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Healthy Home Basics - Vinyl Flooring

By HHI Staff

Vinyl flooring has been commonplace in kitchens, bathrooms, utility rooms, and recreation rooms since the early 1960s. Vinyl virtually replaced linoleum as a flooring material because it is fairly low in cost, attractive, simple to install, easy to care for, and available in many styles and patterns. (Most of the vinyl flooring now being made doesn’t need sealants, protecting compounds, or special sheen products.)

Vinyl Flooring Types

Vinyl flooring is available in both sheet goods and individual tiles through local flooring stores and building-supply centers. Unlike linoleum, vinyl is made primarily of a synthetically derived resin, usually thermoplastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC). However, pure PVC is actually a very stiff material, so it must be combined with noxious plasticizing compounds to make it soft and supple. As a result, a certain resiliency (the ability to return to its original form after being compressed) is evident in vinyl flooring which not only gives you a surface that’s less likely to marred by dents, but one that provides some give and comfort when walked upon.

 

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Vinyl flooring can certainly outgas (emit) potentially bothersome chemical odors and VOCs, but it also offers a relatively impenetrable, smooth surface—one that’s water-resistant, unable to harbor dust mites, pollen grains, and mold spores, and one that’s easy to sweep and wash clean.

 

Several grades of vinyl flooring are available in stores. All are basically fabricated with a clear top layer over a layer with a printed, embossed, or inlaid pattern. Sometimes, there’s also a plain bottom layer or backing. While there certainly can be other differences, as a rule there’s one thing of which you can be certain; the more expensive a vinyl floor is, the greater the thickness and quality of its clear top coating.

 

Of the various vinyl flooring options on the market, it’s probably wise to choose harder vinyl products, at least from a health standpoint. This is because fewer plasticizing chemicals are required in their production. Self-sticking tiles should also be considered. This is because they eliminate the need for additional mastic compounds that are required to adhere other vinyl-flooring products in place.

Vinyl Flooring Installation

If you decide to use vinyl sheet flooring, your exposure to its outgassing can be reduced by first unrolling it in an unpolluted place. This can be outdoors, on a porch, in an empty garage, or anywhere that’s dry and uncontaminated by objectionable odors. Generally, new vinyl flooring will need to air for at least several days. Some sensitive persons find it necessary to leave it unrolled for several weeks. Once the flooring has lost its “new” odor, it can then be brought indoors and installed.

 

While most vinyl flooring is held in place with adhesives, it is possible to completely avoid them. In many cases the flooring can be held in place with just the baseboard molding that surrounds the perimeter of the room. However, adhesives are sometimes necessary. They definitely are needed where two sheets of vinyl flooring abut each other. Actually, at these junctures the two edges are often seam-welded together. This is accomplished using a special synthetic compound that dissolves the edges of each vinyl sheet. After the liquefied vinyl has cured, the seam becomes invisible. Seam-welding is generally accompanied by a several-inch-wide band of adhesive under each side of the seam.

 

In other installations (very large rooms, multiple connecting areas, etc.), adhesives are used more extensively. But whenever they’re necessary, they should always be water-based mastics and adhesives rather than solvent-based types. This is because the water-based versions are usually less toxic and less odorous. A number of water-based products are probably available through your local flooring supplier or a local building supply store.

 

Of course, the use of adhesives, mastics, or synthetic welding fluids always requires plenty of ventilation and perhaps the use of a cartridge-type respirator mask. Sensitive and asthmatic individuals should probably not to do this type of installation themselves.

 

 

 

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Healthy Home Basics - Vinyl Flooring:  Created on August 17th, 2008.  Last Modified on February 27th, 2011

 

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