Vinyl planks commonly resemble real wood, cork or stone. They're one of the easiest types of flooring to work with, because they generally require little advance preparation to install them. Unlike other plank flooring, some vinyl plank products don't require homeowners to use an underlayment, nails or glue to install them.
Underlayments are commonly made of thin foam that covers slight bumps on an underlying surface so that such imperfections don't hamper the appearance of the top layer of flooring. Some underlayments have a plastic film on one side that also serves as a moisture barrier. You need to read the instructions supplied by vinyl plank flooring manufacturers to determine if their products need underlayments. You could adversely affect the appearance and longevity of your flooring by not installing an underlayment when one is required.
Some vinyl planks aren't attached to the underlying flooring, or subfloor. For example, installing Home Depot's Trafficmaster Allure flooring requires overlapping adhesive strips on the planks and pressing them together so that the planks adhere to one another instead of the subfloor. You can lay the planks directly on top of most old flooring without installing an underlayment, according to Home Depot. The company also indicates that the flooring is water-resistant.
Some flooring manufacturers set more limitations on the type of subfloor that their vinyl planks cover. The Armstrong company manufactures vinyl flooring that it calls Luxe Plank. The company's instructions indicate that the subfloor must be dry, clean and flat for proper installation of the planks. Suitable subfloors for the product include dry, smooth concrete and old vinyl flooring that's intact and doesn't have a foam backing. Luxe Plank is installed by attaching adhesive edges on the planks, without attaching an adhesive to the subfloor.
You may be able to install vinyl plank flooring in areas where moisture is a concern. Home Depot indicates that its plank flooring is suitable for bathrooms, kitchens and damp basements. Even beginning do-it-yourselfers could install vinyl planks and save money on labor costs, since no special construction skills are necessary if the subfloor is in good shape. Some vinyl plank products come with a lengthy manufacturer's warranty of up to 25 years if planks are properly installed.