Vinyl Plank Flooring Guide: Brands, Pros and Cons, and Reviews

Living room interior hard-wood floor and sofa
Vinyl plank flooring is showing up in more homes as production quality has improved. Astronaut Images/Getty Images

Vinyl plank flooring has skyrocketed in popularity as the go-to floor covering choice not just for moisture-prone areas like kitchens and bathrooms, but for common areas, halls, and bedrooms.

One cause behind that effect is that natural, real plank wood flooring has itself become so popular. Vinyl plank flooring seeks to replicate this but in a far cheaper, do-it-yourself form. The other reason is that resilient flooring manufacturers have greatly improved the look and feel of vinyl plank, converting many buyers who previously would have avoided installing resilient materials in their homes. In short, vinyl plank flooring's time in the sun has arrived. But is it right for you and your home?

What Is Plank Vinyl Flooring?

At its core, plank vinyl floor, also called luxury vinyl plank (LVP) or luxury vinyl floor (LVF), is simply vinyl flooring that comes in long, narrow strips, rather than the traditional square vinyl flooring shapes.

Luxury plank floor manufacturers have produced large format boards that give the home a certain, distinctive wood plank floor appearance. Also, these larger boards make installation easier, because there are fewer boards to lay.  

  • Length: Boards typically are 48 or 36 inches long. It is rare to find boards that vary from this standard. As a note of comparison, authentic wood plank flooring ranges in lengths from 8 feet to 12 feet.
  • Width: Plank vinyl flooring widths will vary considerably. Most widths are in the 6-inch range; some go up to 7 3/4 inches wide. Six inches or more is the width of authentic wood plank flooring.

Plank vinyl floor also tends to have deeper embossing and better graphics, rendering it a closer simulation of wood and stone than previous iterations of vinyl flooring. 

Features of Quality Luxury Vinyl Plank

Along with graphics, 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 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 because thinner vinyl boards are physically impossible to emboss that deeply.

Reviews

Shaw Premio and Classico

Major flooring manufacturer Shaw offers Premio and Classico as its premium luxury plank lines. While Shaw has thick (6.5 mm) and gorgeous luxury vinyl products, not every line is top shelf. For example, Aviator and Navigator lines are Shaw's bargain products.

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 should be around for years to come in order to stand behind its product for issues such as warranty claims. Armstrong makes mid-range quality LVP, all in respectable thicknesses and replica wood species.  

Mannington Adura and Distinctive

Like Armstrong, Mannington is a solid company with quality offerings. The popular Mannington Adura is a good choice. But if you want real wood plank looks, you need to upgrade to their Distinctive line in full 6-inch by 48-inch sizes, micro-bevel "eased" edges, pleasant coloration, and more realistic embossing.

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 a minimum number of square feet to obtain those rock-bottom prices. Consequently, BuildDirect's low prices tend to favor homeowners who are installing large quantities of flooring at the same time.

Lumber Liquidators Tranquility

Expect extremely low prices at Lumber Liquidators, the brick-and-mortar equivalent of BuildDirect. At one end of the price scale is in their house brand Tranquility line, which sells very thin LVP, North Perry Pine, at 1.5 mm. At the other end of the scale, Lumber Liquidators has a healthy selection of quality, thick 5 mm thick planks at 7-inch widths.​

Price Ranges: Moderate to High

Rarely, if ever, will vinyl plank floor reach the level of actual wood plank prices. After all, lower prices are one of the major reasons why homeowners go the direction of luxury plank, as opposed to the real, organic wood product. So, luxury vinyl plank runs at least five or ten times less expensive than wood plank.

Luxury vinyl plank prices are comparable to ceramic/porcelain tile. With tile, you must factor in the cost of additional materials (thinset and grout), plus tile-specific tools. Luxury vinyl requires no mortar or grout, and most of the tools are ordinary shop tools. Laminate flooring and vinyl plank are in the same, relative price range.

Pros

  • Vinyl plank flooring is easy to self-install.
  • Some plank vinyl flooring is inexpensive.
  • Floating floor installation means that it does not need to be attached to the subfloor.

Cons

  • Thin luxury vinyl plank flooring has little or not embossing.
  • Vinyl plank can be hard to walk on since it has no cushioning.
  • Many home buyers still view LVP as poorer quality flooring. This can bring down resale value to your home when it comes time to sell.

What About Inexpensive Vinyl Plank Flooring?

Vinyl plank flooring in the rock-bottom pricing range can be found at commodity flooring retailers like BuildDirect, Lumber Liquidators, and Home Depot. This type of LVP is usually installed in workshops, laundry rooms, rental apartments, and other areas where premium flooring is not needed.

The cheapest available luxury vinyl plank tends to be luxury in name only, as it is usually 2 mm thick. In a few rare cases, it even dips down to 1 1/2 mm thick. Extremely thin LVF has little or no embossing because it is difficult, if not impossible, to emboss such thin materials.

On the 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:

  • Single: Each plank reproduces the look of a single board per plank. As an example, a vinyl plank that is 6 inches wide and 36 inches long replicates a board of the same dimensions.
  • Multiple: One plank reproduces the look of multiple, smaller boards per single, physical plank. As an example, a vinyl plank that is physically 6 inches wide and 36 inches long may replicate the look of six or eight boards that are thinner.

Another feature of the thin, cheap product 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. In fact, they may be so thin that they break when removing the planks from the carton.

Installation

Ease of installation is a key advantage to luxury vinyl plank flooring. While you can hire a professional floor installer to put in your flooring, most homeowners choose to install the flooring by themselves. Luxury plank was practically made for the do-it-yourselfer because the opportunity for error is minimal. Since the learning curve is low, most homeowners can get started on installation right away, with no need to learn special skills or purchase tools unique to the trade. Click-lock planks are also easier for the do-it-yourselfer because they allow for multiple repositioning. 

Vinyl plank is easier to install than every type of floor covering, except for laminate flooring. Both types of flooring click together on the sides and the ends. With LVP, you can cut the ends with a utility knife; laminate must be cut with a saw.

Both are floating floors, which means that they are not attached to the subfloor.