Q&A: When I'm Buying Vinyl Flooring, What Should I Know?

By Sam Ferris
Everyone knows that vinyl floors are about as economical as flooring gets. This is true because luxury vinyl tile (LVT) is the fastest growing sector in the flooring industry, according to Floor Covering News (FCN). Per FCN, Mohawk chairman and CEO Jeff Lorberbaum estimates that LVT is a billion-dollar industry in the U.S. That's astounding. But despite its popularity, not everyone knows what features to look for once they?ve made the decision to purchase vinyl floors. That?s where we come in.

Like other types of flooring, vinyl floors aren?t a one-stop venture. They?re more like a navigation-intensive road trip: there?s sheet and plank, thick and thin, smooth and matte, glue down and loose lay. We make sure you don?t get lost while you?re shopping around with this roadmap to buying vinyl floors:?

Sheet, Plank or Tile Vinyl

When you?re looking to buy, there are three primary types of vinyl flooring you?ll find at retailers: ?

  • Sheet vinyl
  • Vinyl plank
  • Vinyl tile
Sheet vinyl is just that: a sheet of vinyl. It?s manufactured in large sheets that measure about 12 feet in length. The width varies with the size of your room. Vinyl planks are normally manufactured in 6?x36? planks, but you?ll find certain styles in a more contemporary 12?x24? size. Vinyl tile is similar to vinyl planks in that it?s made in specific sizes (there?s a larger variation in size with vinyl tile).
Plank vinyl. Photo courtesy of Armstrong Flooring.
The best type of vinyl flooring to meet your needs depends on the design you want and its application. ?

Sheet vinyl has both stone/tile designs and wood-look designs, though it?s more commonly associated with stone and tile looks. Sheet vinyl is also primarily used for residential applications because it?s significantly more expensive and must meet certain standards for commercial spaces.

Vinyl planks likewise feature both designs, but they often look like wood instead of tile. Vinyl planks provide a more authentic wood look than sheet vinyl, so it?s your best bet if you want the next closest thing to hardwood floors without paying for it. They?re more prominently used in commercial applications but are definitely suitable for residential installations.

Vinyl tile can have stunning ceramic and porcelain looks and is installed in both commercial and residential applications.

Here?s the breakdown:

  • Sheet vinyl: best for residential applications, both stone/tile and wood look designs
  • Vinyl planks: best for commercial applications and residential applications, mostly wood look designs
  • Vinyl tile: best for commercial and residential applications, stone/tile designs


Not all vinyl flooring has the same texture. Some are smooth and shiny while others are matted and have good grip. When you?re installing vinyl floors in an area that?s prone to get slick, such as a laundry room or transition room from your garage to your home, good grip is a must.

Unless you?re putting vinyl in an area that?s prone to get slick and slippery, it?s a matter of preference as to what type of texture your vinyl floors have. ?


How thick a vinyl floor and its wear layer are determines how durable the product is. The thickness is measured in millimeters (mm), and you?ll find the thickness rating on the vinyl?s sample board, or on the manufacturer?s website. You should see two thickness ratings, one for the wear layer and one for the vinyl flooring itself.

A wear layer is similar to the veneer of hardwood and the glaze of tile ? it?s basically the vinyl?s finish. It can range from .3 mm to .5 mm to .7 mm, but it isn?t confined to these measurements. Indeed, it can be thinner or thicker depending on how the manufacturer makes it. Overall thickness and wear layer thickness also differ. A vinyl floor can be 4.5 mm thick with a .5 mm wear layer, for instance.

Vinyl is a thin flooring type. It will show imperfections in your floors.

It?s so thin, in fact, that if you?re installing it over an existing tile floor, it can show grout lines from the tile. That?s important to know when you?re buying vinyl flooring. A thicker vinyl hides imperfections better. If you have compelling imperfections in your floors, or you?re installing vinyl over existing tile floors, buy a thicker vinyl to be on the safe side.

Vinyl for commercial applications must have a wear layer of at least .5 mm.

Thickness aside, vinyl flooring is moisture-resistant for normal spills. Like any other type of flooring, it?s not going to hold up well in the event of flooding or severe water damage. Here?s how it ranks in moisture resistance in relation to other types of flooring, from most durable to least durable:

  • Tile
  • Laminate
  • Vinyl
  • Hardwood
If you?re concerned about moisture resistance or live in a high-moisture environment, you may want to consider buying tile or laminate floors instead.
Sheet vinyl. Photo courtesy of Mannington Residential.

Vinyl flooring is the most do-it-yourself (DIY) friendly for installation. That isn?t to say DIY is always the best option, though. We?ll always recommend a professional because mistakes can cost you more money in the longrun.

We especially recommend professional installations for sheet vinyl flooring.

Sheet vinyl is made a lot like carpet. The standard length is about 12-13 feet; the width varies with each manufacturer and your room size. However, if you have a room that?s larger in width, you?re likely going to need two or more sheets sizes. If so, you?ll need to make cuts, and that?s where it gets tricky for a novice. Plan to have a professional install sheet vinyl for you.

Installation Methods

Vinyl flooring has four installation methods:

  • Loose lay
  • Glue down
  • Peel and stick
  • Click and lock
Loose lay installation is an option with thicker vinyl or vinyl with more cushion. You don?t use any glue. Instead, you simply lay down the planks or tiles and finish them with a quarter round. It?s the same process with click and lock vinyl ? all you?ll need is a utility knife and moisture barrier. Simple, right? Sure. We?re already anticipating your next question: why would you ever install vinyl with the glue down method if loose lay installation is that easy?

Our answer: Vinyl expands and shrinks with temperature changes. Buying a style that you can glue down will prevent it from shifting.

The glue used to install vinyl floors contains urethane, a particularly strong adhesive that dries like concrete. As a result, your vinyl floors won?t expand and contract as much, which allows your installation to look better.

Prepping Your Floors

As we mentioned in the thickness section, vinyl shows imperfections in your floors, regardless of how thick it is. Before you install vinyl flooring, your floors need to be perfectly level. Cleaning your floors is also a must. If they?re not level, float your floors in order to level them.


How much a vinyl floor costs is linked to several factors, including brand and design. The one near-constant pricing variable is thickness. The thicker the vinyl, the more expensive it is. Be prepared to pay more for a commercial project because of the wear layer thickness requirement (.5 mm). Expect to put a few dents in your wallet for luxury vinyl, as well.

Additional costs for vinyl flooring can include adhesives, and for homeowners seeking the help of a professional contractor, removal and installation charges. Preparation work, like fixing flooring blemishes, may apply to both DIY and professional installation. Vinyl with specific patterns require extra waste because of cuts.?

As always, we're here to answer your questions about vinyl flooring. Click here to ask us a question or set up an appointment with one of our designers.?