March 28/April 4, 2016; Volume 30, Number 20
By Jenna Lippin
Fiberglass-backed resilient sheet products have become all the rage in recent years. In fact, according to FCNews research, fiberglass represented 72% of the sheet vinyl market in 2014 (FCNews, June 29, 2015). Durability, ease of installation and increased dimensional stability are just some of the reasons executives cite for the meteoric rise, particularly in the multi-family and commercial sectors.
Armstrong’s CushionStep, for example, is a loose lay fiberglass-backed cushion floor sold exclusively to the independent retail channel. It was first introduced in 2006 and a decade later it maintains its strong position in the marketplace due to its ease of installation, comfort underfoot and water resistance.
“Fiberglass offers distinct benefits versus other structures,” noted Jamey Block, vice president, product management, resilient, Armstrong. “We want to help the customer choose the best solution for her space. For example, for a moisture-resistant basement floor, vinyl sheet with fiberglass backing lies perfectly flat over a concrete slab without adhesive.” In addition, the thickness of fiberglass sheet “is perceived as value and easily understood.”
Dan Natkin, senior director, residential products, Mannington, said heft of hand is a preference for consumers in certain markets, making fiberglass sheet the choice over felt products. “You may be looking at a 130 mil fiberglass product vs. a felt option that may be only 60 or 70 mil. The difference is you get a lot more heft from glass.”
Natkin noted that skilled vinyl installers are necessary for felt projects because it’s a “tougher product.” Fiberglass sheet, however, is “more forgiving” with installers, which means the same level of expertise is not required. And with the shortage of skilled installers in the market today, this is an added benefit.
Fiberglass sheet’s ability to lie flat and stay flat—dimensional stability—is essential to the appeal of the subcategory. In experimenting with the glass’ capabilities, different companies have varied construction of their fiberglass products, not limiting the material to the back of the sheet. IVC US, for example, touts its sheet’s fiberglass core. Flexitec’s inner fiberglass layer is encapsulated by PVC layers, providing strength with flexibility while lending to a hassle-free installation. The dimensional stability from the solid fiberglass sheet core means no cracking, curling, expanding or contracting.
In addition to dimensional stability, Amie Foster, national accounts manager, IVC US, said a major factor of fiberglass’ appeal over felt is repairability. Particularly in “property management or residential applications, it is a lot easier to replace a small area than taking out an entire section of the floor like you would have to in felt.”
In the commercial arena, Tressa Samdal, design development manager, sheet vinyl, IVC US, explained the company is currently starting to enter the sector through hospitals. “This product is fabulous for [healthcare] applications because it is so cleanable. You don’t have to worry about mildew or mold in fiberglass.” Felt, on the other hand, absorbs moisture, which leads to these types of bacteria that are particularly problematic in medical settings.
Like IVC, all of Beauflor’s sheet products have fiberglass construction. Steve Roan, sales and marketing director, North America, Beauflor USA, is another executive who cited fiberglass’ paramount benefit as dimensional stability. “The fiberglass layer is for stability,” he said. “It is a much better product in the end than a felt- or paper-backed option. It is much more durable, allowing for free-form installation. It doesn’t have to adhere to the floor because of the fiberglass backing [helping keep the floor in place].”
Fiberglass in LVT
While there has long been a divide between felt and fiberglass on the sheet side of the resilient business, LVT is now employing glass construction as well. Fiberglass is particularly helpful in loose lay/dryback products as the heavier planks or tiles are kept in place due to the stable addition.
Raskin Gorilla Floors is just one LVT company that uses fiberglass in its products. Its Elevations lines include a proprietary fiberglass sheet that Michael Raskin, president and CEO, said is exceedingly strong. “This sheet prevents the product from moving in either direction much better than mesh or chopped fiberglass. We promote loose lay installation. It is similar to fiberglass sheet in being just laid down and glued around the perimeter. In order to keep the product from moving, it has to be stable. That’s why we use fiberglass—it is the best for stability and the perimeter is locked in with the spray adhesive.”
Elevations products consist of seven layers, a feature Raskin said helps the company stand out from its competition. “Like engineered hardwood, each layer keeps the other from moving,” he explained. “With the fiberglass sheet layer you have the most stable LVT. Whether it is being installed loose lay or glued down, the product is not going to move. LVT without fiberglass or a multi-layer construction might experience shrinkage around ends/sides, which creates a sort of picture frame appearance around the floor. Fiberglass keeps that from happening. We’ve been using it since 2012.”
Metroflor uses fiberglass in its solid vinyl floating products, which include Konecto and Engage. The fiberglass layer is “sandwiched” between the base layers of vinyl to add both dimensional stability and overall strength. The manufacturer has been using fiberglass in Konecto for over eight years and Engage was launched with it.
“We soon learned [with Konecto] that without the benefit of adhesive like what you would use with traditional glue-down LVT, something more was required to ensure the product remained flat and that it did not react adversely with temperature changes,” explained Russ Rogg, president and CEO of Metroflor.
The company first experimented with the material by way of chopped fiberglass within its vinyl formulation. “While this did provide some added benefit,” he said, “we ultimately found that a continuous [filament] sheet of fiberglass layered within the product was the best methodology to create a more dimensionally stable option.” In Engage, Metroflor uses fiberglass mesh that resembles a window screen. This type of glass is better suited for thicker LVT products, Rogg said.
Nox US, an OEM private-label LVT manufacturer, started to consider fiberglass for its products about two years ago. The company saw the added benefits of integrating fiberglass into loose lay and click products, including enhanced stability and resistance to wear and tear.
“From a technical point of view, fiberglass steadies the product,” said Fred Giuggio, vice president, North American sales. “The fiberglass sheet layer holds the core down and enhances performance. Because loose lay and click have become the real conversation, the addition of fiberglass has made our customers very happy. The more they look into it and talk about it the more they realize it is pretty unique.”