Luxury vinyl tiles

Commercial LVT: The popular option

By Paul Barratt Managing director Karndean Designflooring

WITH more than 84% of flooring contractors specifying Karndean Designflooring in the last year, according to an independent report by flooring research specialists Leading Edge (2017), it’s no surprise to learn luxury vinyl tile (LVT) is now one of the most popular floorcoverings for commercial environments.

Interestingly, Karndean still remains the most ‘go-to’ choice by flooring specifiers in the commercial LVT market and it’s most recognised for its realistic wood and stone designs.

Introduced in the early ‘70s, LVT looks to replicate natural wood and stone and comes in individual planks and tiles. Unlike natural materials, LVT is stylish and practical being durable, easy to clean, compatible with underfloor heating and waterproof.

There are many designs and laying patterns to choose from including parquet, basketweave or block designs, as well as straight lay, 45deg angle and 90deg angle. Decorative borders and design strips can also add unique elements.

How is LVT constructed?
It’s important for any flooring specifier to understand what layers make up the product they’re intending to use as part of a project. LVT is a multilayer product that builds to create a highly durable flooring surface.

The combination of these five layers (shown below) creates a flooring product that has many benefits against traditional flooring materials. Starting from the base layer, where it is formed to bond with an adhesive and adhere to the sub-floor, to the top PU coating for added durability and easy maintenance, eradicating the need to seal the product post-installation.

The wear layer is a hardwearing but transparent layer embossed with a texture for grip-and-effect. It’s only registered embossed products which emulate the exact image beneath. For example, you not only see, but feel knots and textures. The thickness of the wear layer ultimately determines the overall performance of the floor, and therefore the thicker the wear layer the longer the floor will last.

Equally as important as the construction, all Karndean’s products are 100% recyclable, meaning 100% of the production and post-production waste is granulated and recycled back into the product.

The authenticity of each design comes from the photographic film layer, which is based on the original wood or stone materials. Specifiers should look to suppliers who invest heavily in their design process to guarantee an authentic finish.

Karndean’s product designers search the ancient forests of Europe to the remote Australian outback and beyond to seek out expressive and intriguing forms in the natural world to influence unique floor designs. It ensures every product has an individual story to tell – from its origins to its distinctive knots, grains and textures.

LVT should be manufactured to the International standard ISO 10582 which has superseded EN649. As with all products, it’s essential standards are met to ensure quality installations that last. This guarantees the product falls within quality and fit for purpose guidelines.

It’s also worth looking out for the ISO 9001 certification for quality to guarantee the product being specified is of a high quality.

Like all floorcoverings, the most important part of any installation is the preparation of the subfloor. In fact, we estimate the subfloor preparation makes up 75% of the time required when installing an LVT floor. It’s imperative it’s clean and dry, free from oils and bisemous compounds.

The floor must be smooth, sound and level, and be less than 75% relative humidity – this should always be checked by the contractor or installer.

Installation and subfloor is vital
First, to ensure the floor can be laid successfully a moisture test must be carried out. When installing a floorcovering in a newly built property it will have a damp-proof membrane (DPM) installed, thanks to building regulations.

However, it may be necessary to install an additional surface damp-proof membrane on the subfloor to prevent moisture rising through the floor if the subfloor hasn’t had time to dry out thoroughly.

With refurbishments a screed is often required to ensure a smooth and level subfloor, which will also need to dry to less than 75% relative humidity. If relative humidity is above 75% a liquid DPM must be applied prior to the floorcovering going down.

When laying on to wooden floors it’s imperative the floor is prepared by overlaying with a good quality 6mm plywood complying with BS 8203-2017 to form a strong and smooth surface. Natural wood floors shrink and expand depending on the atmospheric conditions.

The ply must be fitted with ring shank nails or screws fixed at 150mm centres, finished flush with the surface. It may also be necessary to apply a levelling compound to ensure a level surface.

If a new LVT floor is replacing carpet or previous LVT, the installer must ensure the subfloor is clean, dry, smooth and sound and free of old adhesives and previous product.

With ceramics and stone, provided there’s no damp and they’re secure, they can be overlaid with a smoothing compound prior to LVT installation. Specifiers should expect suppliers to provide comprehensive instructions for ease of installation.

Applications and benefits
LVT is so versatile it can be used in many commercial applications including education, healthcare, office, retail, leisure and housebuild and social housing.

Being highly durable for heavy foot traffic areas, easy to clean and maintain and design-focused, LVT offers specifiers endless opportunities when designing a floor for different projects.

We all agree children and students should learn in an environment that’s engaging and inspiring. As well as being a pragmatic solution for education establishments, LVT can play a significant role in increasing productivity levels, creating a sense of wellbeing and directing users safely around a space.

It’s been successful most recently for University of Worcester, University of Kent and St Wilfrid’s Church of England Academy. Importantly, LVT is perfect for the Priority for Schools program (PSBP) as it offers aesthetics as well as sustainability and safety.

Like education, healthcare providers are putting the aesthetics and safety requirements firmly at the top of the design brief when looking at flooring. In a bid to look less clinical and move away from plain floors, care-homes can look to LVT to mix wood and stone.

Recent examples include The Chocolate Works in York, Berrington Court in West Midlands and Whitby Court in North Yorkshire.

While it’s important to allow the care-home sector to achieve the desired look, there’s still a responsibility for specifiers to maintain the key properties of safety and practicality.

Karndean works very closely with the care-home sector and specifiers in this area and we highly recommend LVT products with a specialist slip resistance rating of R10.

The right surface also needs to be straightforward to install and easy to maintain. From resisting spills to avoiding dust and mites, LVT floors that are nonporous have been proven to contribute to cleaner, healthier environments.

Improving work productivity and inspiring employees in the workplace has led to LVT fast becoming the first choice for workplaces. With bespoke cuts and individual borders and design strips available, specifiers are limited only by their imagination.

A recent example of this is Cirencester-based which looked to create the ultimate workspace with a statement herringbone floor design featuring three contrasting oak colourways and matching bespoke cut 36inx3in white block colour plank and tile combination.

This can also be a great benefit when specifying floors in retail, leisure and hospitality spaces. LVT can be used to zone out individual spaces and accommodate heavy foot traffic in busy retail and hospitality areas like Charlton Hall, Northumberland.

Geometric patterns and bespoke logos
Although LVT has always offered endless design capabilities, geometrics were introduced to LVT most recently with shapes and three-dimensional patterns bringing forward new opportunities for specifiers looking to create bespoke floors in commercial settings. It also introduced the option to mix block colourways against wood and stone for added visual interest.

Aqua bar and restaurant in Bristol is a fine example of how geometric shapes – Apex, Hexa, Pyramid and Pennon – and bespoke cuts can achieve a new level of floor design and importantly, engage and inspire users.

Unlike other materials, LVT can be intricately cut to create logos and mission statements, which can be matched to fit in with the overall floor design. Inspired by New York’s neo-speakeasy scene, Tuxedo Nightclub in Glasgow opted for the wow factor with a bespoke statement logo inserted into the floor, cut from LVT with an added gold block colour.

What to consider when specifying LVT?

Wear layer
The thicker the wear layer the more durable the product. The international standards ISO 10582 and ISO 10874 help specifiers relate wear layer thickness of a product to its end use suitability. For example, for most commercial applications state that a 0.55mm wear layer is required.

This will provide good wear characteristics for heavy commercial applications. For very heavy commercial traffic areas, 0.7mm is preferable as this will provide a thicker wear layer and therefore longer-lasting floorcovering.

Slip resistance
It’s important to recognise when specifying floors that the slip resistance of an installed floor can be affected by surface contamination such as water and grease from spillages, inappropriate maintenance techniques and wear.

So, consideration must be given to whether the floor in use will be always dry or if contamination is likely and whether it’ll be subjected to heavy traffic, as these factors can influence installed slip resistance.

BS 7976 (The Pendulum Method) is used to assess the slip resistance of LVT in the UK and it’s the preferred method of the Health and Safety Executive. Testing the wet and dry rating, the Pendulum method was introduced by the UK Slip Resistance Group.

Still recognised by specifiers in the UK, DIN 51130 (Ramp test) is a commonly used German method in which a person walks up and down a floorcovering fixed to a ramp and covered with a contaminant.

This produces a ‘R value’ ranging from nine to 13. Most LVT products will achieve an R9 or R10 rating which are suited to many commercial applications.

There are two common emboss types used in LVT products – a random texture (or emboss) and a registered emboss. The first provides an emboss that varies in texture, from a light emboss that barely effects the aesthetics of the product to a stronger texture that changes the look of the LVT from a smooth engineered finish to a more rustic appearance or even an effect that mimics a hand-finished texture found in some wood products, such as hand scraped wood. However, the emboss doesn’t match the print film.

A registered emboss delivers a texture that’s registered to, or matches, the image used in the print layer. For instance, a knot in a plank can be seen but the inherent roughness or texture can also be felt, and they match. Registered emboss products are available in woods, ceramics, pebbles and metallic LVT products.

Where a product has a thicker wear layer, it’s possible to supply the product with a bevelled edge. When the product is laid, these bevels bring a third dimension to the floor and add a degree of life to the surface.

Karndean Designflooring
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