Not all luxury vinyl tile is created equal: Flooring Forensics - Jan 2017

By Lew Migliore

Luxury vinyl tile is arguably the hottest flooring material on the market, but it’s not all created equal. As with all flooring materials that create a supply and demand dynamic-think DuPont Stainmaster in its beginning-everyone and his brother wants to jump on the bandwagon. When that happens, the reaction is a flooding of the market with me-too products, thereby-as the industry is famous for doing-driving the price down and the quality with it. Just because everyone’s trying to be in this market doesn’t mean they all know what they’re doing.

The use of LVT in residential and commercial applications is evident everywhere. We see it in new homes, extensively in apartments, in commercial applications such as healthcare, schools and hotels, and anywhere else flooring is used. There’s no question it makes a great looking floor, and it’s easy to install and maintain for the most part. It can be made to look like most anything, but wood and stone are the most popular surfaces. 

The surface of LVT can be textured, which can present some challenges in and of itself. For example, if an LVT product with a textured surface consisting of low areas, such as crevices in wood, is installed in a facility where drywall is being sanded, the drywall particulate can settle in the crevices of the floor, and when wet cleaned the particulate will harden. LGM & Associates has had a few cases like this, where the floor was not covered or not covered properly and then wet cleaned during construction clean up. It becomes very difficult to get the drywall that’s filled the crevices-at this point it’s no longer a dust but more of a compound-to come out. It takes a concerted effort with unique techniques to remove the white residue. 

We’ve also seen LVT with a hazy surface appearance, which happens when the protective layer is too rough and acts like an emery board scraping shoe soles that leave light marks. The rough surface also holds dusty soil. 

LVT can also indent and scratch, as any vinyl flooring will do if not treated properly. The product is not indestructible, and abusive action will impact it. Having said that, if the pattern is busy enough, such as having the contrasts of wood tone and texture, it will hide a multitude of sins. 

Some of the most common issues with LVT include being out of square, curling, cupping, a peeling surface, variations in shade and mixing different products in the same box. With click system products, we sometimes encounter breakage of the installation system. 

If you buy this product intending to resell, make sure you know from whom you’re buying and where the product is coming from. Some of the issues mentioned above, particularly the out of square, mis-cutting and shrinkage, are due to the way the product is annealed-annealing is a heating and cooling process to remove internal stresses. If the cutting and annealing processes are not precise, you’re going to get a product that is a loser out of the box. 

This brings us to an important point: you need to be aware of the product you’re taking out of the box. Installers should be aware that LVT, like wood, needs to be inspected as it’s being installed. Any visible physical variations in the product or in texture or shade should cause an immediate concern that triggers a hold on installation. 

This product comes in pieces, and it’s easier to stop an installation of it than it is broadloom carpet, especially if it means not going off the end of complaint/claim cliff. It amazes me that the installation of this flooring material is blamed for physical conditions that only manufacturing can cause. Remember, the product never lies; it will always tell you what’s wrong as long as you know how to interpret what it’s saying. Just like Forensic Files on TV, the evidence will convict or exonerate the accused. 

A lot of the LVT on the market incorporates installation systems that hook, snap or lock together. Some have self-adhesive systems. Others are glued directly to the subfloor. Some have stabilizers, some don’t, and some feature special backing materials for various performance attributes. 

If click systems are going to fail, it’s normally under rolling chairs. We’ve seen this occur in dentists’ or doctors’ offices, where the chair rolls repeatedly over the flooring. 

The failure may also be caused by the substrate not being appropriate for the LVT installation system and the product. In the case of an LVT product being used with a click system in a location that will get a lot of unalterable and pivotal traffic, rolling or concentrated, the substrate is a critical component of the flooring delivering performance. If you’re not sure whether the system will work, do a mock-up installation to see if it will. We do the same types of tests in the lab with a roll chair test before or after the fact to determine if the product comes apart. 

Wear is another concern for LVT products, as we’ve seen the face of the product wear off of cheaper goods. A 20 mil wearlayer is the norm. Some manufacturers may go higher, but there’s a point at which a thicker wearlayer is a detriment that can cause other problems. 

Appearance issues are vitally important for vinyl flooring because vinyl is vulnerable to indentations, scratching and gouging. Installers have to be keenly aware of the use and traffic the vinyl flooring is going to receive. To make sure the flooring performs up to expectations, it’s essential to increase its high performance characteristics for environments with higher traffic and heavier loads. Just because you think something will work-or the individual who sold it to you said that it would-doesn’t actually mean that it will. Remember, words don’t change the laws of physics. If you think that the argument of “you said this flooring wouldn’t do this” actually has merit relative to what the floor can or cannot do, you are mistaken, because the floor wins every time. Also, remember that the flooring color, pattern, maintenance, contaminating foot traffic and finish will have a great deal of influence on how the floor looks and performs. 

Another very important factor is the space where the flooring is installed. Vinyl flooring can be greatly influenced by heat and cold. It will expand and contract, so the environment where the flooring is installed must be controlled constantly. 

Vinyl flooring is not indestructible. Like any other flooring, you have to put the right product in the right place, and this involves a learning curve. It’s important to know the products, who makes them and how strong their warranties are. I would suggest buying from a reputable manufacturer or distributor that stands behind its products. You don’t want to work with someone who will throw you under the bus should you have a problem. And remember, if you start a job and think you may have a problem, stop and ask for help.

Copyright 2017 Floor Focus 

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