March 27/April 3, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 21
By Ken Ryan
Fiberglass-backed sheet vinyl is the unsung hero of the resilient flooring category—a product with characteristics that match up well with its more famous cousin, LVT, yet at a price point suppliers say is very competitive.
Given its well-documented performance attributes, sheet vinyl represents the best value on the market on an installed cost basis, manufacturers say. Within the sheet vinyl category, glass-backed has taken over as the dominant player over felt, research shows. Statistics indicate fiberglass sheet took home $362.5 million in 2015, which is 60.7% of residential sheet overall (FCNews, June 27, 2016). Compare this to five years ago when fiberglass represented $205 million in sales. In terms of volume, fiberglass commands roughly 61.4% of the residential sheet market.
Anecdotal information shows fiberglass is continuing to take share and grow in relative terms to the total market, with price and performance among the key differentiators. “Fiberglass is an easier product to work with and make repairs to if needed, and it does not tear like a felt product,” said Eric Erickson, vice president of sales, marketing, product and business development for Beauflor USA.
Others agreed. Mary Katherine Dyczko-Riglin, product manager, residential sheet vinyl, Mannington Mills, suggests the main reason glass-backed has overtaken felt is due to ease of installation. “Experienced installers are getting harder to come by in our industry, and fiberglass is more forgiving in that process than felt.”
While felt still provides advantages in rip-tear-gouge performance—and is still popular in markets with more availability of experienced installers—executives like Matt Savarino, senior product manager, resilient sheet, Armstrong, acknowledges that from an overall installation standpoint fiberglass offers benefits over traditional felt-backed floors. “Fiberglass can be installed as a loose lay or modified loose lay, meaning you use a releasable glue—or no glue in some instances—that is not permanent and can be pulled up and laid back down if necessary. Fiberglass vinyl floors are also waterproof, so they can also be installed above or below grade anywhere in the home.”
Therein lies another key in the ascension of fiberglass sheet as a desirable product—its waterproof characteristics. With so much attention being paid to waterproof floors—from LVT and WPC/rigid core to laminate floors with moisture-resistant properties—it is worth noting that sheet is a waterproof floor as well. Dyczko-Riglin said there are two main reasons why fiberglass sheet is gaining share, with waterproof being first and foremost, which makes fiberglass “a fantastic option for this market. Secondly, glass-backed is a great value compared to others in the waterproof category.”
Dimensional stability is another key benefit fiberglass offers. As Savarino explained, “Fiberglass vinyl won’t shrink, warp or change size after exposure to wetness or crack after repeated handling. When paired with superior underfoot comfort, fiberglass vinyl sheet provides a great mix of features that have tipped the scale in its favor over felt-backed vinyl sheet in recent years.”
Glass-backed sheet has been able to maintain its share in the residential market as well as penetrate the commercial segment, especially healthcare and property management. Fiberglass is taking stronger holds in the healthcare segment because of its stain resistance and performance ability in sanitary settings. “In property management applications the fact that fiberglass sheet offers realistic visuals at a competitive price point that’s stain, scuff and scratch resistant, and easy to clean and repair helps increase unit turnover usage, thus saving the property manager valuable time and money,” said Amie Foster, senior director, product management, sheet vinyl, IVC.
Savarino said fiberglass’ growing acceptance in both residential settings and commercial buildings is due to the longer lifespan of these floors coupled with better aesthetics. He noted there has been increased interest in vinyl sheet products in the RV/manufactured home space as one example. “The ease of installation within glass-backed vinyl’s unique manufacturing process makes it an ideal solution especially with how far the visuals and designs of vinyl sheet products have come over the last few years.”
With more entry-level products on the market, fiberglass has been significantly expanding its role in the builder and multifamily markets.
In many aspects of home fashion, bold patterns are hot right now—and that trend extends to flooring. Mannington is channeling that aesthetic into its sheet lines with stunning visuals such as Deco. “We are continuing to explore ways to engage consumers with these options as these visuals provide style and beauty at an affordable price,” Dyczko-Riglin said.
Armstrong recently introduced Diamond 10 in its CushionStep Better and Duality Premium lines, which the company said significantly improves the product’s scratch, scuff and stain resistance.
Beaufor’s latest introduction, Blacktex, is a cushion vinyl product in which a textile backing is applied to minimize subfloor prep. The product can be loose laid up to 500 square feet, adds warmth to the floor and provides enhanced sound absorption. “We launched this at Surfaces and the reception to the collection has been great,” Erickson said.
Forbo’s Marmoleum Click Cinch Loc is positioned as a naturally healthy, water-resistant floor constructed primarily of renewable resources, including linseed oil, wood flour and pine rosins. The combination of natural linoleum on water-repellent HDF with a cork layer backing makes for an acoustically sound flooring solution.
IVC is experimenting with advanced embossed-in-register technology with its fiberglass sheet vinyl products. The company is also developing new chemical embossing techniques offering enhanced textural physics that allow the product to rise and fall with designs such as a cobblestone or paver patterns. “We’re always looking at ways to improve and push the limits to take the market to the next level,” Foster said.