Vinyl floor coverings are durable and suitable for any room in the house. It is called resilient flooring because it yields, making it comfortable to stand on.
Vinyl manufacturers use one of two processes: inlaid or rotogravure. In the inlaid process, solid-color vinyl chips are laid on top of a carrier sheet and bonded together with heat and pressure, resulting in geometric patterns and designs. In the rotogravure process, a print cylinder spins around while the vinyl's core layer, called the gel coat, passes underneath. The cylinder systematically prints the pattern with colored ink dyes. Vinyl made by either method has a felt backing and a clear wear layer applied to the surface.
The better the wear layer, the longer a vinyl floor will keep its fresh, new appearance. A urethane wear layer will maintain the new look longer than a no-wax surface, which needs to be polished periodically. Wear-layer thickness varies with each collection or series and is usually measured in mils, one mil being about as thick as a page in a telephone book. (A 10-mil wear layer, for example, would be comparable in thickness to 10 pages of a telephone book.)
In general, the more expensive the vinyl floor, the thicker the wear layer. The wear layer for rotogravure vinyl is 10-15 mils thick, compared to 25-30 mils for a quality inlaid vinyl floor. As you're comparing different brands and price points, also note how easy the flooring is to clean and how well it resists scratches and staining.
Rotogravure vinyl features a knobby texture as well as pattern and color printed on the finish side only. This knobby texture can be difficult to clean.
Inlaid vinyl features pattern and color through the thickness of the material. It's typically much more durable than rotogravure vinyl and will look good and last for many years.
Vinyl is available in sheets or tiles. Sheet vinyl is a popular choice for bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, entryways, hallways, and rec rooms. It comes in many patterns and styles. It has few seams to trap dirt. However, you might have to replace the entire floor if it's burned, torn, or dented. Sheet vinyl, which is produced in roll form, is commonly available in 6- and 12-foot widths and almost any length.
Vinyl tiles can be used in many of the same applications as sheets. Vinyl tile is usually sold in 12 x 12-inch squares, but other sizes are offered, and some vinyls come in planks as well as tiles.
Some tiles are the peel-and-stick variety, while others require an adhesive spread over the floor before setting. Because they don't have a felt backing that sets into the adhesive, they may come loose more easily. The seams between tiles can be dirt-collectors, making floors difficult to keep clean. And these same seams can also allow liquid spills to filter between tiles, loosening them, and damaging the subfloor. A benefit of tiles, however, is that unlike vinyl sheets, if damaged, tiles can be replaced individually.
Thomas Cook, corporate creative director for Armstrong World Industries in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, says the look of wood, stone, and other natural materials continues to be a big trend for vinyl flooring. Metallic accents, such as brass, copper, bronze, and pewter, are also becoming popular. Commercial vinyl flooring is sometimes used in homes, but may require waxing and other maintenance that isn't necessary with residential vinyl.