Vinyl plank flooring, also known as Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) has become one of, if not THE most popular type of flooring. This is due to it being very affordable, durable, waterproof, stylish & widely available in a vast variety. Vinyl flooring used to be simply solid vinyl tile. This is the type of inexpensive peel & stick vinyl tile that can still be found today in dollar stores or box stores. It’s a flexible tile made of 100% pvc (polyvinyl chloride) with an image layer & a clear polyurethane top layer.
Nowadays vinyl flooring has evolved into several types of construction available in sheets, tiles & planks. Luxury vinyl generally refers to higher quality vinyl flooring products. They have thicker, more durable construction, better design features & warranties. Luxury vinyl plank flooring (LVP), tile flooring (LVT) & sheets are products of trusted name brands like Shaw, Mohawk & Mannington. Luxury vinyl will cost more than generic dollar store stuff, yet it is still relatively inexpensive compared to hardwood & tile. And it can appear like real wood & stone.
Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring Installation Types
• glue down
• click lock
• loose lay
Choose luxury vinyl in sheets, tiles or planks. Sheet vinyl is a glue down installation which makes it less of a DIY project. The main advantage is that a sheet vinyl installation doesn’t have seams like with tile or planks. For this reason sheet vinyl is even more resistant to moisture, making it ideal for bathrooms, kitchens & mudrooms.
With vinyl tile & planks, though they are 100% water resistant, moisture can get through the seams when it’s left sitting. The problem with this is it can cause mold & mildew, damage a wood subfloor, or it can can ruin the adhesive bond of a glue down or peel & stick installation. Tiles & planks are still used in bathrooms & kitchens but spills should never be left sitting.
Luxury vinyl tiles & planks are available in dryback for glue down installation and will be the least expensive. Though glue down is mostly only used for large installations in commercial spaces. It is more difficult to install as well as to remove.
For homes & small businesses using tiles & planks, click lock or loose lay (floating floor) installation is the most common. These are easy to install & easy to remove. Click lock snaps together & loose lay just lays down & grips to the floor by friction without any adhesive or locking system. Loose lay is not recommended for high traffic areas but is ideal for rooms that just a few people use. Luxury vinyl is not available with peel & stick but there’s many solid vinyl products with peel & stick which can also work well in low traffic areas.
Rigid Core Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring
• Waterproof Polymer Core (WPC)
• Stone Polymer Core (SPC)
• Hybrid Vinyl
Luxury vinyl is available with what’s called a ‘Rigid Core’. This means that a backing layer is added to make the product more rigid, stiff & less pliable. The original type of luxury vinyl, though thicker than less costly solid vinyl, still has just a pliable, vinyl backing. So if there’s cracks or imperfections in the floor it can show through. With rigid core this isn’t a problem. The floor will have a more solid, sturdy feel like wood & tile does.
Rigid core vinyl is available in a few different types of construction. There’s waterproof polymer core (WPC), stone polymer core (SPC), and now there’s the latest development, a type called Hybrid Vinyl, a combination of vinyl with the topcoat of laminate. Rigid core vinyl products all come as click lock tiles or planks.
Waterproof Polymer Core (WPC) aka Wood Plastic Composite
WPC adds a rigid backing layer to the vinyl to give it a solid foundation that also has cushioning. The WPC backing layer is constructed of wood pulp, plasticizers & foaming agents. This type is softer & more comfortable to walk on. The disadvantage is that it can dent. Felt padding should be used on furniture legs.
Stone Polymer Core (SPC)
SPC has a more solid backing layer constructed with limestone rather than wood & foaming agents. It is harder, more durable & dent resistant, but a little less soft to walk on than WPC. Some products do come with a underlayment of something like cork or foam attached to add more softness & sound reduction.
Hybrid vinyl includes a rigid core along with the same topcoat as laminate. This type of topcoat is superior because it includes aluminum oxide, making the wear layer harder & more dent, scuff, stain & UV resistant. Some hybrid vinyl products also are available with an underlayment.
Construction of Luxury Vinyl
Luxury vinyl is a multi layered product. There are variations in construction with the different types of luxury vinyl products, but they all have flexible vinyl (also known as pvc, plastic) as the main component.
These are generally the layers of luxury vinyl, though you will find numerous variations with different products:
• Wear layer
• Image/design layer
• Vinyl layer
• Rigid core layer (applies to WPC, SPC & Hybrid Vinyl, not all luxury vinyl has a rigid core layer)
• Uderlayment (optional, not all products have an underlayment)
The wear layer is a clear topcoat made of polyurethane. This is the layer you walk on. Though thickness of a product is often emphasized as a measure of it’s durability, the quality of the topcoat layer is really the most important for longevity. Topcoats that include UV stabilizers & additives like the aluminum oxide in hybrid vinyl are superior. A quality topcoat is more resistant to UV fading, dents, scratches & stains. Though most vinyl products are stain resistant, some chemicals & carpets with rubber mats can cause staining. The lowest cost products do not include such protective additives in their topcoat like higher quality products from trusted name brands do. Products with a quality topcoat will stay looking new for years beyond the less expensive products even though the cheaper stuff may be thicker. Thickness & density or weight of a product are also durability factors, but the quality of the wear layer is most important.
The design layer is a printed image which can be made to look exactly like real wood, stone or any pattern or design imagineable. High quality products are now using HD high definition prints for stunning realistic imagery. Luxury vinyl products come with a textured non slip surface. There’s even high end products which are embossed in register meaning the texture matches the design. A wood design will have a texture that matches the grain & knots in the wood image making it even more realistic. There are other design features available like painted & beveled edges, making the variety of features practically unlimited.
The vinyl layer of pvc plastic (polyvinyl chloride) varies in thickness from one product to another. Old school traditional solid vinyl products are simply made with vinyl, an image layer & wear lear. The vinyl layer itself is soft & flexible. A thicker vinyl layer will show less imperfections in the floor, but without a rigid core backing layer, cracks can show through. On a solid, level concrete floor though this isn’t much of a problem & you may even be just fine with inexpensive solid vinyl.
Rigid Core Layer/ Backing Layer
A rigid core layer is included in WPC, SPC & Hybrid Vinyl products. It’s a backing layer made with either wood fiber or limestone (calcium carbonate). This layer gives the floor a more sturdy, solid feel similar to real wood or stone. Fungicides are also added in to prevent mold & mildew. Some luxury vinyl plank flooring products don’t have a backing layer & some may have a felt or vinyl backing.
Underlayment is not required for any vinyl floor installation but some products include a cork underlay as an option. It makes the floor quiter & softer to walk on.
Pros of Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring
• affordable – less costly than wood, stone & tile
• durable – certified high quality name brand products undergo rigorous testing for resistance to dents, scratches, stains, UV fading, fire & chemicals. They can last for decades. Though less costly, luxury vinyl can be as durable as wood, stone & tile.
• many design options – luxury vinyl plank flooring can mimick real wood, stone & tile & offers a wide selection of colors & designs
• slip resistant – luxury vinyl plank flooring includes an anti slip, textured wear layer
• versatile – can be installed anywhere on any level subfloor & is suitable for basements, bathrooms & kitchens
• easy to install – click lock & loose lay tiles & planks make it easy to install or remove yourself
• waterproof – water can cause underlying issues if it gets into seams of planks or tiles, but it will not damage the planks
• easy to clean & maintain – regular sweeping & mopping is all that is required
• no underlayment needed – padding is not required but is an option for a quieter & softer floor
Cons of Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring
• expansion & contraction – luxury vinyl can also expand & contract with changes in temperature & humidity just like wood does. It’s not a problem when installed properly with a perimeter gap.
• mostly from China – vast majority of product is from China, cost is low but beware of cheap no name products that may not last long & could emit VOC’s
• VOC’s – volatile organic compounds which can emit chemicals into the air could be an issue with inexpensive generic products which aren’t certified. Look for products with air quality certification such as FloorScore
• non biodegradeable – most vinyl will end up in landfills as it can be very difficult to find places that recycle it
• glue down installation is difficult to install & remove.
• can dent – heavy objects like furniture legs with a lot of weight can leave permanent impressions – use felt protectors on furniture legs
• can be punctured – sharp objects or chair legs dragged on the surface can puncture the surface, higher quality wear layers with aluminum oxide are harder, put felt protectors on furniture legs
• UV fading – some vinyl products are susceptible to fading when exposed to a lot of sunlight, curtains should be used. Higher quality products with aluminum oxide added to the wear layer are more UV resistant
• Stains – rubber mats & some chemicals can cause stains on vinyl
…More about vinyl flooring