Spanning just 20 years, the history of laminate flooring is still relatively short. And what makes it even more exciting is the fact that you’ll be hard pushed to find another floor covering has developed so quickly and conquered such large shares of the market. Anywhere that has the potential for growth requires regulatory tools, which is why laminate flooring association EPLF, which was founded in 1994, was the first to set itself the task of producing a European laminate flooring standard. The work of developing product and test standards is the main job of EPLF’s Technical Committee, which has been successfully managed by the Belgian Dr. Theo Smet for a number of years. Its work also includes permanent lobbying work at CEN and ISO level, which is also overseen in the association by the competent Dr. Smet.
The monumental work achieved by the association in its first few years included the development of a European laminate flooring standard. EN 13329, which determined a system of load classes for floor coverings, was the first product standard of its type. Classes 21 to 23 for private homes and classes 31 to 33 for commercial buildings allowed laminate flooring to be classified by its intensity of use and thereby ensured transparency on the market. The new standard finally put an end to varying rates of abrasion (at the time, companies tried to outperform each other by offering higher figures) as alongside abrasion values, the evaluation includes a number of other product characteristics, such as impact resistance and sensitivity to light.
Collaboration in the relevant CEN and ISO committees is a must if standardisation work is to be successful. Laminate flooring was integrated in CEN TC 134 as a new product in the mid-Nineties along with textile and elastic coverings. It has certainly been in good hands since. Anything that is discussed or decided at CEN level about laminate flooring is reflected in CEN TC 134. At ISO level, EPLF is involved in ISO TC 219. Following the successful implementation of EN 13329, the ISO standard for laminate flooring joined the platform some time later. At present, it is available as a draft, but has not yet been published. Thanks to intensive preparatory work on the European laminate flooring standard, the association was able draw on a great deal of key content. The load classes system, for example, was adopted in the draft ISO standard.
Anyone who thinks that nothing happened during the phase between the development of these two key standards is mistaken. In parallel with the standardisation work, EPLF’s Technical Committee has continued to deal with issues and problems regarding laminate flooring. During this time, a wealth of technical innovations have come about, such as the development of adhesive-free laying systems and footstep sound insulation, the optimisation of printing techniques, the development of new formats and structures and the improvement of technical characteristics such as abrasion resistance, swelling, resistance to scratches and so on. Many of these topics are handled by individual manufacturers, but some are better solved when a number of companies are involved. That’s why they are brought up in the Technical Committee.
After successfully implementing EN 13329 and initiating the ISO standard, you would think that the key standardisation work had been achieved, but new challenging projects soon came the association’s way. At CEN level, the European Construction Products Directive began to take effect, and with it, more stringent requirements in terms of the safety, health and environmental protection aspects of floor coverings. How laminate flooring responds to fire and emissions in indoor areas are key aspects in this respect. The so-called harmonised CE standard, EN 14041, harmonised existing standards and guidelines on this topic and determined minimum requirements.
But the CE standard was just the beginning. As society is becoming more and more concerned about the environment, planners and architects require proof of sustainability from manufacturers of construction products. Environmental Product Declarations (or EPDs) were the response to this issue. An EPD describes the life of a product from manufacture to disposal, and provides detailed information about consumption of resources, greenhouse potential and other ecological parameters. EPLF was one of the first associations to make EPDs for floor coverings available to its members. They can be viewed on and downloaded from the website of the German Institute of Construction and Environment at www.bau-umwelt.de.
In addition to a number of individual CEN committees in which EPLF is active as well as in TC 134, new projects are always cropping up, as technical advancement and political innovations never let up. EPLF has been involved with drum sound measurement for years, but it is an extremely difficult topic to make tangible. A draft for a drum sound standard is currently available, but it still has to be validated. Things progressed much faster with the draft standard for underlay materials, which was developed within one year and will soon be submitted to CEN. There is a lot to do at present and the future will be busy too. EPLF’s Technical Committee will continue to face up to its challenges with sound specialist knowledge, tireless diligence and creative know-how.
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