Vinyl Flooring

Interior Design
By: Jennifer Ranger, Jennifer Earle, Nasrin Asadi, Vancouver, Canada
Vinyl was first utilized in the early 1920’s. Production plants manufacturing polyvinyl chloride began to appear in numbers throughout the 1930’s as more uses for the compound were discovered. In the 1950’s, methods of enhance vinyl’s durability were refined, allowing for its use in the building trades. Today, vinyl is the second largest-selling plastic in the world.
Inexpensive vinyl sheet and tile flooring firs became available in 1947. It was marketed as no-wax alternative to old-fashioned linoleum. Demand for vinyl outstripped the demand for linoleum by the end of the 1950’s and it became the dominant material used for residential resilient flooring.

General Description and Composition
a) Composition
Vinyl flooring is a synthetic man-made material produced from chlorinated petrochemicals. The main component of vinyl flooring is polyvinyl chloride or PVC. PVC results from a series of processing steps: hydrocarbon-based raw materials (such as petroleum, natural gas or coal) are converted into new polymers, or chains of molecules, which are then combined with chlorine. Urethane, another synthetic plastic, is often used as a topcoat on vinyl flooring to protect the color and pattern layer. Other constituents include chemical plasticizers, stabilizers, fillers and pigments. Both PVC and urethane are produced from non-renewable resources, create toxic chemicals during their production and are carcinogenic according to the American FDA. Despite this, vinyl is a widely utilized material primarily due to its advantages in terms of end use. It is resistant to corrosion, light and chemicals as well as being versatile with respect to physical characteristics. It can be thin and flexible yet rigid enough for use outdoors, it can be clear or opaque and has limitless coloring possibilities.

b) Production
There are two types of production for heterogeneous (layered) vinyl flooring. The older method, called inlaid construction, involves laying solid colored vinyl chips on top of a carrier sheet and then bonding them together with heat and pressure. A felt backing and a clear wear-layer (usually urethane) is then applied on top to protect the pattern. The appearance of the floor depends on how long the wear-layer lasts.

A newer type of construction for residential floors, called the rotogravure printing process, involves the printing of a photographic image onto a core layer, using photo engraved plates. Mechanical embossing of the clear wear-layer is used to produce texture and a three dimensional quality. This combination of printing and embossing allows manufacturers to create a multitude of imitative surfaces –from weathered wood and stone to crocodile skin. This type of flooring is also backed with felt.

The gauge (thickness) and the composition of the wear-layer vary from company to company and between each company’s collections. Expensive vinyls have a thick wear-layer of urethane to protect the floor from abrasion, provide greater indentation resistance and improved acoustical insulation. Urethane is resistant to wear, stains, asphalt tracking and scuffing. Economy lines have a vinyl wear-layer, which provides good performance against wear and staining but scuffs more readily. Aluminum oxide, silicone, or ceramic particles may be added to a urethane wear-layer to provide additional scuff and scratch resistance or to improve traction when wet.

Commercial vinyl flooring can be made in either of the two ways described above with the addition of extra heavy gauge wear-layers. It may also be homogenous, meaning solid vinyl throughout rather than layered. Vinyl composition tile (VCT) is another economical commercial flooring, which contains some recycled vinyl content. Patterns for solid vinyl flooring are limited.

Vinyl tiles may come in 6”, 9”, 12” and 24” sizes, depending on the manufacturer. Sheet vinyl is usually 79” wide for European suppliers, 6’, 6’ –6”, or 12’ wide for North American. Gauge (thickness) from 0.080”.

c) Physical Characteristics
Vinyl flooring, whether in sheet or tile form, is a very common flooring material. There are many reasons why it is used so extensively –and possibly a few reasons why it shouldn’t be:
- Vinyl flooring is versatile and resilient – resuming its shape is indented.
- Water and stain resistant
- Easiest to clean and maintain compared to other flooring types available
- Soft and cushioned underfoot
- Sheet installations have few seams making it a good choice for wet applications such as in bathrooms.
- Vinyl has good acoustical insulating properties
- Newer types are more resistant to gouging, ripping and tearing – although economy products may still be susceptible to this type of damage.
- Almost limitless choice of color and pattern
- Smooth, non-textile surface does not accumulate dust. Good choice for people with respiratory problems and allergies
- Fire resistance varies from product to product. Vinyl will melt when heated and produces toxic fumes when burned.
- Vinyl is difficult to repair if damaged. Once the wear-layer is worn, the entire floor must be replaced.
- Off gassing of vinyl flooring compromises indoor air quality. Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. as conducted studies of indoor air quality indicating that carpeting and vinyl flooring contribute more VOC’s to outdoor air than any other base building material.
- Many of the adhesives recommended by manufacturers for use with vinyl flooring are also VOC emitting.
- Manufacture requires use of non-renewable resources and products dioxins – a group of carcinogenic and toxic compounds. PVC is considered by Greenpeace to be the most environmentally damaging plastic produced.
- Not biodegradable – consumes landfill space and contributes to airborne and soil chemical load, when burned at te end of its life cycle.

Uses and Restrictions
In residential applications vinyl is typically used in kitchens and bathrooms. Its cushioned surface and ease of maintenance make it an attractive option in these areas. Sheet vinyl can be also installed below grade. The limited number of seams required for sheet installation make it a good choice for damp areas. Seams should be chemically sealed to prevent moisture from reaching the sub-floor. A non-slip wear-layer can be specified for bathrooms and other wet areas.

Commercially, vinyl may be used in dentist, physician and veterinarian offices. Its smooth, easy-clean surface make it a hygienic option. Chemically welded seams will seal out dirt, germs and moisture. The list of specialty products offered by manufacturers is long. Most manufacturers of commercial vinyl offer anti-static products for computer areas, slip-resistant types for shower or restroom areas and anti-soiling products for health care applications to name a few. Vinyl products can be used in most commercial areas, where traffic is moderate and a low maintenance, non-textile surface is required. Cafeterias, classrooms, health care facilities, laboratories, offices, retail, corporate and light manufacturing are all possible applications.

Vinyl is one of the easiest floor coverings available to maintain. Manufacturers recommend sweeping and vacuuming regularly and damp mopping with a suitable resilient floor cleaner. A proprietary polish may be used to restore luster to a dull finish.
Floor protectors should be used under furniture legs to prevent scratching, gouging and indentation. Narrow heeled shoes will also cause damage. Doormats should be used to prevent asphalt tracking from driveways, which can permanently stain the floor. Care should be taken to limit vinyl’s exposure to constant direct sunlight, as it will fade the color.

Finishes and Colors
Vinyl flooring is produced in a countless number of colors and textures. The photographic printing process and embossing of the wear-layer allow for the imitation of almost any surface desired: polished marble or granite, ceramic, antiqued metal, brushed concrete, weathered slate, distressed pine, exotic woods, woven textiles or anima skin to name only a few. Finishes may be either low or high gloss.

There is vinyl flooring manufactured for every budget. Sheet vinyl ranges in price from $0.79 to $4.00 for residential and $4.25 to $10.00 per square foot for solid vinyl commercial covering. Vinyl tile prices range from $0.50 to $4.00 per square foot.

Local suppliers appear to carry a wide range of product. A delivery time of up to four days may be required. A product not in stock may take from one to eight weeks to be shipped from eastern Canada, the United States or Europe, where mills are located.

Vinyl sheet and tile are both possible DIY projects. Installation is relatively simple: adhesive is applied to the sub-floor, vinyl sheet is positioned where required and the surface is then rolled with a 100 lb. roller to ensure contact. Most vinyl tiles are self-adhesive. As with linoleum installation, the condition of the sub-floor determines the success of the installation. Irregularities should be leveled and anything that may interfere with bonding of adhesive should be removed. Vinyl can be installed at any grade and over most sub-flooring materials. Care should be taken to ensure that below grade concrete is dry and free of alkaline salts, which will both cause adhesive failure. A moisture barrier is recommended over concrete slab below or at grade.

Manufacturers and Sources
Vinyl manufacturers:
- Armstrong
- Mannington
- Domco / Tarkett
Research: Architecture
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