Vinyl Flooring

Topics Covered

Background

Overview

History

Design Considerations

Product Characteristics

Design Flexibility

Resilience

Durability

Aesthetics

Safety Features

Healthcare Applications

Sports Facilities

Limitations

Technical Data

Loads

Moisture Resistance

Colourfastness

Stain and Reagent Resistance

Light Reflectivity

Acoustics

Fire Retardance and Heat Performance

Installation

Cost

Maintenance Requirements

Selection and Specification Guide

Relevant Standards

Code Information

Manufacturing

Raw Materials

Processing / Fabrication

Tile

Sheet

Environmental Considerations

Recyclability

Energy Efficiency

Air Quality

Resource Consideration

Background

Resilient vinyl flooring - both sheet and tile - has become a valued design tool for many interior designers and architects, particularly those designing for heavy-traffic locations - such as a grocery store - or for rooms that must be kept clean - such as a hospital operating room. In the following article, you'll learn more about the possibilities and limitations of vinyl flooring, with a particular emphasis on commercial applications. This section will also address the design, environmental and historical considerations to take into account when specifying vinyl flooring.

Overview

Vinyl flooring is also called "resilient" flooring because it characteristically "bounces back" from the weight of objects that compress its surface. It has long been the most popular hard surface flooring in the United States, according to industry reports in Floor Covering Weekly.

Vinyl floors are available in either tile or sheet form for both commercial and residential use. Resilient flooring accounts for about 12 percent of all floor covering sold in the United States. (Other major categories include carpet, ceramic tile, hardwood and laminate.) New technologies in recent years have improved vinyl's performance - especially in the areas of durability against rips, tears and gouges. Because resilient floors are durable, easier to maintain and more moisture-resistant than many alternative materials, vinyl is preferred for use in residential kitchens and bathrooms, as well as in healthcare facilities, and commercial and retail establishments.

In general, there are two types of vinyl flooring: sheet flooring and tile. In addition, there are two basic categories of vinyl tile - solid vinyl and vinyl composition - and three basic categories of vinyl sheet flooring - homogeneous, inlaid and layered composite. These products differ in manufacturing process and content. In fact, some floors contain as much as 55 percent vinyl (polyvinyl chloride or PVC) while others may contain as little as 11 percent vinyl, yet each of these floors is referred to as "vinyl flooring." (In addition to vinyl resin, vinyl floors typically contain fillers, plasticizers, stabilizers and pigments.)

History

The following historical highlights help show how vinyl became popular for use in flooring.

The first rubber floor tiles debuted sometime in the 12th to 13th centuries, but declined in popularity toward the end of the 17th century. The use of plain, square, undecorated red clay tiles became common throughout Europe during the 18th century.

Linoleum was invented and patented in 1845. It was first manufactured in Scotland in the 1860s, and the first U.S. plant was built in 1872. Linoleum remained popular until after World War II, when easy-to-maintain and durable vinyl flooring was introduced.

In 1894, Philadelphia architect Frank Furness patented a system for rubber floor tiles. Colours were limited, but the tiles could be laid in geometric patterns to produce an eye-catching design. By the end of the century, recessed tabs allowed rubber tiles to be nailed to the subfloor, and soon the tabs were eliminated altogether. These tiles were durable, sound-deadening, easy to clean and easy to install. However, they also stained easily and deteriorated over time from exposure to oxygen, ozone and solvents, and were not suitable for use in basements where alkaline moisture was present.

The first cork tile floor was introduced in 1904, and became the most popular type of resilient flooring in the 1920s. It was available in a limited range of colours and designs, but was expensive and porous.

Asphalt tile arrived on the scene in the 1920s and, by the 1950s, was the most widely used floor tile on the market, fuelled by low initial cost and easy installation. These tiles were tough, durable, highly resistant to abrasion and moisture, and fire resistant, but the styles and patterns were limited.

Then, in 1933, vinyl made its big splash when a vinyl composition tile was displayed at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. Because of the scarcity of vinyl during the war years, vinyl flooring was not widely marketed until the late 1940s, but then quickly challenged its competitors. Originally used only in high traffic areas, vinyl flooring eventually became the most popular choice for flooring in just about any hard-surface application. Today, vinyl flooring is second only to carpet in floor covering sales in the United States, according to Floor Covering Weekly.

Design Considerations

Product characteristics

Many factors should be taken into consideration when determining which flooring material to select for a specific application. For example, the flooring may need to stand up to rolling carts or support standing (static) loads. Moisture resistance may be critical, or resistance to fading. Each manufacturer can provide detailed information on the performance characteristics of its flooring, as well as proper installation and maintenance to avoid damage. You should expect long-lasting beauty from properly installed and maintained vinyl floors.

Design flexibility

Vinyl sheet flooring and tile are available in myriad styles and colours. Vinyl tile is available in shapes that can be custom cut and laid out in patterns using different colours or finishes. Tiles can be arranged, for example, to depict a corporate logo or to guide traffic in a hospital or retail setting. Virtually any look can be obtained to suit any decor, including classic looks that simulate wood and ceramic. Custom-made designs are easily created using sheet vinyl flooring.

Resilience

Vinyl flooring reduces noise and provides comfort underfoot. Unlike such hard surfaces as wood, laminate, terrazzo or ceramic tile, vinyl floors have "give" and thus are referred to as "resilient" flooring.

Durability

Vinyl flooring is durable and time-tested, maintaining its beauty under heavy foot traffic and use. It is moisture and stain resistant, so spills can be easily removed. When compared with alternative materials, vinyl offers an attractive installed cost with economical maintenance over the life of the floor.

Aesthetics

Today's vinyl floors are made to enhance the aesthetic features of an interior environment. While often mimicking the look of other hard surfaces, they are "warmer" than ceramic tile. Designers can use pattern and colour to make a large room seem smaller or a small room more expansive. And since vinyl is durable, the colour and original appearance will last longer with routine maintenance.

Safety Features

A wide range of both tile and sheet vinyl floors is available with enhanced slip-retardant surfaces. These floors are suitable for a variety of commercial and institutional applications. Because they are vinyl, these slip-resistant surfaces can be easily cleaned. Check with manufacturers for vinyl floors designed to meet other special needs like static control.

Healthcare Applications

Vinyl flooring is frequently used in healthcare facilities because it is nearly impervious to water, offering a significant sanitary advantage over carpeting. These characteristics are particularly important in hospital rooms, extended care facilities, nursing homes and day care centres. Many commercial sheet vinyl floor installations offer sealed or welded seams that prevent contaminants from being lodged in the seam area. And with fewer seams than most other hard surface floors, bacteria has fewer places to hide and grow. Disinfectant cleaners can provide a sterile surface without damaging the floor. In addition, most stains can be easily removed. Check with the manufacturer for complete maintenance instructions.

For hypersensitive populations, where mould allergies may be a problem, vinyl flooring offers advantages as well. Researchers at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas have found that carpet can produce high airborne mould counts, which can actually be aggravated by vacuuming. Vinyl flooring, on the other hand, can be cleaned without dispersing high levels of mould into the air.

Sports facilities

Sheet vinyl flooring products can provide an attractive alternative to expensive wood flooring systems in gymnasiums, exercise rooms and other recreational areas. The no-wax stain-resistant surfaces of these floors mean lower maintenance costs and greater usage than traditional floors - and these surfaces will accept paint lines for use as a basketball, racquetball or volleyball court. High-density vinyl foam cushion backing systems provide a shock absorbing surface that reduces impact shock and leg fatigue. Many of these surfaces are protected by a clear wear layer and a high-performance, polyurethane surface and comply with NCAA basketball rules for bounce, rebound and hardness.

Limitations

Vinyl floors are not recommended for use in most commercial kitchens, although vinyl composition tile is commonly used in light duty kitchens and both tile and sheet vinyl floors are the leading choice for residential kitchens. Some vinyl floors can be susceptible to tears when heavy or sharp objects (such as cans or knives) are dropped. In addition, they can be subject to permanent indentation from static loads or damage from rolling loads. Vinyl flooring also may not be recommended for automotive maintenance areas or automotive showroom areas unless the flooring is protected from oil spills and contact with rubber tires. In addition, vinyl flooring is not recommended for outdoor installation, where excessive heat, cold or sunlight may cause fading and discoloration.

Technical Data

Manufacturers of vinyl flooring measure a variety of physical data, including the following. Manufacturers will vary their formulas to produce floors that meet standards in these areas. A single formulation may not meet all performance requirements, so specifiers must check with the manufacturer to determine the best flooring for the situation involved.

Loads

Impact loads, which are momentary indentations like those produced from walking traffic; static loads, which are any loads remaining in a stationary position for long periods of time; and rolling loads, which may damage resilient flooring especially immediately following installation.

Moisture Resistance

May be critical depending on the type of subfloor, since moisture conditions may affect adhesive performance. In most cases, resilient floors may be installed in areas where water might be spilled on the floor, providing the correct adhesive is used and the floor has a minimum of seams. (Spills should be mopped up immediately.)

Colourfastness

May be affected by exposure to strong sunlight.

Stain and Reagent Resistance

Will vary by product and manufacturer. Special formulations are available for use in areas where exposure to chemicals and staining reagents is likely to occur. In general, vinyl floors are resistant to alkalis, acids, alcohols, oils, greases and aliphatic hydrocarbons (e.g., gasoline, kerosene). Ketones (e.g., nail polish remover), esters (e.g., paint thinner) and chlorinated and aromatic hydrocarbons (e.g., naphtha, asphalt, coal tar) may cause softening.

Light Reflectivity

A measure of the percentage of light reflected off a surface, which may play an important role in the illumination of institutional, commercial and industrial facilities.

Acoustics

Of special importance in areas with heavy floor traffic. Resilient flooring, in general, will cushion impacts and thereby reduce traffic noise or noise from dropped objects more than other hard-surface floors such as wood, marble, ceramic or concrete. In addition, underlayments are available to further reduce impact noise and sound transmission.

Fire Retardance and Heat Performance

Most resilient floors are manufactured to be safe from normal fire hazards. In large-scale experiments that have been run to simulate actual fire conditions, vinyl flooring products have not been significant contributors to the spread of the fire or resulting hazards. In fact, vinyl flooring resists burning and typically does not continue burning when an external flame is removed. However, a resilient floor surface can be permanently damaged or scarred by burning cigarettes, matches or very hot items.

Installation

For specific product information related to installation and maintenance, contact the manufacturer or visit the manufacturer's web site. In general, resilient flooring should be installed after all other finishing or construction trade operations, including painting, have been completed. Vinyl floors can be installed over wood, concrete or, in some cases, existing flooring. However, subflooring should be clean, smooth, of high quality and as flat as possible.

After installation, rolling loads and heavy traffic should be avoided until the adhesive sets hard. Plywood or hardboard panels must be used to move furniture, appliances or equipment onto a recently installed vinyl floor. Rests, glides or casters are recommended for permanent use under heavy furniture and appliances.

Following is a brief overview of other installation requirements for most vinyl floors:

         Room temperature of not less than 65 F (18.3 C) and no greater than 85 F (29.4 C) for at least 48 hours previous to, during and 48 hours after installation or until flooring has become thoroughly bonded to the subfloor.

         Dry subfloor with temperature approximately the same as the air in the room. Flooring materials, adhesives and accessories at the same temperature as the air in the room. (In winter, flooring should be stored in a warm room for at least 48 hours before installation.)

         Room well ventilated to carry off any excess moisture in the air.

         Low relative humidity.

Unless the above conditions can be met, it would be advisable to delay the job and wait for better conditions.

Cost

Vinyl is a cost-effective flooring material when considering both initial and lifecycle cost. Vinyl lasts considerably longer than carpet and can, therefore, save money on repairs and replacement installations. According to Flooring Magazine (November 1999), vinyl flooring typically costs less than other hard-surface floors.

Maintenance requirements

Overall, vinyl is tough, resistant to scratching, scuffing, staining, indentation and other daily abuse. This durability is especially critical in commercial settings where routine wear and tear take their toll on floors. Vinyl floors maintain their good looks even in heavy traffic areas.

The thickness of a vinyl floor's wearlayer is an important element in determining its performance and ease of maintenance. The thickness is generally measured in mils, or thousandths of an inch. Higher-quality vinyl floors may also utilize a urethane wearlayer, for special property enhancement, while lower-priced floors generally feature a vinyl wearlayer to protect the underlying pattern. In general, a urethane wearlayer makes the floor easier to clean and more stain-resistant.

Some of the most abusive substances to any floor are tracked-in dirt and grime, which can wear away the surface of the floor. As with any material, proper cleaning and maintenance are critical to the long life and beauty of a vinyl floor.

Regular maintenance should include daily sweeping or dust-mopping, as removal of gritty dirt is extremely important. Floors should be damp-mopped with a neutral detergent. Spills should be wiped up before they dry with a clean white cloth dampened with warm water. To control tracked-in dirt, grit or stains from asphalt and oil in driveways, non-staining doormats should be placed at entrances. (Some rubber or foam-backed doormats can cause surface staining.)

Commercial floors will require periodic spray-buffing and application of a high quality commercial floor polish, which will help the floor resist staining and enhance its appearance. If staining does occur, the floor should be stripped, following the manufacturer's instructions. Consult the manufacturer for stain removal instructions.

Selection and Specification Guide

Relevant standards

Some tile and sheet vinyl floors are available with enhanced slip retardant surfaces. These floors are suitable for a variety of commercial and institutional applications such as in shower rooms, lavatories, ramped corridors, and around swimming pools, whirlpools or spas. Because of the variety of vinyl flooring available and the varying applications for its use, check with the manufacturer for relevant testing standards to meet the unique requirements of each application.

Code Information

Resilient floor coverings are usually exempt from model building code flammability requirements because they are not considered to be an unusual fire hazard. However, some building code officials, government agencies and other regulatory authorities require test information on the fire performance of resilient flooring. The most widely used test for flammability is based on the Flooring Radiant Panel test (ASTM E648). Another standard commonly used is ASTM E662 - Standard Test Method for Specific Optical Density of Smoke Generated by Solid Materials.

Manufacturing

Raw Materials

All vinyl products are made from combinations of vinyl resin and various additives that give these products their particular properties. Every flooring formulation is different and most are proprietary. Some of the additives commonly used in vinyl flooring include:

         Plasticizers, oily liquids that are used to soften the vinyl and provide flexibility to the formula.

         Stabilizers, used to minimize degradation and discoloration from heat and light.

         Pigments, which are added during the manufacturing process to give vinyl a range of colours.

         Fillers, such as limestone or clay.

Processing / Fabricating

Once the additives have been combined with the resin, the resulting material is called vinyl compound, and is in pellet form. The nature of the vinyl compound allows versatility in the production process, enabling manufacturers to meet many of the performance requirements of various flooring applications. In the next stage of manufacturing, either vinyl tile or sheet vinyl flooring is created.

Tile

Vinyl tile is manufactured by one of two methods:

         By melt-compounding the ingredients at high temperatures, then moulding the hot material into the desired shape; or

         By using the calendering technique, in which the components are mixed together then fed through a series of rollers that gradually squeeze the material to the desired gauge. The calendered sheet is then coated to increase abrasion and stain resistance. Although the total process and product raw materials will vary depending on the type of tile being produced, solid vinyl tile and printed vinyl tiles in general contain a much higher content of vinyl and less filler than vinyl composition tile (VCT).

Sheet

Sheet vinyl manufacturing process is as follows:

Sheets are processed on large drums or made by coating a thin layer of liquid (comprised of vinyl resin, plasticizer, filler and other additives) onto a backing material. This method produces a multi-layered construction typically comprised of a backing, vinyl foam core, decorative layer and clear vinyl layer. The entire product is cured in an oven, then, in some cases, coated with a thin film of urethane.

Patterns are applied to some sheet vinyl flooring using the rotogravure printing method, in which colours and patterns are printed on the surface of the base layer; or by the inlaid method, in which the design goes all the way to the backing. With rotogravure, a rotating cylinder prints coloured inks on top of the core layer, offering virtually unlimited possibilities in patterns and designs. The printed pattern is then covered with a clear vinyl wear layer and the product is oven cured. In the inlaid process, solid-coloured vinyl chips are laid on top of a carrier sheet and then bonded together, under heat and pressure, creating the resulting pattern.

Environmental Considerations

Recyclability

During the vinyl flooring manufacturing process, especially for vinyl composition tile, most of the scrap is recycled for use in the finished product. In addition, some vinyl flooring manufacturers produce products made with recycled vinyl content. This material can be both post-consumer (i.e., material that's been used for its intended purpose and is being recovered for recycling) and post-industrial (the scrap left over from a product manufacturing process). This material represents many tons of vinyl scrap per year that would otherwise go to a landfill.

Vinyl flooring can be disposed of in landfills without posing special problems. Because it is an essentially inert material, no special handling is required.

Energy Efficiency

Because of its durability, vinyl flooring does not have to be replaced as often as many other types of flooring. This durability is a significant benefit for the environment because less energy and other resources are used to make and install new floors.

Air Quality

Vinyl flooring, when installed as recommended, has minimal long-term impact on indoor air quality.

Resource Conservation

Both environmentally and economically, VCT outperforms two other flooring products - linoleum and recycled-content ceramic tile - based on the criteria developed by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology's Building for Environment and Economic Sustainability (BEES) lifecycle assessment model. These criteria include indoor air quality (IAQ), solid waste, acid rain, global warming and natural resource depletion. The BEES model for evaluating building products is being used by architects, builders, contractors and other specifiers to select products with reduced environmental impact.

 

Source: The Vinyl Institute

For more information on this source please visit The Vinyl Institute

 

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