A Homeowner’s Guide to Luxury Vinyl Flooring (LVF)

Many people believe that luxury vinyl flooring (LVF) is the hot topic in the residential flooring industry right now. And even if it isn't, the material is certainly getting its share of attention. There are a number of reasons for this.

It's a new product. Although the flooring is made of vinyl like standard vinyl tiles and vinyl sheet flooring, LVF is a noticeable upgrade in terms of looks and durability. The category has been around for less than 15 years.

Attaching the term luxury to the product may be just a smart marketing decision, but the product does feel more luxurious than standard vinyl. It has more heft to it because it can be four or five times thicker than standard vinyl tile.

It can be manufactured to look like anything. Manufacturing technology makes it possible to produce LVF that looks like wood or stone, or even metal. The wood lookalikes have realistic graining and knots, and surfaces that can simulate a hand-scraped finish among other textures. Products come in a number of colors. The wood-like products are manufactured in plank form, separating them further from standard vinyl products. These products are sometimes called luxury vinyl planks (LVP). The planks range in size from 4 to about 8 inches wide and up to 72 inches long.

The stone lookalikes come in 16- x 16-inch or 12- x 24-inch tiles. The tiles imitate natural stone with all their color variations. Some products mimic the look of weathered concrete.

Bathroom with marble-like flooring.
credit: Mannington Mills
Luxury vinyl tiles that look like marble are installed in a bathroom.

It can be installed anywhere. LVF is a tough product that resists scratches, dents and moisture. It can be installed in any room, including basements, which are off limits to solid wood.

Because it can look like wood and is water resistant, LVF is a good choice for kitchens and bathrooms. It opens up the possibility of having solid wood in a living room or dining room and continuing the look into a kitchen or bathroom without worrying about possible water damage should something go wrong with the plumbing.

Installation is relatively easy. LVF can be installed in a number of ways, including as a floating floor using snap and click technology, glue-down and peel-and -stick options. And it can be installed over any subfloor or existing flooring material except carpeting.

The floating floor installation is probably the most popular. Every manufacturer will list requirements for its product, but, in general, you should allow the product to acclimate to the conditions of the room where it will be installed. Simply leave the product in its cartons in the room for a day or two. Some manufacturers say their product does not require this step.

Planks being installed.
credit: Lowe's
Luxury vinyl planks click together, making installation relatively easy.

The subfloor should be level and clean. Remove the quarter-round shoe molding or the entire baseboard. Floating floors are not attached at the room's perimeter, and you must leave a 1/4- or 5/16-inch gap around the edges. The gap will be covered when you reapply the molding.

Floating floors have a modified tongue- and-groove design that allow you to simply click the panels together. The planks can be cut using a straightedge and utility knife.

It's a mid-priced product. The cost of LVF falls between traditional vinyl products and more expensive options such as solid wood. The material costs between $2.50 and $7 per square foot, or about $7 to $10 installed. Standard vinyl flooring costs $3 to $6 installed. Solid wood flooring, by contrast, can cost $10 to $20 installed, more for some exotic wood species.

Some vinyl-based products can outgas harmful volatile organic compounds that contribute to indoor air pollution for a period of time after installation. When shopping for LVF products look for those that carry the FloorScore seal. It means the products have been certified by a third party to verify that the products meet emission standards.

Fran J. Donegan

Fran Donegan is a writer and editor who specializes in covering remodeling, construction and other home-related topics. In addition to his articles and blogs appearing in numerous print and digital media outlets, he is the former executive editor of the consumer magazine Today's Homeowner and the managing editor of Creative Homeowner Press, a book publisher. Fran is the author of two books: Paint Your Home (Reader's Digest) and Pools and Spas (Creative Homeowner Press).