Sumter Plank in Gunstock Oak is one of Shaw’s new offerings. Photo courtesy of Shaw Industries.

LVT is branching out. While the product is still used in commercial settings like healthcare, offices and retail, LVT is also becoming popular in segments like multi-family, condos and military housing. With end-users becoming wary about escalating flooring costs, the product offers a relatively low cost and long lifecycle, and more designers and specifiers are using LVT to meet their clients’ needs.

One of the newest players in the LVT market is Shaw Industries. This year the company is launching its first LVT offerings, Array (planks and tiles), in two waves. The first wave, scheduled to roll out this month, includes 17 SKUs in nine styles. Two lines are dry-back LVT, and one series will be offered in a floating format. The second wave (timed for the winter markets) will include one additional dry-back series and two floating lines. All products are fiberglass-backed, and will be offered at four price points.

Congoleum’s Terano, part of the DuraCeramic line, features Scotchgard Protector and Silver antibacterial protection. Photo courtesy of Congoleum.

“We know we are a carpet company, but we want to offer all categories of flooring,” said John Geier, Shaw’s resilient director of product development and category management. “These lines offer beauty and design options that are going to compete with laminate and wood.”

He said the floors will include stone and ceramic patterns, as well as plank looks. “Styling [in LVT] continues to mimic real wood, classic and distressed looks,” Geier noted. He also said that the design and installation technologies have become more advanced.

Thomas Trissl, president of International Floors of America’s Centiva brand, said that a wide range of looks are popular in LVT, making it hard to pin down any one design that is doing well. “Wood looks, stone looks, and artistic graphics and designs are all on the rise,” Trissl said.

He added that a variety of looks will be popular in the future as well. “Brushed or concrete looks and pastel products will reach new attention from consumers. You will also see more metallic pigments being used, in a sensitive, subtle way.”

Amtico’s Metals collection offers metal shades and a rippled, beaten texture. Photo courtesy of Amtico International.

He said his company’s Rays LVT style, which is designed to resemble carpet tile, has also been popular. Designers are also starting to mix and match real carpet tiles and LVT in installations.

“I’m actually surprised how the combination between carpet and LVT is coming into play right now,” he said. “Customers like to combine, and it’s something that plays into the favor of both categories.”

Trissl said that he sees a lot of interest in custom designs. “We have a strong cutting department, and that has been growing over the last couple of years,” Trissl said. “I think it’s a huge factor of our success.”

Mary Docker, the owner of Halo Floors (which was purchased earlier this year by CBC America), said that requests for custom work, while still in demand, have declined dramatically from their high levels in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Centiva’s Rays is designed to resemble commercial carpet tile. Photo courtesy of International Floors of America.

“Over the years the amount of custom cutting has diminished. Healthcare doesn’t really do a lot of it. There may be some curvy lines going down a corridor, but installers prefer to cut those themselves,” she said.

Jeff Collum, CBC America’s director of flooring, noted that LVT has grown into a product that “designers and specifiers want to see first so they can build a project around its designs and colors.” He added that within the last five years, LVT has moved from a niche product to an option for every part of the commercial market.

LVT’s popularity has also brought with it increased scrutiny from customers, which Collum said he welcomes because it gives companies the chance to show off the benefits of LVT. “There are lots of technical issues now that six or seven years ago people wouldn’t have even asked, such as acoustics, and the installation process.” Because more customers are looking to cut down on installation costs, manufacturers are researching ways to offer glueless, loose-lay LVT, Collum noted.

Mannington’s Timber Ridge, part of the Adura collection, features the company’s new LockSolid Technology. Photo courtesy of Mannington Mills.

One company that has launched a new glueless option is Mannington. Last month, Mannington introduced its proprietary LockSolid Technology to the Adura LVT line. According to the company, the locking system (which is “fully licensed, patented and has other patents pending”) requires no heavy tools, adhesives or underlayments to install. “We view this new technology as a game-changer,” said David Sheehan, Mannington’s vp resilient and laminate.

According to Todd Gates, Karndean International’s vp sales, LVT has become more popular partly because of improved printing technology. “LVT is now much better at replicating natural materials. It lets people design completely unique floors without the cost of a custom floor done in a natural material.”

He equates the better printing technology in today’s LVT to the high resolution of the current generation of digital cameras. “If you were going to equate it to digital photography, when you go back five or six years, a camera with two megapixels was considered a pretty good camera. Now cameras are available at 10 megapixels or more. The same goes with LVT. It’s become much more detailed in design and tone, and much more realistic.”

He said the category’s higher price points are also helping to drive LVT’s popularity. “There is still the need for the entry level products, for the multifamily projects, but there are also a lot higher-end materials and they are what’s really driving a lot of the business right now.”