 12 millimeter (highest cost, highest durability)
Other than thickness, what should you look for when shopping for laminate flooring? Find out on the next page.