What is AC Rating for Laminate Flooring?

When choosing laminate flooring for your residential or commercial location, there's more to consider than which look you like best and the price.

You also have to consider a floor's AC - Abrasion Criteria - rating. This rating helps you choose a laminate option with the durability and performance you need. Different locations require specific ratings that account for the amount of traffic and use. Ratings range from AC1, the least durable, to AC6, extreme commercial use. Most residential homes need AC1 to AC4. 

We're going to discuss everything you need to know about the purpose of a laminate AC rating. We'll also explain why this factor is crucial to the decision-making process when choosing your laminate flooring.  

What is AC Rating? 

If your knowledge of laminate flooring is limited to the different styles and colors, you're probably tapping your foot, wondering what is a laminate AC rating and why should I care? 

In the flooring world, AC is short for Abrasion Criteria. Despite the official-sounding name, what it basically means is how durable a laminate floor is against damage. The performance receives a rating, labeled as AC, and a number from one to six. You'll see this displayed as AC1-AC6.

Other times, companies may use pictograms to label the AC rating. These icons will display a house for residential or a commercial building - and a person (1-3). The number of people refers to the amount of traffic the floor can withstand. 

  • 1 person - moderate 
  • 2 people - general
  • 3 people - heavy

This rating scale is the Abrasion Rating System, developed by an organization called the EPLF (European Producers of Laminate Flooring). Most flooring manufacturers consent to have their different flooring lines tested and rated.  

Independent facilities conduct the testing, which prevents flooring companies from falsely rating their flooring performance. And by following uniform guidelines, all products receive the same testing, regardless of their brand name. 

To determine a laminate floor's AC rating, boards go through a series of tests. Factors that affect the final rating include the piece's resistance to:

  1. Abrasions (tested by rubbing the flooring with sandpaper and moving furniture to test for scratching from castors and legs)
  2. Stains
  3. Impacts (dropping heavy objects to test for chips, dents, or other imperfections)
  4. Burns
  5. Moisture
  6. Swelling around the edges

If the flooring fails any of these tests, it gets disqualified and does not receive a rating. If all the tests receive a passing score, the final results are tallied to form the laminate AC rating. 

What Does AC Rating Mean? 

Now you know what a laminate AC rating is and how it's determined. But have we really explained what it means regarding how you should decide which rating to choose? Absolutely not, but we're not done yet!

As we've explained, the AC rating of laminate flooring determines durability and application. When you're comparing the different flooring models, you'll see them with a rating of AC1 to AC5. Occasionally, you may see an AC6, but these are for extreme commercial use and rarely needed.

The stronger and more durable a floor performs in tests against abrasions, impacts, stains, and burns, the higher rating it will receive. 

When considering the different laminate AC ratings, you'll first need to decide whether you want to use residential or commercial flooring. 

You'll also need to determine your location's traffic intensity. Consider how many people come through the area and how often. The more use a location gets, the stronger you'll want your floor to be against damage. Traffic intensity varies between moderate, general, or heavy. 

Why is the AC Rating Important When Choosing Flooring?

When you're trying to pick new laminate flooring for your residential or commercial property, paying attention to the floor's AC rating can ensure you get a product that will meet your needs. There are multiple reasons to include the AC rating as part of your shopping criteria.

Proven Durability

When flooring has an AC rating, it gives you a good idea of the best locations to use the floor, the performance you can expect, and the proposed lifespan. 

Many cheaper laminates do not offer any rating, which means the product did not pass one or more of the required tests. It could also mean the company chose not to have their flooring tested. 

These floors may perform poorly, easily damaged by moving furniture, foot traffic, children, impacts, or pets. You may also need to replace them more often.

Good quality laminate flooring has a lifespan of fifteen to twenty-five, and sometimes thirty years. In comparison, nonrated laminate flooring may only give you up to ten years of use. 

Affects Price

The floor's AC rating will also play a large factor in the price. As the AC rating goes up, so does the price tag. As expected, commercially AC-rated floorings will cost more than residentially rated flooring. 

  • AC1 - as low as $0.01 per square foot
  • AC2 - $0.10-$1.30 per square foot
  • AC3 - $0.68-$2.84 per square foot
  • AC4 - $0.95-$3.33 per square foot
  • AC5 - $1.88-$2.29 per square foot

Affects Look and Feel

Floors rated AC1 through AC4 are made with a process called Direct Pressure Laminate (DPL). AC5 and AC6 come from High-Pressure Laminate (HPL). 

DPL consists of pressing together four individual layers - wear layer on top, then a decorative sheet, high-density fiberboard, and a balancing layer for the fourth piece. These are cheaper and come in a larger variety of colors and designs. 

HPL uses the same materials as DPL, but they also have phenolic resin-coated kraft paper sheets to provide more stiffness. Then over 1300 PSI fuses these layers with heat in multiple stages. 

The higher a floor's AC rating, the rougher the texture will feel. While a coarse texture might be great for showrooms or public buildings, it's not comfortable enough to use in your home. No one wants to walk around their house wearing shoes. 

Direct Pressure Laminate's procedure also gives the final product more of a realistic look than laminate made with High Pressure. 

Withstands Traffic

AC-rated floors come labeled with the recommended amount of traffic they can sustain. The three options - moderate, general, or heavy, allows you to pick an option suitable for your location.

Consider the number of people that travel within the area at the busiest time of day. Also, figure out how often the room is in use. 

The more use a room gets, the higher the traffic rating you'll want to pick. It will also affect the rating you'll need. More traffic requires a higher AC rating.  

Buying flooring that's incorrectly rated for the amount of traffic it sees can also result in damaged or unsightly floors. No one wants to have flooring with cracks, large scratches, warps, or bowing, which can cause a tripping hazard. 

What are the Differences Between AC Ratings? 

Homes with many people coming through (heavy traffic) may choose to skip a residential rating and go for a low-rated commercial laminate. 

Most residential homes do best with laminate flooring with an AC rating of 1 to 3. AC1 rated floors are suitable for locations with little traffic, like closets and adult bedrooms. 

AC2 ratings offer more resistance for dining rooms and living rooms where there's moderate or general traffic. It could also do well in bedrooms for active children. 

In high traffic areas like bathrooms, kitchens, entryways, or laundry rooms, you'd need an AC3. This flooring may also work for limited light commercial uses like hotel rooms or small offices.

Technically, AC4 rated floors classify as moderate commercial flooring, but they're also valid solutions for residential homes with high traffic, like big families or multiple pets. However, these may have a more coarse feel that can be painful on bare feet.

Commercial properties do better with a commercially rated flooring of AC4 or AC5. In limited cases, you may need to spring for an AC6.

Which AC Rating Should I Choose?

Unfortunately, there is no perfect answer for everyone. Considering your family's size, your socializing habits, pets, and the amount of traffic should help you narrow down the best option. 

Many people use several different floor ratings throughout their homes. You certainly wouldn't need to use a higher durability flooring, which is usually more expensive, in a closet or spare bedroom where anyone rarely goes. 

But you also wouldn't want to use flooring that's rated for moderate traffic in areas of your home where there's a lot of activity, as they would not hold up as well. 

It's okay to shop frugally and choose cheaper-priced flooring. But if you can't find an AC rating listed, it's a smart idea to find another brand. That cheaper cost can mean poor quality. 

In Closing

Laminate flooring comes with an AC rating that helps you determine the product's durability and application. Residential flooring comes rated AC1 to AC3. Some light commercial locations may work with AC3. AC4 is a dual-purpose flooring suitable for heavily trafficked residential areas and light to moderate commercial use. Heavy commercial sites will benefit from an AC5 or even AC6. 

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