While it was once crucial for floor coverings to be attached to their underlying substrates—whether it was hardwood floors that needed to be nailed down or ceramic and porcelain tile mortared to the subfloors—the ever-evolving flooring industry created an easier method of installation: the floating floor (or loose lay).

Luxury vinyl tile and plank, better known as LVT and LVP, are among the products that can be installed as floating floors, allowing installers to complete a job without the manual labor tied to mechanical fasteners or glue.

“There are two main categories in LVT and LVP installation—a floating system and a glue-down system,” explained Kevin Parker, technical sales, Metroflor. “Most end users, in terms of residential homeowners, would rather have the click systems because they don’t want to deal with the adhesives, whereas the glue-down method is used in more mainstream commercial settings.”

LVT/LVP can be floated provided it’s designed for and/or recommended by the flooring manufacturer for that method, stated Larry Scott, vice president of field technical services, DriTac. “A full-spread adhesive installation will provide a solid floor sound and feel that is typically preferred by most consumers and homeowners.”

According to Daniel Tallman, project manager of business development, HPS Schönox, “vinyl tile installation ranges from glue-down LVT or LVP plank and tile, to heavier-gauge thickness interlocking vinyl design for loose lay.”

Floor prep basics

“The good thing about click is that it’s a pretty fast and simple process,” stated Parker. “Not to mention, there’s a lot of substrates you can go right over top of without having to do a lot of your typical floor prep.”

Josh Abrose, operations, Eheart Interior Solutions, echoed these sentiments regarding click. “Just flatten it out; it can even go over some existing sheet vinyl and other floor types as well. If it’s a glue-down, you have to go down to the subfloor, level it and then it can be glued. The biggest trick for LVT is to make sure the floor is level because if it’s not smooth, it will show every bump and crack.”

No matter what type of surface you tile over, it must be thoroughly cleaned, explained H.B. Fuller Construction Products technical support manager, Tom Plaskota. “Remove all furniture in the area and make sure the surface is free of all dust, loose particles, solvents, paint, grease, oil, wax, alkali, sealing/curing compounds, old adhesive and any other foreign material that could affect installation.”

Plaskota continued, “If leveling is required, after cleaning and before any other steps, make sure to prime the surface area. This improves adhesion and bond strength to the subfloor to prepare for the tile floor installation. Next, you want to make sure the surface is smooth and level. This means all cracks and imperfections in the floor must be sanded or filled in before tile floor installation can proceed.”

Steve Triplett, owner of TMS Flooring Innovations, expressed how crucial subfloor prep is. “It’s probably the most important step when it comes to installing any kind of flooring and if done properly, can make every job much more successful. You definitely want it to be very smooth and flat.”

Traditional subfloor preparation for vinyl installation consists of using a cement-based leveler or patch compound prior to spreading the glue, explained Tallman. “The cement-based material creates a porous surface meant to promote glue transfer or penetration into the substrate beneath. The latest advances in subfloor preparation technology include the use of newer synthetic gypsum products developed for critical subfloor repairs. These synthetic products have allowed installers the capability to install LVT in areas where before we could only install carpet tile.”

According to Keith Moore, regional technical service representative, MAPEI, “You can either have a wood, concrete or gypsum-based substrate. However all three of them are going to take a little differently. In the end, it all boils down to good floor prep.”

Jim Kups, North American technical support manager, Novalis Innovative Flooring, stated, “Subfloor prep is similar to any resilient floor and the same dos and don’ts apply with LVT/LVP.”

Sonny Callaham, Royal Adhesives & Sealants technical product manager, said, “LVT/LVP can be very thin and therefore any little imperfection in the substrate will show through, especially if the end user is planning on putting a high gloss finish on the surface. Installing this flooring over a flat, clean, smooth substrate is the key to a successful installation.”

The question that arises is: “Are these materials stable enough to be floated without increased expansion and contraction?” noted Callaham. “While no water-based adhesive can prevent the thermal expansion and contraction of vinyl products, having an adhesive with a high shear value can help prevent this movement in products with questionable stability.”

The effects of direct sunlight 

While one advantage of installing a floating floor is it allows for the floor to move and expand in response to changes in a room’s humidity, thermal expansion and contraction of vinyl products can still become an issue, especially inside a room that features a lot of direct sunlight.

In order to avoid some of the wear and tear on LVT/LVP flooring installed in a room prone to direct sunlight, Tallman made a few suggestions. “Installing sufficient shades or curtains and/or tinting windows in areas receiving direct sunlight is one option. Also, when initially selecting your flooring it’s important to ask which brands of LVT/LVP are UV-stable. Some of these products will often have a surface treatment such as aluminum oxide or some other type of UV-stable wear layer that can withstand the daily abuse of ultraviolet rays.”

Echoing Tallman, Kups also recommended the use of shades and curtains. “Also, any window treatment that will limit the amount of direct sunlight the floor is exposed to during the day is helpful.”

Moore noted, “Consumers can use a window treatment to diffuse the sunlight, exterior awnings to reduce the angle of the sunlight coming directly into a room, or even investing in some low-E (low emissivity) glass can help.”

Since vinyl expands and contracts, especially with the heat, a lot of people think direct sunlight alone is going to cause issues such as fading. It’s actually the heat, assured Parker. “The good thing that is happening now is a lot of the screen doors and windows are pre-treated to help block some of that sunlight. It’s more effective for your home, especially in the summertime. We don’t recommend vinyl be placed in any four-season room or sunroom because the floor will eventually lose and you’ll start to have problems. We’ve also even put in our warranty that we don’t allow our floors to be placed in similar settings for that very reason.”

Each manufacturer will have their specific set of guidelines for direct sunlight, expressed Callaham. “Most will require that blinds or curtains be used to prevent direct sunlight on the flooring. Excessive heat can cause the material to expand to a point that the end user finds it unacceptable and eventually it will become a complaint for the installation contractor.”

Moore points to another common problem. “A lot of times the floor covering installer doesn’t let the product acclimate to the jobsite. He’ll take it out of the box and quickly start installing it before taking into consideration jobsite conditions, temperature conditions and the product itself in terms of where it came from and where it’s going to be installed. For example, bringing a product from a 70 degree room and installing it into a 50 degree room without letting it acclimate beforehand can cause severe shrinkage and warping, ultimately creating major issues during installation.”

LVT and LVP are still vinyl floors and all the old rules still apply with placement, prep and installation, advised Kups. “Floating floors may have some similar characteristics to laminates when installing, but the salesperson and the installer need to be aware of the manufacturer’s instructions and limitations on the products for a successful installation.”