Home » Vinyl flooring buying guide | All Questions Answered

Vinyl flooring buying guide | All Questions Answered

When it comes to flooring options, vinyl might be the supreme choice for anyone who wants it all. Hardly your grandparents’ vinyl, this versatile material is rising in popularity with its convenience, style, comfort, and price. You can find it in realistic hardwood, ceramic tile, and stone designs to fit your decor in any room.

vinyl flooring buying guide

It is typically easy to install, and when it is properly maintained, vinyl flooring is often durable enough to last a decade or more of furniture, kids, and pets. In my vinyl flooring buying guide, you will find everything you need to know about this amazing type of wood flooring alternative.

Different vinyl flooring Options?

Vinyl flooring is composed of multiple layers that each provides a valuable quality.

  1. The wear layer is a topcoat applied in thousandths of an inch, and it not only provides durability but also a polished shine.
  2. The decorative layer replicates the beauty of hardwood, natural stone, or ceramic tile.
  3. Beneath that, there is a rigid core, a layer of vinyl or foam, and a backing. Some forms of vinyl flooring are also made with attached underlayment or cork for additional support and comfort. 

Modern vinyl flooring is made in so many different varieties such as sheets tiles or plank so you are sure to find one that fits your needs and taste. You can even find it easy on your wallet, with average prices between $2 and $14 per square foot.

Keep in mind that you are likely to pay higher prices for a higher quality products, but even cheap vinyl is highly water-resistant, durable, and softer on your feet than hardwood or ceramic tile. 

Luxury Vinyl plank flooring

Luxury Vinyl flooring

Designed to mimic the beauty and character of hardwood floors, this type of vinyl plank flooring has a rigid core underneath layers of protective coatings for additional support and durability, similar to laminate.

You can find it in click-lock or peel-and-stick installations, and either option is fairly easy to install yourself.

Vinyl planks can be glued down to your subfloor, for added security, but you can often install it as a floating floor. 

Luxury Vinyl Tile

Luxury Vinyl tile flooring or lvt is made for anyone who desires the look of ceramic or stone without the maintenance. There are varieties that are even made to be grouted, to feel more like real ceramic tile.

It is also typically made with a rigid core, like the vinyl plank, for superior durability. You will find it in a lot of the same varieties as vinyl plank; click-lock, peel-and-stick, with or without underlayment attached, etc. 

Vinyl Composition Tile

Designed for high traffic areas, vinyl composition tile is the kind of thick flooring you often find in schools, hospitals, and hotel lobbies. It is made by fusing chips of limestone, filler materials, a thermoplastic binder, and color pigment.

This type of flooring can be inexpensive when calculated per square foot and how many years it can be expected to last, but it also requires regular stripping, waxing, and polishing to protect its porous surface. 

Vinyl Sheet flooring

Easy on your budget, vinyl sheet flooring is highly recommended for moisture-prone areas such as bathrooms and basements because there will be no seams for water to find its way through the layers.

The vinyl sheet can be purchased for a very low cost and is available in most wood, tile, and stone designs. It is recommended to get this type of vinyl flooring installed by a professional for the best results, and the subfloor should be well prepared; clean, and smooth.

This type of vinyl may be ideal for large open spaces, but if any part of it becomes damaged, the entire sheet will need to be replaced. It is not as simple as replacing a single damaged tile. 

Finishes available

To enhance the appearance and the functionality of your vinyl flooring, there are three different finishes you will want to be aware of.

  1. No-wax: The lightest finish for the least amount of foot traffic and exposure to wear and tear. 
  2. Urethane: Made for moderate traffic and wear, this finish will protect your floors from every-day average use. 
  3. Enhanced urethane: A finish designed to be tough against heavy foot traffic, stain and scratch resistant, and maintains well without as much of your time and energy.

Benefits of Vinyl Flooring

Modern vinyl flooring products are equipped with some unique benefits that make it a smart choice for homeowners, renovators, and commercial spaces. If you are looking for a flooring option that is stylish, comfortable, durable, easy to install, and easy to maintain, vinyl is likely the answer. 

Stylish look

One of the best aspects of vinyl flooring must be the variety of styles. You can find sheet vinyl flooring that imitates the look and feel of hardwood floor, including hand-scraped and wire-brushed textures. Besides the wood look, luxury can help you achieve a ceramic tile or natural stone look as well. Add rug on vinyl to enhance their beauty even more.

Durable material

Properly cared for, a vinyl floor can last your family for 10-20 years. Between the wear layers and the finish, your vinyl floor is sure to withstand day-to-day wear from shoes, pets, and kids.

NOTE: You can buy thicker products made for heavy traffic, and the enhanced finish for additional protection against dents, scratches, and scrapes.

Check with your manufacturer’s warranty, but it is common for them to cover your flooring for up to fifteen years. 

Comfortable

Some vinyl planks or tiles are produced with an attached underlayment or cork layer for additional comfort as you walk on it. This also provides extra noise reduction and impact damage control for your floors and subfloor.

Due to their composition, they typically maintain a more consistent temperature, keeping your feet a little warmer. 

Easy to Install

Most plank flooring vinyl or tiles are built to be installed easily. They are sold with tongue and groove click-lock systems, similar to laminate flooring, or with peel-and-stick tongue and groove systems, which is actually much easier. Thick vinyl can be installed over tile, older hardwood floors, tile, or concrete, and will hide most imperfections in your subfloor. 

Easy to Maintain

Water-resistance makes vinyl easy to wipe clean when mud gets tracked through your house. The protective wear layer shields your flooring against scuffs and stains, so it is far easier to prevent this kind of damage. Unlike with hardwood floors, there is no need to polish or wax most types of vinyl flooring.

vinyl tile

Important to know, when buying vinyl flooring

There are vinyl flooring options that are designed to be 100 percent waterproof, but the majority of vinyl products are only water-resistant; meaning they can still be damaged by water if not properly maintained. For more on this, read my article, what happens if vinyl flooring gets wet.

Because of the manufacturing process, there are some concerns about vinyl flooring’s toxicity. Back in 2015, it was discovered that vinyl flooring made with phthalates was responsible for long-term health risks including respiratory and reproductive. Since then, many manufacturers have worked to eliminate this risk, and you should be able to find phthalate-free flooring readily available today.

Another risk with vinyl flooring is the existence of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). As part of the process and materials used in making vinyl flooring, when it is first installed, it may emit various levels of VOCs for a short period of time.

This can be harmful to the air quality in your home and has been known to cause respiratory problems over time. It is advised that you allow your new floors to ventilate for a few days or weeks (if you can) to avoid exposure to these fumes. 

How to install vinyl flooring?

Vinyl planks and tiles are ideal for DIYers. Since they come in click-lock or peel-and-stick applications, just about anyone can learn to lay an entirely new floor in any room of their house over a weekend, and probably still be able to kick back and relax on Sunday evening.

With some varieties, you can even install vinyl flooring over the top of existing ceramic tile, old hardwood, or an old layer of vinyl. 

Getting Ready

For the best results, you will want to take every step to prepare your flooring before you get started installing new vinyl.  

The tools you may need for this project:

  • Sharp utility knife
  • Rubber mallet or hammer
  • Measuring tape
  • Marker
  • Spacers
  • Tapping block
  • T-square
  • Level

Optional:

  • Jigsaw
  • Glue, grout, or brad nailer
  • Finish molding

Step 1: Acclimate the vinyl

Once you bring the vinyl home, open each case and leave it in the room in which you plan to install it for at least 24 hours. This allows the material to settle properly once installed. Some manufacturers may not require this step, but it may be useful to do it anyway. Check with your manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 2: Test for moisture

If working on a concrete subfloor, you can test for moisture by gluing or duct-taping a section of vinyl to the floor. Leave it for 72 hours, and then try to pull it back up.

If the glue or tape comes off easily, the concrete is too exposed to moisture, and mold will certainly grow in time. You can install a vapor barrier to help address this issue. 

Step 3: Clear the room

When working on a floor, you will want to temporarily relocate any furniture that is not fastened directly to the subfloor. This is also the time you may want to remove any baseboards and trim.

If laying new flooring in a bathroom, you may also want to remove the toilet and pedestal sink. Bathtubs and vanity cabinets are usually easy to workaround. 

Step 4: Level the surface

Whether you are working on a particleboard subfloor, concrete, or existing flooring options, you will want to smooth out any imperfections that might compromise the integrity of the vinyl. This would be any cracks, large bumps, or slopes that can cause the vinyl to separate over time if you are installing it to float.

NOTE: This stage may require a sander, self-leveling compound, patching concrete, or thin-set mortar. If you are installing your vinyl over ceramic or porcelain tile, level any deep-set grout lines. 

Step 5: Measure for the door

A good way to waste a lot of time and money is to install a floor before measuring to make sure the doors still have enough clearance to swing without scraping against the new floor or getting altogether jammed.

NOTE: Make sure there is enough space between the bottoms of any doors in the room you are working in before you lay a single piece of vinyl down. You may have to trim the bottom of the door.

Step 6: Prepare the floor

Sweep, vacuum, and clean the floor thoroughly before starting. Any dust and dirt that gets in the way will get trapped beneath your new vinyl, and in some cases, can interfere with the adhesive that is meant to hold your planks or tiles together.

Now is also the time to lay any underlayment you might desire. I have a great and extensive article on underlayment for vinyl flooring that you can check out. It is vital to maintain a clean workspace as you lay your vinyl flooring down.

Step 7: Plan your pattern

If you are laying vinyl meant to look like stone tile, do you want the seams to be staggered or straight? Is there an angled wall in the room that might influence your design?

If there is a transition into another room – from the kitchen to the living room, for example – do you want full tiles along with that transition? Or is it more important for you to start at the center, as it is when laying traditional ceramic tile?

NOTE: Direction in which vinyl planks are installed can change how big or small the room feels. These are the kinds of questions you need to ask yourself when planning how to layout your new floor. 

Vinyl flooring installation

Installing Planks or Tiles

Perhaps the easiest way to cut vinyl planks and tiles is the score and snap method. Using your straight edge and utility knife, score the vinyl where it needs to be cut – this may take a few passes with the utility knife – and then you should be able to bend the board until it snaps along the scoreline. This should create a clean cut.

INSTALLATION METHOD TIP: When measuring the room to install this type of flooring, it is important to remember that you will not want to cut more than half the width of the planks or tiles of the last row. To avoid this, trim enough from the first row to make up the difference, but again, not more than half the width of the board.

NOTE: Each case of vinyl tile and plank products will have slight differences from the product in other cases. This is a result of the manufacturing process. As you go, alternate which case you draw from regularly, so you can evenly distribute the color variations, and your end result will be balanced and well blended. 

Click-lock Application

  1. Working from the left corner to the right, use the spacers to keep a gap of 3/8” from the wall as you lay your first piece. 
  2. Using an angle, fit the tongue and groove of the second piece into the first and then lay flat. This interlocks the two pieces together. You can gently tug on the pieces to test how secure they are to each other. Make sure the bottom seam is aligned as you connect consecutive pieces.
  3. Adding the second row to the first may require some gentle tapping with your rubber mallet to lock the pieces together. Be cautious not to hit too hard, causing damage to the delicate tongue-and-groove system of the planks or tiles. 
  4. In the last row, you can gently push the pieces together with a prybar. Again, be cautious not to damage the flooring or your wall.

Peel-and-stick Planks

  1. Working from the left corner to the right, use the spacers to keep a gap of 3/8” from the wall as you lay your first piece. There may be arrows on the back of your planks or tiles to show you which direction each piece should be facing. 
  2. Consecutive pieces will attach with an adhesive tongue and groove system. Be sure to align the seams before you adhere the two pieces together. You can pull the pieces apart to correct mistakes, but the more often you do this, the less effective the adhesive will be in the long term.
  3. If the last piece of a row needs more than six inches cut from it, you can use this half of the board to start the next row. This will naturally stagger your pieces for more stability, but will also add a more realistic effect to hardwood styles of vinyl planks. Don’t forget the 3/8” gap around the perimeter of the room.
  4. When you are finished, roll a 100-pound weight over your new floor to secure the adhesive evenly. 

Groutable Tiles

  1. Peel-and-stick tiles that are made to look like ceramic or stone will have full adhesive backing and no tongues or grooves. Just peel the paper and stick the vinyl down. 
  2. Using spacers in the corners and sides of each tile to create the gap for grout, lay each piece in your pattern across the floor. 
  3. Tape any walls, baseboards, or intrusions of your floor that you had to work around, to protect these things from grout.
  4. You can transfer some grout into a plastic bag, snip the tip, and squeeze it directly into the grooves like writing on a cake. Use a grout sponge to wipe the excess grout and “haze” away. 
  5. Make sure to work in small areas at a time, and work your way out of the room, not trapped in a corner. 
  6. Remove the tape from your protected surfaces, and let the floor set and dry for at least 24 hours. 
All about vinyl flooring on stairs in my closely related post.
cleaning vinyl floors

Taking Care and Protecting Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl flooring can be damaged over time by sunlight, furniture, and the traffic of kids, pets, and shoes. There a few things you can do to get the most out of your vinyl flooring and extend its life to 20 years or more. 

  1. Sunlight – Over time, vinyl tiles and planks that are exposed to direct sunlight will expand and contract in the heat, causing gaps and eventually disengaging the click-lock or adhesive interlocking system. Use curtains and shades when the sun is beaming directly on your new vinyl flooring.
  2. Furniture – Despite being more durable than hardwood, furniture can cause dents, scratches, and damage to your vinyl floors. I cover this more completely in my article, about furniture on vinyl flooring
  3. Rubber and PVC rug pads – Rubber and PVC reacts to the chemicals in vinyl floors and cause it to stain. Heat and traffic aggravate this challenge. 
  4. Moisture –Although vinyl is highly water-resistant, some types of moisture can still cause damage.Install a vapor barrier if you are concerned about subfloor moisture. Wipe up spills and puddles, and don’t leave standing water on your floors. 
  5. Dirt and Stains – Sweep and mop your new vinyl regularly, and you can avoid most dirt and stain damage for a long time. Just remember to use a vinyl flooring cleaner. You can read my article on cleaning vinyl floors or using swiffer on vinyl.

Making Repairs or Replacements

To be honest, over time, your floor will likely experience sharp objects, heavy furniture, the heat of direct sunlight. With vinyl planks and tiles, you can make repairs easily when your vinyl gets damaged. 

Repairing Click-lock vinyl

With the help of a tool, such as a strong puddy knife, you can gently remove the damaged plank without causing harm to the planks surrounding it. Use the measurements of the space to fit the replacement plank, and you can use a rubber mallet to work it into place. 

Repairing Peel-and-stick

Peeling the tile off the floor may take some strength or a tool, and you will want to scrape away any failed adhesive that lingers, but you can usually lay a new tile right in its space. Set something heavy on the tile and leave it for 24 hours. 

Repairing Sheet vinyl

Unfortunately, the only way to make permanent and effective repairs to damaged sheet vinyl is to replace the entire sheet. If it is still level, you may be able to get away with laying a fresh sheet over top of the old, but you will not want to exceed two layers at a time.

If you want to remove them completely , I wrote great article how to remove vinyl from Concrete so you can read more about this topic.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I install vinyl flooring over radiant heat?

Yes, most types of vinyl flooring can be installed over radiant heat. Check with your manufacturer to be certain, and never raise the temperature of your floor above 85 degrees.  

Is vinyl flooring anti-slip?

Yes, vinyl flooring is one of the best choices when considering a flooring option that you won’t slip and fall on, even when it is wet.