Vinyl Tile

Dear James: We are planning to remodel our kitchen. Our neighbor has a very attractive sheet vinyl floor, but after only six months, it has dulled, cracked, etc. How can we avoid the same problems? — Jill H.

Dear Jill: First, you should find out who installed the sheet vinyl floor in their kitchen and make sure to never use their services. Most sheet vinyl flooring problems, especially ones that occur quickly after installation, are results of improper workmanship. It is typically not a do-it-yourself job.

When installed properly with high-grade materials, a sheet vinyl floor is truly beautiful and durable. It is used in many commercial buildings that take quite a severe daily beating. You might even consider a more expensive commercial-grade material for your kitchen. Proper care, primarily regular cleaning, is also important for longevity.

First, when selecting your flooring installer, make sure to inspect some previous installed floors that are more than one year old. The installer should also have attended an installation class by the manufacturer of the flooring materials that will be used. Each manufacturer’s products has unique installation procedures.

For starters, the floor underlayment is important for a good stable base. The sheet vinyl material itself has very little strength. If cheap underlayment, like low-quality plywood is used, it may result in spongy spots where there are voids between the layers. This will feel strange to walk on, and the vinyl will wear or crack prematurely.

Fully sanded birch or poplar plywood with exterior glue is an excellent underlayment choice for vinyl flooring. The top surface must be free of inks and stains that can leach into the vinyl material and cause discoloration over time.

If you are planning to resurface the existing underlayment, make sure to remove all the old adhesive. Old adhesives, even tiny amounts, can react with the new approved adhesives resulting in discoloration.

The cracks that you saw in your neighbor’s vinyl floor might have actually been seams that opened up. The process of joining adjacent pieces of vinyl takes a lot of skill and training, so again the experience of the installer is critical. Poor underlayment can also cause the seams to open.

Once you have your vinyl floor installed, proper care and maintenance can keep it looking like new for many years. Regular vacuuming and wet mopping (at least twice a week) will go a long way to maintaining its gloss. Any spills, especially acidic dark fruit juices, should be cleaned with mild soap and water, not just wiped up with a damp paper towel.

Some things that you might not think of can discolor the vinyl over time. Just a slight film of tar on the soles of your shoes from an asphalt driveway may cause some discoloration. The same is true of oil from your garage floor. If possible, take off your shoes when entering from a garage. This is actually a good idea for any kitchen flooring material.

A slight amount of discoloration in certain areas is unavoidable. For example, excess heat from floor registers can cause a slight brownish color immediately around the registers. The sun’s rays from a south-facing window will take its toll on vinyl just like it does on every other material, including our skin. Close the shades or curtains.

Most likely, with proper planning and maintenance, you will experience no problems with your floor. To be safe though, especially during the first year, keep an eye out for any discoloration, cracking, spongy spots and dullness. In most cases, it will be the installer’s responsibility to make any repairs.