When buying laminate flooring several things come into play. You want to stay in your budget range, you want to find visual characteristics of the flooring that you will love, you can explore numerous options like wide plank, narrow planks long planks, smooth, hand scraped, high gloss, low gloss, and of course a world of different colors and designs. But in all those options to consider, maybe one of the most important things you need to understand is your AC rating. AC is a term that scores the abrasion resistance of a laminate floor
“Abrasion Resistance - The resistance or toughness of a surface against damage due to friction or scuffs; test abrasion using the coefficient of friction (COF). When buying laminate flooring, look for the term AC rating to learn about that products abrasion resistance”
More flooring terms can be found in this blog post
Think of AC rating as the durability of the surface of the flooring, specifically the scratch, scuff and wear resistance of your top a layer.
Here is a common guide to durability ratings:
AC1: Laminate floors with this rating are made for residential use with low to moderate traffic. Can be installed in bedrooms and guest rooms
AC2: laminate floors with this rating are made for residential use with general traffic. Can be installed in living rooms and dining rooms.
AC3 residential: laminate floors with this rating are made for residential use with heavy traffic. Can be installed in all areas of the home.
AC3 commercial: laminate floors with this rating are made for commercial use with moderate traffic can be installed in hotel rooms and small offices.
AC4: laminate floors with this rating are made for commercial use with general traffic. Can be installed in offices cafés and stores.
AC5: laminate floors with this rating are made for commercial use with heavy traffic. Can be installed in public builds and department stores.
Without making you read for too much longer, the punchline of what you likely need: your typical buyer in North America, for a residence with two adults, one or two children, maybe a small pet… then you are usually looking for an AC3 product. That's the most common standard AC rating that you're going to find in homes across North America. It can handle your day to day living and not get worn down. If you have very rambunctious kids, medium to larger pets, or have a rental property that you have concerns that renters are going to be hard on your flooring, then AC4 or AC5 should be considered.
I understand that what I just said slightly contradicts the above chart of the 5 ratings… but it is just my opinion.
Also Note: most of the market is AC3 so most of the options that factories produce are AC3 products. So when you look for AC4 and AC5 products, be prepared to have a limited selection or styles and colours to choose from. This is why deciding on the appropriate AC rating before you explore too many color / style options is worthwhile. You can narrow do the wear layer resistance first, no the durability your space requires, and then find the appropriate flooring.
If you have a commercial location then you want to start to look at an AC4 or an AC5. You can get away with an AC3 for very light commercial, but I believe that could be looking for trouble and if the traffic is too high, you will void the warranty. I really do recommend at least an AC4 for any commercial activity. You want your floor to be durable and in its not that much more money to jump up to the next level. And you will not need to worry about voiding your warranty.
Sadly, in this industry some sellers will play games and try and sell an AC2 as an AC3. That is why you always deal with a reputable seller who has products from a reputable manufacturer. It happens less and less today, because consumers are more educated and aware, but years ago I remember this being an issue. More specially, I would be very leery of a seller that can not immediately tell you the AC rating for their products. It should be clearly visible on a box of flooring in a store, or for an online seller, it should be clearly listed on the sku specs. I find it completely unfair when an online seller does not display the AC rating. If they do not, then move on. It’s a bad sign and you should be suspicious of that seller.
Be educated. Its’ your best defense. Walk away from sellers that are not very upfront and transparent on this topic. They are playing games, find a trustworthy seller to deal with instead.
Here is a common statement from a reputable seller / manufacture. Clearly stated on a box of laminate flooring, in this case an AC4 product from Canadian manufacture Uniboard.
AC4 with 35 Year Residential Warranty. Commercial grade: engineered for exceptional wear resistance.
Maintenance Guide: vacuuming sweeping and on occasional damp cloth is usually all you need to keep your floors clean. For heavy cleaning a nonabrasive household cleaner or a cleaner a specially formulated for laminate floors.
Simply use a slightly moistened cloth to avoid excessive water on the floor for specific stains or cleaning questions please call or technical support line.
Place a rug or a doormat near any outside door. Place felts or similar protections under floor legs or any heavy objects. Always lift heavy furniture never pull or drag. For chairs with wheels it is recommended that the wheels be placed with one designed for hardwood floors. Yoon implored laminate flooring has a prefinished surface and must never be sanded or treated with furniture polish.
Look for stores that will list the AC rating right beside the price, the thickness and the name/colour. These are the basics that any informed buyer should have at your disposal to ensure the price you are paying is fair for the product specification.
Need more help with buying decision? Here are some other resources to help you:
Flooring Term reference guide for Vancouver / Richmond BC floor buyers, covers terms to help understand laminate, LVT vinyl, engineered hardwood flooring buying process.