Trained Eye

 
 
 

Laminate Flooring

Question:

We plan to resurface our kitchen area with no glue, snap and lock pre-finished flooring. We have been advised to install milled 8mm. due to the high traffic the kitchen attracts. Currently the area is covered with thin, low-end kitchen carpet with no underlay. Normally, we are told, the pre-finished flooring requires a foam cushion. Advice on whether to remove the existing carpet or to utilize it in lieu of foam is mixed. Your comments and opinion would be greatly appreciated. We thank you for taking the time to review our request.

Answer:

I am assuming from your question that the “snap and lock” flooring you are referring to is laminate flooring. This is becoming an increasingly popular product for a number of reasons. The primary reason is the ease of installation, which is within the expertise level of many homeowners. There are positive and negative attributes to this style of flooring and we will look at these and answer your question on the underlay.

Laminate flooring is a product composed of a very hard plastic laminate surface bonded to a base, normally composed of medium or high density fibreboard. The flooring is constructed with boards that have varying widths, depending on the manufacturer and style. These composite boards have a modified tongue and groove on the sides and ends, which bind together to give a very smooth surface finish. This is why it is often referred to as “snap and lock” flooring. The other advantage of this system is that the flooring is not nailed or glued down to the subfloor, which makes disassembly and reinstallation possible. It also allows for easy installation with minimal tools.

The true benefit of this system is the durable plastic laminate surface, which is similar to many kitchen countertops. Most homeowners are aware of the excellent moisture and scratch resistance of this type of finish. This is also true of the flooring overall, which makes it ideal for high traffic areas and homes with children. This flooring is also available in many colours and patterns, as well as woodgrains that mimic hardwood flooring quite well.

Unfortunately, the fibreboard base of the majority of this type of flooring that make installation so easy is also the major drawback to its use. The fibreboard is only moderately resistant to moisture and can swell and become easily damaged if exposed to moisture over an extended period of time. In a kitchen, this is obviously a concern, if water is spilled or plumbing leaks onto the flooring surface. If water sits on the surface for too long, it will find its way in between the small seams in the laminate surface and may damage the fibreboard base, causing the flooring to swell and buckle. Once this occurs, there is little that can be done to repair the damage. For this reason, any moisture or spills must be quickly wiped or mopped up.

A foam cushion underlay is recommended for a couple of reasons with this type of floor covering. The first is to minimize movement between individual boards when walked on. Uneven surfaces beneath the flooring may cause telegraphing or splitting due to the nature of this man made product. The thin cushion of the foam underlay should eliminate this possibility and make it more comfortable when standing or walking on the very hard surface. Another benefit of the foam is to prevent wicking of moisture from a damp subfloor below. This is particularly a concern on concrete basement floors, but may also develop in areas of high relative humidity. The foam underlay may act as a partial moisture barrier to prevent absorption of moisture by the fibreboard base.

To answer your question directly, the need to remove the old carpet and replace it with a new foam underlay will depend largely on the condition of the old carpet. If the old carpet has an uneven surface, or is damaged at all, it will have to go. If the condition is good and there are no noticeable voids beneath, you may be able to go directly over it with the new laminate. What is absolutely critical is that there is no unevenness or loose sections in the old carpet, or damage to the new surface is possible

Like any newer product that becomes widely used in residential construction, time will be the true test of the quality and durability of that product. Laminate flooring has been around for a number of years in Europe , before becoming popular in North America . The track record is quite good, thus far, but as with most building products there is one critical issue to performance. Proper installation is essential for this product to last. I have already seen far too many of these surfaces look bad after a short period of time due to sloppy or improper installation. Check the manufacturer’s installation instructions before any work is done, as improper underlay and installation may void any warranty and make the chances of damage or poor performance much more likely.