Vinyl flooring is a popular alternative to natural flooring products because modern techniques allow manufacturers create synthetic materials that resemble stone or wood at a lower cost than the originals. Vinyl became popular in the 1950s when new uses for rubber and plastics provided homeowners with less expensive, more versatile, and easily-maintained flooring options.
Vinyl is often referred to as linoleum -- in part, because sales of vinyl overtook linoleum -- but the two materials are different products. Vinyl is made of colored chips that are pressed into solid sheets (later cut for tiles) by heat and pressure. Linoleum is made of natural products (linseed oil, pine rosin, wood flour, etc.) and is bonded to a backing usually made of jute.
Vinyl flooring is available in practically every color imaginable and is likely to match any decor. It comes in sheets, planks (usually for wood-like options) or in 12X12 tiles that are 1/8 of an inch thick. Tiles and planks are usually sold in cases and cost between $2-$5 a square foot.
Product warranties vary by maker but most will offer coverage against manufacturing defects. Some will also cover fading and wear-through but not damage that occurs as a result of dropping hard objects on the floor or by moving furniture and appliances. Professional installers may offer a separate warranty to cover their work and homeowners should check prior to signing a contact.
The durability, ease of maintenance, and relatively low cost of vinyl flooring has ensured its continued use, even though there are many alternatives on the market. Evidence of this is available in residential, commercial, healthcare, and industrial facilities around the world. The main advantages include its high resilience to abrasion and impact damage, ease of repair by replacing damaged tiles, and static-dissipative properties that disperse electric static emissions. Vinyl is comfortable to stand on for long periods of time, something particularly appreciated in the home kitchen. This material is also warm underfoot -- unlike stone or porcelain tile -- and is a preferred material in bathrooms.
Many problems with vinyl flooring can be traced back to workmanship -- especially as many do-it-yourselfers often tackle the installation job not realizing all that it involves. Some of the most frequently seen problems and their causes are: uneven sheet/tile surfaces (unsanded underlayment flooring), spongy spots (low quality underlayment flooring installed), discoloration (use of unapproved adhesives), and seam separation (poorly matched tiles, wrong adhesive).
Greater concern by homeowners about the environment and a desire to make their homes greener has led to new developments in the vinyl flooring industry. According to their website, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute works with member companies to improve the industry's impact on the environment by: "the use of recycled materials, reduction of energy consumption in manufacturing, reduction in waste generation, reduced use of floor maintenance materials, and reduced emissions from flooring products."