Invented in the 1930s, vinyl flooring first made an impact on the architectural world in the years following World War II. By the 1950s, it was a major competitor against other resilient options and had all but surpassed linoleum’s position as the best low-cost water-resistant flooring option for locations such as bathrooms and kitchens.
A variety of desirable characteristics continues to make this versatile flooring material a popular option to this day.
However, there are also a number of drawbacks to using this material in your home. Consider both the merits and drawbacks when deciding if resilient vinyl is the choice for you.
Advantages of Vinyl Flooring
There are a variety of advantages that come with installing vinyl flooring in your home. These are the same tried and true characteristics that have been touted since the 1950s by vinyl flooring retailers and suppliers.
- Low maintenance. Vinyl flooring is relatively easy to care for. You have to make sure that grit and dirt are kept swept free to maintain the surface of the floor. Then, you can use a damp mop and an approved vinyl floor cleaner to remove stains. But few flooring options are as easy to care for as vinyl.
- Water resistance: A well-installed vinyl floor is almost impervious to water penetration, making this the perfect material for use in a bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, or other high moisture space in the home.
- Comfort underfoot. Vinyl does not get cold in the winter and is generally softer beneath your feet than wood or ceramic tile floors Some vinyl sheets and tiles also have a padded underlayer that can make walking on these floors even more comfortable.
- Inexpensive. At the low range, vinyl can cost as little as fifty cents per square foot, and most never exceed moderate cost levels. Very high-end premium vinyl materials can cost as much as ten dollars per square foot, though this is still less expensive than premium flooring choices, such as stone. The difference in price of resilient vinyl products is determined by the quality of the material and the design options found in the surface.
- Durability. Vinyl is generally considered to be a highly durable material that, if properly installed and maintained, can last upwards of ten to twenty years. However, the quality of the material that you purchase and the way it was manufactured will determine how well your floor lasts over time. Solid vinyl and composite vinyl tiles are homogenous, with colors permeating every layer—a feature that makes them more resistant to damage from scratches. Printed vinyl will be only as durable as the clear wear layer that protects the surface. Fiberglass-reinforced vinyl sheets are extremely durable, while also being pliable and resistant to damage. One advantage of using vinyl tiles is that individual pieces can be easily replaced when they are damaged.
- Stain resistance. Printed vinyl tiles and sheets have a clear wear layer that acts as a surface barrier, protecting the floor from stains and spills. These materials are very easy to clean and maintain. Solid and composite vinyl tiles do not have this surface protection and will be more susceptible to stains, requiring occasional stripping and polishing.
- Ease of installation. Vinyl tiles and vinyl plank flooring are relatively easy to install, though you do have to ensure that you have a completely dry, level subfloor. It is possible to do this project yourself, but you may want to have a professional prepare the subfloor for you.
Disadvantages of Vinyl Flooring
While vinyl flooring is low maintenance and highly durable, there are also a number of drawbacks that are associated with this material. Of these, its ecological impact on the personal and world environment may be the most notable.
- Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs). The chemicals used in the manufacture of vinyl flooring can cause a toxic out-gassing to occur after the floor is installed. This can release volatile chemicals into a household, which may lead to respiratory problems, eye irritation, or asthma reactions. The level of outgassing in a vinyl floor will be related to its chemical makeup and the age of the floor, as most outgassing occurs early on.
- Ecological waste problems. Vinyl flooring is not biodegradable and does not break down naturally into the environment in a short period of time. It is also very rarely recycled, which means that old, worn out materials often end up taking up space in landfills. Vinyl floors also consume non-renewable natural resources such as petroleum and natural gas during the manufacturing process.
- Subfloor damage. When installing vinyl it is particularly important that you have a perfectly smooth, flat surface to work on. Because vinyl is relatively soft, even small grains trapped beneath the floor can wear down the material over time, causing lumps to appear in the surface. Over time, these will wear down the material, causing rips and tears.
- Chemical stains. While vinyl is generally resistant to stains, it is susceptible to discoloration when it comes in contact with rubber. Mats that have a rubber backing, or rubber shoe heels that scuff against the floor, can cause a chemical reaction in the material that can permanently discolor it.
- Difficulty of repair. High-quality vinyl will be durable, while low-quality material will be susceptible to rips and tears. Unfortunately, vinyl flooring cannot be refinished, so when it is damaged it needs to be removed and replaced. This is easier in a tile installation than with sheet materials.
- Susceptibility to yellowing. In some cases, low-quality vinyl flooring will yellow with age. This can be due to a variety of factors. Interaction with direct sunlight can fade the material, and dirt can become trapped beneath a wax layer on a vinyl floor, discoloring the material. However, high-quality modern vinyl floors are resistant to this type of discoloration.
- Toxicity when burned. If a vinyl floor catches fire, it will release toxic chemicals into the air. For this reason, it is not recommended for commercial kitchen applications or any place where fire is a constant hazard.