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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.

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.

Acoustic Underlay Requirements for Condos

Acoustic Underlay Requirements for Strata and Condos

Noise is often a contentious issue in multi-unit residences, as any condo dweller can attest to. When owners want to install hardwood or laminate flooring, strata bylaws often require the use of an underlay with acoustic properties to reduce to the sound transmission to the unit below. Here are a few commonly asked questions about the acoustic underlay required.

Which underlay should I buy to use in my building?
Each strata has different rules about the flooring and underlay allowed in their building. Some may require council approval of the materials before installation. Check with your strata before purchasing your flooring. If your strata requires approval before installation, your flooring provider can provide you with product specifications and documented test results to give to your strata council.

My strata requires an underlay with a certain STC and IIC rating. What does this mean?
These are sound-control ratings often used in building codes and strata guidelines. The higher the rating, the better the underlay is at sound reduction. Sound Transmission Class (STC) ratings measure transmission of airborne sounds such as neighbours talking or playing music. Impact Isolation Class (IIC) measures impact sounds transferred from the floor to the unit below. Impact sounds are foot steps, objects falling on the floor etc. Manufacturers have their products tested in a lab according to ASTM International standards to determine the STC and IIC ratings.

Does an acoustic underlay reduce all noises for my neighbours below?
No. An acoustic underlay with good IIC and STC ratings will reduce noise transfer but will not eliminate all noise. The effectiveness of the underlay depends on your lifestyle and the construction of the building. If your lifestyle is noisier, your neighbours will be more likely to hear you. Active kids, walking in heavy shoes or high heels and dropping things may create noise that cannot be entirely quieted by any acoustic underlay.

The settings of the underlay lab tests may be different from the construction of the subfloor and ceiling of your building. Most underlay is tested on concrete slabs. IIC and STC ratings increase when the concrete slab thickness increases or when a drop or suspended ceiling is present in the unit below. Ask your flooring provider for testing results that specify the subfloor and ceiling assembly used during lab testing.

The ratings will be decreased for buildings with wood frames and plywood substrates since these materials are bad at preventing sound transference. If you do not have a concrete subfloor or acoustic concrete topping between floors, it’s highly recommended to look into additional sound barrier options. Your downstairs neighbours will thank you.

Is there anything else I can do reduce noise?

Adding a few area rugs to your decor will help reduce noise in areas where the rugs have been placed.

Can I do a nail down installation with acoustic underlay underneath?

No. The sound travels through the nails and negates the effectiveness of the underlay.

Is there a specific underlay you recommend?

We recommend using Shaw Silent Step Ultra. The 72 dB IIC and STC ratings satisfy most strata council requirements about flooring and acoustic underlay. Full testing data from a reputable third party lab is available upon request.

For more information we recommend reading:
Hardwood Floors – The Magazine of the National Wood Flooring Association. “The Lowdown on Wood Flooring Underlayments
Master Floor Covering Standards Institute. “Noise Problems and Acoustical Barriers”

Laminate Flooring FAQ

Laminate Flooring FAQ

We have answered our most frequently asked questions about laminate flooring to provide you with a comprehensive guide to laminate.

What is laminate flooring?
How is laminate flooring made?
What is the difference between laminate and engineered hardwood?
What are the advantages to using laminate?
What is an AC rating?
Where can I install laminate flooring?
Do I need to use underlay?
Can laminate be refinished?
How do I clean laminate flooring?

What is laminate flooring?

Laminate flooring is a multi-layer man-made flooring surface. It is a durable, cost effective plank flooring option. Most laminates mimic the look of hardwood but there are some options on the market that look like tile.

How is laminate flooring made?

Laminate floors are made of several layers fused together using high pressure. The four layers that make up laminate floors are:

1. The Backing

This layer is designed to support the structural integrity of the floor and create a barrier against moisture.

2. The Core

Each manufacturer uses different materials for the core. HDF (High Density Fibreboard) and MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) are two commonly used core materials. Using a fibreboard core creates a structurally strong flooring surface.

3. The Photographic Layer

The core is topped with a high resolution photograph of real hardwood planks. This layer gives the laminate its “wood look.”

4. The Wear Layer

The top layer of laminate flooring is the wear layer. It is an extremely hard protective coating that protects the photographic layer from the wear and tear of everyday life and gives the flooring texture.

What is the difference between laminate and engineered hardwood?

Some misconceptions exist about laminate and engineered hardwood. They are not the same! Engineered hardwood floors have a real wood layer on the surface. This real wood layer is identical to the wood solid hardwood is made of. Laminate floors on the other hand, are not made using a real hardwood. They are made of fibreboard instead and the photographic layer gives the planks their “wood look.”

What are the advantages to using laminate?

Laminate is an inexpensive, durable option that gives the look of hardwood without the hefty price tag. It is more scratch, stain and fade resistant than hardwood.

What is an AC rating?
AC (Abrasion class) ratings are a standardized measurement that measures resistance to moisture, impact, abrasions, stains and burns. The AC rating is an indicator of where the product can be installed.

For your home, a laminate with an AC3 rating is highly recommended as the best choice that balances durability and value.

Rating Description
AC1 Moderate residential – best for areas with light traffic such as bedrooms and closets.
AC2 General residential – best for areas with medium traffic such as bedrooms and closets.
AC3 Heavy residential/Moderate commercial – best for all rooms in a house and for light traffic commercial areas such as small offices.
AC4 General commercial – best for higher traffic commercial areas such as boutiques, restaurants, and busier offices.
AC5 Heavy commercial – best for high traffic commercial spaces like department stores and public buildings.

Where can I install laminate flooring?

Laminate flooring is well-known for its versatility and can be installed almost anywhere. It is suitable for installation over above grade or below grade wood or concrete subfloors. Laminate flooring should not be installed in moist areas such as bathrooms, saunas or enclosed porches. Exposing laminate floors to moisture for extended periods of times may cause the floor to warp or swell.

Do I need to use underlay?

Yes, underlay is necessary for all laminate floor installations. It helps soundproof the floor and hides very minor deviations in the subfloor. Underlay with a vapour barrier is recommended for all below grade installation to keep the moisture away from your floors.

Can laminate be refinished?

No. Laminate floors cannot be refinished like hardwood floors can.

How do I clean laminate flooring?

Check with your manufacturer to see what cleaning methods and products are recommended to keep your floors clean. If you have purchased laminate from MIRA, feel free to give us a call to find out what company manufactured your laminate. If you don’t know the manufacturer of your laminate, we recommend following these basic guidelines:

  • Use a damp cloth to clean up spills as soon as they happen.
  • Sweep, dust or vacuum regularly. If using a vacuum, use a hard surface attachment not a beater bar.
  • Clean the floor using cleaning products designed for laminate floors to prevent harsh chemicals from damaging the finish. We recommend  Bona or Shaw R2X.
  • Use entry mats to collect dirt and grit that could be tracked onto your floor and scratch it.
  • Do not wash or wet mop the floor with soap, water, detergent or any other liquid cleaner.
  • Do not use steam mops or any polishing/buffing machines.

Do you have a question that we didn’t answer? Feel free to give us a call at 604-856-4799.

WCFA ICC Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce Insurance Brokers Association CHOA Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association Better Business Bureau BCAOMA Aviva