The very first tip anyone should take to heart about installing any flooring type is to find that piece of paper which is usually packed inside every box or roll of flooring called “the instructions!” It can’t be stressed enough that those documents are your insurance policy for a good and warranted installation. Luxury vinyl tile and plank are no exception and a successful install balances on the edge of whether you read the instructions carefully or not. Having said that, there are some important aspects, tips or tricks to installing luxury vinyl tile or plank that are worth elevating and need some special attention.
One of the most important aspects of a successful luxury vinyl tile or plank installation is to pay very close attention to instructions relative to acclimating the flooring and installation materials for a minimum of 48 hours in the environment in which they will be installed. It is even more important to acclimate these materials at the service temperature and conditions and not necessarily jobsite conditions. For example, proper acclimation would not be storing the flooring and adhesive on an unheated job site in fall or winter where the ambient temperature of the room might be below 55F. Sure, 55F is within the stated application temperature ranges of many flooring adhesives but when it comes to vinyl plank and tile, this is not a good idea.
You need to think about luxury vinyl tile and plank almost the same way you think about wood flooring. Wood flooring has its issues surrounding matching the moisture content of the wood to the subfloor as well as in the ambient environment. Luxury vinyl tile and plank are much more sensitive to temperature. If you read the reviews and blogs about this flooring type and hunt for the most common performance issue it invariably is peaking or gapping at the seams. These problems can be mitigated by making sure to acclimate the flooring and materials at the service temperature of the room. It may not seem like this flooring product could change dimensions that much with temperature swings of 20-30F, but it will. Problems will occur with this flooring type if it is installed in low temperatures and then elevated to service conditions and vice versa. Plank structures have the bulk of these issues because the thermal expansion impact will be greater on the long direction which will manifest itself as peaking at the butt seams. In summary, just pay attention to acclimation and service temperatures and these problems will be minimized.
Secondary to acclimation is a small discussion about where luxury vinyl plank and tile are installed. Many manufacturers of this flooring product are now cautioning purchasers to avoid installing their product in direct sunlight. This is not referring to a product’s ability to withstand UV radiation (sunlight) but a word of caution again about this flooring’s characteristic of absorbing energy (sunlight) which converts to heat, which then converts to expansion, sometimes resulting in seam peaking.
What this means is if the flooring installed in front of a floor-to-ceiling plate glass window facing south and is a dark colored flooring material, the heat generated by the direct sunlight on the floor can cause significant temperature rises and resulting peaking issues. Beyond this issue, you will also find in many installation guides for these products references to expansion zones around the perimeter of the room. This is especially important for click together systems of luxury vinyl plank which also must deal with much larger, free-floating pieces of vinyl material and thermal expansion.
Beyond acclimation, subfloor evaluation and preparation are key to a defect-free installation. For concrete substrates, it is still very important to determine the moisture content of the slab prior to adhering luxury vinyl tile and plank. Modern adhesives used for this flooring type are getting more moisture resistant as formulation technology improves, but they are still sensitive to high moisture and high alkalinity conditions.
Testing a concrete slab using the usual methods will determine if it is suitable for the adhesive system as-is or if it requires moisture mitigation. For wood substrates, they first need to be suitable per the flooring manufacturer’s recommendations in terms of type, construction and ventilation (where appropriate). Always review the suitable substrates section of the flooring manufacturer’s installation guidelines to make sure the wood substrate is approved. Ventilation is important on suspended wood subfloors on grade. The requirements typically are an 18” crawl space with proper ventilation and covered entirely with a polyethylene vapor barrier on the ground. Moisture mitigation products are typically not recommended for use over wood substrates because they might protect the adhesive and flooring system, but they trap moisture below would could lead to worse problems such as mold or rot on the subfloor itself.
Whether it be a concrete, wood, or other substrate, care should be taken to make sure it is flat and smooth to avoid waviness in the finished floor appearance. Skim coating compounds are great solutions for patching seams in wood substrates as well as minor defects in concrete, but they will not easily create a flat and level floor. The best installations for luxury vinyl tile and plank are often seen on substrates that have been prepared with a self-leveling compound. These materials, whether cement or gypsum based, create a flat and level floor which is perfect for this resilient, flexible flooring material.
Lastly, regarding adhesive choice (where appropriate) the market has a wide variety of solutions, all of which will provide you with the performance characteristics required for a successful installation. Again, as with everything else mentioned here, reading the supplied documentation is paramount to a successful installation. Pay special attention to sections on acclimation, trowel notch and condition, flash and working time, moisture limitations and more. The manufacturers of adhesives, floor preparation materials and flooring do not create these documents for their own amusement. They are created to ensure that their product is used properly so the floor gets installed without issue and will provide a lifetime of trouble free service.