Laminate flooring is a product that represents the most significant change in floor covering materials in the last twenty five years, and its history has been an interesting one. This type of material can be traced to Sweden in the early 1980's. It was originally developed as a possible use for high pressure melamine. Early versions of the product had a base composed of several layers of resin impregnated paper which were pressed together under high pressure. This created a highly wear-resistant composite material. A decorative top sheet was then applied to the base, and the completed composite material was glued onto a carrier material and cut into sections.
Kitchen counter tops, furniture and wall paneling represent a few products for which the the decorative laminate was initially marketed and used. Although extremely durable, the laminate was not originally considered for floor covering. When use as a floor covering did begin to be considered, there remained other problems to be addressed. Counter tops and furniture are not often used to walk on, but obviously, floor coverings receive a great deal of abuse. Eventually, a reinforced composite material with ten times the strength of the original product was designed, and laminate as a flooring material was developed. As research continued toward the development of a market for this laminated composite material, its strength and wear resistance qualities continued to be dramatically improved.
Other design developments for the product were also taking place. Wood flooring generally comes in long narrow strips, carpeting comes on long rolls, and other sheet goods commonly come in bulky sizes. It was decided to cut the laminated product into strips approximately 4 ft. long x 7 or 8 in. wide, and package them 8 pieces to a carton. This carton would cover approximately 20 sq.ft., be easily transportable in the car, and be easily handled by one person. Another area of the system also required development. In order for a floor covering to be without seams, a method of attaching the strips to one another is required. At first, a system of gluing a tongue and groove joint was designed. This system, when properly done, created a uniform, monolithic, and very durable floor covering. Later design and manufacturing processes have eliminated the gluing step for some brands.
When properly joined, the strips create a floating floor covering that is not adhered to the existing floor. The "floating floor covering" is actually installed with a small gap at the perimeter to accommodate any movement. The gap is covered by the wall base or a combination of base and trim molding. The system also includes a group of trim items to allow the the flooring to abut other surfaces or change direction. This system can be installed over existing floor coverings and, in most cases, the existing floor does not need to be removed. The exception is that carpet or other fiber types of material as well as carpet pads are required to be removed. Laminate flooring is very strong, durable, and resistant to stains, normal spills and the tracking in of water.
Laminated flooring offers a great number of advantages. Its ease of installation and the benefit of not having to remove older flooring save time and labor costs. Laminate flooring doesn't require a large number of additional installation materials, such as adhesives, fasteners, mortars or grouts. The product is resistant to stains, ultraviolet fading, and wear patterns. Its resistance to impact and denting from the load of heavy furniture or equipment is far greater than the resistance of wood or sheet vinyl flooring. The surface of laminate flooring is very easy to clean and maintain, as it requires no waxing or stripping. The high pressure laminate base product contains insignificant quantities of elements that affect indoor air quality.
The product's durability, aesthetics, and its ease of installation led to its rapid growth in popularity in Scandinavian and other Northern European markets. By the early 1990's, the North American market was quick to accept this new floor covering, as well. The residential market led the remarkable growth for the product, although architects, designers, and builders are also looking at laminate flooring as a choice for demanding situations in commercial applications.