Educate yourself on hard surface flooring's unique issues: Flooring Forensics - March 2017

By Lew Migliore

There is no denying that the growth of hard surface flooring is outpacing carpet today. When I was a kid, hard surface flooring owned the market, then carpet crept slowly into homes, installed over hardwood and especially in “the good room.” For a while, carpet had its turn as king, and many are now saying, “The king is dead; long live the king.” This phrase announces the death of the king (carpet) and praises the ascension of a new king (hard surface flooring). 

With this turning of the tide, it’s important that flooring industry experts-retailers, commercial contractors and installers-take time to educate themselves about the products trending. Ceramic and porcelain as well as rigid LVT or WPC (wood polymer composite) are popular choices today, and it serves the whole market if we, as an industry, know how to sell and install them properly.

CERAMIC & PORCELAIN TILE 
Floors such as travertine, limestone, marble, slate, granite and quartz have been used for centuries. Today, thanks to digital printing, these looks are often hyper-realistic interpretations in ceramic or porcelain. This technology has also enabled visuals that we haven’t seen previously in ceramic, including wood, fabric, concrete and hybrid aesthetics. 

Because of these advanced and beautiful visuals-not to mention the fact that the products are green and offer a good performance story-ceramic and porcelain are enjoying a strong resurgence in today’s market. These flooring materials can be used in every room, on floor and walls, and porcelain can be used outside as well. 

Now that the pendulum has swung back toward hard surface flooring and the popularity of these materials has soared, as a flooring professional you have to be fluid both in their language and their requirements. You can’t sell or install these products simply to “join the game.” You need to know what you’re doing or you run the risk of losing your shirt along with your reputation. 

Installation of ceramic and porcelain-especially some of the larger formats today-takes a special skill, lest they crack or sound funny underfoot due to voids in the adhesion material. These products should not be installed by the “shoot, ready, aim method,” as we hear advertised with other industry products. What’s more, ceramic and porcelain essentially become part of the structure in which they’re installed, so they really must be handled right the first time. 

First and foremost, as an installer, you have to understand that all tile installations move, and there must be control joints installed-otherwise the tile or stone will crack or lift. There is no flexibility in these hard flooring materials. The industry standards for installation of these are very specific and must be followed. Unlike installation standards and guidelines for other flooring materials, tile and stone guidelines have dictates that cannot be compromised. 

Ceramic tile and stone flooring materials are not indestructible or immune to the influences of moisture, chemicals or heavy traffic, but for the most part, if properly cared for and understood, these products will last nearly forever. Just look at the ceramic flooring in the buildings around the world that has been down for decades. 

RIGID LVT
Rigid LVT products are growing exponentially in popularity and in use, while taking share from laminate and LVT. The first generation of rigid LVT, WPC, is a composite material made of thermoplastics, calcium carbonate and wood flour. It is usually waterproof, rigid and stable. 

One of the main advantages of rigid LVT over traditional LVT is that it can go over most subfloors without much preparation. The truth, however, is that all flooring materials have to go over a substrate that is level, and, for a rigid material, an unlevel substrate can present a variety of problems. You can’t just “bridge” imperfections in the substrate. 

That being said, the rigid nature of the material, over a level substrate, can hide minor imperfections as well as cracks in concrete or seams in wood floors. Traditional vinyl flooring, on the other hand, is flexible, and any unevenness or irregularities in the subfloor will transfer or telegraph through the surface. Rigid LVT flooring with locking installations will negate some of the typical floor prep procedures, such as removing paint or some contaminants that would compromise vinyl glue-down flooring. Compared to traditional glue-down LVT or solid-locking LVT, rigid LVT products have a distinct advantage because the solid, inflexible core allows for longer and wider formats. 

The major advantage rigid LVT has over laminate is that it is waterproof and suitable for environments where laminate shouldn’t normally be used-typically bathrooms and basements, which have potential for moisture infiltration. The vinyl wearlayer provides cushioning and comfort, and it also absorbs sound impacts, resulting in a quieter floor. In my opinion, this is a major advantage that rigid LVT has over traditional vinyl or hardwood in a multifamily application, where noise is a serious concern. These products can be constructed with sound deadening backings to lower the IIC (impact insulation class) ratings of the floor. To try and achieve the same effects with LVT, an underlayment has to be used, and when a static load-such as furniture or even spiked high heels-is placed on a floor with an underlayment, it will often indent and distort the vinyl. This is not the case with well constructed rigid LVT products, and that is a major selling point. 

As is always the case with any flooring material, and, especially newer entries to the marketplace, flooring industry agents must know what they’re doing, what they’re buying, what they’re installing and the limitations of these flooring materials. What’s more, I recommend that they be a bit leery of hype-because no matter what words say, the product has a different opinion at times. What’s more, if the price seems too good to be true, I can guarantee that something was left out of the construction to reach that low price point. Buy rigid LVT flooring only from reputable manufacturers to be assured of getting a quality product, good service and proper help, should a problem arise.

Copyright 2017 Floor Focus