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Vinyl Flooring

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.

Installation Methods

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.

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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.

Looking At The Warranty

When it comes to the warranty you'll find a range of service levels that correspond with the quality of the product. Budget products will have the shortest duration of coverage whereas the luxury vinyl floors can have 25-year and in some cases, lifetime warranty coverage for certain conditions.

The important point here is that you take the time to read and understand the warranty for the products you're considering ahead of time. It'll help get your expectations for the floor in line with what the manufacturer will and won't cover, should there be a problem down the road.

Here are some typical items to be aware of regarding vinyl flooring warranties:

  • Professional installation may be required.
    Some warranties are valid only if the floor is installed professionally. If you're thinking of doing it yourself make sure you read the warranty to determine if you'll still be covered if you do it yourself.
  • Wear-out is not the same thing as dulling or coating loss.
    Warranties typically define wear-out as wear through the printed pattern. It doesn't mean scratches or dulling of the wear coating.
  • Resistance to denting requires the proper floor protectors and furniture that doesn't exceed a weight limit.
    Some warranties will cover damage from permanent denting but to qualify you'll have to use the proper sized floor protectors and casters on rolling furniture. Excessively heavy furniture pieces may also void this aspect of the warranty, regardless of whether floor protectors are used. Check the warranty for the sizes of floor protectors recommended by the manufacturer and whether there are any furniture weight limitations. It's either that or just live with the fact that you'll probably have dents in your vinyl floor.
  • Warranties typically have stain coverage but not necessarily for stains caused by latex or rubber-backed mats.
    Rubber-backed mats can stain the surface of a vinyl floor and some warranties won't cover these situations. You can buy mats that are labeled as non-staining but check the warranty to be sure you're covered in this situation.
  • Read the section on what's not covered.
    Understanding what's NOT covered on a warranty is sometimes clearer than what is covered. Take the time to read that section so you'll know what conditions and faults the manufacturer won't cover.

The Green Vinyl Floor Debate

As the "green" environmental movement continues to grow, more manufacturers of home products are working to add green choices to their lineups. The vinyl industry is no exception but there's debate as to whether vinyl can ever be considered green based on what it is and how it's made.

Is there such a thing as a green vinyl floor? The answer depends on how you define "green" and this is what starts the debate.

To be factual, there are aspects of vinyl products that most would not consider eco-friendly. It's derived from a non-renewable source (oil) and its production renders some toxic by-products like dioxin and vinyl chloride monomer, a carcinogenic gas. Then there are the issues of indoor air quality and the potential release of VOCs (volatile organic compounds - those odors you smell around new paint and carpet).

By the same token, there are ways to deal with these issues and the vinyl industry has taken action to make the production of vinyl products safer and more responsible with more effective production and emission controls.

There are probably sins and exaggerations on both sides of the debate. Suffice to say however, the green movement has gotten the attention of some in the vinyl flooring industry and there is some "green-ness" being reflected in their products.

For starters, the indoor air quality issue is addressed by the FloorScore program which certifies products for compliance with established standards for indoor air quality and low VOC emissions. FloorScore was developed by the Resilient Floor Covering Institute in combination with Scientific Certification Systems, a third-party provider of testing and certification processes.

There's also the GREENGUARD® certification program from the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute which establishes performance-based standards for low-emitting building products. It takes into account various emission standards from a number of entities including several U.S. states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization.

You can look for products that have received either of these certifications if you're concerned in any way with how VOCs may impact your and your family's health.

If you're looking for a vinyl floor that uses recycled content you can check out Lonseal which established their GreenVinyl program, an effort to develop and promote more earth-friendly vinyl products. Their LonEco line of floors contains 50% recycled post-industrial vinyl material. They also have products that are GREENGUARD certified for low VOC emissions.

As for the question of whether vinyl floors are a green product, you'll need to draw your own conclusion. However there are products available that are moving in the greener direction.

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Why Should I Be Interested In Vinyl?

If you're reading this article it's probably because vinyl flooring has piqued your curiosity in some way. Even if it's not on your short list of flooring choices there's enough innovation and product development associated with vinyl to give it a closer look.

Examples include tiles and planks that mimic both the look and texture of wood or stone or ceramic tile. Yet instead of getting a hard floor as you would with these choices, you've got a softer more resilient option instead, while achieving a similar look.

There are also new innovations with installation methods such as the lay-loose vinyl sheet flooring and quick-install tiles allowing you to easily put down a floor. With some products, you can even pull it back up and reinstall it someplace else.

Consider the cost too. Vinyl is still one of the most economical floor choices available. With a price range of less than $1.00 to about $5.00 per square foot (uninstalled) it's hard to beat.

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Find Local Sources & Installers

If you'd like to find a supplier and installer of vinyl flooring in your local area check out the form below. HomeStyleChoices.com partners with Reliable Remodeler to help homeowners find local contractors and sources of products.

When you use this form you'll be contacted at your convenience by several flooring professionals that can provide free estimates for your flooring project. Just click the appropriate radio buttons on the form and then input your zip code. There's no obligation and it's a convenient way to make contact with flooring sources that might possibly be able to assist you.

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