September 14/21; Volume 30/Number 7
By Jenna Lippin
The industry is well aware that LVT is and will continue to be the hottest category in flooring. While innovations and variations appear to be limitless, one subcategory of luxury vinyl that maintains a solid standing is groutable LVT. A number of key manufacturers are in the groutable game, offering consumers a high-end design option at an affordable price point.
Groutable LVT is a lower-cost alternative to ceramic tile, providing the aesthetic appeal of “the real thing.” According to Gary Keeble, director of marketing for Metroflor, a primary benefit for groutable LVT is its appearance. “The imaging technology that is being used to create LVT designs today has become so sophisticated that it is extremely hard to distinguish between an LVT floor and a ceramic tile or stone floor. Adding the grout to the LVT installation further enhances the tile or natural stone visual.”
Dan Natkin, senior director, residential products, Mannington, expressed a similar sentiment. “Probably the single largest benefit [of groutable LVT] is purely visual. It makes the floor look so much more realistic when compared to porcelain or ceramic when it is fit together. Plus, there is much more you can do when grouting it as far as patterning and the ability to mix sizes as well as creating aesthetic contrast.”
The right grout can provide an accent color to a floor, as well, “or it can pick up just the right color in a décor,” said Julie Foster, director of marketing, Novalis Innovative Flooring. “Groutable LVT offers high-end design visuals and luxury sizes but at an affordable cost for the consumer vs. other flooring types like a ceramic or porcelain tile.”
With groutable vinyl options the visuals of ceramic remains, while providing comfort and warmth. Industry executives noted easier installation with grouted vinyl, as well. “Groutable LVT is warmer underfoot than ceramic tile, with the realistic natural stone look,” said Lindsey Nisbet, head of product development and marketing strategy for EarthWerks. “It offers a pronounced stone appearance, allowing for the warmness that a ceramic cannot provide. It also allows for easy installation with less downtime than regular ceramic.” In addition, grouted LVT won’t crack or break if something is dropped on it, and it is more slip resistant so, therefore, a safer option for homes.
“Glassware, dishware—drop it on ceramic/stone/porcelain and you can break the dish or glass easily, or crack [the tile],” explained Brian Parker, director of product management, residential tile, Armstrong World Industries. “Engineered stone is more forgiving and is able to absorb that impact and not crack.”
It is important to note that the grout used with groutable LVT is different than that installed with ceramic. It is typically easier to clean than traditional, pre-sanded grout that requires sealing to avoid staining. “With groutable LVT you are primarily using pre-coloring grouts, which don’t need to be sealed, are easier to use and you can use less of because it is at a lower profile than the LVT itself,” Natkin explained. “It’s really a win-win-win. And you can continue to see grouts becoming easier to work with. Some of the first grouts that came out were particularly difficult to clean up [off of the] LVT and you would get a haze.”
Karndean Designflooring offers a range of grout strips and borders that are made of the same material as its planks and tiles. “This means that you can get all the advantages of LVT with the grout strips, from easy installation and maintenance to unlimited design capabilities and [exceptional] durability,” said Emil Mellow, vice president of marketing. “These strips enable customers to get the style they want with any type of product, whether they’re installing tiles or planks. Installing grout is a time consuming process, whereas vinyl grout strips are quick and easy. They won’t discolor or harbor dirt over time. Grout also has limited applications, while [options we offer] can be used with LVT grout strips to create an almost unlimited array of designs to suit any style.”
John Kronemeyer, vice president, sales and marketing, American Biltrite, noted the benefit of the rounded edge featured in the company’s groutable product, UltraCeramic. “You get that real ceramic look when it’s grouted, but it is narrower with the grout you put in. Narrower grouts are becoming more popular now.”
UltraCeramic is considered an engineered alternative to ceramic rather than LVT. It is comparable to ceramic in terms of visuals, but offers the warmth and comfort of vinyl, Kronemeyer explained. “We offer larger sizes that are popular like 18 x 18 and 12 x 24. There is an oblong shape/size that is becoming popular in ceramic that we are moving toward with UltraCeramic.”
While LVT overall has found widespread use across all applications—commercial and residential—groutable options have remained popular for homes. Regionally, executives cited different places in the country that tend to lean toward these products. “Our customers in the northern part of the U.S. tend to use groutable LVT instead of ceramic because it has a softer, warmer feel,” Foster said. “Grouting is reserved for glue-down installation, and we find that most groutable installations are residential.”
Novalis’ NovaFloor product features extra-large groutable tiles in its Birkdale collection. With an 18 x 36 format and CurvedEdge design, these tiles create a “better, eye-catching grout definition,” Foster explained.
Nisbet also cited the northern part of the country as a popular region for groutable LVT. “Groutable LVT is a great alternative to ceramic tile, offering a similar visual with all the benefits of [vinyl]. This is favorable where ceramic is not as prominent as it is in southern states like Texas, Arizona and Florida.” EarthWerks’ groutable Avante tile can be installed with or without grout lines.
In terms of where in the home groutable LVT is installed, Parker specifically noted kitchens, bathrooms and foyers. “You’ll see it in prominent areas where it can really be showcased. As we get into more contemporary designs you will see it start to reach into different areas of the home, more living areas like family and living rooms where there are more fashion-oriented designs.”