As luxury vinyl tile and planks (LVT or LVP) continue to grow as a preferred flooring choice among consumers, the flooring industry is concurrently seeing a rise in the number of new companies that are providing LVT installation services. This increase in new installation contractors can oftentimes result in varying degrees of quality (and not-so-quality) installations. There are several key factors that all installation contractors should follow to provide a high-quality installation for their customers and minimize the number of callbacks for warranty repairs.
And it all begins before the first tile or plank even touches the floor.
While LVT is a resilient product, it requires proper acclimation prior to installation just like other flooring products. Follow the manufacturer’s specifications on required acclimation times (typically 72 hours) and store the LVT in a conditioned environment on the project site. While this may provide one of the more challenging aspects for project scheduling, it is a critical step to avoid the LVT from cupping or shrinking later as the product expands or contracts post-installation.
If installing LVT on a concrete slab, it is important to test the relative humidity (RH) of the concrete slab well in advance of floor prep and tile installation. High moisture content in the underlying concrete can cause future subfloor failure and significant problems with the adhesive that is supposed to be securing the LVT in place.
A higher RH reading on a concrete slab could require additional subfloor work by the owner, or—at minimum—a specific moisture-resistant LVT adhesive conducive to the high-moisture content in the subfloor. Moisture tests should be performed at least 24 hours prior to floor prep. The contractor should follow the relative humidity testing guidelines as outlined in ASTM F2170. The results of the RH test should be immediately reported back to the customer and/or product manufacturer for review and to discuss any necessary changes to the installation method.
Proper preparation of the subfloor is the most labor-intensive aspect of an LVT installation project. It is also the most important step that separates the best installation teams from the rest. A high-quality installer will spend close to 70% of their project time on proper floor preparation before even laying their first tile. A few important steps for proper floor preparation include:
- Scraping or grinding old adhesive or foreign substance from the concrete. This is especially important when replacing old flooring. A dust-control system could be helpful in high dust-sensitive areas.
- Patching and repairing any holes, large cracks, or surface defects in the concrete. Use concrete patch compound for light repairs. Use self-leveling underlayment for larger areas.
- All concrete subfloors should receive a thorough skim coat with a quality self-drying cement-based finishing underlayment.
One of the final factors that should be addressed to prevent callbacks on LVT installations is the proper application of adhesive. If the LVT is a glue-down installation:
- Use the appropriate moisture-resistant LVT adhesive for substrates with high-moisture content. The adhesive should exceed the RH of the concrete. LVT installed with adhesive insufficient for the RH will eventually release and pull away from the concrete as the moisture continues to permeate.
- Apply the correct amount of a high-quality adhesive according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Too little adhesive and the LVT will not adhere properly and eventually release. Too much adhesive and the glue will seep through the LVT joints over time.
- Use the correct trowel notch when applying the adhesive. Follow the manufacturer’s open time and working time for the adhesive to ensure a good bond.
Other Best Practices
Some additional recommendations to reduce future callbacks are:
- When installing the LVT, leave a 1/8- to 1/4-in. expansion gap where the LVT meets a vertical structure (a wall, cabinet, etc.) This will prevent future buckling as the LVT and subfloor expands over time.
- Take good pictures during the project and document any installation challenges or issues along the way. Keep the owner updated during the project so that there are no surprises at the end of the installation.
- Perform a walkthrough with the owner or owner’s representative at the end of the project. Insist on getting a signoff that the work has been accepted by the owner and that there are no unfinished items. With the possibility that other trade contractors will perform work immediately after your finished installation, this will ensure that the proper contractor is held accountable for any future damage. If the owner does not have their own signoff form, be sure to provide your own.
While some installation teams will pride themselves on the quantity of LVT they can install during a construction phase, the quality of the LVT installation will be far more important in reducing overall project costs and warranty repairs. The key to providing a quality installation begins before the first tile is ever installed—with exceptional preparation.