Installing vinyl flooring is one of the fastest and easiest ways to remodel a kitchen or bathroom. Vinyl flooring is economical, durable, and easy to install. Within a day or two, you can have an entire room's flooring finished.
But, as with so many other remodeling projects, preparation is a major part of the job. With flooring installation, preparing the correct base, or substrate, is critical for a long-lasting, beautiful floor. It is even more important with thin floor coverings such as vinyl flooring.
Can you install your vinyl flooring directly on top of the existing flooring, thus saving yourself the time and aggravation of removing the lower flooring materials?
Criteria for Proper Vinyl Flooring Substrate
In many cases, you can install vinyl flooring on top of existing flooring. There is nothing inherent about the lower surface being classified as floor covering that precludes it from acting as a substrate for the upper vinyl flooring. As long as that lower floor covering has all of the attributes of a proper substrate, it can be used.
The main issue is that vinyl flooring is thin, soft, and flexible. Vinyl flooring cannot effectively bridge over or smooth out substrate imperfections in the way that thicker, inflexible floor coverings can. Solid hardwood or engineered wood, for example, can bridge gaps, holes, and seams, as well as smooth over surface embossing. With vinyl flooring, any one of those imperfections could transfer, or telegraph, to the vinyl flooring above. Even worse, large holes could cause parts of the vinyl flooring to form craters over time.
Often, a substrate of large-format boards, such as 1/4-inch thick, 4-foot by 8-foot plywood or MDF particle board sheets, is laid down before the vinyl flooring is installed. This substrate is an addition to the subfloor. Large-format underlayment sheets work well for vinyl flooring because they add some strength, have few seams, and bridge over small holes and surface embossing.
If you are using vinyl flooring as a substrate for your next floor covering, it should have these qualities:
Removing floor coverings helps the installer assess the condition of the subfloor. By not removing the existing floor covering, it is difficult to see if the subfloor is cracked, rotted, or otherwise is not in good condition. Make sure that the existing floor covering and the subfloor and any possible underlayment are sturdy enough for installation of the vinyl flooring.
Seamless or Tightly Seamed
Large-format boards provide an installation surface that has few seams. In a kitchen floor that is 16 feet long by 12 feet wide, for example, six underlayment boards would be used, resulting in only a few seams. By contrast, a solid hardwood floor used as a substrate may have hundreds of seams. If that hardwood floor has other problems, such as wide gaps between the floorboards (often the result of water damage), it would be unsuitable as a substrate for the vinyl flooring.
No Holes or Other Imperfections
High spots in the substrate should be sanded down and low spots should be filled. While small imperfections might not immediately transfer to the vinyl flooring surface, over time they may expose themselves in the form of low craters or hills that gradually form on the surface.
Little or No Surface Embossing
One of the desired visual qualities of some tile, laminate, and vinyl is surface embossing. Embossing provides slight highs and lows that help make the floor covering look more realistic (like the material they are emulating, such as wood) or simply to aid their appearance. Pronounced embossing can eventually telegraph to the surface of the vinyl flooring. While this usually does not apply to thicker (6.5 mm) vinyl flooring, this may be the case with thinner boards in the 3.5 mm or less range.
Whenever adding one flooring on top of another flooring, height becomes an issue. If the previous version was presumably an acceptable height, will the higher version be too high? Using vinyl flooring as a top layer is one of the better choices in this respect since it adds less height than other types of flooring.
Types of Flooring on Which You Can Install Vinyl Flooring
You can install vinyl flooring on top of any existing flooring that meets the criteria for a proper substrate. Typically, this translates to floor coverings such as:
- Concrete flooring
- Laminate flooring
- Vinyl flooring
- Solid hardwood flooring
- Engineered wood flooring
- Smooth ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone tile with narrow seams and no lippage