For many years, vinyl flooring has been the choice when you want a very affordable and practical flooring for utility locations, especially where moisture is present. As a wholly manmade product with no organic ingredients, vinyl flooring is virtually immune to damage from water and it cannot foster mold. Traditionally, the vinyl flooring market has been dominated by two forms—sheet vinyl and vinyl tiles. These are regarded as standard forms of vinyl flooring, and they are quite different than newer and more expensive forms of vinyl flooring, generally known as luxury vinyl flooring, or LVF.
Standard vinyl flooring still plays a major role in residential flooring. The two forms of standard vinyl flooring—sheet vinyl and vinyl tiles—share many of the same advantages. But there are also key differences between the two types, making each particularly well suited for certain applications.
Sheet Vinyl vs. Vinyl Tile Flooring: Major Differences
The two types of standard vinyl flooring, sheet vinyl and vinyl tile, are quite similar in composition and performance. Both are composite materials, using a thin PVC plastic core bonded to a felt or fiberglass backing layer, topped with a printed design layer and a tough, transparent wear layer. Both are relatively thin materials, as little as 1/16 inch thick. (Luxury vinyl planks, by comparison, can be as much as 1/3 inch thick.)
Sheet vinyl is manufactured in 6- or 12-foot rolls, and it is cut off the roll in whatever quantity the customer needs. This wide width allows for a room to be covered with few or even no seams at all, which makes it one of the very best flooring materials for repelling water.
Vinyl tile is essentially the same product as vinyl sheets, but it is cut into smaller square pieces and is installed piece by piece, following layout lines drawn onto the subfloor. Tile is considerably easier for DIYers to install, but the presence of many seams between tiles makes it possible for standing water to seep down through the cracks to the subfloor.
|Sheet Vinyl||Vinyl Tile|
|DIY Suitability||Usually installed by pros||Much easier for DIYers|
|Water Penetration||Virtually impenetrable by water||Water can seep through cracks between tiles|
|Cost||Averages $.50 to $1.50 per square foot||Averages $1.50 to $3 per square foot|
|Installation Method||Usually glue-down application||Glue-down or peel-and-stick application|
|Repairs||Difficult to make repairs||Individual tiles can be replaced|
Along with the low cost, one of the main reasons why people purchase vinyl flooring of any type is that it can be printed to look like a vast number of different materials, including hardwood, natural stone, and ceramic tile.
Sheet vinyl is actually somewhat more versatile when it comes to design since it also works well with random patterns that don't repeat.
When it comes to mimicking stone or ceramic tile, vinyl tile is usually more successful than sheet vinyl, since it has seams between the pieces.
Best for Appearance: Tie
In the final measure, all flooring made from standard vinyl—whether it is sheet vinyl of vinyl tile—will be easily identified as a synthetic material. When you see standard vinyl flooring, you nearly always recognize it as an economy, low-end flooring material. The attempt to mimic other materials is never really that convincing, which is one of the main reasons why the industry is gradually shifting to luxury vinyl—a different type of vinyl flooring whose thicker construction allows the planks and tiles to more effectively create the texture and feel of real wood or stone.
Water and Heat Resistance
Probably the biggest advantage of sheet vinyl over tile is the fact that it can usually be installed in just one or two solid, unbroken pieces. That means that you do not have seams running between many individual pieces, as you do with vinyl tile. Compared to tile, sheet vinyl is a much better barrier against moisture and is especially useful for bathrooms and other moist areas. With sheet vinyl you just have to make sure that the material is secure at the edges of the room, and that any adjoining pieces are sealed and bonded.
While vinyl tile is itself impervious to water, the presence of many seams means that moisture has the opportunity to seep down through the cracks to the subfloor.
Best for Water and Heat Resistance: Sheet Vinyl
Sheet vinyl has better water resistance, thanks to fewer seams between pieces. Both forms of vinyl can be damaged by heat from cigarettes, hot pans, or heating appliances such as hair curling irons. High heat can melt the surface, leaving a disfiguring burn mark.
Care and Cleaning
Like tile, sheet vinyl is among the easiest of all flooring materials to clean.
Vinyl tile has the same easy-clean profile as sheet vinyl.
Best for Care and Cleaning: Tie
Vinyl flooring is exceptionally easy to care for, and there is no appreciable difference between tile and sheet vinyl in this regard. Simple daily sweeping and occasional damp mopping with a mild detergent is all that's normally required. Modern vinyl flooring has a very durable shiny wear layer, and there is no longer any need for waxing or additional top-coating; in fact, the flooring may yellow if you use acrylic flooring coatings over the factory topcoat.
Durability and Maintenance
Vinyl flooring, as a category, is only modestly durable. By its nature, vinyl is a resilient material that is softer than other flooring materials and therefore much more susceptible to tearing and gouging Even just dropping a heavy pan on vinyl flooring can leave it with a permanent scar. The gradual increase in the number of dings and gouges is the reason why vinyl flooring in heavy-use areas is often ready for replacement after 10 years or so.
While it is possible to cut out and replace a small section of sheet vinyl, the repair area is virtually always noticeable. Cutting out the patch along existing pattern lines can help, but it is a difficult skill to master.
Repairs are easier with tile than with sheet vinyl since it is possible to remove and replace individual tiles. Removing vinyl tile is usually a matter of heating the adhesive beneath it, then pulling the tile up and scraping away the bonding agent below. From there, you can replace the tile with a matching tile. Done carefully, the repair is completely and invisibly integrated into the rest of the floor.
Best for Durability and Maintenance: Vinyl Tile
Because individual tiles can be removed and replaced, vinyl tile is the easier form of flooring to maintain. Neither type of vinyl flooring is very durable, however
Sheet vinyl is usually applied with a glue-down application, in which adhesive is troweled onto the underlayment The flooring is then carefully pressed into place and compressed with a heavy roller to secure the bond. Special techniques are required to join the seams where two pieces of vinyl meet.
Sheet vinyl manufacturers try to cater to DIYers by providing a template method of cutting the sheets to fit, but it can be an exasperating process. Sheet vinyl is sometimes installed by DIYers—many of whom then wish they had not attempted it. Considering that professional installation of sheet vinyl is usually quite affordable, most homeowners find that going the pro route makes more sense.
Tile has the unquestioned advantage over sheet vinyl in the eyes of do-it-yourselfers. Tiles are relatively easy to install once careful layout lines are drawn on the underlayment. The project can usually be done by a moderately skilled amateur. Once most of the field is installed, it's a fairly easy matter to hand-cut the perimeter tiles to meet the contours of the room.
Standard vinyl tiles can also be installed with a troweled-on adhesive that bonds each tile to the subfloor, but many products now use a peel-and-stick method, in which the adhesive is pre-applied and protected with a backing sheet that is peeled away when it is time to install the tiles. Some pros find this method questionable and prefer to use trowel-on adhesive since it is more secure. However, most standard vinyl tiles at big box home improvement centers are peel-and-stick types, and you may need to go to a specialty flooring store to find a good selection of tiles using trowel-on adhesive.
Best for Installation: Vinyl Tile
For DIYers, vinyl tile is considerably easier to install than sheet vinyl.
Major home improvement centers sell sheet vinyl for $.50 to $1.50 per square foot, making it one of the cheapest of all flooring materials. It is easy to see why, since sheet vinyl can be mass-produced in huge rolls.
Peel-and-stick vinyl tile generally sells for $1.50 to $3 per square foot.
Best for Cost: Sheet Vinyl
The nod here goes to sheet vinyl, as it almost always costs less than vinyl tile with similar colors and patterns.
It's important to distinguish these standard forms of vinyl flooring from luxury vinyl, which is both a more expensive flooring material and one with a different level of prestige and different performance characteristics. Luxury vinyl can be distinguished from standard vinyl because it always uses some form of "click-lock" method to join the planks or tiles together.
Good quality sheet vinyl has been known to last for 20 years or even more. A more typical lifespan is 10 years.
The lifespan for vinyl tile is comparable to that for sheet vinyl.
Best for Lifespan: Tie
On average, vinyl flooring lasts 10 to 20 years. But with good care and light use, a high-quality standard vinyl flooring can often go considerably longer than this. Vinyl flooring in a rarely used guest bathroom, for example, may last for many decades.
Sheet vinyl is sold in 6- and 12-foot rolls, with pieces cut to whatever length needed.
Vinyl tiles are usually squares ranging from 9 to 18 inches across.
Best for Sizes: Tie
There is no size advantage to either form of vinyl flooring—it depends on your preference. The large size of sheet vinyl is an advantage where you want a seamless installation, but the small sizes of tiles makes for easier DIY installation.
Comfort and Sound
This is a hard, relatively cold material underfoot, especially when installed over a concrete subfloor, such as in a slab-on-grade foundation.
Vinyl tile has the same characteristics for comfort and sound.
Best for Comfort and Sound: Tie
Standard vinyl is "resilient" only in name, as this is quite a hard material underfoot, especially when installed over a slab-on-grade concrete subfloor. While not as noisy as other, denser flooring materials, vinyl can echo enough to make a room feel rather hollow. Throw rugs can greatly help both the comfort and sound transmission of vinyl flooring.
Standard vinyl in any form is regarded as an economy flooring material.
Vinyl tile is also considered an economy flooring material.
Best for Resale Value: Tie
Standard vinyl flooring, both sheets and tiles, will always be viewed as a bargain, economy flooring material, and while well-chosen colors and designs will minimize the liability, no standard vinyl floor will have the prestige of other flooring materials. Where real estate value is important but you want the performance characteristics of vinyl, luxury vinyl may be a better choice.
Both sheet vinyl and vinyl tiles or planks are low-cost flooring materials, and each type has advantages. Your choice will boil down to what is most important to you and how the floor is expected to perform. DIYers will almost certainly prefer tiles, but for areas where moisture is an issue, sheet vinyl is the logical choice.
The major brands for vinyl flooring are very large, well-known companies. Most make all forms of vinyl flooring—standard sheet vinyl and vinyl tiles, as well as luxury vinyl planks and tiles.
- Armstrong: This huge company offers virtually every form of vinyl flooring, with an increasing emphasis on luxury vinyl. Products are available in every price range and at nearly every outlet, including big-box home improvement centers.
- Mannington: In the standard vinyl category, Mannington now focuses on sheet vinyl, with the tile market largely given over to luxury vinyl planks. Their products are sold mostly at specialty flooring stores.
- Tarkett: This large flooring corporation offers a good selection of sheet vinyl. Tile selections have largely been transitioned into luxury vinyl planks and tiles. Tarkett products are sold at specialty flooring stores and design centers.
- TRAFFICmaster: This brand is manufactured by Shaw, the flooring giant now owned by Berkshire Hathaway. TRAFFICmaster is sold mostly at Home Depot stores. It offers a good selection of both sheet vinyl and vinyl tile, as well as carpet and laminate flooring. The vinyl flooring is considered something of a bargain brand, but the quality is quite good.