Like other big box stores, the Lowe's Home Improvement chain carries a variety of house brands, most of which are made by renowned major manufacturers but branded with labels that are specific to the retailer. For laminate flooring, Lowe's carries several well-known national brands, including Pergo, Quick-Step, and allen + roth, but its house brand is Style Selections, a moderately robust line of several different laminate flooring selections that mimic natural woods. The Style Selections brand also includes some luxury vinyl products, but those products were not reviewed.
Costs of Style Selections laminates cost around $.99 per square foot, making them considerably more affordable than the national brands, where a cost range of $2 to $4 per square foot is more common. But can you buy this bargain brand and feel confident that you are getting a quality flooring product?
The origins and manufacturers of the house brands sold in large chains are closely guarded secrets, and Style Selections flooring is no exception. It is virtually impossible to know what flooring manufacturer(s) make Style Selections, but you can rest assured that virtually all of these flooring products are now manufactured in the United States using materials from the United States and Europe.
After a 2015 "60 Minutes" feature that alerted consumers to the dangers of formaldehyde in flooring products sold at Lumber Liquidators, Lowe's found that some of their flooring sourced in China also contained unhealthy levels of chemicals. The company has since systematically discontinued those products. It is likely that today's Style Selections flooring is made by one or more of the major U.S. flooring manufacturers, and nearly certain that they are now free of formaldehyde. If in doubt, look for the CARB Phase 2 Compliant notification on the product, which verifies that the flooring meets California safety standards for formaldehyde emissions.
A hint regarding the manufacturing origins of Style Selections flooring may be the locking system used to join the planks together. Style Selections uses a system known as SwiftLock, which is also the brand name of a small selection of Lowe's flooring manufactured by Armstrong. SwiftLock has been another house brand for Lowe's since 2001. This flooring, as well as Style Selections, uses a type of joining method that is considerably more secure than simple tongue-and-groove, and which is slightly different than other forms of "click-and-lock" flooring. Armstrong's iteration of this system for their brand is called (and trademarked) Lock & Fold. Lock & Fold is the same system as SwiftLock, which is also the joining system used in Style Selection flooring. It seems likely that the Style Selections house brand is closely affiliated with the Armstrong manufacturing network. Lending further evidence is the fact that some of Armstrong's vinyl tile falls within a product line also known as Style Selections.
The SwiftLock Advantage
The SwiftLock system developed by Armstrong and now used in Style Selections flooring was not the first "click-and-lock" method used for laminate flooring, but this newer system did aim to solve one vexing problem: the tendency of the "short ends" of the flooring planks to disengage.
In click and lock laminate flooring, the long sides of the planks generally present no problem. But many factors—such as length and the cushion effect of underlayment—can cause "ridges to form in the upper horizontal surface between the laminate planks resulting in an uneven walking surface," according to the wording of the SwiftLock patent.
The SwiftLock method offered a way to join both the long sides and the short ends for a laminate floor that was completely locked together and immune to the end joints separating, as was common with other systems.
The success of the joining system is critical to the overall success of any laminate flooring. The system needs to be easy enough for a homeowner to install, yet secure enough to prevent joints from separating over time, which can be disastrous in any location where moisture is a possibility.
First, should a joint open, a refrigerator water-line leak, dishwasher overflow, or even snow melting on the floor may introduce water into the fiberwood core of the flooring, quickly ruining it. Separated or "lipped" joints will quickly lead to peeling and delamination of the surface layer. And a laminate floor is not one you can sand down and refinish.
Installation of our Style Selections test floor was somewhat more difficult than the "SwiftLock" name would indicate. As with most locking laminate flooring systems, there were two parts to the process for locking each plank: First, the long edge is locked to the adjoining plank, then the short end joint is locked.
Locking the long edges was not an entirely smooth process. We often found there was often still a hairline gap between planks after locking them, which required disengaging the planks and repositioning them. Several attempts were sometimes needed to get a perfect, tight seam.
The short end joints were similarly tricky. While the instructions indicate that you can simply snap these joints into place with your thumb, in our installation, we found it necessary to apply one to three sharp blows with a rubber mallet to bring the adjacent boards level with one another. Because the planks are made of brittle fiberboard, it's easy to destroy them by accident. Too many blows ruined the board, requiring us to remove and replace it.
We reviewed the installation 2 1/2 years after installation. The wear layer held up surprisingly well, even though chairs are continually pushed back and forth over the flooring. Light scratches developed in these areas, but this is expected with any laminate flooring.
Plank seams were still a problem, in two ways. In our test installation, a few of the side joints had opened up, allowing the plants to slide back and form by a small amount—1/16 to 1/8 inch. Second, when the flooring was viewed from a low angle, a very slight curl upward was evident in a few of the plank ends. The curling could not be felt underfoot, but it is possible this curling will increase with time.
However, these issues are common with most laminate flooring. For an economy flooring, Style Selection performed as well or better than most.
Bottom Line: A Decent Economy Laminate
Although the appearance and durability of Style Selections flooring are average, the prices at Lowe's are consistently low and the availability of the product is very good. Lowe's does not appear to cycle out flooring runs very often. This can be an important factor if you expect to expand into other rooms at a later date. When companies cycle out flooring frequently, it becomes impossible for a homeowner to perfectly match the flooring in neighboring rooms.
The photo layer of Style Selections flooring looks great from a standing distance, and nearly as good at close range. Only a careful examination at a distance of a few inches reveals the pixel pattern in the photo layer.
Most Style Selections products are 8 millimeters thick, which is at the low end of laminate flooring. More expensive products tend to be around 12 millimeters thick. Thickness means that you get a more solid-feeling floor, of course, but it also means that the manufacturer can emboss deeper texture. On the 8 millimeters products, we found the embossing on Style Selections to be sufficient for providing a minimal wood grain and traction for walking but falling well short of being luxurious.