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What I Learned Searching for Rigid Core Vinyl Plank Flooring

Ned
2 years ago

I started my search at a local flooring store the second week of August 2021 and finished my search 5 weeks later when I ordered some flooring. Early in the search I decided to go with rigid core vinyl plank to replace all of the carpet in our house. I wanted a floor that was durable and easy to keep clean, in our single story retirement home in Arizona. I chose rigid core vinyl plank rather than some other hard surface flooring because I wanted something durable, easy to clean, waterproof, and easy to install on a concrete subfloor. That meant a “floating” floor that was not glued, cemented, or somehow permanently attached to the subfloor. I also wanted a floor that looked like real wood, given my 25 years of experience overseeing logging, sawmilling, and drying of Appalachian hardwoods. I did not want a rustic floor of old, worn, low grade, knotty wood.

During the 5 weeks, I visited 4 small local flooring stores, a building supply house, The Home Depot and Lowe’s, where I looked at dozens of samples. Also visited the websites of the following 11 flooring brands, in alphabetical order: Armstrong, COREtec, Flooret from Flooret.com, Hallmark Floors, Karndean, Lifeproof from Home Depot, Nucore from Floor&Decor, Provenza, Smartcore from Lowe’s, Supercore from WeShipFloors.com, and Urban Surfaces. All of the brands offer multiple collections (lines) of rigid core vinyl plank flooring, which differ in some way. Each collection offers multiple colors/patterns. I also visited several online vendors of multiple brands. I must have viewed at a least 500 samples online. Perhaps a 1000; the choice is remarkable, just in the category of rigid core vinyl plank.

I ordered multiple samples from 10 brands, usually from more than one collection. I ended up with 38 samples. I quickly eliminated most samples on the basis of appearance/color. Some of those I used to develop objective measures of resistance to staining, resistance to scratching and resistance to denting. I developed a dozen different tests to evaluate various attributes of the samples. I ran all of the tests on only 5 of the samples but some tests on several more samples. I did not run a test on resistance to slipping when wet, because I didn’t know how to do so on such small samples. I did test some samples for tendency to wear out fabric rubbed across the surface.

I decided to share my findings with you in hopes that it would help you find the right floor for your situation. Here’s what I learned from many many hours of research concerning rigid core vinyl plank floors:

  1. Most, if not all of these floors are 100% waterproof. They are all extremely resistant to any damage from water, even flooding.
  2. Some have WPC cores and some have SPC cores. SPC is more dense than WPC. SPC cores are usually made from powdered limestone and PVC. The practical difference is that floors with SPC cores expand and contract less due to changes in temperature. That’s important if your floor will be exposed to any direct sunlight. Also important if the ambient temperature of the building changes much during the year. Being more dense, SPC is much more resistant to denting, such as dents from the feet of heavy furniture or dents caused by the impact of a small but hard and heavy object, such as a steel tool, exercise weights, or a large can of tomato paste falling off a counter. (The planks I ordered have SPC cores.)
  3. All but one of my samples came with an attached underlayment/pad, 0.5mm to 1.5mm thick, made from cork, EVA, or IXPE. I don’t know which kind is better, but I think that 1.5mm is clearly better than 0.5mm. I would not now consider planks without attached underlayment , even though it can be purchased and installed separately. The underlayment makes the flooring a little less hard under foot, a little more comfortable to walk on. It also makes SPC flooring even more resistant to denting, especially if it’s 1.5mm thick. (The planks I ordered have 1.5mm attached EVA underlayment.)
  4. Regardless of the kind of core, the subfloor must be unusually flat. Most subfloors probably will not be flat enough as is. The high spots will have to be removed and the low spots filled in before installing your new floor. If that is not done, the mechanism that locks the planks together is apt to fail, or the floor is likely to squeak, or the floor will have hollow sounding spots in some places. The process of flattening the floor is rather labor intensive. I suggest that you read the installation instructions BEFORE you buy the flooring.
  5. Most of these floors have a matte finish on top with very little shine or gloss. However, all samples with a matte finish were not equally abrasive. One notable exception was the Armstrong PRYZM collection. All four PRYZM samples I received had more gloss than the other 33 samples. Also, these samples were the least abrasive of those I tested. The abrasiveness of the surface might be important for families with small children who crawl around on the floor or who walk around on their floor in their stocking feet (socks). Very abrasive floors can wear out clothes and also bare skin! But they may be less slippery which could be an advantage for some people. This could be especially important if the floor often gets wet. (The planks I ordered have a matte finish that is mildly abrasive.)
  6. The surface of all samples were embossed to create some texture, but some were much smoother than others. A plank that is supposed to mimic one manufactured many years ago that is now beat up and worn, needs some embossing to look realistic. So should a rustic one made to look like it’s from low grade lumber today. But a plank that is supposed to look like one recently made from high grade lumber should have very little texture. If made from real solid high grade lumber, the surface would be quite smooth and free of defects found in lower grades of lumber. All colors within a collection may not have the same amount of texture but they probably will have nearly the same sheen and exhibit about the same degree of abrasiveness. (The planks I ordered have very little texture.)
  7. Most planks come with all 4 edges beveled. They’re referred to as micro belvels, painted bevels, pressed bevels, enhanced bevels, etc. These terms are not standardized in the industry. Most micro bevels were so small that I could not see them with a magnifying glass. In the case of painted bevels, the beveled edges are all one solid color. If the kind of bevel is important to you, beware. In some collections, different colors have different kinds of bevels. Personally I wanted micro (or nano) bevels. I think that the grooves created by pronounced bevels around the edges of the planks would be a pain to keep clean. (The planks I ordered have nearly imperceptible micro bevels.)
  8. The thickness of the wear layer, primarily made from vinyl (PVC) is the most important determinant of how long the floor will last. Of the samples I obtained, the wear layer thickness ranged from 12mil to 40mil. I did not consider buying anything with less than 20mil. The wearability of the flooring is also affected by the composition of the finish coat which is quite thin. This finish coat is usually made of polyurethane which is cured quickly with UV light. It’s at this point in the production process that the sheen is created. This thin top coat sometimes includes microscopic diamond particles, aluminum oxide particles, or ceramic beads. Some products include these to make the surface more resistant to foot traffic, scratches, and/or scuff marks. Some do not. Vinyl by itself is not very resistant to abrasion, scratches, and scuff marks. (The planks I ordered have a 30 mil wear layer with an aluminum oxide finish.)
  9. The thickness of my samples ranged from 4.5mm to 8.0mm. On average, the planks with SPC cores are thinner than those with WPC cores. While SPC floors are usually thinner than WPC floors, SPC planks usually weigh more per sq ft. I did not consider buying anything less than 5.0mm thick, including the attached underlayment. (The planks I ordered are 6.0mm.thcik.)
  10. The width of the planks I reviewed ranged from 5” to 9”. Since I was looking for plank flooring that resembled planks made from high grade lumber with few knots, holes, bird peck, ingrown bark, splits, etc, I eliminated planks over 8” wide. Clear planks over 8”
    wide do not look realistic to me in 2021. They would have been realistic 100 years ago when log diameters were much larger. (Nearly all high grade lumber is cut from the outer part of a log which has fewer knots and other defects.) Vinyl planks 9” wide could look realistic today, if they were made to look like knotty low grade wood, or old and distressed wood, as if cut from high grade large logs many decades ago. (The planks I ordered are 7” wide.)
  11. The planks are held together by similar but different locking mechanisms. Most of the patents on these systems are held by European companies and used under license by the manufacturers of the flooring. Some planks are a little quicker and easier to install because of the locking system. I think the best is probably Valinge 5GC. (The planks I ordered have the Valinge 5GC locking system.)
  12. Most rigid core vinyl plank flooring is certified to be free of harmful emissions by FloorScore or Greenguard. They are voluntary, independent certification programs that test and certify hard surface flooring and associated products for compliance with criteria adopted in California for indoor air emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) with potential health effects. The planks I ordered are certified by Floorscore.
  13. Some rigid core vinyl plank flooring is more resistant to staining than others. I tested 8 of my samples for this attribute. I used crushed blueberries, black coffee, orange juice, chocolate syrup, and mustard. Mustard that was smeared on the sample and left to dry, was most likely to leave a permanent stain that could not be washed off with detergent and water. The stain could be seen even on some dark samples, in bright sunlight. I would rate 3 of the 8 samples very good, and the remainder excellent, with regard to ability to resist staining from mustard. (The planks I ordered are excellent at resisting stains.)
  14. I tested several samples for abrasiveness by rubbing a piece of fabric across the surface until a hole appeared in the fabric. All four colors of Armstrong PRYZM were the least abrasive even though some of them had a lot of texture. Flooret Modin Base, Soho, as well as COREtec Plus 5” plank, Norwegian Maple, were the most abrasive. I don’t know if the abrasiveness of the floor, as measured, is related to the slip resistance of the floor. (The planks I ordered are mildly abrasive.)
  15. I tested 4 products for resistance to scratching using 4 different tests on each sample. I used only 2 or 3 tests on some other samples. Some samples were more scratch resistant than others. No sample was excellent at resisting scratching but SUPERCore Xtreme, Chattanooga Hickory was slightly better than any of the others. (The planks I ordered were the best, but not excellent, at resisting scratches.)
  16. I tested 10 samples for resistance to denting, using 2 different tests. The samples with a SPC core consistently and significantly performed better than those with a WPC core. (The planks that I ordered were excellent at resisting dents.)

I developed a system to rate rigid core vinyl plank flooring products. Half of the total score was based on 17 criteria which could be verified online, or by contacting the manufacturer, or by examining the samples. Half of the total score was based on my objective measurements of the resistance to staining, scratching, denting, and wearing of fabric, when rubbed against a sample. Each criterion was given a weight which I deemed appropriate for my case and preferences. Occasionally I changed the weights over time, to better reflect the relative importance to me of some attributes. If the weight assigned to an attribute was increased, another was decreased so that the sum total was maintained at 100%. This obviously affected the final score for a sample, but seldom the ranking. All data was compiled in a spreadsheet.

At the end of this process I deemed SUPERCore Xtreme, Cattanooga Hickory, the best for us. It’s sold at WeShipFloors.com . I think their standard price of $4.99/sqft is too high, but they often offer discounts via a discount code at the top of each web page. When I ordered 952 sqft on 9/21/2021, they were offering a discount of 30%, no sales tax on orders delivered outside of TN, and free freight on orders over 350 sqft. So the net price delivered to my home in AZ was $3.49/sqft. I consider it a best buy at that price.

The other rigid core vinyl plank flooring that is a very good value in my opinion, is the Flooret Modin Base collection. It’s currently priced at $2.75/sqft plus a $199 flat delivery charge. That comes to $2.96/sqft for 952 sqft, plus any applicable taxes. The Flooret product is not quite as thick, wide or long as SUPERCore Xtreme. Other than that, it’s very similar. I probably would have ordered the Modin Base flooring if it had been available in a color and pattern that I liked. The Armstrong PRYZM also appears to be a high quality product based on the product specs, the testing by Consumer Reports, and my own testing.

The Chattanooga Hickory is on backorder. I expect to receive it by October 15. So far the vendor of SUPERCore Xtreme, a relatively small company, has been very good to work with. Zoe has been extremely helpful, quick to answer questions by email or phone, and quick to send samples. Unlike the people I interacted with at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and 3 of 4 local flooring stores, Zoe really knows her stuff ! I plan to install the flooring myself. Hope to finish by the end of this year. Worst part will be moving the furniture out, storing it somewhere, then moving it back in. Might not know for several months if I made the right decision, but at the moment everything is looking good.

Please let me know if you have any questions, suggestions, additional info, or evidence that goes contrary to my findings.

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