November 9/16; Volume 30/Number 11
By Jenna Lippin
Innovations in luxury vinyl tile continue as the product category picks up steam thanks to an upbeat marketplace. Improvements in installation remain top of mind for manufacturers as DIY and BIY shoppers are seeking a fast, easy job, in addition to the need for low-maintenance installation due to a lack of installers and, therefore, less time for training.
While dry back/glue-down and click products remain popular options—capturing 66.3% and 25.7%, respectively, of the LVT market in 2014—loose lay (or floating) has held its ground, especially in commercial settings. With many suppliers creating proprietary construction in addition to enhanced backing, end users are becoming more comfortable with the true loose lay, some even skipping over perimeter glue.
Raskin Gorilla Floors is one such company that touts its product construction and exclusive Gravity Grip backing for its Elevations, Loft and Interwoven product lines. “Multi-layer construction is a key selling point,” said Michael Raskin, president. “It lends to stability, particularly thanks to the fiberglass layer. The weight—two pounds a foot—keeps it down; that’s why we call it Gravity Grip. You can actually see its thickness because there is no tongue or groove taking away from that. [The construction] will [also] prevent the appearance of a sort of picture frame around the floor that happens with some LVT after three or so years.”
Novalis Innovative Flooring’s NovaFloor line includes the Birkdale collection with NovaLay planks that are reinforced with a fiberglass layer to provide superior stability. “It took our R&D department a long time to identify the perfect fiberglass we use and develop the right method to incorporate it into the overall product,” said John Wu, president and CEO. Novalis is just entering the loose lay business, he explained, after working to finalize its loose lay line that includes large formats: 9 x 60 planks and 18 x 36 tiles.
The construction of Mohawk Group’s award winning loose lay product Hot and Heavy is what formulated its catchy name. “Hot and Heavy was intentionally created to have a ‘hot’ color line and to be heavy so it wouldn’t move,” explained David Thoresen, senior vice president, commercial hard surface, Mohawk Industries. “We made it in grander, better, oversized formats like a 591⁄2 x 9 plank and big tiles. Its non-skid backing makes us confident it won’t go anywhere. I can’t say we’ve had a single issue with tiles moving apart.”
With that success the company launched Mass Appeal this year, which includes an 18 x 36 tile and a non-skid backing with “even more grab” than Hot and Heavy.
Ease of installation and replacement are major draws for loose lay products. Installers with less experience or DIY customers can easily install LVT that doesn’t require adhesive or understanding of a click/locking system. Plus, a tile or plank can easily be removed and replaced without disrupting an entire room. “If there is a tile damaged beyond repair, that piece can literally be picked up, another tile can be taken from attic stock, it can be laid in and you are done,” explained Emil Mellow, vice president of marketing for Karndean Designflooring. “There is no working from the wall back to the damaged area or cutting it out and having to glue it back down. It takes [no time] to complete the replacement.”
Wu added, “As easy as click LVT is, loose lay LVT is even easier to install, repair and replace. Without any locking profile to consider, loose lay LVT also offers more design flexibility to interior designers because you can now easily mix tile and plank patterns, create visuals such as herringbone, etc.,” which adds to the subcategory’s appeal on the commercial side of the business. “The fact that it can install with most carpet tiles side-by-side without transition also offers good, clean lines that most designers love.”
Thoresen expressed a similar sentiment regarding loose lay’s attractiveness at the commercial level. “Loose lay butts up against carpet tile without a transition strip, which helped Hot and Heavy take off. It seems to work better in commercial where there is more concern about acoustics and high traffic leading to wear.”
Mellow noted Karndean’s LooseLay line features a 20 mil wear layer that is commercially rated for wear and tear with a 15-year commercial warranty. “It’s been a massive hit in commercial. The product is very soft underfoot; because of its thickness and gripper backing, there are little air pockets underneath the floor that actually create warmth. We also found there is a sound deadening with it. Because of the heft of the product and its backing it creates airspace so it gets the ratings necessary for sound abatement between floors without putting another membrane in between our floor and the concrete. That enables value engineering of the project because the product eliminates that need for a sound barrier, saving time and money.”
For those end users who are not quite comfortable committing to a glueless installation, loose lay with an adhesive option is still more cost and time effective as less glue is needed. “An advantage for loose lay is perimeter glue, which compared to full spread saves glue and time,” said Clark Hodgkins, Shaw’s resilient category manager. “There is some cost savings there and it is more convenient for installation purposes.” Shaw’s VersaFit product is 4mm thick and is reinforced with fiberglass. Its backing has an X pattern, which Hodgkins said “creates friction to keep the floor from sliding around.”
Companies like EarthWerks, which has been selling loose lay domestically for about three years, are focusing marketing efforts on promoting and telling the loose lay story. As noted by Lindsey Nesbit, product development and marketing strategy, loose lay is ideal for the DIY market yet its features and benefits are often missed. With that, the company is remerchandising its Aurora product, mainly by integrating it into its complete Choice display. “We are giving more credibility to what Aurora is and adding it to our line. We have a full selling system with all categories, including click, loose lay and groutable. People just aren’t familiar with loose lay. You can really just drop this product and have an instant floor.”
Raskin’s Elevations Loft product is its first offering with floating, glue down and groutable installation options. “We’ve updated our boards to show more options so people can actually see the product instead of just trying to imagine it,” Raskin said. “The stability of our product is important because all installation is not the same. Sometimes an installer wants to glue it down; it is based on his expertise. Having that option is always a good thing because the installation can be adjusted for each individual job.”
Mohawk Group also touts its ability to offer a range of LVT options that includes loose lay. “[We offer] the option of all three formats: glue down, click and loose lay,” Thoresen noted. “It allows us to approach each hotel or school or medical office building with the right solution. It is determined on a project-by-project basis. If acoustics are a concern, for example, a 5mm loose lay works well. You lose acoustical properties the minute you glue it down. Educating the sales force is key for understanding these concerns. It has helped us gain more trust over the last 18 months in loose lay.”