Luxury vinyl tiles (LVTs) have been a hot topic in the flooring industry for quite some time now. Not only are they cannibalising market share within their flooring category, but they are also taking away market share from other floor covering categories across the commercial and residential markets.

Some of the major drawing points of LVTs include the fact that they are thicker than traditional vinyl flooring materials, technological advances in manufacturing equipment have made them virtually indistinguishable from real ceramic or wood, and they come in virtually any type of format. While there are different installation methods depending on the type of system you choose (such as locking systems, systems that hook or glue downs), there are also a few hiccups to be aware of if you want to avoid a flooring failure.

Not having a flat and level substrate
LVTs will contour themselves on top of the substrate, so you need to make sure that it is completely flat and smooth. While some of the patterns on LVTs may hide unevenness on the substrate, practical issues may arise if the flooring substrate isn’t completely level.

Tandy Coleman, CEO of Polyflor SA says that uneven substrates are definitely a problem with LVT installations and the result is often a floor that looks bumpy.
“Uneven substrate will mirror through the installation making it appear strange, particularly if you are trying to create a wood or ceramic type look, thus ruining the aesthetic appeal of an LVT floor. Unevenness in levels will also add to your maintenance problems as dirt will be caught in the low spots and the high spots will be prone to more wear and tear, even possibly creating a trip factor. Depending on the degree of unevenness, it could also affect the application and cause adhesion problems. A visibly uneven floor also creates stress in the person walking over it. The best solution is a self-levelling screed,” says Tandy.

Sakkie Pretorius, Area Sales Manager at FloorworX, says that uneven substrates are definitely a problem with LVT installations and the result is often a floor that looks uneven.

“LVTs are very pliable and over time, the product conforms to the contours of the subfloor and the installation will not be aesthetically pleasing. Even the click-vinyls are very pliable and imperfections in the subfloor become visible,” says Sakkie.

Not making sure the substrate is dry and clean
Most concrete substrates will have some sort of moisture that has to be removed before the flooring can be installed. This moisture can impact the plasticisers in vinyl, which will change the integrity of the LVT material and lead to lifted edges and curling. Also make sure that all types of paint, adhesives, dirt and contaminants are removed from the substrate.

Sakkie says that moisture in subfloors is most likely the biggest issue they encounter.

“Depending on which moisture meter is used, moisture levels need to be below 3%, or if below 5%, a moisture barrier needs to be applied to the subfloor prior to installation. In the event that moisture is too high, the adhesive will not perform as required and lifting can occur,” says Sakkie.

To avoid curling, installers must pay attention to proper adhesives, adequately dried subfloors as well as good quality products from reliable suppliers. Numerous problems can arise when low quality products are chosen because of price.

“Lower quality almost always equals lower price and to achieve a reduced price, there has to be recycled content in the product. Unfortunately, in order to incorporate recycled material you need some harmful chemicals. To control this, the “South African Wood and Laminate Flooring Association” (SAWLFA) now requires all member suppliers to submit all products for testing before they can be listed. What they are looking for are Heavy Metals, Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs) and straight Phthalates used in the plasticisers, as these can be very harmful,” says Hugh Krog from Traviata.

Jaco Vermeulen from Belgotex Floors says that low quality LVTs aren’t always dimensionally stable.

“Often these ranges are not dimensionally stable which could result in premature fading / discolouration, cupping, peaking, delamination and premature wear. Always opt for a quality branded range, backed by a reputable manufacturer / distributor and ensure it is installed by a professional LVT installer,” says Jaco.

Neglecting to consider the environment
Heat and cold can lead to LVTs expanding and contracting, so it’s important to consider the environment where it is being installed. Chris Holden from Finfloor SA says that all vinyls are influenced by temperature, be it hot or cold. Therefore temperature and the control of it is very important to a successful hassle-free installation.

“Vinyl installations, especially “click vinyl”, should ideally take place in an ambient temperature range of between 15 to 30°C. It is also very important to acclimatise the product for at least 24 hours, preferably 48 hours, in the area, home, etc. where the product is to be installed, not in the garage or outbuildings, unless this is where the product is to be installed,” says Chris.

In an ideal world and in many cases overseas where a building interior is maintained at a constant temperature, it makes for ideal fitting conditions, says Tandy.

“Pre-conditioning the tiles for 24 hours before fitting is recommended but not always possible. You should definitely avoid leaving the boxes of flooring in your vehicle exposed to the hot sun and then fitting them immediately. Good quality LVTs offer better stability than cheaper options as they are made to an EN specification. The most important factor to consider is the adhesive. When fitting LVTs you must use an adhesive with a very good grab that cures quickly so that once down, the tile can neither expand nor shrink as the adhesive is holding it fast,” says Tandy.

Jaco says that areas exposed to extreme environmental conditions (like temperature
fluctuations, direct light etc.) favour glue down LVT installations.

“The reason for this is because glue down LVTs can be secured to the substrate, eliminating the effects of expansion and contraction. When Click-LVTs are installed, one needs to provide expansion joins to compensate for this,” says Jaco.

To avoid scratching and shrinking, one must invest in walk on/off matts, but make sure you buy the right ones for the application.

“With vinyl, it’s best to avoid rubber backed matts as this could lead to colour changes. Using the right underlayments in combination with click-in LVTs are a good idea, but we advise clients to never use Aerothene-based underlay as it often lacks the right dimensional stability. Only use the underlay that has been approved by the manufacturer,” advises Chris.

“Shrinking will not occur unless the adhesive is not holding the product firmly, so again the correct adhesive is of utmost importance and pre conditioning the tiles is advisable,” Tandy adds.

Zandile Gumede, Marketing Manager at Van Dyck Carpets, adds that shrinking in LVTs can be caused by both heating and cooling in the environment as well as recycled content in the product itself.

“The amount of recycled content in an LVT will affect its dimensional stability, unless that content can be controlled from within the manufacturing process. Outside content cannot be controlled in terms of PVC content, therefore it is always best to choose an LVT with 100% virgin content,” says Zandile.

7 most common causes of click-in floor failure:
According to Finfloor, there are seven common causes of click-in floor failure:
1.    Exposure to direct sunlight
2.    Incorrect expansion gaps around fixed objects
3.    Not using a base track or a drill down profile to glue or silicone the profiles down
4.    Not using filler or silicone around door frames or under skirtings (one should be able to slide unencumbered, a 0.10mm feeler gauge between the floor and the finishing profiles/skirting/quarter round)
5.    Not acclimatising the flooring for 48/72 hours prior to installation
6.    Not sealing the concrete or screed with a moisture barrier
7.    Not ensuring a level sub floor

Up and coming LVT trends

Bigger is better
“Longer and wider planks is a huge trend,’ says Edward Colle, executive director of Belgotex Floors, who have just launched two new bigger vinyl ranges for the commercial and residential markets.

“There’s also a move away from the whitewashed or distressed look in favour of more natural timber tones that have not been stained or manipulated in any way,” concluded Belgotex Floors.

Incorporating LVTs with woven structures
Intriguing visual aesthetics can be created by incorporating LVTs with woven structures that look and feel like natural weave sisal. Combining a variety of textures, such as stripes, metallic palettes and zig zags is a trend that’s here to stay.

Parquet designs, hexagons and shapes galore
Parquet designs, hexagons and random geometrics such as triangles and diamond shapes in different colours are a popular trend to keep an eye on, according to Metroflor.

New technologies
“There is new scratch resistant surface technology that we predict will become popular this year. Another technology to watch is new expanded vinyl foam cores offering lighter, stronger boards with better expansion characteristics,” says Hugh.

Stronger “engineered vinyl panels”
In “click vinyl” the next generation started to come through in the form of a “WPC” (wood plastic composite), with the recent the upgrade of these being the “EVP” (engineered vinyl panel).

“All of these LVTs are designed to make the joint strength stronger. The products are also more stable and able to cope with temperature variations,” says Chris.

Design floors
According to Van Dyck Carpets, installation trends are moving towards what is known as “designer floors”.

“Designer floors are installations that move away from the traditionally installed LVT (Singular direction) and instead offer a surface that is installed at 45 degrees to walls or mixed with different colours from the same range or applied to walls to create feature areas in homes, offices or retail stores,” says Zandile.

Linoleum, cork and rubber

Linoleum, cork and rubber continue to see great technological advancements. Some of the noteworthy new products in this category are the following:

Including industrial waste in linoleum
At Domotex, Forbo Flooring showcased a linoleum flooring product that included ground husks of cocoa beans, an industrial waste.

Cork – giving you the warmth of carpets without the sneezes
CorkArt showcased a range of anti-microbial cork tiles that are warm, comfortable and stylish. Cork remains a firm favourite for those who enjoy the comfort and warmth of carpets, but have allergies that they need to manage.

Granorte showcased next generation floating cork flooring that is sophisticated, warm and easy to maintain.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to www.belgotex.co.za, www.finfloor.co.za, www.floorworx.co.za; www.polyflor.co.za, www.traviata.co.za and www.vandyckcarpets.com for the information contained in this article.