The American National Standards Institute's recent approval of residential laminate flooring performance standards developed by the North American Laminate Flooring Association in some ways marks the maturation of the laminate product segment in the United States.

Now, laminate floors have an accepted benchmark of performance and quality -- comparable to standards previously instituted for related products such as hardwood flooring, carpet and resilient floors -- to which manufacturers can aspire and upon which consumers may confidently rely. No longer an unfamiliar upstart product from Europe, laminates in less than a decade have solidly established their place in the U.S. flooring market.

Development of laminate standards was the driving force behind NALFA's 1997 formation, says Bill Dearing, president of the association. The group, which numbers among its member companies some of the more well known names in the product segment, spent roughly one year devising minimum performance standards for laminates and then submitted them to ANSI to undergo an approval process that typically takes about 18 months.

By all accounts, the NALFA-authored standards sailed through the ANSI approval protocol. "There were no challenges to speak of," says Dearing. "We did our homework correctly."

With its top priority accomplished, NALFA has turned its attention to establishing minimum standards for commercial laminate flooring. Dearing says NALFA is about four to five months into the year-long process required to get proposed standards ready for submission to ANSI.

The association will remain a force in the laminate industry even after its work on the commercial standards is complete, he added. "NALFA will probably evolve into more of a watchdog of the industry and of legislation that could affect the product category," Dearing explains. "NALFA is not structured as a marketing association, but it may be one day."