What's Changed in Resilient Flooring Materials and Installation
Congratulations to FCI and its amazing staff for 20 years of what’s become a very well-liked and well-read publication. I continue to hear from readers who enjoy these pages and read FCIon a regular basis.
Also, at the risk of blowing my own horn, I’m happy to say I recently celebrated 10 years since my first “Let’s Talk Resilient” column in 2003. The late Howard Olansky, who started this magazine and several others (Editor’s note: See more about Howard in our write-up in the October/November 2013 issue and online), was somebody I always admired but didn’t get to spend any time with until he served as a moderator for an educational seminar about concrete I was a part of in St. Louis in 2002. What a great man and great supporter he was for all things educational in our industry.
After that St. Louis session, we did another in New York City and I guess he liked what he saw, because the editor of FCIreached out to me and a 10-year relationship started the following year. Howard gave the column the title, “Let’s Talk Resilient,” and I am very proud to have been a part of this fine magazine.
Someone once told me, “You are really passionate about resilient flooring,” and I guess it’s true. I grew up in the business, started working part-time in 1971, and went full-time in 1978. Resilient flooring is still something I am involved with on a daily basis, and it’s a category that I enjoy discussing, promoting and educating people about. When I read reports that resilient is one of the hottest categories in floor coverings these days, it makes me smile.
Compared to 20 years ago, I think it’s safe to say there are a lot of resilient products that weren’t around then, not to mention new patching and leveling compounds, adhesives and concrete moisture testing techniques. I could fill many pages covering all of these topics and how different so many things are now than they were 20 years ago.
For this column, I’ll focus on the products in specific and how they get installed. It’s more than just vinyl and rubber these days, so installers and dealers need to pay attention to the details to be sure of success. Here is a brief review of some newer products and some quick points on installing them correctly.
“Luxury Vinyl” Tile or LVT. First, let’s talk about the term LVT. As ASTM recently defined it, LVT is “a marketing term” that does not describe a specific product. The term “LVT” is being applied to products that are Vinyl Composition (VCT), some that are Solid Vinyl (SVT) and some that are neither. I’d say most products fit into the Class three “Printed film with clear vinyl wearlayer” category as per ASTM F1700 Standard Specification for Solid Vinyl Floor Tile,but I again caution not to assume.
Before installing or even quoting a “LVT” job, find out what you have. Not all products are installed the same way, and most importantly you need to know which adhesive you need. It can be anything from trowel-applied pressure-sensitive, wet-set acrylic or two-part reactive adhesives, to spray adhesive in certain applications. I recently saw a new roller-applied adhesive for vinyl tile that was very interesting as well. In short, the adhesive technology for the vinyl category is constantly evolving, so don’t assume that the “LVT” adhesive you used before is the same one you need to use today. (On top of those considerations, I have to mention the growing “floating” vinyl tile market that doesn’t use adhesive at all but has its own set of challenges.)
If I had to warn about one important point as far as all vinyl tile goes, no matter what the installation system, it would be temperature! Vinyl gets very malleable when it’s warm so if you install it in hot weather, it may expand or be stretched during handling. If you have ever heard it said that vinyl will “grow” when it’s warm, that’s what is meant.
This is especially true of rectangular products like vinyl plank, vinyl wall base and vinyl edgings. If it’s installed warm with nice tight seams, it can relax and return to its original size once the building cools. As it relaxes, you have gaps that are often misdiagnosed as “shrinkage.” So, take care during the summer months and also avoid using a heat gun or torch to make tile easier to cut - you may make a nice tight fit that gaps on you well after you’ve left the job.
Although not as common, this condition can sometimes go the other way as well, and cold tile that “grows” will lead to puckering seams. Standard practice for wood and laminate flooring is they are acclimated to jobsite conditions, and the jobsite is kept at the proper temperature without even thinking about it. However, vinyl is not often thought of in the same way. It should be!
“Recycled” Rubber. Also known as “crumb rubber,” these products are a blend of black recycled tire rubber and color chips of EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer), a synthetic material similar to rubber. Used mostly commercially, this material is fairly easy to install, generally with wet-set, single-part urethane adhesives unless you use the interlocking “puzzle” tile that goes down without adhesive.
On roll goods, the edges are trimmed at the factory, but check the roll edges anyway and trim them if the rolls don’t go together nice and tight. It’s best to lay the rolls out overnight because the adhesive is not “sticky” enough to pull the material down if it is not laying flat.
With thinner gauge material like 1/8” (3.2mm) thick products, the material can be a little “floppy” because it’s so flexible. It may take a little extra time pulling the seams together and a little painter’s tape can go a long way to hold the pieces together while the adhesive sets. If you get any adhesive on the surface, clean it off right away while its wet, because once it cures it’s next to impossible to get off.
Finally, some products come with a factory-applied coating, some don’t and depending on the application it may or may not be necessary to apply floor finish to the new floor after installation. Read the fine print in the contract or the specifications and see if you are expected to do this work. Not all installers do maintenance, but you may be expected to do it.
“PVC Free.” There is a new generation of flooring materials that look like vinyl but are not. For example, tile that looks like VCT but isn’t, wood looks you’d think are vinyl plank but are not, and sheet goods that have the look of a chip sheet vinyl but are not. Many of these products are actually polyester- or polyolefin-based and they don’t have their own category yet, so “PVC Free” is a catch-all term. If you don’t know the difference you may make the mistake of assuming you have vinyl and use the wrong adhesive, seam sealer, heat weld or floor finish. Installation and maintenance products for these “PVC Free” products are VERY product specific, so be careful.
Cork. I’ve covered cork in detail here in FCIin the past and this old product’s comeback is continuing. Floating cork floors are installed following the same rules as floating laminate or wood floors, but glue-down cork is an entirely different material. It’s classified as resilient but acts a lot like wood with regard to its sensitivity to temperature and humidity, effects of sunlight on the floor and the way it should be maintained. So when working with cork tile, “think wood.”
Water-based contact adhesive (applied to the back of the tile and to the substrate) is the ONLY way to adhere cork tile, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Some suppliers apply the adhesive to the back of the tile for you and others don’t, so be sure you know what you are getting and order the right amount of adhesive. After applying the adhesive and allowing it to dry, put the tile in place and use a rubber mallet to set the tile. Smacking it with your hand or rolling it with a floor roller does not do the trick. If you have never installed cork tile before, it’s not that hard but takes some time in advance to learn the proper techniques.
Linoleum.The term linoleum is still applied to sheet vinyl by a lot of people in our industry, but that’s inaccurate slang unless you are taking about the real thing. Natural linoleum is another old material whose comeback is going strong. Where installers get into trouble with “lino” is assuming it’s the same as vinyl to install.
It’s not the same! It uses a different adhesive, different ways of cutting and fitting the seams, and a different type of heat-weld rod for those jobs where welding is specified. If you’ve never installed sheet linoleum before, get some training before you do. Linoleum tile is fairly similar to installing other resilient tile, but again with its own specific adhesive.
One common theme among all these resilient flooring types is choosing the proper adhesive. Back in the 1970s we had just a few kinds ofresilient adhesives, and some worked on almost everything. Today, there are different adhesives for every product. Manufacturers have done a lot of research and testing to be sure that these new materials stick, so don’t make any assumptions in this regard. I’ve seen the results when the wrong adhesive is used – it’s not pretty!
There is no excuse for not ordering the right adhesive and other sundries like seam sealers at the same time as ordering the flooring itself. Do some research when you come across these new products. Websites are plentiful and the better suppliers have technical staff to answer questions and provide on-site support and training. Don’t say “I’ve been installing for 20 years” and assume you know everything. A lot of what we all knew 20 years ago does not apply today.
Take the time to learn some of these materials. Many installers don’t know how to do floors like cork and linoleum, so the ones that do are in demand. I know an installer that does almost nothing but cork floors and travels all over the country to install them. He never has a time when “there is no work.” If you can master the more “fussy” resilient products, you will have the work and your competition will not!
Before I go, I just wanted to once again congratulate FCIfor 20 great years, and thank my readers for the past 10 that I have been here. I never tire of speaking to people who tell me how much they have enjoyed this column. Thanks very much!