Technology improvements are boosting interest in flooring materials from homeowners and builders, and the contractors who serve them.
Written by Lawrence Cummer

Technology improvements are boosting interest in some flooring materials from home-owners and builders, and the contractors who serve them. Luxury vinyl tiles and planks (LVT and LVP, respectively) and laminate are seeing greater popularity, distributors say, in part because of the breadth of colour and texture options that can now be produced through high-resolution printing technologies. This, of course, gives householders more of the aesthetic variation they demand.

Vinyl flooring, in particular, has been experiencing a resurgence in recent years, says Rick Churchill, Flooring Manager at Taiga Building Products. “We’ve seen vinyl grow and eat into laminate’s market share, and even hardwood’s for that matter,” he says. “It’s got to be one of the fastest growing, if not the fastest growing, category in flooring.”

Jeff Morrison, Director of LBM Sales and National Accounts at Goodfellow Inc. concurs. “We’re continuing to see tremendous growth in LVT flooring,” Morrison says, adding however that hardwood too “has made a bit of a come-back, but more in high-end, special order flooring.”

Moisture-resistant Vinyl

Churchill attributes the recent demand for vinyl—which has, of course, been available for decades, generally in sheet roll format—to its availability in a ‘click system’ floating floor-type installation, combined with its ability to realistically imitate wood grain or tile for décor options. Still, even more important, he adds, is vinyl’s moisture resistance properties.

“It’s being driven by the fact that it can be used in areas where you have a lot of moisture. It’s a much better product for kitchens and bathrooms, laundry rooms and basements,” Churchill notes.

Vinyl’s water and moisture-resistance is a benefit to contractors, both around maximizing performance (and profits) and minimizing failure (and call backs), says Dave Taylor, Manager of Armstrong Products at Buckwold Western Ltd.

Because vinyl flooring is water-resistant or, in some cases, waterproof—such as Armstrong’s FastTak and Rigid Core—it does not need to be acclimated prior to installation like dimensional lumber or even laminate.

One quick word of caution, a small gap is still needed around the room, Taylor notes. This is because although the vinyl plank or tile is dimensionally stable, the house itself is built with dimensional lumber and will need to ‘breath.’

For new home builders, the quick floor install offered by vinyl can be a real boon. “They can get the flooring done sooner, and move on to the finishing touches, ‘putting on the makeup’ and get that property on the market faster,” he says.

“Products that don’t require acclimation make a huge difference.”

Wilder (and wider) Styles

Morrison notes that, thanks to HD digital printing technology, the textures of non-wood floors can gain a significant sense of authenticity. He points to Krono Xonic floor boards, which boasts only one repeat per 60 boards.

Just as improvements in high-resolution printing technology are helping increase interest in vinyl, they’re also providing greater options in laminate flooring. Here home-owners are being even more expressive, Morrison suggests.

“When we move into laminate, we’re seeing people buying ‘wilder’ SKUs, in terms of colour variation and even width variation,” he adds. Currently, wider boards and a multi-width look are popular. The earthy gray and brown tones (popular in wood and LVT) are still there, but Morrison says consumers are starting to move into newer, ‘wilder’ colours.”

Because of the innovations in printing, a new aesthetic look to a vinyl or laminate floor has become easier for manufacturers to develop adding nominal, if any, additional cost to the consumer, Morrison says. “As a homeowner, you can now have your floor any way you want and get something unique that isn’t going to break the bank.” He notes that laminate floorboards are even finding their way off the floor and onto walls, creating a unique accent wall.

Those more-out-there options are also driving another trend in residential flooring, notes Taylor: flooring that’s more easily removed, either because it comes with a release adhesive or installed using one. “Styles change, 
and if the flooring is easily removed and you’re left with the original subfloor at least you don’t have that additional cost down the road.”

This is also an important consideration for home-owners, Taylor notes, given the expected shortage of qualified labour in the coming decade. Even the currently popular earthy grays may be here today-gone-tomorrow.

“The trend right now is rustic texture, like hand-scrapped wood, which I think will be around in the long-term,” says Scott Newman, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for NewRidge Refinishing Group Inc. in Toronto. “But that grayish or gray-brown tone, the earth tone-like colours—I think that’s more trendy. It’s going to be like shag carpeting was in the ’80s.”

“Everything ultimately goes back to a more traditional look when those styles change,” he adds, noting that the ‘natural’ look of a light gold finish or medium brown tone, while less adventurous can have a more lasting appeal.

“It is a fashion business,” says Taylor. “Styles inevitably change.”

Quality Counts

Although more often the mistake of home-owners, contractors are advised to pay close attention to the quality of the flooring they are selecting.

“I don’t think people talk enough about sourcing and quality,” says Jeff Morrison, director of LBM sales and national accounts at Goodfellow Inc. “Where is it manufactured? Is it truly warranted? What are the probabilities of call back from one floor to the next?”

Scott Newman, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for NewRidge Refinishing Group Inc. reminds contractors that, “You have to pay close attention to the grade (of hardwood), even of the same brand, when buying at discount prices. They may be at a lower grade and so you’ll need to be more selective.”

It is often the case that you get what you pay for, experts suggest.

“Building quality into the product comes with a cost,” notes Dave Taylor, Manager of Armstrong Products at Buckwold Western Ltd. “It can be a constant trade-off for builders between cost and quality.”

“There’s a fine line in quality that a builder must be cognizant of. A pretty product is going to make the property look good and help it sell, but if it doesn’t perform well, that’s not going to do the builder’s reputation any favors.”

Remember the Climate

As any flooring contractor knows, hardwood floors should be acclimated to the home. This will prevent future buckling and gaping.

“The biggest thing with hardwood flooring, but also laminate, is there’s an interior room temperature and relative humidity that must be adhered to during the install, because it was once living and is hydroscopic — it takes on moisture based on its environment,” notes Rick Churchill, Flooring Manager at Taiga Building Products.

“It’s important that those details of acclimating the product prior to install be followed, but then maintaining the manufacturer’s recommendations around temperature and humidity are very important to the floor’s longevity.” Scott Newman, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for NewRidge Refinishing Group Inc., reminds fellow contractors to also consider the climate differences that exist regionally.

“If it’s a solid wood product it should acclimate it even a couple weeks in advance if possible,” he points out. Experts say to acclimate the wood (or laminate) for a week or more in the normal living conditions of the house.