Luxury vinyl tile seems to be a big trend in floor coverings right now. Armstrong is selling “Luxe Plank,” a luxury vinyl designed to look just like prefinished hardwood planks. Sometimes I worry about how easily the public can be persuaded that real hardwoods are difficult and that fancy plastic with a picture of wood on it is superior.Here's what Armstrong claims on their website:
“On the printed design layer, the visuals are very realistic natural wood planks.”
Just the thought of people being duped by a “printed design layer” makes me queasy and a little sad. Do people really think that hardwoods are that difficult to care for? But then I read the installation instructions for the “Luxe Plank” and felt so much better. Because, it turns out that even fake-wood vinyl has many installation and maintenance restrictions: It must be acclimated to the job site before installation, it can’t be installed under base cabinets or in spaces that get colder than 55° or warmer than 85°, it can’t be installed over particle board and you can’t roll heavy appliances over it without protection. And it’s not exactly cheap - the English Walnut vinyl lists for $5.78 a square foot. Why wouldn’t you just get hardwood?
Vinyl like this makes perfect sense for places where wood doesn’t behave well, like over concrete substrates or in basements. But it will still feel like vinyl tile on concrete. If you have a space that will tolerate them (a plywood subfloor above grade), hardwoods will always be warmer, feel better on your joints and give you a much longer return on investment than vinyl. As long as you periodically re-apply top coat to your hardwood floor, you should be able to go 20-30 years between re-sandings - and a ¾” solid hardwood has enough thickness for at least 4 sandings. That’s easily 100 years of life.