Understanding Vinyl Flooring
Looking for a practical, hard wearing flooring that you can put down virtually anywhere? Vinyl flooring may be just the answer for you. Vinyl flooring has a number of attractive features for homeowners. It can fit in with almost any décor since it’s available in a wide range of colors, patterns and styles. It’s low maintenance and easy to care for, impermeable to water and relatively easy to install (comes in rolls 6’, 9’ or 12’ wide or easy to handle 12’ x 12” or 18” x 18” tiles). Best of all, it’s one of the most affordable flooring options available to you.
The major downside with vinyl flooring is its composition. Vinyl flooring is a form of (PVC) polyvinyl chloride, a hydrocarbon based product that requires processing of petroleum, natural gas, or coal. Although, even here the news isn’t totally bad, since the resins that make up vinyl utilize a purely natural element - chlorine (salt) in addition to hydrocarbons, so you could say the product is a little ‘green’.
How Vinyl is Made
Vinyl flooring isn’t just a piece of plastic, it’s actually a series of layers laid down on top of each other. The base layer is made from either a felt backing layer (if the flooring is going to be glued in place), or a fiberglass layer that provides ‘dimensional stability’ and ensures the vinyl flooring will lay flat and doesn’t require gluing. Next is a pattern layer that is either printed on the base layer or an integral part of the layer itself. When vinyl flooring has a printed pattern, vinyl inks are applied to the felt backing material in a process, very similar to printing a large book or magazine. With the inlay (integral) process, small vinyl piece or granules are applied to the backing material through a series of templates, giving the flooring visual depth and ensuring the pattern is right through the flooring. This inlay process is more expensive than simple printing, but results in flooring that is more durable and longer wearing.
Covering the pattern design layer is a clear vinyl layer that provides protection against rips and tears as well as adding overall durability to the flooring. The thickness of this layer determines how well the flooring will retain its ‘new’ look. Finally on the top goes a protective top coating. Usually made from urethane this layer is designed to make the flooring easy to clean and help it resist scratching.
Choosing Vinyl Flooring
You can choose different ‘grades’ of vinyl flooring to suit your requirements. In general, higher-priced flooring is thicker than lower-cost products and should last longer. Additionally, this higher priced flooring will likely be inlaid (rather than printed) to ensure the pattern never wears away and will also have a more durable ‘wear layer’ for longer life. (Unfortunately, over time traffic and wear will cause even the highest quality flooring to eventually lose its ‘new’ appearance).
If you’re comparing vinyl flooring, you will need to understand some common vinyl flooring terminology.
- Vinyl ‘No wax” flooring is designed for areas where it will get minimal exposure to dirt and only light traffic.
- Urethane layer protection is targeted at areas with normal to heavy traffic, and it will resist most scratches and scuff marks as well as clean easily.
- For heavy traffic areas, an enhanced urethane layer provides the most scratch and stain resistance and helps the floor keep its shine and luster in spite of heavy traffic.
Installing Vinyl Flooring
Because of its unforgiving nature it’s often best to leave installation of sheet vinyl flooring to a professional. However, since mistakes with vinyl tiles aren’t anywhere near as devastating, these are great products for a DIY’er to install themselves. You can install vinyl flooring on almost any flat, smooth, clean surface including wood, concrete, old vinyl flooring or even ceramic tiles.
It can be installed either above or below grade and since it’s impervious to water vinyl flooring is ideal for bathrooms, mudrooms and laundry rooms. When installing vinyl flooring it’s vital to ensure the surface you’re putting it down on is perfectly smooth. Any seams, bumps or raised nail heads will be noticeable through the new flooring so applying a floor leveling compound is usually a necessary part of the installation process.
A Final Word of Caution...
Older vinyl flooring often contained asbestos. If you’re considering applying new vinyl on top of the old, it’s best to leave the old flooring in place. Taking up the old flooring will likely release asbestos fibers into the air, while leaving it in place and simply covering it will seal the fibers under the new floor.