You’ve seen the photos, maybe even seen the product installed, and are convinced you want vinyl floors. Congratulations! Vinyl is the fastest growing flooring category, so you are not alone. Vinyl’s popularity is fueled by a long list of benefits: It is waterproof, anti-bacterial, slip-resistant, and extremely durable. The appeal isn’t all just in hidden features either; the rapid advances in print-film technology and texture embossing mean vinyl flooring now comes in a wide range of colors and patterns.
Flooring brands have not turned a blind eye to this trend; to the contrary, there are more vinyl lines available on the market now than there have ever been. Much in the same way the popularity of laminate floors 10 years ago brought many low-priced options to the market, the same has started to happen with vinyl. Consumers can now find peel-and-stick vinyl for as low as $0.69 / sq ft, a price point once reserved for the cheapest laminates and carpet.
Like with most building materials, however, you get what you pay for. Unlike many other products, however, vinyl flooring brands and suppliers have been surprisingly coy about explaining what specifications matter when comparing vinyl flooring. As such, we decided to write this guide to help you get a grasp on some of the specifications you should consider when comparing products.
HOW VINYL IS CONSTRUCTED
To understand what to look for with vinyl flooring, it is useful to first understand how it is constructed. Most modern vinyl is technically “composite” vinyl, meaning it is a combination of PVC (polyvinyl chloride, the scientific name for vinyl), plasticizers, and print films. The product typically comes with a backing material, which is a mix of vinyl and plasticizer or fiberglass. That material is then covered with a paper print-film, which has the desired color pattern.
On top of the print-film, a clear layer of virgin or recycled PVC (vinyl) is layered as the main protection to the floor. This top layer of pure vinyl is called the “wear-layer”, and is the most expensive part of the flooring since it is the only thing protecting the paper print film. Typically the wear-layer has given some level of texture or “embossing”, to better compliment the look of the print film being used. Finally, a coating of urethane is applied to the wear-layer, to further protect wear and provide the desired sheen for the pattern. The whole product is then cut up into smaller planks or tiles, depending on the pattern.
THE REAL WARRANTY
Here at PermShield we make a big fuss about how the flooring industry treats warranties, and unfortunately vinyl is no different. The key points to understand about all flooring warranties:
- Labor costs for removal and replacement are NEVER included! This is probably the biggest item to note when considering your warranty. Keep in mind that especially with vinyl, professional installation is a large percentage of your total job cost.
- Flooring warranties only cover the flooring that needs replacement. So if 10 sq ft in your entrance gets damaged, you will only have 10 sq ft of replacement product sent to you.
- Warranties are virtually never transferrable. They also usually require the original proof of purchase, and must be filed through the original retailer. Going directly to the brand will result in them refusing your warranty, even if the retailer you purchased through is no longer in business.
- Many warranties, especially for big box-store products, include so many exclusions that the brand has virtually unlimited power to deny any claim.
- Warranties always include an exclusion in the event the original product is no longer being manufactured.
This may all seem discouraging, but there are still two very tangible ways for you to gauge the quality of a product: the actual specification (in the case of vinyl, the wear-layer), and the commercial warranty. Brands get very nervous about commercial claims because heavy commercial environments can be unforgiving. Commercial projects also tend to be much larger than residential, so the cost of an expensive claim can be prohibitive. In short, while it is always best to make sure you have some kind of warranty, take those multi-decade warranties with a heavy grain of salt. What will ultimately determine how long your floor lasts is the quality of its specifications.
Although the wear-layer is what provides the bulk of the protection, vinyl flooring is always coated with a surface finish as well. The quality of this finish provides that first line of defense for your floors, before wear-and-tear start affecting the wear-layer itself. There are many different finishes on the market with a range of names, but the standard you want to demand is “ceramic bead coating”. This is essentially a urethane coating, but with microscopic beads of ceramic that provide an additional layer of protection (and anti-slip properties). These beads are invisible, and do not affect indoor air quality, but are a nice additional benefit to look out for.
The overall thickness of your vinyl floor is generally a less important specification, since it has little to do with durability (the wear-layer thickness is what determines how long the floor will last). That said, overall “nominal” thickness does matter in one specific case: Click flooring. The thicker a click vinyl plank, the easier it is to install, and the more secure the click mechanism. Through testing and feedback from hundreds of installers, we have found that 5 mm is the ideal minimum thickness for click flooring.