Vinyl plank flooring material has become very popular of late, and with this popularity comes an increased use in both residential and commercial applications. It can be glued down or installed with one of several self-fastening systems and, once properly installed, will perform very well and look good doing it.

We’ve had a number of contacts of late concerning the shrinking and curling of vinyl plank flooring. While writing this, we’ve received three emails on the subject and one product sent to our lab to test for curling.

The product being tested exhibited curling edges out of the box when it came in.  The complaint cited the edges lifting when installed; this condition was evident on the samples we received, even having never been installed. 

Vinyl plank flooring can be affected by abatement materials used during the removal of old adhesives, particularly when vinyl asbestos tiles and cut-back are involved.  The material, as we’ve seen, can react to both the citrus solvent used for cut-back removal and the surfactant used to remove the citrus solvent.  There are copious amounts of wet agents used that, if not allowed to dry properly, can affect the material.  Even if a cementitious leveling or patching agent is used, the residues from the removal systems can migrate to the surface and impact the flooring. 

Why should these products be so sensitive? Here’s something to consider: very few of the problems we’ve encountered have been with products manufactured in the United States; most of the problematic vinyl plank we’ve seen is imported. The stability of these types of products is questionable.  They may be less expensive, yes, but there’s always a reason for the price being lower. As with everything, you get what you pay for.  

Some vinyl plank flooring products are made using recycled materials and, as with all flooring products using recycled content, there is not much history to help determine how the use of recycled content may affect the material when installed, regardless of the amount of testing done. The shape – long and narrow – can also lend itself to distortion. 

We do a lot of work helping to develop, evaluate and qualify new technologies and products for the flooring industry, especially installation systems. One of the most important exercises we engage in is trying to make these systems fail by forcing them into situations they would not otherwise experience – taking the tests far beyond the standard protocols and putting them into situations that would strain any installation.  Despite this effort to eliminate any compromises in what might otherwise be a phenomenal installation system, we know that someone somewhere is going to find the skunk in the wood pile that makes it fail – this is inevitable and frankly amazing when it happens.

Vinyl plank flooring click systems or other methods are no different. It’s important to remember, especially on imported products, the quality control factor, testing prior to release and uniformity in the manufacturing process.  If these processes aren’t closely and continuously controlled, the variation, no matter how minor, can undermine installation and physical stability.   

As with any product, don’t just take it out of the box and put it on the floor.  Even though the manufacturer has a responsibility to produce, inspect and ship a product that is installable and merchantable for service, everyone in the supply chain has the obligation to check the product.

If the plank looks less than flat, square, even, stable or if your gut tells you it’s different than what you have experienced in the past, stop and determine, as best you can, why.  Notify the manufacturer and, by all means, don’t proceed with the installation. In situations where it absolutely, positively has to go in, first inform the responsible party of your concerns, take photos, make notes and save samples.

One of the easiest ways to avoid problems with vinyl plank flooring products is to use a high-quality product from a reputable manufacturer. Yes, it may cost more up front, but it’s much cheaper than replacing something of lesser quality down the road.

End of the day, it comes down to common sense.  There’s nothing more I hate than having to look a consult in the eye and ask, “Why in the world did you install this stuff” when product integrity out of the box is questionable.