"AC" - Accurately Rating Laminate's Superpower: Durability
How would you like people to see the laminate flooring in your house and think that you just installed it, and then to tell them that you put it in fifteen years ago? But look at what we do to our floors. We walk on them, yes, but we also play on them with toys when we’re small. We move our furniture across them when we’re adults. We spill things on them. We run across them with our scratchy paws (if you’re one who walks on paws and are currently reading this page, call us immediately for an endorsement deal).
So how do you do it? Aside from proper care and maintenance, it starts with selecting a laminate floor designed to withstand the traffic and general usage of your room. But Laminate flooring is made by a bunch of different manufacturers, so how can you compare products not just within a brand, but across brands?
Fortunately, laminate flooring is grouped by what is called an Abrasion Class (or some call it the Abrasion Coefficient), expressed in the AC rating of the product. It has become the accepted industry standard for communicating with customers about the level of use a floor can handle, no matter who the manufacturer is. A group called The Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring established and codified these durability ratings at five different levels, with the testing to be done by an impartial third party. The measurements cover a given laminate’s resistance to abrasion, impacts, staining, cigarette burns, swelling along the edges, and to the effects of furniture legs and castors, both resting and moving. To achieve a certain AC rating, all of the tests must justify that particular level. Failing any one of them disqualifies it for that level.
For example, one of the tests for abrasion involves a machine rubbing the laminate’s surface with a series of sandpaper rolls until the image alters from its original appearance. The number of passes done sets the AC limit for abrasion:
AC-1 – the laminate must withstand at least 900 passes of the sandpaper, and up to 1800
AC-2 – 1801 to 2500 passes
AC-3 – 2501 to 4000 passes
AC-4 – 4001 to 6500 passes
AC-5 – anything over 6,500
Now if a certain product met AC4 or AC5 standards on handling impacts, staining, and all the others, but only took 3000 rubs of the sandpaper before losing its look, then it may only receive an AC3 rating.
For similar products, generally those with higher AC ratings will be more expensive. Picking a floor to meet your needs may mean finding the highest possible AC rating, but for a room where the traffic is expected to always be gentle, you might focus in the opposite direction, looking for your same flooring look in a lower rated, and therefore less expensive, product.
What AC Ratings tell you
Note that AC ratings of 1 and 2 are not recommended for any public or commercial uses. The business floors begin with AC3. Also, while AC 4 and AC5 rated floors may be used in residential locations, some will have course surfaces, or rougher textures that can be uncomfortable when one walks with bare feet. These are generally manufactured with businesses and public places in mind. You can certainly use them in your home, just make sure to check on the comfort factor when you do your shopping in this area of flooring.
Definitely feel free to check with your Floors To Your Home customer service person if you want to discuss the best AC Rating for your needs.
And remember, no high heels below AC3. Not ever. I would even be careful with an AC3 rated floor, not because it’s a weak floor, but because high heels are such an annoying marvel of physics. They can concentrate the weight of the most svelte of wearers into a worthy hole punch for sheet metal. Some say AC3 can handle them, but we always favor caution.
Utility or Load Classes
The European Producers of Laminate Flooring has a different classification system you might also see. They’re called utility classes or load classes, reflecting abrasive durability and impact resistance in accordance with a European regulation known as EN 13329. There are seven levels, 21-23 for laminates of moderate, normal and heavy residential uses as the numbers go up, and 31-33 for commercial uses. The seventh is new, 34, for heavy duty uses. For the whole scale, the higher the number, the tougher the floor, and the room recommendations reflect the AC ratings, with 21 suggested for bedrooms, 22 for living rooms, and 23 for entrances, hallways, kitchens – any rooms with high traffic.
The NALFA Certification Seal
Not so much a grading scale, this rating is pass or fail. The North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) has set up a series of 10 tests of a laminate floor’s performance. These are conducted by an independent lab, and all 10 must be passed to earn the seal. The tests are
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David has written and made videos about flooring products and installation since 2011 at Floors To Your Home (.com), where he is also the PPC Manager, a Researcher, a Website & Marketing Strategy Team member, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jito. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, put together a podcast, explore film history, and mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’). Connect with W. David Lichty
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