The Best Vinyl Flooring Types: Your Complete Guide
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October 21, 2019
When you think of vinyl flooring, you probably think of the patterned, plasticky, slick surface that covered just about every kitchen and bathroom in America for the second half of the 20th century. In fact, you can probably remember exactly how it felt to slide around on it in your socks, how it felt cold on your feet when you stepped out of the shower, even how your shoes squealed on it when you forgot to wipe your feet at the door (sorry, mom).
That nostalgia-packed vinyl sheet flooring of yesteryear definitely isn’t as popular as it used to be. But vinyl flooring as a whole has never been more sophisticated or more beloved. In fact, with endless variations of vinyl plank and vinyl tile on the market, there’s never been a wider and more versatile selection of vinyl flooring to choose from.
Below, we’ll discuss all your vinyl flooring options: the differences between them, their advantages, disadvantages, underlayment considerations, installation methods, costs, and more. And when you’re ready to choose the best vinyl flooring for you, we’ll help you with that too.
You’ve probably seen a million terms used to describe modern vinyl flooring. Luxury vinyl tile. Vinyl plank. WPC. Pergo. LVT. SPC. LifeProof. LVP. The list goes on! But what’s the actual difference between all of them?
In a nutshell: nothing.
Ok, ok—not nothing exactly, but pretty darn close. All of these terms refer to what’s essentially the same product: a durable, synthetic plank (or tile) flooring made entirely of PVC. To keep things simple, we’ll be referring to it simply as “vinyl plank” from here on out.
What’s vinyl plank flooring made of?
Vinyl plank flooring is generally composed of three layers:
A rigid or semi-rigid baseorcore layer.
A pattern or design layer that can mimic the look, feel, and texture of just about any type of flooring—usually natural products like hardwood, stone, or fabric.
A protectiveor wear layer that protects the surface from scratches, dents, UV damage, etc.
The thickness of a wear layer can range from 8 mil (a thousandth of an inch) all the way to 28 mil or so. Some types of vinyl plank also come with a fourth layer—usually for soundproofing, underfoot feel, or another specific reason—but it entirely depends on the product.
What’s the difference between flexible-core and rigid-core vinyl plank?
Rigid vinyl flooring, sometimes known as WPC (wood-plastic composite) or SPC (stone-plastic composite), tends to “feel” more like real hardwood. That’s about it. It contains no actual wood or stone.
But if it’s all the same type of flooring, why all the names?
The simple answer: branding. Every manufacturer wants to set their product apart, so they’ll call their offering something fancy like “LVT” (aka “luxury vinyl tile”) or “LVP” (“luxury vinyl plank”).
LifeProof, for instance, is just a branded version of Mohawk Flooring’s heavy-duty vinyl plank made exclusively for Home Depot. Pergo is a brand name. Vinyl tile is the exact same thing as vinyl plank, just in the shape of—you guessed it—tiles rather than planks.
Vinyl Plank vs. Vinyl Sheet Flooring
The only exception to this rule: vinyl sheet flooring. One of the oldest vinyl flooring products around, this is the floor you probably remember from your childhood. It comes in 6- or 12-foot rolls and is installed as a single sheet (hence the name).
While vinyl sheet flooring has been somewhat supplanted by vinyl plank flooring, it’s still extremely popular due to its affordability and ease of installation (it can be glued directly to a subfloor or installed in a modified loose lay, depending on the product). Plus, it’s entirely seamless, so it’s a great choice for rooms that get a lot of moisture or water.
Vinyl Flooring Pros and Cons
Advantages of Vinyl Plank Flooring
If you’ve been looking into new floors, you already know that everything comes down to location. Many types of hardwood floors, for instance, can’t be installed anywhere they’ll be exposed to water or moisture. That means kitchens, bathrooms, basements, and laundry rooms are generally a no-go.
Equally as important: it’s crazy durable. If you’ve got a mudroom, a three-season room, maybe a beach house (and if so, we’re really jealous), vinyl plank flooring is the way to go. Maybe you’re looking for a good floor for dogs or other critters (like children). If so, vinyl’s a great choice. It’s heavy-duty enough that you don’t have to worry about your dog peeing on it or your kids scuffing it up.
The vinyl production process has become quite advanced in recent years. These days, it can be really, really difficult—if not impossible—to tell the difference between high-quality vinyl plank flooring and solid hardwood flooring. Seriously!
Disadvantages of Vinyl Plank Flooring
It might not last a lifetime
If you’re looking for a floor that’s going to last a lifetime (or more), vinyl flooring might not be the best flooring option for you. Solid hardwood floors can be refinished again and again; vinyl floors need to be replaced once the wear layer is worn through. That said, it all depends on the product. Some vinyl floors have a 6-year warranty; some have a 35-year warranty.
It can sometimes fade in the sun
Even though most wear layers are UV-resistant, some products can occasionally fade from exposure to sunlight. Solution: buy your floors from a knowledgeable flooring retailer in your area instead of a box store like Home Depot. That way, you can ask an expert about specifics like sun resistance before you make your purchase (and they’ll actually know what they’re talking about).
It’s not very environmentally friendly
Vinyl flooring is made of plastic, so it’s definitely not what you might call an “eco-friendly flooring option”. Once it’s used, it’s hard, if not impossible, to recycle. More importantly, however, in 2015, reports surfaced of certain vinyls—particularly those made in China—giving off something called “Volatile Organic Chemicals”, or VOCs, after being installed.
These reports have led to serious reforms in the flooring industry. Today, there is much more oversight over production methods than there was even just a couple of years ago. For maximum peace of mind, though, we’d recommend looking for FloorScore-certified products. These are compliant with the state of California’s VOC emissions standards, which are some of the strictest in the country.
Some types can scratch or dent
Although they’re super-durable, some types of flexible vinyl plank floors are susceptible to scratching and denting (especially over time). So if you’re planning on leaving some super-heavy furniture on your flexible vinyl planks for years, make sure to use floor protectors!
The Best Underlayment for Vinyl Plank Flooring
As with all things flooring, everything comes down to the specific product. Some types of vinyl flooring require a certain type of underlayment; other types can be laid directly on concrete. It’s all on a product-by-product basis.
That said, remember that flexible vinyl plank will conform to any irregularities in its underlayment. That means if your subfloor isn’t smooth or level, your floor won’t be smooth or level. This isn’t as much of a problem with rigid vinyl plank, but you should still try to install it under the best conditions possible.
Vinyl plank can be installed as a floating floor, glued to a subfloor, put in with a click-and-lock system, or even loose-laid with just friction to hold it in place. It all depends on the product you choose.
And while this versatility makes vinyl plank one of the more DIY-friendly types of flooring, we wouldn’t recommend installing it as your first-ever flooring project. Unless you love being stressed out.
Vinyl Flooring Cost
Vinyl flooring can run anywhere between $1 and $8 per square foot (or more) depending on the product. If you want a vinyl tile that looks and feels exactly like bamboo flooring, for instance, you’re going to be paying more than you would for a vinyl tile that just looks like… vinyl.
Cost is often directly tied to the product’s warranty as well; the longer the warranty, the more expensive the plank or tile.
Vinyl Flooring Installation Cost
Again, it heavily depends on the product and the installer, but most often, you’ll be paying somewhere between $2–$4 per square foot for vinyl flooring installation.
The Best Vinyl Plank Flooring Types
So what’s the best type of vinyl plank flooring? It entirely depends on you! What are your specific needs? What are your particular tastes? What’s the purpose of the flooring and where is it going to be installed? While we can’t answer these questions for you, we hope this article was a helpful guide to understanding your different vinyl flooring options.
Our advice: let the experts take it from here—use this flooring near me search to find a local retailer who can help you out. They can answer all your questions, suggest vinyl flooring types based on your specific needs, and help you compare brands before you buy. It’s really the best way to go.
About The Author
Associate Director of Content Marketing at FlooringStores (and its parent company, Broadlume), Samuel is a former travel writer, English teacher, and semi-professional trivia host. When he’s not creating content, he can be found doing crosswords, drinking coffee, and petting the office dogs.
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Hey Samuel. This was a very helpful, great article. I wanted to add a little to the durability section and about the VOC con you mentioned. LVP has come a long way in the durability market because of the addition of aluminum oxide in the wear layer. Aluminum oxide is one of the strongest compounds apart from diamonds which makes your boards extremely durable. An example would be Shaw’s Floorte Pro Series 6 and 7, which have the ScufResist Platinum Finish containing aluminum oxide. This also means they’ll be nearly impervious to cuts, scratches or scuff marks. This makes it a great option for pets, kids or high traffic areas in the house.
About VOCs, you can get many LVP offerings that are safe and environmentally friendly. Speaking about Shaw again, their products are tested by FloorScore ®, a third-party certification that tests and measures indoor air quality. Products bearing the FloorScore® label meet the stringent indoor air quality emissions criteria. What’s more, they’re given the authority to go into any of Shaw’s production facilities, especially in China, which has little to no government regulation and test VOC levels. I hope this helps and again, very helpful blog!
Thanks so much for reading, for your kind words, and most of all, for this excellent information! We’ll definitely be including info on aluminum oxide wear layers in future articles (especially our upcoming pieces that are more focused on luxury vinyl products). It’s an advance we’re super interested in!
As far as FloorScore certification is concerned, we agree that it’s really the gold standard for VOC testing. We had no idea, though, that Shaw had given them the authority to inspect their Chinese production facilities. That’s very, very cool!
Thanks again for the contribution and so glad you’re enjoying our content!
Hey Samuel! Thanks so much for the feedback. I wanted to mention another interesting thing I came across within the past week. One of the biggest, well, concerns I’ve seen from a lot of commenters and even on some blogs is how LVP looks fairly like real wood, but the feel is completely off because it’s smooth. But, there’s a really cool texturing technique called Embossed in Register (ER) that solves this problem nicely. With ER, the texture of the plank matches up perfectly with the register or the original graphic. This means that every grain is captured in detail, including wood knots. An advantage of this is increased surface area so you won’t slip or fall. This would be a great solution if you want that rougher hardwood feel, like I do as well, without having to pay the premium for hardwood. What do you think about it? Have you heard about it or seen options for it before?
My pleasure entirely and thank you for your contribution (seriously, it’s awesome to see flooring people chatting about this stuff)! You bring up such a good point as far as LVP underfoot feel. It’s something that we’ve also heard a lot of concerns about, especially among consumers for whom slip-resistance is a primary concern. We (flooring folk) usually chat about the Coefficient of Friction rating with tile, but not nearly enough with other types of flooring—and it’s something that can really help the elderly and less-mobile among us.
In any case, we LOVE ER texturing for that exact reason, and so happy you mentioned it! We usually discuss “textured” LVP as it’s more easily understood for the non-flooring minded (the same reason we don’t often mention specific production techniques), but yes—ER is, in our opinion, one of the coolest advances in modern flooring. Do we have a sample of some Shaw ER laminate at the office? Maybe.
As far as buying it as a solution to hardwood: we’re for it. Don’t get me wrong, we love hardwood. But if it’s not in your budget—or if you need to cover a surface that hardwood isn’t suited for—you’re going to be hard-pressed to find something that looks, feels, and reacts more like hardwood than an ER product. We can’t get enough.
In any case, thanks again for the chat and hope you’re doing well in these uncertain times!
The fact that vinyl flooring is moisture-resistant and easy to clean is my favorite takeaway from this article. I’ve always been looking for a way to make the constant daily chore of keeping my house clean easier, and I think reading your article has finally found it for me. If I can find a flooring company in the area that can install some vinyl planks, I’ll definitely have an easier time cleaning up every day.