At one time, vinyl flooring materials, including sheet vinyl and individual tiles, were nearly always glued down to a subfloor or underlayment using a full-spread adhesive that was troweled onto the floor before the vinyl flooring was laid. Such floors were very secure, but many petroleum-based adhesives are toxic and flammable, and a fully bonded vinyl flooring was very hard to remove if it ever becomes necessary.
Over time, innovations in the manufacturing process led to vinyl flooring materials that could be laid down using methods that were easier and less toxic. Some sheet vinyl, for example, became "floating floors" that were bonded only at the perimeter and at the seams. Another innovation was the creation of self-adhesive, peel-and-stick vinyl flooring tiles. For a time, these became the most popular form of vinyl flooring for DIY homeowners.
Composition of Vinyl Tiles and Environmental Impact
All vinyl flooring is actually made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a synthetic plastic. The manufacturing process creates polymers that are very strong, and the introduction of water in the process can make the PVC more flexible for uses such as flooring materials. In the past, the waste runoff of the chemicals used in production caused environmental issues, but recent innovations and regulations have allowed for more effective capture and storage of these materials. Still, PVC production, in general, earns criticism from environmental activists as a dangerous material, and some people argue that the containers holding the chemicals and byproducts may themselves be targets for a terrorist attack. PVC vinyl and other plastics are increasingly controversial for some environmental scientists, who point to the fact that PVC is rarely recycled and usually ends up in landfills, where decomposition requires centuries.
It is generally agreed that because chlorine is used in the composition of vinyl, disposal of this element can be dangerous to the surrounding environment if not done in a responsible manner. In addition, low-quality products can off-gas a small amount of Volatile Organic Chemical (VOC) particles, although there is a debate as to what level they are emitted by flooring products and about the danger and toxicity of the off-gassing.
Characteristics as a Flooring Material
Like other forms of plastic, vinyl is a relatively flexible material that is resistant to almost all stains, water damage, liquid penetration, and physical impact. All forms of vinyl flooring begin with the vinyl layer itself, which is pure polyvinyl chloride (PVC) with compounds added to create precise characteristics of color, flexibility, hardness, and sheen. Some vinyl flooring even includes fine mineral particles to give the flooring the texture and look of natural stone.
The vinyl is shaped by suspending it in liquid form that can be spread out into a thin layer by rolling. This liquid plastic (plastisol) is dried under heat and air until it is fused into a tough durable sheet. How this vinyl is then used depends on the type of flooring product. Some vinyl flooring is solid vinyl. With these, a print layer is applied to the surface of the vinyl, then a clear wear layer is applied over the top. The large sheets are either cut into smaller rolls, or into flooring tiles of various sizes.
Vinyl composition tiles (VCT) is a variation in which the vinyl plastic is blended with synthetic fillers and binders during the manufacturing process. It, too, receives a print layer covered with a clear wear layer before it is cut into sheets or tiles.
With a new form of vinyl flooring, known as luxury vinyl flooring (LVF), the layer of flexible vinyl is bonded to an additional backing layer that gives it a semi-rigid nature. It also has the same vinyl layer, print layer, and wear layer found in standard vinyl sheet flooring and tile flooring. The LVF flooring is usually shaped into planks with a "click-lock" form of connection.
What Is Self-Adhesive Vinyl Flooring?
Self-adhesive vinyl flooring is always a tile product, in which individual tiles using solid vinyl or composite vinyl have a layer of adhesive applied to the bottom of the tiles during the manufacturing process. Luxury vinyl flooring generally is not available as a self-adhesive product.
The adhesive on the tiles is then covered over with a protective paper backing. Flooring installation involves simply peeling away and discarding the paper backing, then positioning the tiles within the flooring layout and pressing them down against the underlayment to bond it in place. Successful application requires an underlayment that is perfectly smooth and clean; grainy, wet, or dusty floors may not allow the tiles to stick properly. Peel-and-stick tiles often come loose over time if the underlayment is not solid and clean, although the bond can be suitably durable with a very good underlayment. The strength of the glues used can increase the holding power of the tiles, but stronger glues may also be more toxic, with more gases emitted.
Vinyl is one of the most versatile flooring products on the market, and peel-and-stick tiles are available in a more limited, but still impressive, range of styles. They have, however, begun to fade in popularity somewhat as luxury vinyl flooring is gaining in market share.
One of the benefits of vinyl flooring is that it is relatively easy to install, and self-adhesive tiles may be the easiest of all. Most tiles can adhere directly to the underlayment, or even a good, smooth subfloor. Self-adhesive tiles can generally be removed fairly easily by prying them up with a putty knife, making it easy to remove and replace one that becomes scratched, gouged, or damaged.
Professional installers sometimes are reluctant to use self-adhesive tiles, since they are prone to "unsticking" and requiring call-backs for repairs. If they are using self-adhesive tiles, some pros even reinforce the installation by applying an additional full-spread adhesive to the underlayment before placing the tiles. DIY homeowners, however, often find that self-adhesive vinyl tiles make for very easy installation, and an occasional tile that loosens is not a serious problem.
While vinyl is strong, durable, and reliable, it does fade over time. More expensive sheets and tile vinyl and luxury vinyl flooring will resist this to some extent, but even the best options generally need replacement within a decade. Removing self-adhesive tiles is very easy when it comes time to replace the flooring, and no professional assistance is required. Replacing the floor may, however, involve also replacing the underlayment or performing repairs to the subfloor. It is also relatively common for new flooring to be laid directly over the old vinyl flooring, although this depends on the manufacturer's recommendations and the condition of the old floor. Laminate flooring and hardwood flooring are often laid directly over old vinyl flooring.
Self-Adhesive Vinyl Tiles as a Temporary Flooring
Self-adhesive vinyl is a great, inexpensive, easy-to-care-for option for bathrooms, kitchens, hallways, and kids' rooms. And it is particularly prized in apartments, as they can be usually be removed when the residency is over without causing damage to the subfloor.