See Why Plank Vinyl Is Now the Go-To, Self-Install Floor Covering

Living room interior hard-wood floor and sofa
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Plank vinyl flooring has skyrocketed in popularity recently.  First, plank wood flooring--the natural stuff grown on trees--has itself become so popular.  Plank vinyl seeks to replicate this, but in a cheaper, self-install form.  Second, resilient flooring manufacturers have greatly improved the look and feel of vinyl plank, converting buyers who previously would have laughed at the idea of buying resilient material.

Plank Brands and Retailers

A few recommended (or not) makers of plank vinyl, plus mini-reviews:

Shaw:  Shaw, with its Premio and Classico lines, is in the upper echelon of LVP makers.  While Shaw has thick (6.5 mm) and gorgeous LVP, take note that not every line is top shelf--notably the Aviator and Navigator lines.

Armstrong:  Armstrong is one of the oldest flooring companies and it is holding strong.  What this means to you is that, unlike fly-by-night companies, Armstrong will be around to respond to any warranty claims.  Armstrong makes mid-range quality LVP, all in respectable thicknesses and replica species.  

BuildDirect:  Online-only bargain LVF leader BuildDirect routinely offers the cheapest possible plank--but there are stipulations.  Due to BuildDirect's pricing structure, you often have to buy thousands of square feet to obtain those rock-bottom prices.  Unless you are flooring your whole house, you may want to pass on BuildDirect.

Lumber Liquidators:  Lumber Liquidators is your brick-and-mortar equivalent of BuildDirect.  Expect extremely low prices with caveats.  One caveat is in their house brand Tranquility line, which sells the absolute thinnest LVP:  North Perry Pine, at a paper-thin 1.5 mm.  Yet at the other end of the spectrum, Lumber Liquidators has a healthy selection of 5 mm planks at a wider-than-normal 7" wide.

Mannington:  Like Armstrong, Mannington is a solid company with quality offerings.  Mannington Adura is fine and decent, but if you want real wood plank looks you need to upgrade to their Distinctive line:  full 6" x 48" sizes, micro-bevel "eased" edges, pleasant coloration, and more realistic embossing.

Prices

How Cheap Can You Buy It?

You can expect to pay about $1.00 per square foot or a few cents less for the cheapest possible vinyl plank.

How Much Does Decent Luxury Vinyl Flooring Cost?

Prices in the range of $3-4 per square foot or extending up to $5-6 will result in quality vinyl plank you will be happy to own for years--not temporary plank you will want to rip out next year.

Rarely will the vinyl plank floor reach the level of actual wood plank prices.  Kellogg Hardwoods, a supplier of authentic wood plank flooring, reports that prices of wide plank flooring range from $5.00 to $12.00 per square foot.

How Do Prices Compare to Other Types of Flooring?

Luxury vinyl plank prices are comparable to ceramic/porcelain tile.  With tile, though, you must factor in the cost of additional materials (thinset and grout), plus tile-specific tools. 

Compared to laminate, vinyl plank is in the same price range, though laminate may run a bit more expensive.

 

Beyond that, vinyl plank is less expensive than all other types of floor coverings.

Do You Recommend the Cheapest Stuff?

The cheapest available luxury vinyl plank is "luxury" in name only.  It is extremely thin--about 2 mm or even less--and has little or no embossing.  

On back is adhesive for it to stick to the floor.  On the sides is adhesive, so that planks can stick to each other.  Also, you will find two distinctly different products, single- or multiple-board plank:

  • Better:  Single Board - Each plank reproduces the look of a single board on that plank. Example: the vinyl plank is 6" x 36" and replicates a board of the same dimensions.
  • Worse:  Multiple Board - One plank reproduces the look of multiple, smaller boards on that single plank. Example: the vinyl plank is 6" x 36" and replicates the look of 6-8 boards that are 3" wide by various lengths.

    Another problem with the thin, cheap kind is that, even if it does have a click/lock system, it may fail upon installation.  

    The tongue/groove areas are structurally too thin and often will break while you try to join the planks.  If fact, they are so thin, they often break when removing the planks from the carton.

    Dimensions and Appearance

    What Are Typical Board Widths and Lengths?

    Chalk one up for the flooring manufacturers; they have managed to produce sizable boards that make installation easier, because you have fewer boards to lay.  

    • Average Width:  You will find plenty of plank vinyl flooring in the 6" range and even up to 7 3/4". Six inches or more is the width of real wood plank flooring.
    • Average Length:  48" long.  You will rarely find any longer than this.  Real wood plank flooring comes much longer than this:  8, 10, and 12 feet long.

    What Is the Most Important Determiner of Good "Plank Looks"?

    Surface embossing is the quality that makes vinyl plank look more like wood plank.

    If you hold the product to an angle, you see how deeply the surface is embossed.  This texture provides for a realistic wood look.  This is paradoxical, though, because real wood flooring does not always have texture.  One aim of sanding down and re-finishing real wood floors is to bring down the texture and create a smooth surface once again.

    You can even find vinyl planks with a heavily antiqued or distressed look--hand-scraped, dinged, scratched, and peppered with nail holes.  But you need to go thicker for this--5 mm--because thinner boards are physically impossible to emboss that deeply.

    Installation

    What Is Best:  Adhesive Join or Click-Lock Join Systems?

    Click-lock planks are easier for the do-it-yourselfer because they allow for many--but not unlimited--repositionings.

    Hire Someone To Install or Do It Myself?

    Luxury plank was practically made for the DIYer.  The opportunity for error is minimal; the learning curve is low; and no special tools are required.

    Is It Easier or Harder To Install Than Other Types of Flooring?

    Vinyl plank is easier to install than every type of floor covering, except for laminate flooring.

    Basically, How Does Plank Vinyl Install?

    Lay planks floating-style.  Click together on sides and ends.  Cut ends with utility knife.  Cut around obstructions with fine-bladed saw or snips.