New Technologies, New Choices
Vinyl flooring has been around for a long time and it’s often thought of as the ‘cheaper, less-than-glamorous’ floor covering. That may have been true in years past but things have changed and so has vinyl.
Like a lot of other products for your home, technology has taken something old and made it new again. New wear-resistant coatings, innovative floating-floor tiles and other advancements have brought vinyl flooring into the modern age. It’s worth taking a look to see if it’s a good choice for one or more of your floors.
What Do I Need To Know About Vinyl Floors?
The prevalence of vinyl flooring and the fact that it’s been around for a long time might lead you to believe that it’s all the same. You should dispel that notion however because there are differences, in the final form of the product as well as what goes into it. The key to making wise buying decisions is learning more about these differences and attributes so you’ll be best equipped to match the products with your expectations and your wallet.
Keep in mind that it’s not linoleum flooring and shouldn’t be confused with it although it often is. Linoleum is derived from natural products like linseed oil (from flax plant seeds), pine rosin, wood or cork powder and limestone.
Although linoleum is making a resurgence in the home, it took a back seat to vinyl when the latter came on the scene as a newer and cheaper alternative.
How It’s Constructed And Its Various Forms
Vinyl flooring’s primary ingredient is the vinyl itself, made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or plastic to you and me. It gets its flexibility from additives called plasticizers.
It’s basic makeup involves a layered construction. Those layers will differ based on the structure of the vinyl floor which can be either an inlaid vinyl or a printed vinyl (also known as rotogravure vinyl).
Inlaid vinyl is made up of colored vinyl particles laid on a backing material and fused together. The result is that the color goes through the material from top to bottom. This is beneficial in that scrapes and chips are less noticeable. Colors might be random or laid out to form a pattern.
Printed vinyl is similar to laminate flooring in that what you see is actually a printed image that’s captured under a clear top surface.
That clear top surface is what’s known as the wear layer which takes the majority of abuse. Pay attention to the type of wear layer and its thickness as this will be one of the primary indicators of the vinyl’s quality and potential longevity.
There are basically three types of wear surfaces:
- Vinyl No-Wax – this is a clear vinyl top coating. It’s the least durable and you’ll need to apply a polish periodically to help it keep its luster.
- Urethane Finish – a urethane-coated finish that provides greater durability and resistance to stains, wear, etc.
- Enhanced Coatings and Urethanes – these are the more advanced coatings and provide the greatest amount of protection. They may include things like aluminum oxide which is a very hard and durable material used to extend the life of the wear surface.
As a floor product vinyl comes in several forms:
- Sheet – Vinyl sheet flooring is typically 6 or 12 feet wide and comes in rolls. The wider sheet stock is better for minimizing seams since a good installer might be able to cover your room with no seams.
- Tiles or Planks – Vinyl tile flooring affords various design options through the use of different colored tiles. Planks are usually associated with vinyl tile flooring products that mimic the look of a hardwood floor.
Finally, you should be aware of the various installation methods as this might determine which form of vinyl floor to choose (sheet or tile).
- Glued – both vinyl sheet and tiles can be glued down to the subfloor with a special adhesive made for this application. There’s also something called a ‘perimeter-adhered’ installation whereby just the periphery of the vinyl is glued down.
- Floating (Glueless) – floating installations mean the vinyl floor isn’t fastened or adhered to the subsurface. It’s usually associated with tiles but “loose-lay” vinyl sheet flooring is designed to just lay on the subfloor with no adhesive or perhaps some tape at the edges and under seams. It usually has a fiberglass backing making it a bit stiffer than felt-backed vinyl.
- Self-Adhesive – these are the “peel-and-stick” tiles that make for an easier installation than a fully glued floor. The adhesive is already applied to the tile and all that’s needed for installation is to position the tile and apply it to the floor.
What Should I Consider Before Choosing?
Vinyl flooring has a number of benefits including low maintenance, durability, economy and style versatility. But just like any other flooring choice, there are some considerations to think about to determine if it’s the right material for your situation.
- Consider your family situation, room choice and anticipated traffic levels.
Are you looking to use vinyl in a bathroom or a heavily used kitchen? Do you have children or any pets? The type of vinyl floor you choose is impacted by your answers to these questions. Less-trafficked areas like a bathroom may do okay with mid-grade products that don’t need heavy-duty wear layers. On the other hand, if it’s the kitchen or a mudroom floor that you’re considering and is prone to lots of tracked-in dirt, kids’ feet or Fido’s claws, you’ll want a more durable vinyl floor. Products with aluminum oxide coatings and thicker construction will do better under tougher conditions.
- Are you looking for earth-friendly flooring choices?
If you are then vinyl floors probably aren’t the best choice as there are more earth-friendly materials available. Since vinyl is a petroleum product it uses non-renewable resources. If you’re looking for something with less of an environmental impact you might consider linoleum, bamboo or wood floors.
- What are your expectations for a vinyl floor?
Do you want an inexpensive low-maintenance floor with a quick and easy installation or a more decorative, durable and long-lasting floor? Consider the technical details of the various vinyl products such as overall thickness, the type and thickness of the wear layer and the warranty coverage. If you want a long-lasting durable floor look for the more robust products.
- Are you thinking of installing the vinyl floor yourself?
If you’re planning on installing the floor yourself make sure your skills are commensurate with the type of vinyl floor you choose. Minimizing and sealing seams and making sure the subfloor is adequate and properly prepared may require the services of a professional installer. If you really have to do it yourself you may want to look at the floating (glueless) products or the peel-and-stick tiles.
- There’s usually a repeat to the pattern in stone and wood-print floors.
Vinyl floors that mimic the look of marble or wood grain will usually have a repeating pattern – in other words, there will be identical looking tiles within the lot. This might not be a big deal for you but for others it’s something to consider. Staggering the tiles and choosing patterns with more subtle variations make the repeat pattern less noticeable.