Luxury Vinyl Flooring and Standard Vinyl

Hotel room with elaborately made bed.
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So-called "luxury" vinyl flooring (LVF) differs from standard vinyl flooring in its ability to closely mimic the look of natural materials, such as wood or stone. It accomplishes this by a surface layer that has a very realistic photo-created image, combined with textures that resemble that of the real materials. Expect to pay higher prices for this product. 

Luxury Vinyl Ratings and Reviews

Themes you find with higher-rated luxury vinyl include thicker wear layer; thicker overall dimensions; more realistic imaging; deeper embossing. Well-regarded luxury vinyl floor brands include:

  • Shaw Premio, Classico: At 6.5 mm in thickness, Shaw's luxury vinyl is among the thickest on the market.
  • Armstrong Luxe: Luxe's 4 mm luxury vinyl is not as thick as Shaw's, but it does boast a wide variety of wood species, including favorites such as maple, oak, walnut, and jatoba, but also trendier woods such as weathered barn wood and exotics like amendoim. 
  • Mannington Adura and Distinctive: Budget-friendly LVF, especially in the Adura line.
  • Karndean Loose Lay: Innovative Loose Lay uses an installation method that is neither glued nor the fold-and-click method that can be so frustrating Loose Lay instead relies on friction to hold the planks together.

Qualities of Luxury Vinyl

  •  Simulates natural materials. Luxury vinyl flooring takes on one of two forms. Either it simulates stone (slate, travertine, marble, etc.) or it simulates wood (teak, maple, oak, walnut, and pine). (Traditional vinyl flooring sometimes imitates natural materials and sometimes does not.)
  • Often plank-shaped. Another thing that distinguishes luxury vinyl tile (LVT) is the shape of individual pieces. Traditional sheet vinyl flooring comes in room-widths and -lengths to minimize or even eliminate seams. Normal vinyl tiles are usually square: 12"x12" or 16"x16" most often. Because LVT often imitates solid wood flooring, it comes in plank shapes. In this respect, LVT and laminate flooring are the same. Sizes vary, but the general shape is long and narrow. A typical size is 7" wide by 48" long.
  • Composition. Luxury vinyl is typically either 100% vinyl or a vinyl/limestone mixture. Any wood-look LVF will be made of all vinyl. Stone-look LVF often will contain minerals. Armstrong's Alterna, for example, is 75% limestone and 25% vinyl. Note that only the base layer is limestone, while the top layer is vinyl. So, you are looking at and walking on the vinyl layer.

Composition of the Layers

There is no difference in the number of layers between traditional and luxury vinyl tile—only the thickness of these layers. Both have four layers, starting at the top and going down:

  1. Aluminum oxide: This topmost aluminum oxide-based layer prevents light scratching and shoe scuffs.
  2. Clear film: This layer protects against harder damage, such as rips and tears.
  3. Design layer: This is the photo-realistic print of stone or wood.
  4. Backing layer: The bottom layer is the real "meat" of the flooring, giving the product structure and solidity. The backing layer comprises 90% of the product's thickness.

Manufacturers and Brand Names

Luxury vinyl flooring makers abound. Below, though, are just a few of the industry leaders:

  • Armstrong Alterna: Stone-look vinyl tiles in 12" x 12" and 16" x 16" sizes. They can be butted against each other for the no-grout look or spaced and with the seams filled with an acrylic "grout."
  • Armstrong Luxe Plank: Self-adhesive, floating floor planks that look like wood. Designed for DIY installation.
  • Mannington Adura: Adura is a glue-down LVF in both plank and tile form.
  • Shaw Floors: At this time, offers about 80 LVF products. 
  • Burke Flooring: Wood plank-look and stone-look LVF, with a super-thick product that is 20mm thick.
  • Mohawk Flooring: A small collection (only 20 right now) of LVF—no stone-look, only wood-look.

Comparing Prices

Prices ordinarily range from around $2.00 to $5.00 per square foot, but they can range up to $10.00 per square foot at the very top end. By comparison, ordinary vinyl flooring, prices can be as low as $.50 to $1.00 per square foot. When you get into the higher prices, you are almost always looking at LVF.

Size and Thickness

LVF usually comes in either plank or tile form. A typical plank size is 48 in. x 4.5 in. A typical tile size is 16" x 16". Sometimes, as with Mannington Adura, you can find unusual shapes, such as rectangles sized at 12" x 24".

Thicknesses range from 10mm to 12mm ( about 1/8"). Ordinary vinyl flooring can be as much as 10 times thinner, with bargain tiles coming in at 1.2 mm. Burke Flooring offers a product that is 20 mm thick.

Product History

Coupling the word "luxury" with "vinyl" may seem like an oxymoron. After all, vinyl flooring has long been associated with bargain installations. So why is luxury vinyl now found in $2 million downtown condominiums? Answer: new technologies plus some good old-fashioned marketing.

Long ago, laminate flooring eclipsed vinyl as the go-to inexpensive and easy-to-install flooring product. There were two reasons for this. First, laminate's photorealistic image layer successfully imitated the look of wood and its plank format imitated the "long and narrow" board shape of real hardwood. Sheet vinyl could only offer up unrealistic grout lines for stone-look flooring and practically nothing in the way of wood-look flooring.

With its introduction in October 2006, luxury vinyl flooring reinvented vinyl flooring, and manufacturers quickly began positioning it as a viable flooring material for homeowners who are well-educated about flooring. It is also seen as an initiative to capture the urban market—condominium dwellers who are loath to install solid hardwood due to cost, or who may be prevented from this by HOA covenants.