Kitchen Products Review: Resilient RivalryCompetition brings out the best in vinyl flooring.

  • By Jeffrey Lee
  • Source: BUILDING PRODUCTS Magazine
  • Publication date: 2007-05-10

With the resilient flooring market under assault by natural products like hardwood and ceramic tile, vinyl manufacturers are accentuating and improving upon their product's traditional strengths: toughness, ease of installation, and design diversity.

"There's never been a better product assortment" in the vinyl flooring category, says Mark Brown, marketing director for Tarkett. "The evolution of design capabilities has been pretty dramatic." But he acknowledges the precarious position resilient flooring manufacturers are in. The industry has been under some tremendous stresses, he says, from the growth of natural product categories perceived by some homeowners as better or more valuable.

Michelle Hendrix, of A.J. Hendrix Builders in Lecanto, Fla., gives a telling and poignant example. When her company was building a spec home for the local parade of homes, she had planned to use a hand-scraped wood-look vinyl plank in the living room, dining room, and den. But in the end she decided against it. "I put real wood down because the first thing people say is, 'Is it real?' Some people, if it's not the real thing, they won't have it."

The statistics bear this out: U.S. demand for vinyl flooring is expected to increase by a mere 1.2 percent annually through 2010, according to research firm The Freedonia Group, and vinyl flooring demand is expected to trail both resilient flooring as a whole (including asphalt, cork, linoleum, and rubber) and overall flooring demand.

This increased competition has led manufacturers to enhance the quality and simplicity of installation. New, more realistic looks and textures are particularly evident in the luxury vinyl plank and tile category. Targeted primarily at the remodel market, these products emulate natural materials like ceramic, stone, or hardwood, but with improved performance at a lower price point.

"People want the natural look," says David Voll, senior marketing manager with Amtico, but they don't want the upkeep that goes along with natural products. So manufacturers are using new materials and techniques to replicate the look and feel of those materials. "The film that we use is almost like the real thing," Voll says. "You actually have to get down and touch the floor to know it's not the real thing."

To create its hand-scraped wood-look plank, for instance, Nafco uses a metal cylinder in its mechanical embossing process to match the texture of real pieces of wood. The planks have a rolled edge treatment on all sides for a more realistic finish. With Earthwerks' vintage floral plank, homeowners can even give the illusion of wildflowers growing through a rustic wood board.

For its PermaStone product, meant to look like natural stone or ceramic, Nafco uses a GroutFit system that includes grout on only two sides so tiles fit together seamlessly. "The grouted look is popular because … it helps to individualize the tile, and it gives it a more realistic look," says David Cassady, marketing director of the residential division for Nafco by Tarkett.

Great looks just aren't the same if they're scuffed or stained, so manufacturers are adding urethane coatings and other wear layer technologies that resist scuffing and scratching and make them easy to clean. Nafco's Tritonite wear layer, for instance, contains microspheres of ceramic that make the floor stronger and dirt-repellent--perfect for high-traffic or wet areas like the kitchen.

Size It Up
Manufacturers say that while the top two buying factors for vinyl flooring customers are color and design, they increasingly want size flexibility as well. To meet this demand, vinyl tiles now are offered in larger and varied sizes, or with feature strips that measure anywhere from 2 inches to 1/4 inch wide, so that designers can mix it up.

"We as consumers don't want to just take a 12-by-12 tile and just lay it on the floor," says Amtico's Voll. Creative homeowners want to lay the tiles on a diagonal, or offset them, or use a feature strip between tiles or as a border, he says. Some companies, like Nafco, take the guesswork out of modular designs by offering cartons with the correct number and size tiles for a module.

Ray Ninteau Jr., owner of Ray's Carpets in Kannapolis, N.C., says he's created some fabulous floors by laying tiles on a diagonal or creating a checkerboard effect with two slightly different patterns. "Something that simple makes a big difference," he says.

Under the Sheets

The move toward natural products doesn't mean vinyl flooring is disappearing any time soon; to the contrary, it still makes up 8 percent to 11 percent of flooring sales, according to Tarkett's Mark Brown, and it is still the kitchen flooring of choice for many entry-level home builders. "What we're trying to do is appeal to newer buyers," Brown says. "We're saying, 'Hey, use vinyl for the first time right now.'"

Manufacturers are also targeting builders and installers and their wallets, with vinyl sheet flooring products that are easy and inexpensive to install. Armstrong's new StrataMax sheet flooring, for example, addresses that concern with loose-lay installation and is warranted for installation directly over OSB--without an underlayment. Because the time and cost of installing an underlayment can double the cost of a vinyl floor project, StrataMax can save builders 35 percent to 50 percent on the installed cost, says Alan Cubell, vice president of product management for residential resilient for Armstrong. And because it does not need to be glued down, it takes less time to install than a traditional felt-backed floor.

"For the builder there's some serious savings here," he says. "And the consumers get a better product." It's also easy for the homeowner to upgrade if they want a change in a few years: The installer can just roll it up and move it out.

Armstrong. StrataMax Hi-Performance sheet flooring combines fast and easy installation with durability and performance, according to the manufacturer. The product offers loose-lay installation directly over OSB flooring, reducing installation time by eliminating the underlayment, the maker says. 800-233-3823.

Armstrong. StrataMax Hi-Performance sheet flooring combines fast and easy installation with durability and performance, according to the manufacturer. The product offers loose-lay installation directly over OSB flooring, reducing installation time by eliminating the underlayment, the maker says. 800-233-3823. www.armstrong.com.

Domco

Domco. FiberFloor, a fiberglass-reinforced resilient flooring, lies flat with less curl, expansion, and contraction over time, according to the manufacturer. The product's pliable construction eliminates splitting and tearing during handling, the maker adds, and the flooring offers glueless installation. It is available in three collections. 800-363-9276. www.domco.com.

Lonseal

Lonseal. The GreenVinyl program includes 29 products that contain at least 10 percent post-industrial recycled content and 27 that contain at least 20 percent. Several of these products also are Greenguard certified as low-emitting indoor materials with a GreenAir technology, a new formulation of plasticizers and pigmentation that results in low-VOC emissions. 888-566-7325. www.lonseal.com.

DuPont

DuPont. DuPont Vinyl Sheet Flooring is available in 40 colors and is designed to meet consumers' design preferences, according to the manufacturer. The finish's urethane technology that includes aluminum oxide makes the flooring extremely durable and easy to clean and maintain, the maker adds. 888-846-9501. www.vinyl.dupont.com.

Stainmaster

Stainmaster. Ocean Crest is the newest pattern in Stainmaster resilient flooring. It uses Optique surface technology, which brings a high degree of realism to resilient flooring, according to the manufacturer. The maker says the new pattern was inspired by the natural beauty of weathered, rocky shorelines and is characterized by realistic color depth and variation. 800-438-7668. www.stainmaster.com.

Armstrong

Visual Vinyl

Traditional wood and stone looks will always be vinyl flooring favorites. But Debbie Munden, senior designer for Amtico, says many customers want flooring that represents a totally unique design concept. "We've seen increased interest in color, in addition to texture and metallic," she says. The most popular trends are:

BEIGES, NEUTRALS, AND METALLICS: Subdued beige and neutral colors, as well as shades of metallic copper, bronze, and gold are catching on.

TROPICAL WOODS: Versatility of grains and tones gives woods like Amtico's Fused Birch an Asian-inspired bamboo-like appearance when combined with an eclectic décor.

COLOR: Customers who want to make a bold, spatial statement are choosing from a growing range of rich, colorful tones.

Nafco by Tarkett

Nafco by Tarkett. PermaStone luxury vinyl tiles are designed to look and feel like ceramic, stone, or marble, the manufacturer says. Tiles are 16 inches square and are designed with GroutFit, so the tile only has grout on two sides, creating a more realistic floor, according to the maker. New designs in 2007 include Washed Travertine and Mirabello, a twist on sandstone. 800-227-4662. www.nafco.com.

Amtico

Amtico. The Linear collection is a contemporary abstract floor with soft surface patterns, the manufacturer says. Up close, the subtle line pattern is visible, but from a distance the flooring takes on a more neutral appearance, challenging perceptions of traditional "resilient tile" aesthetics, according to the manufacturer. The collection can be cut into different module sizes to experiment with the grain. 404-267-1900. www.amtico.com.

Mannington

Mannington. Sobella resilient flooring is softer, yet more durable, than traditional vinyl flooring because of a special fiberglass core that gives it more dimensional stability, the manufacturer says. Sobella comes in handscraped hardwood and slate designs in two collections: Sobella Classic and Sobella Supreme. Both feature Guardian protection to ward against rips and gouges and NeverYellow for resistance to yellowing. 800-482-0466. www.mannington.com.

Earthwerks

Earthwerks. The firm's luxury vinyl plank is available in vintage plank or vintage floral plank, which includes a mixture of various floral elements seeming to grow through the plank. The product is offered with a 20-year residential limited wear warranty, and measures 7.32 inches by 37 inches by 1/8 inch with a 20-mil wear layer. 800-275-7943. www.earthwerks.net.

--BUILDING PRODUCTS