Buying a laminate floor might be on your radar after hearing how affordable it is compared to buying real hardwood. With laminate using real wood products inside, it’s become a perennial favorite with floor buyers.
Before buying, you might want to know about an important rating system you’ve likely seen on laminate floor products. It’s known as an AC rating, which stands for “Abrasion Criteria.”
The rating comes from the Abrasion Ratings System devised in Europe years ago. It’s also broken down into five numbers across six categories—with three ratings for residential, and three for commercial.
Take a little deep-dive into what these scores mean and whether the AC ratings apply to other floors.
AC Rating 1
On the lowest end of the AC Rating scale is laminate flooring for residences with only moderate foot traffic.
Those of you who live by yourself in your own home may prefer an AC 1 floor since your floor traffic will clearly be less than anywhere else. The only exception would be if you bring people into your home for private or business parties on a regular basis.
Think bedrooms and closets when it comes to AC 1. It could also apply to other rooms of the house if you think those places are not as well traveled as your bedroom.
A Look at How AC 1 Floors Work in Bedrooms
Perhaps placing a laminate floor in a bedroom seems unusual when so many generations have grown up with carpet there. More people are starting to change their bedroom floors because of how hard it is to keep carpet fully maintained.
Besides, with laminate giving the look and feel of real wood, it can feel like a dream to walk on. The best thing with hardwood is you have surface textures that never become slippery.
Yes, being able to walk on your bedroom floor in your slippers, socks, or bare feet is a good feeling without worrying about slipping and falling.
The aesthetic difference can also be quite striking when placing a laminate floor in a bedroom. No one should be shocked why laminate is starting to go into bedrooms. In other words, the next time you see an AC 1 rating on laminate, you’ll know it’s good to go in rooms where you sleep. Let’s just assume you don’t have A LOT of floor traffic in there.
A Look at How AC 1 Floors Work in Closets
Even in a busy home, a closet isn’t going to receive much floor traffic. Some might argue otherwise if it’s a walk-in closet and the person spends considerable time there choosing or trying on clothes.
For the most part, a closet clearly won’t receive the kind of floor traffic seen in a business. To maintain flooring consistency, you’ll probably want to place laminate flooring in your closet, whether walk-in or not.
Since AC 1 laminate is often used in guest rooms as well, you should use the same floor in the room’s closet. For aesthetic purposes, it’s ideal.
Thanks to laminate also being stain resistant, it’s good to use in your closets if you have pets hanging out there. Urine stains should always be cleaned up immediately, though, to avoid damage.
Best of all, laminate is scratch-resistant at all rating levels, giving you protection if your pet cats play in the closet while hiding away.
A Look at How AC 1 Floors Work in Other Rooms
All possibility may exist you have other rooms at home barely used in a year’s time. Maybe you have a bathroom upstairs that only rarely gets used other than when having occasional guests.
Guest rooms may apply here as well. Any exceptions would have to be kitchens and your main bathrooms. Arguably, we all spend more time in those places than our own living rooms.
AC Rating 2
The next step up in the AC Rating chart is AC 2, or laminate floors applicable in homes with moderate traffic.
In this case, it may apply to living rooms or dining rooms with either one person or maybe a small family. What it wouldn’t apply to is a family living in a residence with numerous kids running around day after day.
You can say the same about a house full of pets, something already challenging if you own laminate floors. Regardless, AC 2 laminate flooring is a good compromise for the general homeowner.
One thing about the lower rated floors is they’ll be cheaper to buy since they have a thinner wear layer. Now you know how important it is to measure exactly how much floor traffic your home receives per day or hour.
How AC 2 Floors Work in Living Rooms
AC 2 floors are usually best suited to two people living in a home. For a newly married couple just buying a new home, this could be the perfect floor.
In a living room, this is a great choice. Just like bedrooms, perhaps the idea of using laminate flooring in a living room seems out of the ordinary. More and more people are starting to use laminate there for aesthetic beauty and because it needs less maintenance than a carpet or other option.
For farmhouses or other homes with a rustic feel, laminate in a living room always looks beautiful. Assuming you and your spouse only walk in there yourselves to watch TV or for other entertainment, an AC 2 floor is an affordable investment.
Further protection of this floor can come from using area rugs or mats in the event major floor traffic occurs once in a while.
How AC 2 Floors Work in Dining Rooms
Whether you buy an AC 2 rated floor for your dining room depends on how much activity there is. On a general level, no one is going to give their dining room extensive floor traffic any more than two to three times per day.
When eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the dining floor might take a bit of wear. However, most of that time is spent sitting at a table anyway during meals.
Unless you hold dinner parties every night with large gatherings, an AC 2 laminate floor for your dining room is perfectly acceptable. When you have rustic surroundings, that laminate floor will also bring unique character to a dining room.
How AC 2 Floors Work in a Children’s Room
According to AC 2 rating charts, a children’s room is usually considered another good place for these floors. If you have a newborn, this would certainly make sense since they won’t be up walking around quite yet.
As your child or children grow older, you may need to find a stronger floor later. Adding a laminate floor to a bedroom for your children can certainly bring character, something they may appreciate themselves. After all, imagine how much cleanup you’d have to do if your children played on a carpet for long hours.
Before you make a final decision on using an AC 2 laminate floor in a children’s room, look ahead to what you’ll really need. Perhaps that room might only get moderate foot traffic now. Once your child becomes a rambunctious preschooler, perhaps an AC 3 floor would be a better investment ahead of time.
AC Rating 3
As you might guess, an AC 3 rating means the floor is the most durable for a home. More homes than ever are being used as work centers due to COVID-19 and the push to start work-from-home scenarios.
In this case, a home can almost be as chaotic as a business. For some people, a home really is a business, if maybe most of the transactions occurring online.
If your home is starting to look more like ground central as a busy office or shipping center, you need to look out for the AC 3 rating when floor shopping.
The rooms best suitable for this rating include busier living rooms, hallways, and home offices.
How AC 3 Floors Work in Busy Living Rooms
Every living room is going to differ when it comes to how busy they are. Those of you who hold parties and business gatherings in your living room every week will likely wear your laminate floor out faster.
Looking for an AC 3 rated laminate floor is fairly common and considered the most purchased by residential buyers. Some of those buyers may be playing it safe to buy for heavy traffic in the event it ever happens in the future.
As noted above, if you’re planning to have heavier floor traffic in your living room someday due to business or family, buying AC 3 is a good bet.
Despite that heartier rating, keep in mind laminate floors still need maintenance. You’ll want to keep your laminate living room floor cleaned at least once per week with simple sweeping, vacuuming, or dry mopping.
How AC 3 Floors Work in Hallways and Foyers
Nothing extensive needs to be said about how busy hallways are in homes. You can say the same about foyers where foot traffic is sometimes overwhelming.
AC 3 floors are made for these two areas of a home more than anywhere else. No matter if you think you’ll never have a thundering herd of people entering your home immediately, it could happen eventually.
Consider even a home with two people living in it will give plenty of floor traffic in the foyer alone. Going in and out an entryway every single day multiple times is going to wear real wood out without protective layers.
Hallways are no different since it’s the main throughway to all your bedrooms, plus a likely bathroom. When adding kids to that equation, kids may play for hours in a hallway to give them an indoor spot for running.
AC 3 Floors are Also Made for Kitchens, Plus Some Commercial Use
Some might debate whether kitchens are visited as much as bathrooms. They seem about equal in foot traffic.
An AC 3 rated floor is perfect for kitchens when parties and other entertaining becomes a recurring event. If you think you stay in place while preparing meals, you’d probably be surprised at how much floor traffic you’re giving that kitchen floor.
Because these floors are also intended for light commercial use, it’s perfectly acceptable to use an AC 3 floor in your business. Some small businesses don’t receive excessive amounts of floor traffic as seen in a mall or hotel.
Business offices often use these floors, if not even hotel rooms. Still, AC 3 has a separate designation especially for businesses with less human interactions.
AC 3 and AC 4 Floors for Businesses
The reason AC 3 and AC 4 ratings overlap is they both apply to businesses. As seen above, AC 3 ratings do double-duty providing more durability for residences while offering the same for businesses with moderate foot traffic.
Because these two ratings overlap, it does create confusion on occasion. One reason AC 3 is both is because it does cost more, meaning it might be more effective for a business rather than homeowners on tight budgets.
Also, since home and business have seemingly become one of late, AC 3 ratings make more sense now. Since we already told you about AC 3, it’s time to look at AC 4 exclusively since it’s made directly for businesses with generalized traffic.
How AC 4 Floors Work in Offices
Everyone knows how much traffic an office can receive. It’s a given that with employees coming and going for eight hours (if not more) per day, a laminate floor is going to take a beating. An AC 4 rated floor usually is the first choice, albeit some using AC 3 as well.
Determining which rated floor to use in your office will have to be carefully chosen by measuring exactly how much floor traffic the workspace has. Sometimes taking a time-lapse video determines how many times employees and visitors walk that laminate floor on a daily basis.
If you’re observant enough, you may already know how busy your office is. An AC 4 floor may be better, especially if you have customers visiting your office regularly. Yet, with a more abrasive wear layer, it’s not quite as comfortable to walk on.
Businesses with busy shoppers coming and going usually use AC 4 floors.
How AC 4 Floors Work in Smaller Restaurants
A typical place where you’ll see an AC 4 floor beyond an office is in small restaurants or cafes. Foot traffic isn’t quite as bad here as seen in larger eating establishments. Plus, restaurants are never quite as intense in traffic as in a mall.
Some cafes are open 24 hours, so it’s possible a higher rated floor might be in order. Nevertheless, AC 4 will do well in a small restaurant if most of the floor space is only walked on primarily by wait-staff.
Customers are seated most of the time in restaurants and cafes, so it definitely falls under the more moderate foot traffic category.
When you see a list of AC ratings, AC 4 usually lists cafes as one of the best-suited business niches. Even so, many other business applications apply here with these floors. Think “small shops” when going by size comparison.
How AC 4 Floors Work in Boutiques
Another good example of a small shop where AC 4 floors work best is boutiques, if even barber shops. While these can become busy, they don’t have a constant foot traffic problem since customers are again seated most of the time.
Boutique workers are also stationary a lot of the time, if not even seated themselves. These might be designated the only businesses with the least amount of foot traffic, meaning an AC 3 floor could work here as well.
Any exception would be if facing really busy days, and if the boutique has other services where more foot traffic might occur.
All businesses should analyze if they can realistically use laminate in this rating category. If you find out your business has more foot traffic than you ever estimated, AC 5 floors are there for you. Despite being more expensive, they’re designed specifically for what anyone would deem a “large business.”
AC 5 Floors for Very Busy Businesses
Listed as “heavy commercial”, the AC 5 rating is designed for the most intense floor traffic possible. You might think laminate flooring wouldn’t hold up under such traffic. It can when the right amount of wear layer is placed in the product.
Keep in mind AC 5 floors can also be used in residences if the home becomes like Grand Central Station. Perhaps this is uncommon, if maybe not in the work from home era.
Any large business, though, is where these floors will become necessary. In this case, it means malls, department stores, and any type of public building.
How AC 5 Floors Work in Malls
Maybe malls aren’t getting the business they used to, but they still receive more floor traffic than other average businesses. Laminate flooring is sometimes seen in mall walkways, including in certain businesses with rustic ambiances.
With stores lined up along busy mall walkways, any business in a mall is sure to receive more foot traffic than in a standalone location. During the holidays, particularly, the amount of customers walking a laminate floor could give it more wear and tear than it receives normally in a few years.
Yes, the price is usually steeper when buying an AC 5 floor. At least it does pay off over time from having to replace a laminate floor so soon. No mall or mall store wants to disrupt their business because they invested in a flimsier floor when first opening. The cost of having to shut down to replace a worn laminate floor would cost more than the cost of a floor rated AC 5.
Malls are certainly far from businesses receiving the most significant amount of customers at a time.
How AC 5 Floors Work in Department Stores
Sure, department stores are not quite as prevalent as they used to be. This isn’t to say many still don’t exist, including the big corporate stores like Target and Walmart.
These stores need an AC 5 floor as much as malls do. Many of these big-name stores usually have the budgets to invest in AC 5 floors. Some of the smaller department stores still existing maybe don’t have quite the same budget.
Again, a good argument exists to invest in AC 5 floors for stores like this, outside of maybe getting heavy foot traffic only part of the year. In a COVID-19 world, maybe such an investment doesn’t make much sense at the moment. Once the virus is gone, it’s likely to bring a rush of customers back through those department store doors.
Of course, retail businesses like malls and department stores don’t stand alone in being AC 5 floor candidates.
How AC 5 Floors Work in Public Buildings
Using the word “commercial” can sometimes be malleable when it comes to using laminate floors in large buildings. Public buildings fall under the category of gaining heavy floor traffic without necessarily being commercial businesses.
Governmental services would be the best definition here. Employees may be coming and going out of these buildings for long hours every day. Social service buildings would also have clients entering and exiting all week long.
These types of laminate floors are also very abrasive, so they shouldn’t be used if wanting foot comfort. Some homeowners may feel tempted to get this type of floor just so they have the most durable floor available. It’s not really made for residential use and only for floors walked on the most.
Beyond public buildings, these floors could also be used in industrial plants where heavy equipment is used. Certainly not all industrial centers will be using laminate floors, unless part of the building is used for public visitations.
Anything attracting tourists would also apply here, if also hospitals at the most extreme end.
What Other Floors Use an AC Rating?
Only laminate flooring was ever designated the AC rating system. Regardless, many people assume vinyl floors have a similar system to go by.
Well, they’re right, except it’s not based on abrasion criteria. Instead, vinyl goes under its own durability measurement process. You’ve probably seen it listed on vinyl floor labels if you’ve ever shopped for vinyl before: The wear layer.
What other differences are there between wear layer and AC ratings? Vinyl ultimately gets measured by mils rather than by a numbered score.
The Different Coatings on Laminate and Vinyl Floors
Wear layer goes by the urethane coating seen on vinyl floors, which varies in thickness level based on price. In comparison, the AC rating goes by how much aluminum oxide is used on the coating of laminate floors.
In both cases, it’s going to determine how long the floor lasts under specific circumstances. One major difference is urethane coating only protects from scratches, stains, and scuffing. Vinyl floors can still get stains and dents, something that’s an occasional liability in busy floor spaces.
With aluminum oxide, extra protection is there to prevent dents, plus fading. It’s no surprise why laminate is chosen for more durability, if vinyl still being a popular seller.
Homeowners are more apt to buy vinyl over a giant place like a mall. Then again, it all depends on what the floor will have to go through, which varies by each individual or business.
Properly Measuring Wear Layer On Vinyl
Should you decide to go with vinyl instead, measuring the proper wear layer requires a little basic math. “Mil” is short for millimeters, or how thick the wear layer is.
The layers fall under three typical categories: 6, 12, and 20. The 6 is the lesser of the three and 20 the thickest. Thanks to vinyl having a clear PVC film on top, you’ll be able to receive substantial durability at 6 mil.
General consensus from flooring brands like Shaw Floors says high traffic walkways in homes usually requires a 12 or 20 mil vinyl floor for the utmost protection. Like AC 1 laminate floors, a 6 mil floor is fine if you have rooms with people sitting most of the time rather than walking.
Businesses sometimes buy 20 mil vinyl floors, proving vinyl floors are not always relegated to residential use. Arguably, an AC 5 laminate floor would be a better choice for a business with customers walking in every day. Vinyl still continues making the leap between home and business.
Other Durability Measurements for Laminate Exist
It’s worth noting a couple other numerical and grading scales are used for laminate flooring. In Europe, a utility class system is set up there to determine durability, plus impact resistance.
Any of you reading from Europe will know this as EN 13329, using a unique classification scale with seven levels.
On the lowest end is Classes 21 to 23, indicating the laminate is made strictly for residential use. Classes 31 to 34 measure the different levels of heavy commercial use. Keep in mind the last digit in each number works similarly to the AC rating system.
EN 13329 also has a class measurement of between 41 to 43, indicating industrial use only.
Yet another measurement is The NALFA Certification Seal where laminate floor is given ten specific durability tests. These range from how much static load the floor can take to testing surface bond.
A Couple of Floors With AC Ratings
Now that you know how important AC ratings are, it’s time to look at real laminate floor products utilizing those scores.
Some of the best-known flooring manufacturers in the world use AC ratings to determine your real laminate flooring needs. Names ranging from Armstrong to COREtec are some of the leaders in the realm of laminate.
To gain a better perspective on how the AC ratings work on specific products, it pays to look at a couple of products at a time as a comparison chart. Let’s take a look at how these ratings work on Armstrong and Shaw Floors.
Armstrong Laminate Flooring Ratings
There still isn’t a flooring manufacturer as comprehensive as Armstrong. Perhaps COREtec has stolen some of their thunder thanks to stronger and more durable laminate flooring products.
Armstrong laminate flooring is truly made to last, though, no matter what the AC index is. One good product to consider is Armstrong’s Rustics Premium collection, usually retailing to the commercial market.
In these products, they typically rate at AC 3, making them right in that sweet spot of being usable at home or in a commercial business. This kind of wear layer should hold up well for a decade with moderate foot traffic.
Slightly thicker wear layers exist in Armstrong’s Premium Collection. You’ll get a little higher AC rating since these floor wear layers are in the 12 mm range.
Shaw Laminate Floor Ratings
Those familiar with Shaw will know they’ve become an equal with Armstrong in creating strong floors in many categories. Their laminate floors are especially nice, mostly because they’re some of the most durable on the market. Plus, the aesthetics are undeniably stunning.
You’ll find a full spectrum of AC ratings on Shaw laminate floors. For instance, they do offer lower rated floors made for small households. In their Huron Bay collection, you can find laminate wear layers at only 8mm thick. Not everyone wants to buy an AC 3 floor if they realize they don’t really need it in their home. Offering AC 1 floors offers a more affordable price besides, not including further discounts when shopping online. Another in the Shaw line includes their Classic Concepts laminate floor at only 7mm. Buying this is one of the most affordable for anyone owning a home, if only living there alone. A sizeable market exists for single people who also own homes. For them, an AC 1 laminate floor won’t seem like skimping in any capacity.
More Popular Laminate Floors with AC Ratings
Armstrong and Shaw are far from the only top names in producing the world’s best laminate floors. Others include COREtec and Audacity, both of which spring off of the prior brands. COREtec happens to be owned by Shaw now after a recent flooring company acquisition. With that, they now offer one of the most luxurious and durable laminate floors in the world. While COREtec does cost more, it pays to look carefully at their AC ratings. An AC 5 floor from them could be very costly compared to an AC 3. Take a look at a few more laminate floor brands to consider which of the AC ratings would work best for you.
COREtec Laminate Floors
Not all COREtec floors receive an AC rating, mostly because they’re a different from usual laminate. Nevertheless, you can still gauge the thickness level when looking directly at the label. Numerous levels exist in the COREtec line, enabling a wide variance of thickness levels for a variety of situations. Their basic COREtec Pro is one of their most popular and basic collections.
Thickness levels of their planks have a 20 mil wear layer, which would be equivalent to a solid AC 3 or AC 4 floor. The secret to their thickness is their use of a solid polymer core, not including an attached cork underlayment for superior heat retention/sound control. Going further in their string of floor collections, you can go as high as COREtec’s Pro Plus series. They even put out an Enhanced Planks collection, providing a 20 mil wear layer designed for both homes and businesses.
While COREtec is mentioned here because it’s top of the line, be sure to check out other products that market directly as laminate floors. Plenty of other options exist, with most falling under the price of COREtec since latter brand is now considered the most luxurious and expensive today.
Audacity Laminate Floors
One of Armstrong’s offshoot brands is Audacity, now a leader in laminate flooring. The wear rating on these floors is quite high like COREtec and made for some serious walking. A good example of the strength in these floors comes in their Jackson’s Hole laminate with an AC rating of 4. Marketed as the “ultimate” laminate flooring, the wear layer is only part of what makes it so popular. Water-resistance and easy maintenance makes it a first choice nowadays by home and business owners.
Just about all of the floors from the Audacity line come in AC 4, and usually with 11mm thickness. With extended warranties besides, you’re going to be set up for many years without any risks. If slightly more expensive, you can still find good deals through discount stores online.
Chesapeake Laminate Floors
One standalone laminate brand you should consider is Chesapeake. These floors are also known for their extreme thickness level (12mm), plus gaining an AC 4 rating.
Thanks to an appearance and texture of hardwood, it’s a perfect fit for those wanting real wood in their floors. In addition, it has a 72-hour water resistance, helping it survive any minor flooding.
Any home or business with constant floor traffic in the kitchen area, bathroom, or laundry room will want to look into this brand. Collections like Driftwood are always popular and more affordable than the brands listed above.
Other Laminate Options
Armstrong has so many sub-collections available, it’s sometimes hard to keep up with them all. You may want to check out their other line of laminate floors that also list AC ratings.
Collections like Architectural Remnants demonstrate how Armstrong continues to diversify in their laminate floor products. Also check out their Hearthside and Premier Classics collections. Chesapeake laminate flooring additionally has variations with their Vortex and Vortex Essentials lines.
What is the Best Source for Buying Laminate Flooring?
Finding the right store to buy laminate flooring might be as challenging as negotiating price. Both of those go hand-in-hand anyway since where you buy often dictates what you’ll pay. Going to big box stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s will probably mean paying full retail price for your laminate floor. If buying an AC 5 floor besides, this means paying double what you’d pay if going through an online discount store.
Buying a laminate floor from discount sources is always your best bet. Before you buy, here’s a good suggestion on how to get all above brands of laminate floor with AC ratings.
Finding Commercial Grade and Residential Laminate
Floor City is a leader in providing the best laminate flooring products in the world at prices you can’t find anywhere else. When looking for commercial grade or residential laminate, you’ll be able to find Armstrong and all other brands mentioned above at prices often 10% lower. Plus, if needing any questions answered about these types of floors, a knowledge staff is there.
AC ratings can sometimes still be confusing in knowing exactly what rooms work best. With an experienced customer service team, they’ll help explain how the ratings apply to you. Because commercial grade floors and residential often overlap nowadays, you can often get a laminate floor suitable for either.
Finding Light Commercial Laminate Floors
One thing Floor City staff will never do is try to sell you on something more expensive for no good reason. Answering questions is important to them so they can find you exactly what you need rather than merely make a sale. Not every customer is going to need an AC 5, AC 4, or even AC 3 laminate floor. Sometimes even an AC 2 or 1 will do in certain unique circumstances.
For light commercial laminate floors, AC 3 is usually the most common used, something the Floor City staff can help better clarify. All of this goes on numerous variables beyond floor traffic. It can also relate to climate and how much weight the floor will have from furniture.
Finding Resilient Laminate Flooring
With the mention of vinyl earlier having its own rating system, you’ll want to look into resilient flooring options as well. Resilient means any floor with asphalt or resin for extra strength. Laminate flooring is still stronger than resilient flooring, though, since materials like vinyl will more easily scratch or dent (as you learned earlier).
Floor City is there to help you find what you really need, including any further questions about laminate AC ratings. After all, shopping for a new floor always means going by dozens of details beyond just a score.