If you’ve been to the movie theater, grocery store, mass merchandiser (such as Walmart) or most any retail store this month, you’ve seen the newest styles in the hottest flooring segment--luxury vinyl tile! In fact, I’d be hard pressed to name a business segment that is not using some type of lvt in areas formerly reserved for either vct or other vinyl sheet goods, ceramic or hardwood.
The increasing popularity of the material naturally leads to more questions about the product. Following are some of the most common questions about this highly versatile, designer-friendly flooring option.
1. Can lvt really perform in the commercial arena?
Yes, look at the product’s wearlayer thickness and be guided by the manufacturer’s recommendations and warranties. Some products may have a 10-year residential warranty, but only a three- or five-year commercial warranty. Others may also feature only a residential warranty or specifically exclude commercial use. Make sure to use a commercial-rated product for commercial installations; if a residential-rated product is used in what could be defined as a commercial setting, then warranties could be void.
2. How important is the wearlayer thickness in an lvt product?
As implied by the term, the wearlayer is the part of the product that is exposed to traffic conditions, not the design encased within the overall product profile. As a rule of thumb, the thicker the wearlayer the more resistance you have against damaging the product’s design from traffic conditions including scuffing, scratches, cuts and so forth. So long as the wear remains on the wearlayer, the appearance is more a matter of maintenance. Typical commercial use requires a thicker wearlayer than residential because of the type and amount of traffic.
3. Should I be concerned about the nominal size options of the lvt?
Vinyl tile products have been about 12” square for years. LVT may be 12” square, but also 15”, 18”, 21”, 24” or greater; strip lvt products will also vary so as to mimic strip wood. Look at the dimensions of your area, the amount of cutting in you may have to do for installation and the waste (overage) involved. This becomes particularly important if you are using multiple products with borders. Also give thought to the design concept and look of the product. Strip products usually have the lowest typical waste factor. Some find the larger sizes are more stable, but these are often more costly per square foot.
4. I presented a lvt and was told the client couldn’t afford such an upscale product and was considering vct. What can I do to change their mind?
Make sure to show the product’s initial expense and usage cost over the expected life. VCT is less money initially, but when you figure in the maintenance cost, that changes dramatically. LVT may only require mopping or light scrubbing and buffing, and no other acrylic finishes. Also, make sure to highlight the enhanced, upscale look that lvt provides.
Perhaps the client can shift money from another part of the project or reduce their outlay for other flooring products. I always found it helpful to present several options and price comparisons. Take a little bit of cost out of one area to help the budget in another area.
5. What criteria should I use to determine the manufacturer(s)/distributor(s) to use for my commercial projects?
As with other products that can be specified, the type of relationship you establish with the manufacturer or distributor is invaluable. Are they willing to work with you on a key dealer pricing basis? Do they give you a reason to specify their product, or is every project going to be competitive with 10 other dealers in the same area? What about training and support for their line? How saleable is the line, and is it priced competitively? Unfortunately, there are times when a great line or series of lvt is produced, but is a profit disaster for you. You should have more than one line to avoid supply disruption, and it should be specifiable and profitable.
6. Are there specific areas not to use lvt?
I’d be careful about most lvt products at building entrances and areas of high moisture, or greasy, dirty areas where extreme cleaning must be done. Use ceramic, quarry tile or poured floors for those areas. Also stay away from areas that are graded extremely heavy duty.
7. My client wants a dramatic look with vinyl, rubber and lvt, and I may mix the products for diversity. What are my challenges likely to be?
There are several things to consider as you put your package together: Will there be significant differences in the type of installation required by the manufacturer? What about the level of moisture emissions that the products can handle? Product profile is also a concern, since a fraction of an inch difference in product thickness will require either floor prep or some type of transition strips; consider the level of maintenance that may also be required. For a dramatic look, you may even wish to consider some type of waterjet cut design that features a company logo or scene.
8. I have rough, uneven concrete floor that has previously had direct-glued broadloom carpet, and I want to specify a high-gloss lvt. Am I likely to have problems?
Floor prep, and a lot of it, is the key here. Scrape up old adhesive, knock down any trowel ridges, skim coat to fill cracks and depressions. For an extremely rough floor, after thorough cleaning you may need to resurface the floor with commercial topping material. Even with that, I would recommend the final step of sanding. A high-gloss finish can sharply define an uneven, rough substrate, especially when there is a lot of light. Why not consider a medium gloss rather than a satin finish as a compromise?
9. When moisture testing was done, the MVER was higher than that recommended by the manufacturer for the product installation. Now what?
You might talk with the manufacturer’s technical department and explain the MVER readings, perhaps fax them a copy of the report. They may have some suggestions for a moisture barrier or a type of installation protocol that will solve the problem. Some manufacturers also have an lvt that is not directly adhered by adhesive and may/will be more forgiving of a higher MVER. I would not just use the “trowel and pray” approach.
10. What is your best suggestion if I have a technical problem with my new LVT floor?
Contact the manufacturer first and explain your concerns. Sometimes, there may be a known defect of manufacture that is not installation-related. You may also need to contact an independent third-party inspector that specializes in vinyl related flooring. Explain via phone or email the problem that you are seeing; they should not charge you unless you and they agree that they are to do an on-site job inspection and render a report to you. This could be extremely important if the job is a large, expensive one to replace.
A Growing Product Segment
Why has lvt become so popular? The short, uncomplicated answer is available colors, styling, affordability and ease of maintenance. At the heart of lvt’s popularity is its ability to look like a supercharged vinyl tile, ceramic, hardwood or metallic floor without many of the drawbacks of the original products.
It is also relatively easy to create various vignettes within an area using a number of different products with the same overall profile. In one upscale grocery store, I counted five distinctive lvt patterns in use. Each style was carefully coordinated to delineate areas according to color and area usage. Another retail area used hardwood look vinyl strips in different wood tones to showcase upscale clothing while large open aisle areas were done in vct.
A key component to specifying and selling commercial lvt is that you must couple your flair for design with the day-to-day practical function of the area. Essentially, you must understand the overall design of the area. With a world of color and style, you can be extremely creative and blend lvt with many other products. In fact one of the best ideas of using lvt is the unlimited potential.
Be careful using a high-gloss finish unless there is real commitment to frequent maintenance. A satin finish or medium gloss is likely the best choice except for lightly used areas. Get in the habit of grading the areas as moderate, medium, heavy or extra heavy according to expected traffic and maintenance.
Careful floor prep, skim coating and/or some type of poured floor resurfacing are frequently needed. It is critical that ridges from prep work be minimized. A tip from some successful installers: After floor prep, sand the floor using a 20” rotary floor machine and a screen disk. This will remove those offending ridges and give you an extremely smooth substrate. The time taken to do this is more than offset by doing it by hand or having to rework areas.
Moisture testing on concrete substrates is critical, and many failures have come about because this step was skipped. Make sure to install lvt within permissible moisture emission rates. I just walked through a local grocery store and saw about 25% of the existing lvt with bubbles or edge curl; and there has already been about a 10% spot replacement. Sooner than later, store management is going to realize the quick-fix approach is futile and opt for a full job replacement.