General Flooring Knowledge, Hardwood Flooring, Laminate Flooring, Luxury Vinyl Flooring

Qualities of Good Flooring

The materials you use for your floor will help determine the value of your home, and will say a lot about your personal style. The floor you choose will impact heavily on the ambiance you create in your home. It will be part of your undisputed identity. Obviously, this is not something you want to botch.

What you should look for in flooring materials

Not every floor is made of the best materials. But how would you, as a consumer who purchases flooring very infrequently, know what to look for? We have delved into this matter to ensure that your choice is informed and based on professional opinion. We have put together the various characteristics ranging from the benefits, cons, and durability as well the lifespan and cost of the various flooring materials in the market.

The top qualities of good flooring materials include:

1. Non-Toxic Floor

You do not want to live in a house that has a messed-up floor. Toxins could mean unhealthy living, among other challenges. For a modern, classy floor, ensure the floor materials are non-toxic. This ensures indoor air quality and safety.

So, what to look for? There are several industry trade associations of flooring manufacturers and suppliers, as well as government regulatory bodies, which oversee the flooring industry in North America.  We won’t go into great detail about all of them, but here are three for you to look for when shopping for your new floor.

CARB Compliant, Phase 1 and Phase 2

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) implemented standards to improve indoor air quality by tightening limits for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. Before January 2009, 0.20 parts per million were allowed.

Phase 1: Starting in January 2009, the CARB formaldehyde standard was lowered to an average of 0.18 parts per million, depending on the type of composite wood product.

Phase 2: In 2012, the CARB formaldehyde standard was lowered again. In Phase 2, CARB set different limits for different types of composite wood products as follows:

  • Hardwood plywood 0.05 parts per million (ppm)
  • Particleboard 0.09 ppm
  • Medium-density fiberboard 0.11 ppm
  • Thin medium-density fiberboard 0.13 ppm

FloorScore Indoor Air Quality Certification

This certification was started by The Resilient Floor Covering Institute, a trade organization, but the testing and certification is conducted by a third-party certification organization, Scientific Certification Systems. The certification tests chemical emissions from hard-surface, resilient and laminate flooring and is based on California Specification 01350, which sets limits for 38 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Note: This certification only measures VOCs and, therefore, does not speak to dioxin or phthalate content in floors made with polyvinyl chloride.

GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification

The GREENGUARD certification program, overseen by the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, enforces emission limits on 364 VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). It also enforces emission limits on the total sum of VOCs that can off-gas from a product. GREENGUARD Certification requires this total VOC limit because health science cannot keep up with the number of new chemical compounds introduced into the marketplace every day.

In addition to flooring, GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification is used for interior products, including paints and coatings, adhesives and furniture. Note: This certification only measures VOCs and, therefore, does not speak to dioxin or phthalate content in floors with made with poly vinyl chloride.

Any good quality flooring manufacturer will have certifications for their products from at least one of these organizations. Look for their logos on product samples when shopping – if you can’t find them, ask if these products are certified. Again, good quality flooring manufacturers will have their certifications listed on their websites.

2. Durability

This is at the epicenter of selecting a good floor. Each type of flooring (laminate, luxury vinyl, hardwood) has its own characteristics, and usually has some measure of durability so that you can compare different products to each other.

Laminate Floors

The durability of a laminate floor is indicated by the Abrasion Class it is certified under. The Abrasion Class is more commonly referred to as the AC Rating. The AC Rating system has become the standard rating system for laminate flooring products worldwide. It is a good gauge as to how well a laminate floor will perform in your residential or commercial setting, so it’s a good idea when you’re browsing through laminate floor options to know what the AC Rating for each is.

How is a Laminate Floor Rated?

Laminate flooring will receive an AC Rating based on its performance under a multitude of key stress points: staining, impact, heat, moisture, scratches and scuffs. How well a particular laminate floor performs under each test will determine its ultimate AC Rating. If a laminate floor should fail any of these durability tests, it automatically becomes uncertifiable and is then labeled as “unrated.” If a laminate flooring product you’re looking at is listed as being “unrated,” it’s safe to say that this particular floor isn’t going to hold up well.

What are the AC Ratings?

AC Ratings for laminate flooring are labelled as AC1, AC2, AC3, AC4 or AC5.

  • AC1: suitable for residential use with moderate traffic – think mature bedrooms or guest rooms. 
  • AC2: suitable for residential use with general traffic – think living rooms or dining rooms. 
  • AC3: suitable for residential use with heavy traffic but they are also suitable for commercial settings with moderate traffic. This pretty much means the laminate floor will work well in any area of your home as well as in commercial settings like hotel rooms or small offices.
  • AC4: suitable for commercial use with general traffic – think busy offices, cafes or salons. 
  • AC5: suitable for commercial use with heavy traffic – think public buildings, department stores or showrooms.

Generally, laminate flooring rated at AC1 through AC4 is created using Direct Pressure Laminate, while AC5 is created using High Pressure Laminate. While there are huge durability benefits to using a higher rated laminate floor, there are also benefits to using an AC3 or AC4 rated laminate floor over an AC5 heavy commercial laminate. AC5 laminate floors, meant for heavy commercial situations, tend to have surface textures which are a bit rougher than laminates made specifically for residential settings. These rough surfaces work wonders when standing up to heavy commercial traffic, but can sometimes be a bit abrasive in household situations.

Additionally, flooring made with Direct Pressure Laminate may have a lower AC Rating but are apt to look more realistic than some of the laminate floors available at the higher AC Ratings made with High Pressure Laminate.

Luxury Vinyl Plank and Tile

While luxury vinyl does not have an AC rating, it does contain a wear layer. The wear layer is built into the vinyl and plays an important role in the durability of the vinyl floors. The wear layer is the additional urethane coating applied on the top of the vinyl to add durability and protect the floor against scratches, stains and scuff marks. This coating helps keep the original appearance of the floor for a long time, without the need for polishing or buffing.

Some luxury vinyl will have an AC Rating. With this, the floor has a protective top coat, containing additives like ceramic or aluminum oxide that helps to increase the hardness level of the planks, and protect against chemical stains, dents, scratches and UV fading. During manufacturing, these substances need to bond to the flooring through the process of curation. If bonding isn’t performed correctly, the coating won’t be effective. Be sure to check your warranty for guidelines on manufacturer defects. With both a wear layer and AC rating, this creates the ultimate combination when it comes to durability.

The thickness of the wear-layer varies, and is generally measured in mils (thousandths of an inch) or millimeters (thousandths of a metre). The wear layer lies between the printed design and urethane finish. This layer is a key factor of how well your floors will hold up over time. If the wear layer breaks down, the printed design will damage and fade. A thicker layer is more resistant to scratching and denting. Better quality flooring tends to have the highest wear layers but is more expensive. Building professionals tend to stick with a minimum of 12 mil for residential and 20 – 28 mil for commercial. You should look for vinyl planks with a wear layer of at least 12 mil. If you have an active family or an assemblage of pets, consider buying 20 mil or higher.

The Core and Bottom Layers: SPC Flooring vs. WPC Flooring

 You will come across these terms a lot, if you haven’t already. What do they mean? The meat of both WPC flooring and SPC flooring is the waterproof core. In WPC flooring, this is made from Wood Plastic Composite, while with SPC, it is made from Stone Plastic Composite. The stone is stiffer, sturdier and less resilient.

Imagine WPC flooring as your plush, luxurious home carpet. It’s soft and wonderful, but it’s not as durable or easy to maintain as a low-pile commercial carpet. SPC rigid core is this commercial carpet. The planks/tiles are thinner, less giving under foot and ultra-sturdy and durable. It’s no surprise then that SPC rigid core luxury vinyl flooring is typically used for high-traffic commercial spaces. It is unbending and virtually indestructible. Structurally, the WPC core contains an added foaming agent to increase resilience and comfort. The SPC has no foam added, giving it a stronger, more robust core.

As far as dents from heavy furniture, SPC rigid core is less susceptible to this than WPC flooring due to its more rigid core. That’s what makes it great for commercial environments. No matter how much traffic you see, SPC rigid core can take it.

Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

Construction of WPC Flooring

  1. Wear Layer – The wear layer is the top coating on the vinyl floor that is transparent. This adds scratch and stain resistance to the vinyl plank.
  2. Vinyl Top Coat – Each WPC vinyl floor has a thin layer of vinyl adhered to the core.
  3. Decorative Print– The decorative print layer is the design of the flooring.
  4. WPC Core – The WPC core is made by combining wood pulp, plasticizers and foaming agents to create a sturdy, waterproof core that is stable, yet comfortable under foot.
  5. Attached Underlayment – WPC vinyl floors may or may not come with attached underlayment. These are usually included to help with sound reduction and add softness to the floor.

Benefits of WPC Flooring

  • Waterproof: WPC vinyl is 100% waterproof. There will be no swelling of planks or damage if exposed to spills and moisture. There is also limited movement with temperature changes.
  • Appearance: WPC vinyl can be found in a multitude of looks, textures and styles.
  • DIY Installation: WPC vinyl features an easy click lock installation method that is DIY friendly. No adhesives or glues are needed for a floating floor!
  • Comfort: WPC has a stable core giving it a rigid, yet soft feel under foot. WPC also tends to be thicker, which will add to a feeling of comfort.
  • Application: WPC flooring can be installed below, on or above grade. The floating installation makes it easy to install over other floors, such as hardwood or tile.
  • Affordability: Although WPC vinyl is engineered, it is still very budget friendly. Depending on the brand and features, you can find WPC vinyl within a variety of budgets.
  • Easy Maintenance and Cleaning: The easy maintenance is one of the best perks of WPC vinyl flooring. Cleaning and maintaining a WPC vinyl flooring only takes regular sweeping, occasional mopping and spot cleaning.

Construction of SPC Flooring

  1. Wear Layer – The wear layer is the top coating on the vinyl floor that is transparent. This adds scratch and stain resistance to the vinyl plank.
  2. Vinyl Top Coat – Each SPC vinyl floor will have a thin layer of vinyl attached to it. This layer is waterproof and will contain the pattern, texture and look of the floor.
  3. Decorative Print– The decorative print layer is the design of the flooring.
  4. SPC Core – The SPC core is made by combining limestone powder and stabilizers to create a dimensionally stable and waterproof core.
  5. Attached Underlayment – SPC vinyl floors may or may not come with attached underlayment. These are usually included to help with sound reduction and add softness to the floor.

Benefits of SPC Flooring

  • Waterproof: This is one of the biggest factors in choosing SPC vinyl. It is 100% waterproof, which means it can be installed in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and restaurants without worry.
  • Stability in Temperature Fluctuations: With the stone construction, SPC vinyl is more stable in environments with temperature changes, such as cabins, homes with AC units and homes with humidity fluctuations.
  • Appearance: SPC vinyl flooring can have a variety of looks, textures and styles.
  • DIY Installation: SPC vinyl flooring is a click-lock installation system. It is installed similarly to a regular vinyl and laminate with a tongue and groove installation. No glues or extra tools are required. This is a floor for the everyday DIYer.
  • Comfort: The SPC vinyl floor is going to feel sturdier and more cushioned under foot than traditional vinyl due to the dense core and thickness of the plank. A thicker plank will give you more comfort. Also, some SPC vinyl will have attached underlayment that adds to the softness under foot. If it does not have attached underlayment, you can opt for an LVT specific underlayment to install over the subfloor.
  • Sound: With the dense core, this plank tends to have a quieter sound. You will not hear a hollow sound when you walk on it.
  • Affordability: SPC vinyl plank flooring is very budget friendly. Depending on the brand and features, you can find SPC vinyl in a variety of price ranges.
  • Easy Maintenance and Cleaning: An SPC vinyl will have the same cleaning and maintenance needs as a regular vinyl. These planks are designed to be easily cleaned with regular sweeping and mopping.

Commercial or Residential

An important consideration is the rating – is it rated for residential or commercial traffic? Both have the same maintenance requirements, but planks appropriate for business settings can hold up to excessive use. However, they tend to bit a bit more costly.

It’s helpful to compare the commercial warranty with the residential. An extended industrial warranty usually signifies a thicker wear layer. Flooring manufacturers tend to err on the side of caution with commercial customers. By underrating the vinyl plank’s life expectancy, companies avoid costly warranty claims. In contrast, residential flooring is expected to withstand less abuse over a longer period. If the plank in your home needs to hold up to rolling loads, exposure to grease or extreme use, you should consider the commercial grade rating as a better indicator of how long your vinyl planks will last

Other Considerations

When shopping for vinyl plank, look at the warranty, core construction, wear layer, and attached underlayment before making a final decision. If your flooring doesn’t include it, you can add an underlayment during installation. However, never add a second layer of padding. If you do, your planks will eventually shift.

If durability is your primary concern, look for vinyl planks with the highest wear layers. Your retailer should provide you with documentation detailing these features. Don’t be fooled into thinking that more expensive flooring is always the better choice. While that is often the case, sometimes you are paying for the name, not necessarily the quality.

 Hardwood Floors

If you are looking to purchase hardwood floors, you’ll need to decide between solid or engineered.

Solid hardwood is milled from a single piece of wood. It can be repeatedly sanded; it can last for decades. A natural material, solid hardwood is susceptible to temperature and humidity changes and cannot be installed below grade or in damp spaces. It must be nailed or stapled to a wooden subfloor.

Engineered hardwood is created by bonding layers of hardwood (“plies”) together in a cross-grain construction. These layers give greater stability. Because it can withstand higher levels of humidity, engineered hardwood can be installed in baths and basements, as well as over concrete subfloors and radiant heating elements. Engineered hardwood uses fewer trees than solid hardwood. It can be nailed, stapled or glued, or it can “float” (affixed to itself rather than the subfloor).

 The Finish

When you’re in the market for a hardwood floor, you’ll often notice “Aluminum Oxide finish”.  It’s important to note, even though it’s probably not the first thing your eyes go to when shopping for new floors.  You’re more than likely looking at color, graining, etc.  However, the finish is one of THE most important aspects when determining the life of your hardwood floor.

What is it? Aluminum oxide is the second hardest mineral substance in the world. In crystal form, we refer to it as rubies and sapphires – only diamonds are harder. This finish provides a top layer of uber-scratch-resistance to the hardwood.  It also guards against oxidization and seals the board’s top surface – it’s an additional shield for the wood.  An aluminum oxide finish is pure protection from the years of traffic the floor is sure to see.

The aluminum oxide finish is layered on each board and you should look to those layers as a measure of board quality.  Typically, the number of coats of aluminum oxide will range from 5-10 layers for most premium wood floor products.

As well, an aluminum oxide finish will slow the process of UV color fading over time. In fact, it can add decades to the floor’s colour tone.  Now, fading is going to happen, particularly rooms that get a lot of direct sunlight, but the aluminum oxide finish helps mitigate the effects over time.

3. Environmental Implications

Homeowners, commercial building owners, designers, and builders have many floor covering options from which to choose. The differences in environmental impacts between some of these options are substantial. For those interested in minimizing the environmental impacts associated with their choice of flooring material, finding reliable information can be daunting. As a one-stop source of information about flooring options, the Building for Energy and Environmental Sustainability (BEES) program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is the most comprehensive resource available today.

Research into life cycle comparisons of flooring alternatives consistently shows global warming potential and other environmental impacts associated with producing and using plant-based flooring alternatives such as wood to be lower than other alternatives. Carpeting of all kinds, and especially wool carpeting, and composite marble tile exhibit the greatest impacts. No flooring alternative outperforms all others in every impact category.

Environmental impacts of floor coverings can be minimized by:

  • Selecting products made of natural materials that come from plants, such as wood flooring. The raw materials for each of these materials are produced by growing plants which, using sunlight as a source of energy, capture carbon dioxide and release oxygen during the growth process, and store captured carbon within the plant material formed. Subsequent conversion of the material into useful products such as flooring typically requires relatively little additional energy, and yields products in which a large proportion of its mass consists of stored carbon.
  • Giving preference to vinyl or tile with recycled content over products that incorporate a significant synthetic resin content (such as composite marble).
  • Avoiding carpet, and wool carpet in particular. Perhaps surprisingly, wool, a natural product, ranks at the very bottom of virtually every listing of environmentally friendly flooring products. The reason is again linked to carbon, but in this case the low environmental ranking of wool is largely due to very substantial methane emissions from sheep as they digest plant material (cattle and other ruminants have the same problem).

Forest Stewardship Council Certification (FSC)

Considered the most reliable indicator of sustainably harvested wood, FSC remains the only certification to qualify a wood product for credit under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system.

Provisions of FSC include balanced representation in governance, meaning that economic considerations are not weighted more heavily than environmental considerations. FSC prohibits and/or heavily restricts the use of hazardous pesticides, clear-cutting, harvesting old trees and converting natural forests for development sites or tree farms.

Certification is offered to companies that demonstrate they conform to FSC standards in the sourcing, manufacturing, storing, labeling and invoicing of FSC certified material.  The material or products can carry a range of claims, including FSC Pure, FSC Mix Credit and FSC Mix Percentage.

4. Cost Effectiveness

As with any major home improvement decision, it’s helpful to compare flooring prices before making the big leap. When it comes to flooring cost, there’s several things to keep in mind. First of all, regional prices for materials and flooring installation may vary. While the following price estimates make for a good starting point, it’s important to talk to suppliers and installers in your area to get a more concrete idea of what your final floor cost is going to be. Also, don’t forget that when you purchase flooring, you’re making a substantial investment in your home that you’re going to have to live with for years to come. Budget concerns might influence your decision, but beware of letting them be your only guide.

  • Hardwood floors are going to cost $4 to $15 dollars per square foot for material depending on the quality of the boards and the width. As for installation, expect $2 to $8 per square foot, depending on whether your boards are pre-treated or need to be finished on site. Also, factor in any preparatory work that must be done before the hardwood can be installed, such as removal of the old floor, re-screwing of the subfloor, etc.
  • Laminate flooring is very cost effective with a floor cost of $1.50 to $6 a square foot for materials. It’s also easy to install, sporting installation costs of $1.50 to $3 per square foot, including laying down the underpadding.
  • Luxury Vinyl Planks/Tile runs $2.50 to $8 per square foot for materials and $1.50 to $3 per square foot for installation.
  • Stone tiles run $7 to $20 per square foot for the materials and $6 to $8 dollars per square foot, at least, for installation. Many tilers charge more for installing stone because lugging around the tiles is a more labor intensive than working with ceramic or vinyl counterparts.
  • Ceramic tiles run anywhere from $5 to $15 per square foot for materials and $6 to $8 per square foot for installation.

On a final note, expect to get what you pay for. Flooring materials vary greatly in quality, durability and looks, and the less you shell out the more likely you are to get a product that is going to let you down in the years to come. Floor cost is one of those things, both with materials and installation service, where the more careful research you do initially, and the more informed you are about this major investment, the less often you’ll be faced with costly repairs on down the line.

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2 thoughts on “Qualities of Good Flooring

  1. Like!! Thank you for publishing this awesome article.

    1. Andrew says:

      Thank you for the kind comment. Please share with your family/friends.

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