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Vinyl Plank Flooring Pros & Cons

Want a floor that’s all about easy installation and good looks? Find out if vinyl plank flooring is right for your space and what you should know. 

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Redoing your flooring or installing new flooring in a custom-built home is a big job. Unlike the flooring options of yesteryear, there are new players in the lineup, including luxury vinyl plank. Before you start associating vinyl with anything other than serious sophistication, let us explain what it is and how it differs from vinyl flooring you might remember from the 1990s. (Spoiler: It’s way better now.)

Hold on to your floorboards because we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about vinyl plank flooring, including the pros and cons of installing it, caring for it, and replacing it if and when necessary. 

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What Is Vinyl Plank Flooring?

Hardwood flooring and wood-look tile are options that you’ll find frequently in homes and offices. Practically anyone can appreciate the beauty of these flooring types, but not everyone may find them accessible in terms of budget or daily use. 

Luxury vinyl planking, also known as “LVP,” is an alternative to wood-look tile, hardwood flooring, carpet, and linoleum. It’s also sometimes referred to as luxury vinyl tile or “LVT.” Loved for its beauty and ability to withstand virtually any kind of traffic, it’s also water-resistant, making it a good solution for bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and anywhere with a humid climate. 

What Vinyl Plank Flooring Is Not

Before we begin diving into vinyl plank, let’s talk about what it definitely isn’t, and that’s the vinyl flooring you likely remember from your childhood or from your grandmother’s kitchen. Traditionally, both vinyl and linoleum flooring were rolled out and glued to the floorboards or to a base material. 

Sheet vinyl flooring may not be as aesthetically pleasing to some. When printed with a wood-like design, it’s almost always clear that the flooring isn’t made from individual planks. Additionally, rolled flooring often has trouble with wear and tear where it’s been glued down. Bubbles and air pockets can form that may require the entire sheet of flooring to be lifted for repair. 

Vinyl planking looks different and is installed differently. It’s also much more resistant to wear and tear and is easier to repair when it does get damaged. 

What Vinyl Plank Flooring Is

You’ll notice when you begin to shop for vinyl planking that you’re focusing on layers of the flooring. Vinyl plank is traditionally made from four layers; the wear layer, the print layer, the core, and the underlayment.

  • Wear layer. The uppermost layer of vinyl plank flooring is the wear layer. It is completely transparent and protects and seals the bottom layers of vinyl plank. All foot traffic will come into contact with the wear layer, so a durable wear layer is important for highly trafficked areas. 
  • Print layer. Just beneath the wear layer is the print layer. The print layer is where vinyl plank gets its aesthetic elements. The patterns can range from wood grain to tile or natural elements like rock. 
  • Core. The core layer gives vinyl plank flooring its structure and some of its durability. The core may be made from materials like fiberglass or pure vinyl. 
  • Underlayment. The bottom layer of vinyl planking is known as underlayment. The underlayment may be made from materials like foam or rubber. The underlayment helps with insulation and sound and provides cushioning under the vinyl plank itself. 

The four layers of LVP are traditionally bonded together during manufacturing and cut into individual planks that can be installed similarly to how wood flooring is installed, using a tongue and groove method. 

A Closer Look at the Layers

When shopping for vinyl flooring, you might be most interested in the print layer. Once you’ve narrowed down the look you love, you’ll want to focus more on the remaining three layers to find the highest quality luxury vinyl plank flooring within your price range. 

Wear Layer

The wear layer of all flooring products is incredibly important because, in large part, it determines how well it will stand up to foot traffic and how frequently you’ll need to replace it. LVP flooring’s wear layer is measured by thickness in millimeters. 

Generally, there are two thickness options for the wear layer of vinyl plank flooring: 12 mil and 20 mil. There are other thicknesses, but these are the two most popular for home use.

12 mil. 12 mil flooring is considered the standard for wear layers on a vinyl floor. They are durable, withstand a moderate amount of foot traffic, and can be somewhat resistant to scuffs and dents. The affordability of 12 mil flooring makes it a desirable option for entire floor installation. It is generally much more affordable than wood or tile. The actual measurement of a 12-millimeter wear layer floor is .3048 millimeters. 

20 mil. 20 mil flooring is slightly thicker than 12 mil, but not by 8 millimeters as you might expect. The actual measurement of 20 mil flooring is .508. The difference is slight, but for highly trafficked areas, or homes with large pets or lots of kids, this thicker wear layer may be a better overall investment as the durability makes it a longer-lasting product. 

Almost all wear layers, regardless of thickness, are scratch-resistant, shielding damage from dents and damage. Some wear layers also have added protection in UV-resistant stabilizers, which can help prevent the floor from fading or turning yellow in direct sunlight. 

Print Layer

The print layer on vinyl plank flooring may be the most enjoyable layer to focus on, but there are elements of the print layer style you’ll want to consider for serious reasons, too. Almost all print layers are similar, consisting of a thin, paper image bonded to the core and protected from damage by the wear layer. 

  • Consider your space. Suppose you’re refreshing a bathroom, mudroom, or laundry room. In that case, you may want a different design than wood-look vinyl plank flooring; real wood is traditionally not completely waterproof and isn’t used in these areas. 
  • Pay attention to embossing. If you are choosing natural elements like rock or wood, an embossed design on the plank can make it look more realistic, giving you grooves that are similar to solid hardwood or crevices that you would find in rock. 

Although personal style is always paramount, it’s important to consider resale value if you see reselling in your future. Installing a trendy color of vinyl plank is an affordable way to keep your home looking current. However, if an eventual resale is a consideration, investing in a timeless color or style may provide more value. 

Core Layer

The core layer of vinyl plank is what gives the planks or tiles their durability and structure. Flexible tiles and planks are thin and don’t have a sturdy core to reinforce them. 

The most common types of cores found in luxury vinyl plank are rigid cores. Cores can be subdivided into three categories, depending on the material used. 

  • WPC. Wood polymer core, or wood plastic core, is made from wood-polymer composite material. It provides a slight bounce and cushion when you walk on it (similar to wood flooring). 
  • SPC. Stone polymer core is made up of a stone-polymer composite material. It’s an upgrade from flexible vinyl. SPC is one of the best flooring options for durability, as the core is reinforced with the strength of natural stone material. 
  • Hardened vinyl. Hardened vinyl flooring has a core made of (you guessed it) … hardened vinyl. Flooring made with a hardened vinyl core is more durable than flexible vinyl planking, but only slightly. 

Flooring materials depend on their structure for sheer durability and longevity. Adding flexible vinyl planking in a space that sees virtually no foot traffic and is rarely used may be a solution, but for typical LVP flooring home improvement projects, you’ll want rigid core products. 

Underlayment

The bottom layer of some high-quality vinyl planks have an attached underlayment. The underlayment isn’t necessary for installing the vinyl planking to your subfloors, but it can add benefits that make it worth the while. Additionally, underlayment usually isn’t expensive. 

Underlayment provides a barrier between your subfloors and your flooring. It’s one thing if your flooring is damaged; it’s another if your subfloors are damaged. The repairs are more expensive and more involved. Having an underlayment can reduce the risk of subfloor damage

Underlayment is a smart solution for vinyl planking because it also provides better soundproofing capabilities. Additionally, it gives a sort of belt-and-suspenders level of protection from mold and water infiltration. 


Pros and Cons of Vinyl Plank

Now that you know the elements of vinyl plank that are important to consider before you shop, let’s talk about some of the benefits and considerations that are important to vinyl flooring. 

Pros of Vinyl Plank Flooring

There’s a reason why practically every office building and home you enter has at least one space outfitted in vinyl plank flooring: It’s incredibly practical. Here’s what you’ll love about purchasing vinyl plank flooring. 

It’s Cost Effective

Love the look of hardwood but don’t want to pay the hefty price and installation for your 3,500-square-foot home? Luxury vinyl plank is your go-to. Depending on the type of vinyl flooring, you can get the same wood look you love at a fraction of the price. 

Installing vinyl plank may cost about $7 per square foot, compared with up to $28 per square foot for wood flooring installation. Vinyl planking makes “wood flooring” accessible to more homeowners and a more viable option for outfitting a larger space. 

It’s Water-Resistant

Almost all LVP flooring is water-resistant. The core may make it waterproof, and some brands of LVP flooring (like COREtec) are manufactured to be 100% waterproof. Even if your LVP is simply water-resistant, you’ll be protected against spills, spatters, and damp mops. 

It’s Low-Maintenance

Many types of flooring require routine maintenance that vinyl planking simply doesn’t. If you decide to install ceramic tile, for instance, you’ll need to maintain the grout and eventually replace it. Hardwood flooring usually needs refinishing every few years to maintain its integrity and shine. 

LVP is incredibly easy to maintain and keep clean. If one of your vinyl planks or tiles is damaged, it’s very simple to replace it.

Installation Is a Breeze

Looking for a DIY project? Installing new LVP flooring might be just the ticket. There are traditionally two types of installation for LVP flooring: glue down and floating. 

  • Glue down. Glue down LVP planks require glue to adhere the planks to your subfloor. 
  • Floating floors. A floating floor uses a tongue and groove design to “snap” pieces to each other. The benefit of floating floors is that you can even install them directly onto existing flooring, like tile or cement. 

If you’d rather not have to deal with removing the existing flooring (like tile or aged wood), install LVP over the existing flooring. It’s a solid, cost-effective option that will update your decor and may even save you the cost of professional installation. More money to spend on upgrading your stair railing!

Durability

There’s no question: LVP is a durable, long-lasting flooring. Tile may break, and hardwood may dent or chip, but LVP has an amazing ability to withstand wear and tear in high-traffic areas, providing a beautiful design that is equally stress-free. 

Cons of Vinyl Plank Flooring

Even though vinyl plank flooring is durable, cost-effective, and aesthetically appealing, there are some drawbacks you’ll want to consider if you decide to install it in your home.

It’s Not Hardwood

If hardwood is the Cadillac of flooring types, LVP is the sensible, mid-priced sedan. While most people consider LVP beautiful and appreciate its durability, you won’t get the same return on investment installing it that you would if you installed hardwood. On the other hand, you also won’t spend as much upfront installing your flooring. 

Installation Can Be Difficult

A floating floor is a great option for homeowners who would like to upgrade their current flooring on a budget and without undertaking a massive installation. However, if you prefer to install your LVP directly onto the subfloor, you’ll have to remove the existing flooring first. 

Tile floors, in particular, can be extremely labor-intensive to remove, requiring hours of labor, ventilation fans, and the almost certain probability that you’ll have to stay somewhere else while your flooring is installed. 

Flooring installed with glue may also create fumes that make it uncomfortable for you to stay in your home during installation, something to consider if you don’t want to relocate. 

Lower Quality LVP May Not Last As Long

Just like hardwood and tile options, there’s a wide range of quality to choose from when selecting LVP. If you choose a lower-quality product, you’ll get lower-quality results. UV rays may change the color of your flooring, the heat from kitchen appliances may warp the wear layer, and over time the flooring itself may change in appearance. 

It’s Made of Synthetic Materials

Manufacturing your flooring requires materials and labor, and these are important factors that we all hope are being ethically sourced and managed. Because LVP is made from PVC, a type of plastic, there are concerns about the manufacturing process. Exposure to chemicals in unsafe environments could pose health risks to workers, and flooring that is manufactured overseas could be made in factories that don’t ensure humanitarian labor rules. 

That said, it’s usually easy to investigate the source of your flooring by checking the manufacturer's website and double-checking that the business is valid and in good standing. 

How To Decide if LVP Is Right for Your Home

Deciding on flooring is one of the many difficult decisions you have in designing a new home or remodeling your existing space. It can make a hugely positive impact in your space or be a total flop. Here’s a quick checklist of questions to ask yourself if you’re thinking of installing luxury vinyl planking. 

  • What’s more important: resale value or installation cost? Installation of LVP is less expensive than wood, but wood holds its value longer. 
  • How much time are you willing to invest in upkeep? Tile will require grout removal, repair, and replacement every few years, and wood will need refinishing. Vinyl plank requires very little maintenance. 
  • Does the design layer of LVP meet your expectations? While most LVP can mimic real wood and other natural textures, it isn’t the same. 

If you’re still in the planning mode, there’s a solution that can help. Spoak’s interior design visualization tool lets you try before you buy, giving you access to a design platform where you can try out your actual flooring options to see how they’ll look in your space. 

What’s Underfoot?

Maybe you didn’t realize there was so much to consider when you began shopping for flooring. Now that you know, you’re better equipped to make a decision that’s perfect for your space. 

Photo Credit: (Left) Domino

Sources:

Vinyl vs. Laminate Flooring: Pros, Cons And Differences (2023) | Forbes Home 

What Are the Best Alternatives to Wood Flooring? | Real Estate | U.S. News 

The dirty truth about your fake wood floors | Fast Company

5 Signs It's Time to Replace a Subfloor | Bob Vila

Vinyl Plank (Luxury Vinyl) Flooring Review: Pros and Cons | The Spruce

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Date Posted
July 21, 2023
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