Laminate flooring arrived in the United States in the 1990s, and since then confusion has reigned as the category attempts to cross the threshold into the light commercial arena. Many professionals, including myself, have been uncertain about the product's ability to perform in these situations. In my case, rather than being sorry, I have always been safe.

This article will not make future decisions black and white, but should provide some useful guidelines when considering laminate flooring for light commercial settings. Interviews with a cross-section of manufacturer representatives, representing segments from technical service to sales and marketing, revealed various company approaches, perspectives and a consistent logic that can be employed for the final decision.

Witex provides a chart for light to moderate commercial installations that separates the possibilities into three categories: "highly recommended," "recommended" and "not recommended." Technical Services Manager Scott Boeger cites an example in the medical and healthcare field: waiting rooms, nurse's stations and physical therapy areas would be "highly recommended," while labor and delivery rooms, operating rooms and restrooms would be considered "not recommended," yet they all exist in a single environment.

Terry Fitzpatrick, manager of installation services at Mannington, feels the best tool a professional has for the decision is common sense. Light commercial means just that: light. For example, a Wells Fargo Bank branch in downtown Los Angeles may not be considered suitable because of the heavy foot traffic, but the small hometown bank in Anytown, U.S.A. with a third of the traffic may be fine. Fitzpatrick suggests calling the manufacturer if there is any doubt.

Formica has developed a "Warranty and Specifications" sheet for light commercial that lists the specifics of their product's warranty, conditions that should be met, a disclaimer and, most important, care and maintenance instructions.

Curt Haffner of Wilsonart suggests that the primary attributes needed for light commercial installations are: impact, indent, adequate wear characteristics, good dimensional stability, excellent moisture resistance and good design.

Mark Kieckhafer, Alloc's marketing director, uses a shopping mall as an example: In most cases, the shops would be considered light commercial, but he would discourage the use of laminate in the main corridors, elevators, delivery aisles or any path that may see a high concentration of localized traffic. Kieckhafer also recommends calling the manufacturer for input.

The bottom line is, light commercial can be defined in various ways. Listed below are some key guidelines that will make the decision easier.

  • Call the manufacturer for any printed information that describes the warranty, care, maintenance, conditions or use of the product in a light commercial setting.
  • Investigate the environment where the product may be used, discuss in the detail with the end user the requirements for ongoing maintenance and see if they are capable and willing to follow your recommendations.
  • Avoid areas that are prone to heavy cleaning or spillage, e.g. public restrooms and operating rooms.
  • Discuss the flow of traffic in the present and long term. Then ask yourself the question: Is this the right product for the job?
  • When faced with borderline or questionable projects, always consult the manufacturer of the product for their input.
  • Document your research, list the people you spoke with and when. Enclose a copy with care and maintenance instructions in the project file.

    Remember that any product, regardless of environment, cannot perform to expectations unless an ongoing maintenance program with brand-specific floor cleaning products is followed correctly, with special consideration given to location, traffic and cleaning frequency. In addition, preventive measures should be discussed with the customer in terms of floor protectors for chairs or heavy furnishings, wide-bearing, non-staining casters for rolling traffic and, at the space's entrance, well-placed door mats that are cleaned often. This conversation with your customer is by far the most important ingredient for a successful long-term installation.

    Light commercial installations can be a huge profit center for laminate flooring. Most manufacturers reduce the terms and length of the product warranties when used in a light commercial installation; make that point clear to the end user purchasing the floor.

    Remember, common sense is the key; if it is not suitable, "DON'T DO IT!" I remember a quote that a close friend shared with me years ago: "You never lost money on a job you didn't do!"