Flooring Forensics: What is waterproof really worth? - July 2019

By Lew Migliore

Is waterproof flooring really waterproof? Are we expecting a flood? Did the consumers of flooring ask for this, or was it a marketing and sales effort to create more demand for a product already overwhelming the industry? Let’s take a look at what waterproof really means. In selling “waterproof” products to consumers, retailers and their sales associates should have a clear understanding of what these claims actually mean, so that they can set appropriate expectations.

Waterproof means impervious to water, not allowing fluid to pass through or impenetrable. Water-resistant means able to resist the penetration of water to some degree but not entirely. Water-repellent is defined as not easily penetrated by water, especially as a result of being treated for such a purpose with a surface coating.

While the definition for waterproof is pretty straightforward, the concept behind it is not. Currently, there is no established industry standard for flooring to classify it as waterproof. There are tests for water penetration through flooring and penetration at the edges, but saying vinyl flooring is waterproof is stretching the truth.

Two things that are virtually impossible to block are air and moisture vapor. With regard to flooring, moisture vapor often comes from below the floor, where it can condense and turn to water. This occurrence cannot be prevented by waterproof flooring.

In addition, using the term "waterproof" is a risky move for many companies because it communicates the idea that this is a permanent condition, and that whatever flooring has been waterproofed will never fail due to contact with water, regardless of the situation.

Oftentimes, there are components of these flooring materials that can, in fact, be affected by water. Certainly, you can take a piece of glue-down vinyl flooring or tile and place it in water for a period of time without it exhibiting any changes as far as the eye can see, but a waterproof installation is another matter.

WHAT DEGREE OF “WATERPROOF” IS WARRANTIED?
Let’s take a look at excerpts from actual warranties from real manufacturers about waterproof floors and see what types of incidents are excluded from coverage.

Manufacturer #1’s warranty:
[Damage from incidents not covered]
• “Damage caused by fire or flood”-Doesn’t a flood qualify as water?
• “Moisture intrusion caused by emissions from subfloor; intentional abuse” -Would spilling water near the sink or from the dog’s bowl daily be intentional abuse?
• “Problems due to moisture, mildew, alkaline substances, hydrostatic pressure, expansion and contraction between planks/tiles or humidity levels above or below those recommended”
• “Floorcovering installed in inappropriate locations is excluded from this warranty.”-Just what does this mean? What is an “inappropriate location”?

Manufacturer #2’s warranty:
• “The waterproof warranty ensures that your floor will not permanently discolor from topical water or moisture. It applies to the LVT product itself and does not extend to damage of the subfloor or adhesives; and refers to topical moisture or topical water exposure. It does not cover moisture or water coming from below or underneath the product and does not cover flooding or intentional damage or misuse.”
• I would think that a consumer who has a flooded “waterproof” floor, like from a dishwasher or ice-maker, would perceive, and rightfully so, that that floor would be covered under warranty, but the warranty states that it doesn’t cover “problems or damage due to excessive moisture.” How is excessive moisture categorized, and if the floor is waterproof as shown in ads where volumes of water are on it, wouldn’t this be construed as part of being waterproof?

Manufacturer #3’s warranty:
• “When exposed to water [these products] are waterproof and will not swell, buckle or lose integrity. If exposure to water occurs, both full-spread adhesive and locking floors will continue to create a secure bond. In the case of standing water or flooding, flooring will not act as a waterproofing barrier for the subfloor and/or any surrounding structure. Any damage to the subfloor and/or surrounding structure that is caused by standing water or flooding is not covered by this warranty.” So, is this flooring really waterproof?

Manufacturer #4's warranty:
• “Limited Water Proof Warranty: When installed following manufacturer’s instructions, your luxury vinyl floor will resist water damage under normal use for the length of the warranty, including damages caused from damp mopping and topical spills provided spills are promptly removed. Additionally, your luxury vinyl floor will not discolor, deform or damage from moisture and will not be affected by mold, mildew or alkaline.”
• "This warranty excludes all casualty events involving water coming in contact with your floor and failures normally covered by homeowner’s insurance [such as water from fires] including, but not limited to, damages caused by flooding or standing water from leaky pipes, faucets or household appliances. This limited warranty does not apply to damage caused by water or moisture in the subfloor or underneath the flooring, including but not limited to damage from subfloor hydrostatic pressure or other conditions that result in water or moisture being under the floor. It does cover topical moisture" [I love this part].
• As long as the water does not flow over the edge of the surface [edge of the room, cut boards, etc.], it will evaporate before passing between the planks to the subfloor or damaging the planks.” Holy Cow! How are you going to prevent the water from going over the edge of each piece of flooring? I would imagine that consumers will be very excited to know that only each individual piece is waterproof and only if the water stays in the center of the plank or tile.
Manufacturer #5’s warranty:
• “The 20-Year Limited Waterproof Warranty excludes all casualty events involving water coming in contact with your floor and failures normally covered by homeowner’s insurance including, but not limited to, damages caused by flooding or standing water from leaky pipes, faucets or household appliances. Also excluded are damages caused by flooding or standing water from hydrostatic pressure or other casualty events.” So, I guess this flooring isn’t waterproof because it can be affected by water, and it’s not covered by what a normal and reasonable consumer would expect it to be when you tell them it’s waterproof. Anything more than a thimbleful of water is not covered. I think that’s what this means. (Yes, I am being flippant.)
Manufacturer #6's warranty:
• “Waterproof Limited Warranty: [Excluded brand name] LVT flooring is warranted to be 100% waterproof. The structural performance of this flooring will not be adversely impacted by water exposure for the life of the product. Structural damages to the LVT flooring found caused by water will be subject to a pro-rated credit as described below in the ‘Terms of Lifetime Limited Warranty’ section.” So, if it’s waterproof but can be structurally damaged by water, then it’s not waterproof. Right?

THE BOTTOM LINE
So, you see, what you may believe “waterproof” truly means when you are selling it to a consumer and what the manufacturers of the floor are willing to warranty are likely two completely different things. Why didn’t the vinyl flooring industry follow the path of the original Stainmaster carpet and identify itself as “-resistant,” rather than “-proof”?

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