Have you ever wondered what luxury vinyl plank really is?
Maybe you've heard some of the buzz about it: like how's it the latest and greatest flooring material. Or maybe how it holds up well in families for spill-proof and scratch resistance characteristics.
But, is it really the right flooring product for you, your home and budget?
If that's the question you're seeking, I'm here to help.
I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about luxury vinyl plank flooring so you can feel confident when making the decision on your next flooring purchase.
Welcome to the ultimate guide to buying luxury vinyl plank flooring for your home!
In this article, I’m going to cover a lot of information about luxury vinyl plank including:
Cost of LVP (material)
Ready? Let’s get started!
What is LVP?
LVP is the acronym for Luxury Vinyl Plank. That’s a lot of syllables, so that’s why most people call it LVP for short. LVP is a type of wood-looking plank flooring that is, in part, made from vinyl. Vinyl is basically plastic, and they use a similar compound of hard PVC plastic. (Like other durable construction materials such as PVC drain pipes.)
Luxury vinyl flooring is an extremely durable, resilient flooring that holds up well to scratches, dents, and is 100% waterproof.
With many design features available, LVP can give the appearance of real wood, oftentimes with less overall costs, better resiliency, and easier maintenance and cleanup.
Because of this, we are seeing more and more homeowners opt for LVP over wood flooring. Because of its durability, easy care, and 100% waterproof qualities, LVP is often the choice material for households that include kids and pets. But honestly, who doesn’t like easy clean up?
Types of LVP
There are a few types of LVP including loose-lay, glue-down, click and lock, and those with a rigid core.
Loose-lay is probably the least used. It was developed to lay easily over the top of subfloors that have some wonkiness to them. (Yes, I consider wonkiness a technical term. 😉) However, in my experience, I’ve found that while they do layover imperfections because the planks are flexible, they tend to move and shift, so I don’t advise clients to use this type.
Glue-down is a type of LVP, typically thinner in overall thickness and describes the method of installation. Yep, you guessed it, it's glued down. Typically this is used for commercial applications over very flat concrete floors because it can show imperfections in the subfloors due to it's relative thinness and flexibility.
Click and Lock is the most common, and it avoids having boards pull apart from one another because they are all interconnected. Installers like them, too, because they are easier to put together.
You’ll also hear the term “floated floor.” A floated floor means your floor hasn’t been glued or stapled down.
In a floated floor installation, all the boards have clicked together like one giant puzzle and are laid on top of your subfloor, without any glue or staples holding them together or down to the subfloor. Baseboards secure the edges, but more on that later.
Rigid core LVP will always be a click and lock installation system. But not all click and lock are rigid core. (Like all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.)
Basically, click and lock defines how they are constructed/installed, but they can be flexible or rigid. LVPs that are simple click and lock without any core tend to be the least expensive of the click together LVPs out there. However, they can also show tiny imperfections of your subfloor easily, so additional prep work (a.k.a. cost) may need to be done prior to laying down the planks.
Rigid core luxury vinyl is vinyl that has been mounted on some type of solid material. Rigid core LVP avoids minor imperfections in the subfloor because the vinyl is on a solid, perfectly flat base. LVP that has a rigid core is by far the most popular choice, and what most manufacturers focus on producing.
For this article, when I am talking about LVP, I am referring to rigid core LVP, but I want you to know what other ones do exist out there. It’s helpful to know the other types because if you see a 99 cent special at Lumber Liquidators (now called LL flooring), I can pretty much guarantee that it’s going to be the flimsy stuff that’s going to cause you more headaches than the savings are worth. You definitely get what you pay for.
LVP vs. LVT
LVP is short for Luxury Vinyl Plank and LVT is short for Luxury Vinyl Tile. The plank version will be just that: planks.
These are shaped in long plank forms to mimic the style of wood. Planks can range anywhere from 5” to 12” widths and most commonly 48” long, but there are extra long versions on the market, too. The extra long lengths look spectacular in open plan homes.
LVT is shaped and designed to look like tile. Oftentimes, these are 12” x 24” tiles that interlock just like the planks, but will look like tile. They come in a variety of options that look like ceramic tile, concrete, and stone.
If you are looking for LVT specifically (in a kitchen or bathroom for example), I highly recommend that you select a product that has a clearly defined beveled edge.
A beveled edge will show a distinct border to each tile piece when connected. Without a beveled edge, the tiles will have a more blended look when connected together on your floor. That results in looking more like vinyl sheet or linoleum flooring, which might be exactly what you’re trying to get rid of!
Luxury vinyl tile that has a beveled edge will look more realistic because it will look grouted. Seeing a grout line between each tile is crucial in my book, so just a heads up on that. (I'll be talking more about edge details later, too!)
LVP vs. Laminate
LVP and laminate are terms that get thrown around interchangeably often in this industry, but they are not the same thing.
Luxury vinyl plank is a completely different product than laminate flooring. Yes, they both are planks. Yes, they both look like wood. But that’s about where the similarities stop.
Like I mentioned before, LVP is completely and 100% waterproof. Laminate is not.
Now, before I get a bunch of comments telling me that I’m crazy because Home Depot clearly sells waterproof laminate, let me explain more about what “waterproof” really means.
Before I go into detail, let me ask you, what does "waterproof" mean to you? Or better yet, under what circumstances would you want a waterproof floor?
Does your dog slobber when he drinks from his water bowl? Do your kids splash water everywhere during bath time? Have you ever accidentally spilled some wine? 🙋♀
If you raised your hand for any of those, you are in good company! These everyday scenarios are the primary reason LVP was invented. It solved the issues that hardwood and laminate floors were having with pet accidents, water zones, and spills.
Unlike other products out there, luxury vinyl flooring is designed to be inherently waterproof. There is no extra top coat or other additives that need to be applied to it to make it waterproof.
Let’s do an experiment. (You can imagine this because I've already done it for you!)
Take a sample of LVP and submerge it in water for two weeks. You know what that piece of LVP would look like afterward? The same exact piece you started with. No swelling. No warping.
LVP literally cannot absorb water, and that is what makes it 100% waterproof.
Unfortunately, the huge rise in LVP sales across the globe, took a big chunk of sales away from laminate manufacturers. This led to laminate manufacturers to get creative with their products to steal their market share back.
They created features that include hydrostatic topcoats, which they sell as “waterproof.” A hydrostatic topcoat will repel water, and often it repels water away from the edges of each plank where the possibility of water damage happening is highest.
Hydrostatic topcoats sound super awesome, which, I mean, they are! In the science-sense, it is a really cool idea! I love all nerdy things like that!
But...they don’t provide as much protection from water as an LVP does inherently. Eventually gravity is the prevailing force, and water will penetrate through a seam/edge in laminate. That is the biggest issue with laminate.
LVP and laminate are constructed similarly with multiple layers, however, it is the core that sets them apart.
Laminate is constructed basically out of MDF. (I know, yet another acronym. Stick with me here, you’re learning a lot!)
MDF stands for Medium Density Fiberboard, which is a fancy way of saying it’s a bunch of paper/wood fiber that’s been glued together under pressure. MDF is often the choice material for trim, baseboard and many other woodworking applications because it rivals the affordability and versatility of plywood and similar engineered wood products.
However, you remember that LVP water submerging experiment we did? If we did that with laminate, we would quickly see how the MDF core swells with water absorption and is permanently warped from exposure to water.
To me, that does not mean waterproof.
So how do laminate manufacturers get away with saying it’s 100% waterproof?
The answer? Great marketing.
For one, there is no consumer law that states what the requirements are for using the word "waterproof". As long as the product is water resistant in some fashion, most companies slap on the waterproof label instead because it sounds better. I hope some day there will be regulations on using the word “waterproof” because it's too easy to be misled into thinking it's actually waterproof.
Also, a way to spot if a product is really waterproof, you can always look at the warranty information. While I don’t believe you should ever buy something strictly from the warranty a product boasts, it is a good source of information if you read carefully.
Most laminate warranties are written with some verbiage like, “Any liquid spills must be wiped from the surface within X amount of hours.” And usually that X number of hours is in the 1-12 hour range.
If a product requires me to clean up the moisture to then be called waterproof, sorry!...I’m not buying into that fancy “waterproof” sticker on the box.
Look, we all have had some experience with water issues. I personally had a sink faucet go haywire for a while before I found the water shut off valve. What a mess. I raised a puppy...if you have a pet, you know what I'm talking about!
Life happens. That’s why there’s LVP.
You don’t have to immediately wipe up accidents the moment they happen like you do with laminate or wood. There’s just a lot more leeway you get with LVP flooring over other hard surface options.
Whether you’re looking for LVP, laminate, or even wood flooring, you need some type of underlayment that goes underneath the planks. It provides sound absorption, a softer feel, and protection for your new floors.
Nowadays, most rigid core LVP comes with an underlayment already attached, but if you find one that doesn’t, keep in mind that will be an additional cost.
There are three main types of underlayment you’ll see. One has a plastic-rubber like texture, one is a thin foam, and the last is cork. They are all going to provide the necessary buffer between your new LVP and existing subfloor.
Cork is a product that is naturally antimicrobial, meaning it won’t fester mold if it were to get wet from underneath. The rubber-like options is also antimicrobial. However, it can’t be labeled as naturally antimicrobial.
Underlayment provide a softer feel for walking as well as a buffer between the plank (a hard surface) and your subfloor (another hard surface). You wouldn't want to install two hard surfaces over each other or it sounds really loud, you get more clicking noises and it generally doesn't feel as good walking on it. Also, an underlayment is going to be required by any manufacturer for warranties. Thankfully, most LVPs on the market now already have it attached.
A couple additional things to note: The underlayment backings aren’t interchangeable, meaning you can’t ask for a different underlayment than what’s already on it.
Most of the time, they reserve the cork backings for the higher end products because it is an upgrade. Most products from Shaw will have the rubber backing. If you go with products from COREtec (which is now owned by Shaw), all of their products have cork as their underlayment backing. It’s one of the things they’re known for. Happy Feet, which specializes in manufacturing only luxury vinyl, also has options for a variety of backings including cork.
LVP Flooring Cost
This is a big concern on lots of homeowners minds: how much will my new LVP floor cost? And this is for good reason! Investing in home renovations is exactly that: an investment.
You want to know that you’re getting a good value on your new floors. So let’s take a look at what costs go into pricing new luxury vinyl plank flooring.
There are two main factors that contribute to LVP price: the material and the installation. Let’s first start with what determines the material cost.
We’ve actually hit on a lot LVP material construction details already, but it’s worth summarizing. Factors that contribute to LVP product cost are:
What type of construction is it
What material makes up the core
How thick is the wear layer
(and more importantly) what is the wear layer made of
What design enhancements are present
As I mentioned earlier, we're only talking about rigid core LVP in this article. But know that loose lay, click and lock, glue down and rigid core are all options out there.
Typically in residential applications we use rigid core. Thin, glue-down LVP is typically used in commercial applications, and is generally the most economical material wise, but the cost of install and the cost of glue can raise it substantially.
What type of LVP you have will influence the cost of the material. Additionally, how much or how thick the material is also plays a role in the cost. Typically, if the product is thicker, it generally costs more.
While all cores of LVP are going to be waterproof, they might contain different materials, as every manufacturer has their own unique formula for creating it.
Some lower-end products might use less material (resulting in a thinner product), or it isn’t as sturdy or rigid. If it’s super flimsy when holding a plank, expect it to not be as good of a core, but it will generally cost less.
Mid to high-end LVP will be a more sturdy vinyl, often referred to as WPC (Wood Plastic Composite) or SPC (Solid Polymer Core). The top of the line cores are PVC free, and are mineral based, which is basically made from ground rock and minerals for an ultra-solid and more natural foundation.
Oh wear layers…if only I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “It’s all about getting a thick wear layer!”...
My pockets would be overflowing with nickels. 😉
Generally speaking, it matters less how thick the wear layer is, and more important what the layer is made out of.
It’s akin to the story of the three little pigs.
No matter how thick straw or sticks are stacked, that wolf is going to blow that house down. What materials you build with matter.
Wear layers are synonymous with top coat. What is the final layer to seal everything and protect the visual layer from scratches, UV damage, etc.
Some topcoats don’t hold up as well under direct sunlight, meaning they can fade and turn yellow. They will also tend to show scuffs more easily, which if you have high-traffic areas like a hallway or kitchen, it’s something to think about. Typically these entry-level top coats are made from a urethane topcoat.
For better resilience to abrasions, a UV acrylic topcoat on LVP is going to perform the best. Why?
The best analogy I have is to getting your nails done.
If you’ve ever had your nails done professionally, do you have regular nail polish put on, or do you use the UV gel polish? I’m going to guess the UV gel because it is far superior to anything that air dries.
Same concept with topcoats. If the top coat is made of a urethane, it’s not going to be as hard of a dry finish as a UV topcoat.
That’s why the thickness of a wear layer becomes a bit of a moot point. A thick layer of not-so-great topcoat isn’t ever going to beat a thinner layer of a great topcoat. Plain and simple.
Also, if a manufacturer is putting on "the good stuff” a.k.a. UV topcoat, they’re probably not skimping on thickness anyway.
If after reading all this, you’re still stuck on the thickness, know that most products have between 10-20 mil wear layer, but always double check. There are some at 6 mil which is crazy thin and your fingernail could scratch it. (With or without that fabulous gel polish.)
Mils is not the same as milimeters, just to clarify. One mil equals one-thousandth of an inch or .001 inch.
A 10 to 20 mil wear layer is .01 to .02 inches thick. It’s all relatively small. That being said, I know you want me to speak in absolutes, so here it is:
I’d say a good LVP should have at least a 14 mil wear layer. And also be UV coated.
Next up, we have beveled edges...one of my favorite details to LVP.
Most of the entry-level luxury planks (great oxymoron there 😂) have a micro beveled edge. This basically means that the edges of the plank have a slight angle along all edges, but it’s not a different color. This tends to have a more seamless look because each plank has a picture on it, and each picture blends right into the next plank when pieced together.
Truly beveled edges will have a coordinating color painted along all edges. (I mentioned this previously when we covered LVT, too.) This provides your eyes to read each plank separately, rather than one big sheet when assembled together.
Personally, I think that the beveled edges make it look more realistic, because that is what you would have if you were installing new hardwood flooring as well.
The most realistic beveled edge out there (and this is something that recently came on the market so I'm excited to share!) is a natural beveled edge.
A natural beveled edge is where the edges of the plank have a soft, slightly curved edge, instead of a sharp, painted beveled edge. Sometimes I've heard it referred to as a pillow edge, too.
I’ve been in this industry for many years and looked at thousands of products. There’s always someone telling me about “the next big thing” in flooring and usually I take it with a grain of salt. However, this natural bevel edge really is a game changer.
The natural beveled edge makes a slight dip between each plank, which looks extremely similar to natural hardwood. Like, crazy similar.
There aren’t too many products out there that do this right now, but I foresee this as being the eventual go-to for high-end LVP because it is so realistic. I currently sell the Shaw Pantheon HD Natural Bevel and the Paragon HD Natural Bevel if you want to take a closer look at those beauties.
Whether you choose a the more defined or natural bevel, the result is going to be having your floors look more realistic. However, the LVP that looks more flat, is going to be slightly easier to clean because it is a more flat surface. Keep in mind that all LVP is really easy to clean, though, and none require conditioning like wood, so maintenance is super simple.
The last factor that contributes to LVP material pricing are the visuals. How realistic does it actually look?
If it’s a decent LVP, the visuals will look like wood, have beveled edges and have some degree of texture. For higher-end LVP, it will have all that, plus the texture will match the print. Why does that matter?
If you want realistic looking wood flooring, selecting an LVP product that has the texture matching the picture makes all the difference.
Light will cast across the floor and give a correct sheen, falling into tiny crevices, purposefully highlighting and shadowing where it would naturally occur on wood.
Plus, the most telling feature is that you feel the difference.
If you have a knot in the LVP, you can feel the texture of that knot. If you have a distressed look, you will feel the distressed marks.
Many LVP manufacturers use “HD” to describe these products. These High-Definition visual enhancements really put the “luxury” in luxury vinyl plank!
Cost of LVP/LVT
Overall, the main factors that contribute to LVP material cost are underlayment, core, wear layer, beveled edges, and visuals. Basically, the more durable and/or realistic you want the LVP to be, expect the price to increase.
Price per square foot for LVP material can range greatly considering all these factors. Generally speaking, on a good, better and best pricing, you’d probably find around $4, $6 and $8+ respectively.
Of course there are going to be more economical options, but personally, I don’t recommend them. They’re probably lacking many of the quality features I’ve highlighted. And no matter whether you get a more economical or the most expensive option, you’re paying the same for installation, so I always recommend making sure you’re happy with how the material of your investment will hold up over the long run before proceeding.
Cost to Install LVP Flooring
Speaking of installation, that’s our next topic! I like to make a special note about talking of installation costs because when you do a Google search for how much LVP costs, you’re most likely only looking at numbers for the material.
And guess what?
Installation costs can easily be just as much as the material!
I don’t want you to get hit with a double whammy when you go out shopping for LVP and find the perfect one, only to realize it’s twice as expensive as you