What Is Style Selections?
Style Selections is the name of the house brand of hundreds of products carried by Lowe's Home Improvement stores. While Style Selections produces luxury vinyl as well, this article only concerns laminate flooring.
Quick Review: "A Decent Economy Laminate"
As a house brand, prices are kept consistently low. Appearance and durability are middling.
Availability is high. Lowe's does not appear to cycle out flooring runs very often. This is important if you first install in one room, then decide to expand into other rooms several years later. When companies cycle out floors with regularity, it becomes impossible for a homeowner to achieve perfect matching in neighboring rooms.
This is a decent economy laminate floor--nothing spectacular, nothing horrendously bad, either.
Summary and Update
I first installed a Style Selections floor 2.5 years ago. Wear layer is still holding surprisingly well, even with chairs that are continually pushed back and forth. Light scratches have shown in these areas, but this is to be expected.
Plank ends are still a problem, in two ways. First, there is the matter of joints (See "But Does It Lock 'Swiftly'?" below). In some cases, side joints have opened up, and the boards slide back and forth about 1/16" to 1/8". Naturally, this has happened in the worst possible place--right in front of the sink.
Second, when I look at the flooring from a low angle, I see that a couple of plank ends have begun to ever-so-slightly curl upward. It's not bad enough to be noticeable in other lights or angles, and I do not feel the curling under foot. Still, it concerns me that it will only get worse over time.
If you're looking for laminate flooring at Lowe's, you'll probably encounter a bargain-priced brand called Style Selections, which uses the SwiftLock locking technique.
Now, I've all but given up on trying to piece together the provenance of laminate flooring--who makes it, who brands it, who carries it--because it's almost as if manufacturers and retailers willfully try to keep this information secret. But I've managed to pull a few strings apart:
SwiftLock has been around since 2001 as a partnership between Lowe's and Armstrong Flooring, and it applies to a certain type of joining device that was ground-breaking at the time whereby two planks are joined with a method that holds the panels more firmly than simple tongue-and-groove. Armstrong's own iteration of this is called (and trademarked) Lock & Fold. Different name, same thing.
These weren't the first folding/locking types of laminate on the market. But they did solve one vexing problem: the tendency of the "short ends" of the flooring planks to disengage.
The long sides presented no problems. But many factors--length, cushion effect of underlayment, and others-- caused "ridges to form in the upper horizontal surface between the laminate panels resulting in an uneven walking surface," according to the product's patent.
This Swiftlock method was a way to join both the short and long sides, for a completely locked laminate floor.
Why The Joint Matters
You'll use many different factors to determine if a brand of laminate flooring is right for you. Some things are obvious to the naked eye; you don't need to be a flooring expert.
Any homeowner can tell if they like the way the flooring looks--this is the second layer down, right below the clear wear layer, and it's called the photo layer. Texturing contributes to the visual appeal, too. Thicker laminates may be heavily textured.
But the joint gets overlooked, which is a shame because joinery is 50% of your installation process (the other 50% being cutting the material). I've seen opened and resealed laminate flooring boxes at home improvement stores returned solely because planks were too difficult to join.
Post-installation, you don't want your joints to fail.
First, should a joint open, it may introduce water into your flooring fiberwood core, if you should experience an emergency such as a fridge water-line leak, freezer defrost, or a dishwasher overflow.
Secondly, even if you don't have water damage, you just don't want separated or "lipped" joints. Laminate not being real wood, it will peel and de-laminate unmercifully at the first sign of lippage. Real wood, by contrast, would be easy to sand down to level and fill with putty should this occur.
But Does It "Lock Swiftly"?
I was less concerned with "swift" locking than I was with "sure" locking. After all, how many times in my life will I be installing this floor? Answer: once. So, I reasoned that I could afford to take a little extra time. But solidity mattered greatly because you can't do much to fix a bad laminate joint.
There are two parts involved in the joining process. First, you lock the long side of the plank. Then you bring the two sides together and lock them in position.
Lengthwise locking didn't work as smoothly as I would have liked. Often, I would "lock" the planks, only to discover a hairline gap between them. Usually, the cure is to lift up the board again--this time a bit higher--and then let it drop back into place.
I did say "usually" because sometimes, even after this fix, I would still have a hairline gap. The only fix at this point was to lay on the floor for greater traction and pull the last plank toward me. A swift pull was usually enough to close the gap.
But the real issue is the side joints. Instructions said to snap this joint into place with your thumb. I found that this was impossible: between one and three sharp blows with a rubber mallet were needed to close the gap and bring two adjacent boards to level with each other.
Because the joints are made of brittle fiberboard, it's easy to destroy them by accident. If you don't get your side joint in place within three blows of the mallet, you're out of luck. More blows will only damage the tongue/groove profile, requiring you to pull a new board (or two) out and start again.
Cost and Appearance of Style Selections
SwiftLock is affiliated with Lowe's house brand called Style Selections (Armstrong once did employ the SwiftLock name but no longer does so).
I found Style Selections' overall cost to be reasonable, ranging from $1.00 to $3.18 per square foot. Expensive means thicker. Low-cost product runs 8mm thick, with the most expensive laminates being 12mm thick. Thickness means that you get a more solid-feeling floor, of course, but it also means that the manufacturer can emboss deeper texture.
For instance, the popular hand-scraped texture is all but impossible to emboss on 8mm material. I found the embossing on the 8mm product to be sufficient to provide a minimal wood-grain appearance and traction for walking. But it's certainly nothing amazing.
The photo layer looks great from standing distance. Should you need to get down on the floor (spilled milk? chasing the baby?), it still looks like real wood. It was only when I peered within inches of the floor's surface that I was able to make out the pixels forming the image of wood in the photo layer.