Vinyl Floors: What’s Next for the In-Demand Material

By Clare Tattersall

Vinyl has become increasingly popular in recent years as a cost-effective alternative to traditional wood and stone flooring. It is water-resistant, low maintenance, offers a more ‘padded’ feeling underfoot and can survive plenty of wear and tear to provide long-lasting durability. What’s more, vinyl is easy to install and can be laid on any formation. Combined with advancements in technology that have allowed vinyl flooring manufacturers to imitate wood and tile with impressive accuracy, and offer a greater variety of shapes, sizes and designs, it is no wonder this material has become a superstar in both the residential and commercial sectors. So, with no signs of vinyl flooring waning in consumer demand, let’s dive into some of the biggest trends of this year.

Floors that Look Like Wood and Stone
The consensus among experts is that wood-look vinyl flooring is here to stay.

Tarkett’s product development director Leigh Wright says wood designs are driven by the need to bring the outdoors inside to further connect people with the natural environment.

“A current design trend is creating connections through nature and biophilic design,” she says. “This can be seen in organic shapes, colour, natural texture and warm tones. Luxury vinyl tile (LVT) wood designs follow this trend and are natural, warm and somewhat imperfect without being too distressed.”

Sean O’Callaghan, product marketing manager for Karndean Designflooring in Canada, says natural, warmer wood tones like honey blonds and greys with brown undertones will maintain their market rule in 2022. Oak tree species are a growing favourite, as their grain detail is versatile and can work in all spaces with any aesthetic — modern, rustic, Scandinavian and beyond.

Marcus Stone, vice-president of sales and marketing at Melmart Distributors Inc., agrees that oak will dominate the mainstream along with hickory, though softer patterns are gaining interest like acacia and maple grains.

Natural, warmer wood tones will maintain their market rule in 2022. Photo courtesy Karndean Designflooring.

Stone adds that embossing is becoming increasingly important to make realism of the plank that much more authentic. In some entry-level vinyl, the overall embossing can impart the feeling of a plastic floor. In this case, it’s necessary to bring down the gloss levels and put an embossed in registry texture on the board to bring up the appearance of the floor.

Performance urethane coatings are also being used to further enhance vinyl’s durability and ease of maintenance, says Ben Elliott, a senior product manager at Tarkett.

Like the wood-look, both Stone and O’Callaghan say stone-look vinyl flooring will gain further traction in residential interiors since it is a more practical option than porcelain, ceramic and natural stone tile, which are more prone to staining, cracks and other damage.

Marble-style visuals, installed with or without a grouting effect, are still highly desirable as they add opulence to any space, but Stone anticipates they will give way to more subdued natural stone looks with warmer hues.

Alternative Takes on Concrete and Patterns
Where Stone and O’Callaghan diverge is on concrete-looking vinyl flooring. Karndean Designflooring’s research and internal data indicates it will remain on-trend in 2022, in both residential and commercial applications, with a wide breadth of designs offered. O’Callaghan cites vinyl’s ease of maintenance over the natural alternative as a primary reason consumers will continue to favour this style. However, Stone believes this look has had its time.

“(It imparts) a colder industrial look that is giving way to more natural, warmer materials in the overall design aspect of the home,” he says, though he expects the concrete-look will persist in commercial and industrial spaces and designs for the foreseeable future.

As with the concrete-look, Stone says patterned vinyl flooring is on a downward trajectory due to the lack of stone plastic composite (SPC) options, as well as the difficulty keeping intricate designs lined up on plank and tile. That being said, patterns will still be the driving force in sheet vinyl sales.

One decorative pattern that O’Callaghan expects to be big this year is Moroccan, inspired by the artistic beauty of traditional Moroccan architecture dating back to the 8th century.

“The stories behind the designs are captivating and great conversation starters, while the looks are bold and fun,” he says.

State-of-the-art print technology creates the realistic marble-style visual. Photo courtesy Tarkett.

SPC to make Market Gains
Given the rise in do-it-yourself projects during the pandemic, click-locking and loose lay vinyl formats will reign supreme, says Stone, driven mainly by the ease of installation and erosion of skilled installers in the flooring industry.

“I think we will see more ‘click’ type products,” he says. “Herringbone is getting a lot of attention but is still a very low proportion of the installed market. High variation has had its time and more contemporary, cleaner looks are in.”

Stone also expects thicker floors to make a comeback in the mechanical locking segment.

“With products going thinner and thinner to meet pricing constraints, we are starting to see failures with the click system,” he says.

Given this, Stone believes there will be a slight resurgence in wood plastic composite, though SPC will remain the leader in this category.

On the commercial side, Tarkett’s Elliott says SPC has the greatest potential for growth.

“There are several (reasons for this), one being it is under-penetrated when compared to the residential market,” he says. “There is a lack of skilled installers necessary for more complex installations like sheet vinyl, too. On the contrary, SPC has many performance advantages and is relatively easy to install.”

Jason McKee, also a senior product manager at Tarkett, sees an opportunity for gains in sheet vinyl, as well. Due to concerns presented by Covid-19, some healthcare facilities are moving back to using it in settings where infection control is most critical, thanks to sheet vinyl’s ability to provide wall-to-wall septic barriers. But again, the challenge with sheet vinyl remains the lack of skilled installers.

Of all vinyl flooring types, the growth potential remains mostly with LVT, says McKee. Outside of acute care, which has historically been mostly resilient flooring, LVT continues to advance in market segments like corporate, education and medical office buildings.

Elliott credits vinyl’s increased inroads within the commercial sector to its inherent benefits, the perception that it is cleaner than soft surfaces and the shift away from carpet.

When Bigger is Better
In terms of size, it does matter. Larger planks and tiles, in both wood and stone looks, have been commanding the market overall, says Karndean’s O’Callaghan, as this format helps make a space feel bigger. Planks as long as 59 inches by 10 inches are not uncommon, as are 18-inch by 36-inch tiles. But ultimately, the space and customer’s design preferences should dictate whether a larger format is the best choice for a project.

“It’s all about scale and what is right for the aesthetic,” says Melmart’s Stone.

The same rings true when making any flooring selection for a space.

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