The fast-growing multilayer flooring category can leave retail sales associates (RSAs) and their customers confused. Understanding the basics of multilayer flooring compositions and asking the right questions can help RSAs guide their customers—be they homeowners or commercial specifiers—through selecting the right products and installation methods for their projects.

If you look at all the new sizes, compositions and wear layers available today, there is one common component grouping them into a specific flooring category. That component is the polymer composite material. Products called wood plastic composite (WPC), stone plastic composite (SPC), rigid vinyl core, enhanced vinyl core and solid cores, all have a polymer middle-layer composite.

According to Harlan Stone, president of the Multilayer Flooring Association and CEO of Halstead International/Metroflor, a multilayer floor is any plank or tile hard-surface flooring plank made up of multiple layers of a different material that are assembled together, provided that the middle layer is a polymer composite material.

It’s important to clearly identify this flooring group so it can stand on its own merits and help to differentiate it from the laminate and engineered wood products available today. Laminate floors can be defined similar to multilayer floors, except the middle core is always composed of either an MDF (medium density fiber) or an HDF (high density fiber). The fibers are made from postindustrial wood waste or other pulp materials. They are not waterproof, which can lead to more expansion and contraction. Recent trends in the laminate field tend to be thicker floors pushing the 12.3mm or ½” barrier.

Engineered wood is exactly what it says: layers of engineered wood; either quarter sawn portions perpendicular to the wear layer and backer board, or multiple plywood layers. An example of a higher quality engineered wood floor will consist of an exterior graded adhesive used in a 7- to 9-ply Baltic birch core with a wear layer in excess of 4mm. With regards to both laminates and engineered wood, the backer boards and wear layer qualities can and do vary greatly, but never do either of them have a polymer in their composite.

It is with this distinction that we can begin to look at the added values of the multilayer floors and the implications of their installations.

Properties of MLF:

  • Polymer composite
  • Water resistant
  • Antimicrobial
  • Durable
  • Easy to clean

When installing a multilayer floor today, the advantages over the original luxury vinyl tile/luxury vinyl plank (LVT/LVP), and especially laminate floors, become obvious. The increased waterproof characteristics are critical to commercial and large-scale applications. Its inability to attract water leaves you with an anti-microbial characteristic and strong reduction of mold and mildew growth. Another advantage to the new polymer composite floors is their increased stability. Thermal plastics at high temperatures being injection molded with wood and or stone fillers, have proven to be the best when performed with coupling agents. The agents enable consistent uniform distribution of the product. Still another advantage to today’s multilayer floors is their added rigidity. Added rigidity means less attention needs to be given to the sub-floor prep.

The top wear layer and top vinyl layer usually sandwiches a transparent wear resistant layer which creates a stain proof finish and easy to clean product. The polymer composite greatly increases the density creating a much more durable product.

Although the advantages are many, the floor doesn’t install itself, and there are some key installation requirements:

  • Check manufacturers’ recommendations if installing over existing floors.
  • If removing any existing floors, ensure the sub-floor is flattened and all loose parts are either nailed or adhered down.
  • Floors still need to be flat, so floor levelers may be part of your prep. A 3/16” discrepancy over a 10’ area is allowed.
  • Test all subfloors for proper moisture levels.
  • Always clean the floor multiple times to ensure it is free of dust and debris.
  • Sub floors must be dried and/or fully cured.
  • Always work from several boxes of product at one time, minimizing any color discrepancies or box dye lot changes.
  • Maintain a 1/4” expansion space around all perimeter walls.
  • Although cuts with a saw are now minimal, try to use a remote area for cutting in order to minimize any dust.
  • Recognize and acknowledge the manufacturers’ acclimation time frame, since many require a 48-hour acclimation.
  • Cabinets set on the floor should be placed prior to the flooring installation.
  • Stairs and flooring installations on a job site should be the final surfaces installed.
  • Flooring should be laid in the same direction as the main light source.
  • Leave the jobsite clean at the end of each day’s work.
  • Educate the proper cleaning method and materials to be used.

The fast expansion of multilayer flooring products by manufacturers has left a gap in the industry to find quality transitions and accessories. As every good installer knows, the job is only complete when the final pieces to the puzzle are installed. The flooring manufacturer may provide transitions, however, they may not be as high quality as your flooring.

Here are a few tips for knowing you have chosen the right accessories for your flooring project:

  • Make sure the accessories are of equal or greater quality than the floor being installed. You’d hate to see an expensive multilayer floor begin to have problems in the next year because of inadequate quality to the transitions. Look at the composition of this stair nosing and notice its WPC core and water-resistant finish. This, combined with the versatility to perform properly in the right thickness ranges, are critical to a highly functioning floor.
  • Always use a high-quality adhesive for installation of your transitions. The adhesive should be waterproof, have elastomeric qualities, and bind rapidly to almost anything for an easy installation.
  • Transitions should include both flush and overlapping options.
  • Look for coordinating wood options for floor vents, treads, and risers as this will assure the most professional looking environment.
  • Look for an accessory manufacturer that will accommodate your custom needs. This will separate you from your competition.
  • Always ask the unknown questions up front. This will assure you and your customer of complete satisfaction at the time of completion.