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DON'T BE FLOORED // Something new under the feet

PLASTIC LAMINATE

One of the newest entries into the flooring market is plastic-laminate floors. Some people call them "wood wannabes"; others refer to them as "Formica for your floor."

Laminated floors consist of a top layer of plastic, said to be 20 times more abrasion-resistant than a plastic-laminate countertop; a paper layer imprinted with a photograph of wood (or marble, granite or various other images); a core layer of fiberboard or particleboard; and a backing, which may be paper or fiberboard.

The tongue-and-groove laminate boards are glued together, edge to edge, and "floated" over a subfloor and moisture barrier but are not nailed or glued to the subfloor.

These floors have been popular in Europe for the last 15 years. They are warranted commercially for 10 years, residentially for 15 years. They are produced by many manufacturers, including Pergo, Parqcolor, Bruce and Wilsonart. Formica is expected to enter the market later this year, and so is Honda, the Japanese auto maker, which plans to recycle plastic left over from car production. Laminate costs about $4.50 a square foot for materials only, local retailers say, and up to $7 a square foot installed.

Advocates say these floors are highly resistant to scratches and dents, are flame resistant and easily cleaned. Retailers like to show how easily Magic Markers or nail polish can be wiped off. The floors require no waxing and little maintenance and can strongly resemble the real thing.

Some critics say that the floors can be slippery and that the repeated photographic image of a wood surface does not look the same as a real wood floor. Laminate is water-resistant but not waterproof, and flooding or standing water can damage it, so it's not recommended for bathrooms. The floor may sound hollow when walked on, compared to the solid sound of hardwood.

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