Sheet vinyl and vinyl tile have long been favorite flooring materials for kitchens and bathrooms, but it has always been viewed as slightly cheap when compared to other flooring materials. But that is no longer the case with vinyl plank flooring, also known as luxury vinyl flooring (LVF) or luxury vinyl plank flooring (LVP). Rather than a thin layer of very flexible vinyl, vinyl plank flooring is a much thicker flooring material that is fabricated in long planks with a modified tongue-and-groove connection system that snaps together, usually called click-lock.
Vinyl plank flooring originally became popular because it mimicked wood plank flooring very convincingly—more so than even plastic laminate flooring. But there has since been an explosion of offerings for vinyl plank flooring, including products that look like ceramic and porcelain, and natural stone like marble or granite. The stone-look products are usually shaped in tiles, rather than planks.
Easy to install
Simple to maintain
Damaged planks difficult to repair
May not always resemble wood
Click-lock joints may be difficult to attach
What Is Vinyl Plank Flooring?
At its heart, 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 tile shapes. But structurally this is a different product. Sheet vinyl is generally flexible vinyl with a printed top layer covered by a clear wear layer, while vinyl plank flooring is a multi-ply product that features four layers:
- A topmost layer of aluminum oxide, designed to prevent light scratching and scuffs
- A clear film layer that protects against more severe ripping and tearing
- A design layer that provides the photo-realistic look of wood or stone
- A backing layer made of fairly rigid vinyl, comprising almost 90 percent of the total thickness of luxury vinyl
Luxury vinyl is therefore almost five times thicker than traditional sheet vinyl, allowing it to be semi-rigid. Rather than being rolled out over the floor and glued down, luxury vinyl planks snap together. Manufacturers of luxury plank flooring offer dozens of different styles to match the distinctive appearance of different wood species—right down to textured surfaces that mimic real wood grain. 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 sheet vinyl flooring or plastic laminate flooring.
You can even find vinyl planks with a heavily antiqued or distressed look, hand-scraped, dinged, scratched, and peppered with nail holes. But these products are more expensive, since the planks need to be quite thick to handle such deeply textured embossing.
Vinyl flooring planks typically are 48 or 36 inches long. With most planks, the width is about 6 inches, though some go as much as 7 3/4 inches wide.
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Vinyl Plank Flooring Cost
Rarely will a vinyl plank floor cost as much as genuine wood flooring, which is usually five to 10 times more expensive than vinyl planks. Prices for materials usually range from $2.50 to $5 per square foot. Professional installation can add $1 to $3 per square foot, but this is one of the easier flooring materials to install yourself—comparable to plastic laminate flooring planks. Overall, the cost of vinyl planks is about the same as for laminate planks, though vinyl planks are arguably a superior flooring material.
Material costs for luxury vinyl plank prices are comparable to ceramic/porcelain tile, but with tile, you must factor in the cost of additional materials (thinset and grout), plus tile-specific tools. And ceramic tile is a much more labor-intensive installation for DIYers.
Maintenance and Repair
This is one of the easier floors to maintain. Most manufactures recommend simple sweeping daily, and weekly damp mopping with a mild detergent and mop, or with cleaning pads. These floors should never be steam-cleaned, however. While the flooring itself is impervious to moisture, the pressure of a steam cleaner can potentially drive moisture down through the seams to the wooden subfloor.
Repairs can be a little tricky with vinyl plank flooring. You may be able to repair small areas of damage with a vinyl repair kit chosen to match the color of your flooring. The patched area will usually not be a perfect match, though. Replacing entire planks usually involves disassembling the floor from one wall up the damaged plank, installing a replacement plank, then reassembling the floor back to the wall.
Vinyl plank flooring is offered in hundreds of colors and patterns from the major flooring manufacturers. Interior designers and real estate professionals regard it as a superior flooring to sheet vinyl and laminate flooring, but still considerably less prestigious than solid hardwood or porcelain tile.
Most plank forms of luxury vinyl seek to mimic hardwood flooring, and they do this quite effectively. At a casual glance, vinyl planks can look quite similar to natural wood—it can be a better illusion than what is offered by laminate flooring. Tile forms of luxury vinyl generally seek to mimic ceramics or natural stone—again, quite effectively.
Vinyl Plank Flooring Installation
Ease of installation is a key advantage to vinyl plank flooring. Luxury plank flooring 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. A small room can be completed in three to four hours, usually.
Vinyl plank flooring uses a click-lock system in which the edges and ends of the planks snap together. This flooring is generally installed as a floating floor that simply rests on the underlayment with no glue-down bond necessary. While the subfloor and underlayment should be as flat as possible, vinyl planks are considerably thicker than sheet vinyl, making it more forgiving of small imperfections in the underlayment—flaws that can telegraph through to the surface on sheet vinyl.
Installation begins by laying the first row of planks along the most visible side of the room. At end walls, the planks can be cut by a sharp utility knife, and tin snips can be used to cut notches and openings for obstructions.
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Top Brands of Vinyl Plank Flooring
These five manufactures all offer good vinyl plank flooring products at various quality levels:
- Premio and Classico, from Shaw: 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 product line can be considered top-shelf. For example, Aviator and Navigator lines are Shaw's bargain products.
- Armstrong: One of the oldest flooring companies, Armstrong continues to hold strong. Armstrong makes mid-range quality LVP, all in respectable thicknesses and replica wood species. Armstrong offers the Luxe Plank line, which is renowned for its simplicity. Unique among vinyl floors, this product uses a self-stick adhesive.
- Adura and Distinctive, from Mannington: 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 x 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 planks, 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.
- Tranquility, from Lumber Liquidators: 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 thick. At the other end of the scale, Lumber Liquidators has a healthy selection of quality, thick 5 mm thick planks in 7-inch widths.
Comfort and Convenience
Vinyl plank flooring offers much of the easy-care convenience of sheet vinyl, but because it is a thicker material, it has slightly more "give" underfoot, making it more comfortable. Because it is made from waterproof materials through and through, this is a much better flooring for damp areas than laminate flooring or hardwood. In a kitchen, bathroom, mudroom, or laundry, few flooring materials are better choices.
Vinyl Plank Flooring vs. Laminate Flooring
Because they both seek to mimic natural hardwood, homeowners are often faced with choosing between vinyl planks and laminate flooring. By most comparisons, today's vinyl plank flooring may be slightly superior.
Both have very similar installation techniques, with click-lock installation that floats over the underlayment. Vinyl, however, can be cut with a simple utility knife, while laminates require a power saw. Vinyl is a fully waterproof material, is somewhat softer than laminate, and it is less noisy underfoot. One of the biggest drawbacks to laminate flooring is the way it clicks and clatters under hard footsteps—unless it is installed with a resilient foam underlayment.
Early forms of vinyl plank flooring were perfectly smooth, without the texturizing found in many laminate flooring products. But today's vinyl planks can create the same embossed texture, and when combined with its other performance advantages, vinyl may be the better choice for many situations.