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CARB Compliant Flooring FAQ

The safety of laminate flooring has come under fire in recent months with the 60 minutes story on Lumber Liquidators and Lowe’s pulling Chinese laminate over formaldehyde concerns. At a recent home builder’s trade show we were still fielding questions of how to talk about California Air Resource Board (CARB) compliance with customers. Everyone just wants to know their floors are safe for their families. Here are a few  frequently asked questions about CARB compliant flooring.

What are California Air Resource Board (CARB) regulations?

The California Air Resource Board requires all composite wood products (e.g. particleboard, medium density fibreboard and hardwood plywood) for sale in California to be certified as complying with California’s formaldehyde emission standards. For flooring manufacturers, this means their laminate and engineered hardwood flooring has to be manufactured with certified composite wood products. Composite wood producers are required to have their products tested by a third-party certifier. Flooring manufacturers must label their laminate and engineered hardwood flooring boxes to indicate they were made using CARB compliant composite wood products. CARB regulations only apply in California. In Canada, there are no similar rules to regulate formaldehyde emissions from wood products.

What flooring does CARB regulations apply to?

CARB regulations apply to laminate and engineered hardwood since these products are made with composite wood products. They do NOT apply to solid hardwood and vinyl flooring.

What is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a colourless, strong-smelling chemical often used to make home building products. In everyday life, we are exposed to formaldehyde through tobacco smoke, cars, fires and even some glues and cleaning products.

How can I tell if my flooring is CARB compliant?

The CARB indoor air-quality standards were implemented in two parts. The second phase implemented in 2012 lowered the formaldehyde limit to a more stringent 0.05 parts per million. We recommend checking that laminate and engineered hardwood meet this second phase of CARB standards, known as CARB 2.

In the wake of the alleged issues with Lumber Liquidators laminate, flooring manufacturers are being more transparent about their supply chains and CARB certifications. The recent news has taught the flooring marketplace the value of asking more questions. Does the flooring manufacturer produce their own products or buy from others? If they buy from other suppliers, what do they do to ensure the products meet air-quality standards? Do they sell CARB compliant products to all customers or just those in California? Do they do additional testing? Do they go above and beyond CARB compliance by submitting their products for additional certification from independent third-parties?

Two flooring manufacturers that are exceeding expectations in their commitment to safe, sustainable products are Shaw Floors and Armstrong. Read the Shaw Floors laminate and hardwood certifications statement and the Armstrong’s eco-friendly laminate page for more information.

5 Most Common Flooring Mistakes

Picking the best flooring option is a surprisingly detailed oriented process that goes beyond picking a type, colour and installation method. There are five common mistakes that are often overlooked but 100% avoidable with a bit of education.

1. Choosing a floor with a different thickness than the existing flooring

The thickness of your old floor needs to be considered while picking new flooring. Picking flooring with the same thickness is the easiest, hassle-free option for most people. Switching to flooring with a different thickness can be done but a few implications need to be considered before picking.

If your new flooring is thicker than the previous flooring, it is easy to move baseboards up to the height of the new flooring. If your new flooring is thinner and you move your baseboards down to the level of the new floor, there may be a space between the top of the baseboards and the paint lines. There are three possible solutions to this problem:

  • Repaint the wall to cover up the line in between.
  • When replacing the baseboards, install a slightly taller baseboard.
  • Keep the baseboards at their previous height and install base shoe to cover the gap between the flooring and baseboards.

When new flooring is thicker, there is a risk of doors scraping against the flooring. Some door professionals can cut down doors so they will fit.

Door Casings
Similar to doors, thicker flooring may require door casings to be removed and cut down to fit.

Appliance and counter top heights
If your flooring was installed under cabinets or appliances, a thicker floor will raise all items on top of it. As an example, if your stove was level with the height of the countertops, it may no longer be level when you install the thicker flooring under the stove but not the countertops.

2. Neglecting the pad underneath

Different types of Shaw carpet pad

Different types of Shaw carpet pad. The pad on the right is an inexpensive chip foam. The other two options have moisture barriers.

The underpad you put below the carpet is just as important as the carpet itself. A high-quality carpet pad is essential for extending the life of your carpet. Carpet pad with a built-in moisture barrier helps to prevent stains from soaking into the pad and reappearing on the carpet.

If you live in a condo building, your strata may require an underpad with a specific sound rating. Since it is always easier to ask for permission than forgiveness, we recommend finding out what underpad sound ratings your strata requires before purchasing. Our article about underlay requirements for condos provides more in-depth information on the subject.

3. Using high-gloss finishes in very active households

Shaw Plaza Collection Zelda Birch
Shaw Floors – Plaza Collection Zelda Birch laminate

A crucial step in selecting flooring is considering the amount and type of traffic your house has. To determine the best type of flooring, we always ask our customers questions about their lifestyle. What kind of traffic does this area see? Do you have kids or pets?

These questions help us determine how much wear and tear your floor will experience in its lifetime. High traffic areas or households with kids and pets are more prone to scratches, marks and other imperfections. A floor with a matte finish or distressing hides imperfections a bit better than a high-gloss piano finish floor does. If you have a high traffic household and hate scratches and imperfections, a high gloss floor is not recommended.

4. Forgetting to budget for subfloor preparation and levelling

When removing existing flooring, there can often be big surprises underneath. The subfloor may need to be replaced or levelled to meet the manufacturer’s subfloor requirements for your flooring. Your flooring contractor can provide you with a rough estimate of the costs for subfloor prep and levelling. Keep in mind that this will only be a rough estimate – it is impossible to provide a 100% accurate estimate until we can see the entire subfloor.

5. Picking flooring without researching maintenance requirements of the flooring

The cleaning and maintenance of a floor is often overlooked when making a flooring decision. With flooring, it is always good to consider the lifetime cost of the floor, both in terms of dollars and time. Hate vacuuming? Take out that carpet and replace it with a hard surface.

The lifetime cost of maintaining the floor is especially important for commercial flooring products. While some floors may be cheap to purchase, the cost of cleaning products, sealing, buffing and waxing the floor could total more than the maintenance for a more expensive floor. By not learning about the maintenance costs, your floor could end up costing you more in the long run. Our flooring maintenance guides can provide an overview of the maintenance required. To compare the true costs of the floor, ask your salesperson about the maintenance required for each flooring option you’re considering.

Hardwood Trends: Random Width Hardwood

The resurgence of random width hardwood is inspired by the days when hardwood flooring was hand sawn. At the time, random widths weren’t a design choice. It was done to use as much hardwood as possible and prevent unnecessary waste.

Today the random width look is making a comeback in homes looking for a rustic or vintage inspired aesthetic. Random width floors can be custom made to your specifications or you can pick from the many pre-finished options available. While custom hardwood offers more design flexibility, it also brings more decisions and costs. With so many pre-finished options now available, it is easiest to see if your dream random width hardwood is available in pre-finished option. If it is not, then a custom hardwood solution would be best.

We have a collected a couple of our favourite unique random width hardwood options.

Mannington Pacaya Mesquite Random Width Hardwood

Mannington Pacaya Mesquite 3″/5″/7″

The hand-crafted Pacaya Mesquite random width hardwood is a truly unique find. Mesquite is known for its natural character with mineral streaks and small irregular cracks along the grain. Pick your favourite of the six volcanic-inspired colours.

Shnier Berkshire Random Width Hardwood

Laurentian Berkshire 3″/5″/7″

Hickory, maple, white oak and American walnut – this random width hardwood has options from a wide variety of hardwood species. The planks are full of character, embracing all the natural imperfections of each wood species. Heavy bevelling and handscraping add to the overall worn, rustic look.

Anderson Elements Random Width Hardwood

Anderson Elements 3″/5″

This pine floor exudes old world charm. The handscraped planks have a unique texture that suits either a cozy wilderness cabin or a beach house.

Vinyl Flooring Maintenance Tips

Vinyl flooring is considered to be one of the easiest to maintain flooring options on the market. There are a few tips and tricks to learn that will help you spend less time cleaning your floors. For a quick run-down, read our quick vinyl flooring maintenance tips below or watch this video from worldwide vinyl supplier Armstrong.

Maintenance tips

  • Sweep your vinyl flooring regularly – at least once per week.
  • Wipe up spills as soon as possible to prevent staining.
  • When sweeping is not enough to get your floors clean, occasionally wash your floor using the manufacturer’s recommended cleaner. Do not use detergents, abrasive cleaners, mop and shine products, paste wax or solvent based polishes.
  • Use a mop or cloth to clean your floor. We do not recommend using a vacuum beater bar or abrasive scrubbing tools as these can damage your floor.
  • If your floor begins to dull over time, use the manufacturer recommended floor finish polish to restore the floor’s original shine. The gloss level of each vinyl floor varies, so it’s important to check what your manufacturer recommends.

Preventative maintenance

  • Use a walk-off mat at outside entrances to prevent dirt, sand and grit from being tracked onto your vinyl floors. Rubber or latex backed mats can stain your floors. Instead choose a non-staining vinyl mat or a woven colourfast rug.
  • When moving appliances or heavy items, put down a piece of plywood or hardboard runway to protect your floors from damage. A runway is always recommended, even when using a furniture dolly or items with wheels.

Laminate Flooring Cleaning Tips

Laminate flooring cleaning tips

Proper cleaning and maintenance is the key to keeping any flooring pristine. While laminate flooring is great for standing up to tough household conditions, it needs routine maintenance. To clean any flooring, we always suggest checking the manufacturer recommended cleaning products and methods. We have a few helpful laminate flooring cleaning tips to keep your floors in great shape.

Routine Laminate Floor Cleaning Do’s

  • Clean up spills immediately using a cloth or sponge. Liquids should never sit on your laminate floors.
  • Only use cleaning products designed for laminate flooring care. For the best cleaning results and to ensure warranty coverage, use the cleaner specified by your manufacturer.
  • Sweep or dust the floor regularly to remove dirt and grit that can damage your the laminate’s finish. Vacuum’s with a hard floor attachment can also be used. Vacuum beater bars are for regular use.
  • Use a dry microfibre mop for cleaning after sweeping or vacuuming. Spray the recommended laminate floor cleaner on it until the mop is damp. Mop away.
  • Put down entry mats to prevent dirt, grit and other unwanted substances from being tracked onto the floor.

Routine Laminate Floor Cleaning Don’ts

  • Do not wash or wet mop laminate floors with any liquid cleaner. This includes soap, water, detergents and any strong ammonia or chlorine based cleaners. The moisture can cause swelling, warping or delaminating.
  • To maintain your warranty, do not use steam mops. Flooring manufacturers do not want the steam mops used on their laminate flooring. The moisture from the steam mop can be too much for laminate.
  • Avoid using steel wool, scouring pads, abrasive cleaners, waxes or polishes.

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