In the flooring world, the terms rigid-core vinyl, luxury vinyl, and engineered vinyl are often used interchangeably. This can be confusing for homeowners who aren’t familiar with vinyl flooring.
In this article, we’ll help you put a stop to the confusion and delve deeper into rigid-core flooring, its pros, cons, and cost considerations.
What is Rigid Core Flooring?
Rigid core flooring is a type of vinyl plank flooring that features a solid, composite core. This type of flooring replaces the flexible vinyl core found in earlier versions of sheet vinyl flooring with a harder, more durable composite/engineered core layer. That’s why rigid-core vinyl plank flooring is also referred to as EVP (Engineered Vinyl Plank) flooring.
Also take note that most flooring products that are marketed as LVP (Luxury Vinyl Plank) or Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) flooring feature rigid core construction. Rigid core flooring planks/tiles typically feature up to five layers that serve different functional and aesthetical purposes. Here’s a brief overview of each of these layers:
The wear layer
This is the top layer of the EVP flooring planks that comes into direct contact with your feet as you walk on the floor. This layer protects the floor against scratches, scuff marks, and dents. The thicker the wear layer, the more wear-resistant the rigid-core flooring. Some wear layers also boast UV protective features, to safeguard the rigid-core flooring against fading due to exposure to sunlight.
Vinyl topcoat layer
This thin, waterproof layer protects the design layer beneath it from moisture damage.
The design layer
This is the vinyl print layer where realistic images that resemble wood or stone tile flooring are imprinted. This makes rigid-core flooring a type of ‘faux wood’ or ‘faux stone tile’ flooring. Some brands even use a technology known as Embossed-In Register (EIR) to achieve the texture of the type of wood or tile flooring that they’re mimicking.
The core layer
This layer can either be a WPC (Wood Polymer Composite) or an SPC (Stone Polymer Composite). A WPC core is made by mixing real wood pulp with plasticizers and foaming agents for a floor that boasts excellent stability and a cozy underfoot feel. An SPC core- on the other hand- features limestone powder and plastic stabilizer construction for a hardy, stable floor.
Whether it’s SPC or WPC, the core layer is usually 100% moisture-proof; and both are great at masking subfloor imperfections such as an uneven surface. The main difference between these two types of rigid cores- though- is that an SPC core has a harder underfoot feel compared to WPC. Most SPC rigid-core flooring planks/tiles usually feature underlayment to offset this issue.
This bottom layer is typically found in most brands of rigid-core vinyl flooring planks- but not all. The cork underlayment provides a softer underfoot feel, sound dampening, and heat insulation benefits.
How to install rigid core flooring
To successfully install rigid core flooring inside one of your rooms without any post-installation issues, you need to follow the proper installation procedure. This type of flooring can be installed over most types of surfaces, but you may want to avoid installing it over radiant heat or wet spaces such as bathrooms and kitchens.
In addition, if you’re looking to install rigid-core vinyl over a concrete subfloor, hire a flooring expert to undertake a moisture test and determine whether the moisture content in the concrete is low enough to allow for safe installation of the EVP rigid core flooring. Once you’ve factored in the above considerations, take the following steps to properly install your rigid-core vinyl flooring planks:
Ensure Proper Storage and Acclimation
After buying your rigid core flooring planks, store them in a room where the temperature is regulated between 50-100-degrees. Temperatures beyond or below these limits can lead to floor issues down the line- such as gapping and curling at the edges.
Therefore- if there’s no way you can regulate the temperatures in the room, you may want to acclimate the planks to the temperature conditions of the room in which they are to be installed. To do this-storing the planks in that room for at least a full day before installation.
Prep the Subfloor
If you have a wooden subfloor, ensure to level it out prior to installing your rigid core EVP flooring. You can do this by sanding down the surface using a walk-behind sander with coarse-grit sandpaper attached to it. Sanding is a messy project, so ensure you always wear a dust mask and keep the doors/windows closed to prevent the wood dust from spreading to other rooms in the house.
Prepping the subfloor also involves cutting down any protruding nails and screws and cleaning the surface of all dirt, dust, and debris (including the wood dust post-sanding). Meanwhile, for low /dented spots, you can fill them in using a floor patch product.
Concrete subfloors- just like wood subfloors- have to be levelled out too prior to installation of rigid-core flooring. You can do this using a grinder to grind down the elevated spots. If you’ve undertaken a moisture test for the concrete and established that the moisture content exceeds the acceptable levels, you’ll need to install an underlayment sheet above the concrete before installing your EVP flooring- to act as a moisture barrier.
While water from the concrete won’t harm the rigid-core vinyl flooring which is 100% waterproof, it may cause alkalinity issues that can weaken the adhesive in glue-down installations. What’s more, water pooling underneath the rigid-core planks can trigger growth of mold that can lead to health complications for house occupants. Installing a 6-8 mil polyethylene sheet underlayment will help prevent such problems.
Install the Rigid Core Vinyl Planks
The first steps in installation include cutting under door jambs to allow the edge planks to slip underneath; and inserting shims at intervals along the edges to create an expansion gap. Once that’s done, install the planks by snapping them together. Most rigid-core flooring planks are floating floors- that is- they feature a click-locking mechanism and don’t have to be glued down to the subfloor. In floating floors, the tongue of a plank slips into the groove of the preceding plank.
As you install the planks, make sure you stagger the seams such that no end joints of adjacent planks are aligned. You should be aiming to ensure at least an eight-inch stagger between adjacent row joints. This helps to prevent structural issues down the line, such as separation of the planks. Finally, to cover up the expansion gap that you’d created between the edge planks and the base of the wall, install shoe molding or bridge molding.
Rigid core flooring review
Pros and Cons
Wide Range of Design Options
With rigid-core EVP flooring, you have a wide range of design patterns, styles, and colors to choose from. Whether you want a vinyl floor that resembles natural wood or stone tile flooring, there’s always something for you.
Due to advanced imprinting and embossing technologies, some brands of rigid-core vinyl flooring look and feel just like real wood/stone tile. Imagine a floor that looks just like natural wood, but isn’t susceptible to water damage like real wood is. That’s rigid-core flooring for you.
Rigid-core planks and tiles are 100% waterproof due to their polymer construction. As such, moisture-related issues such as mold shouldn’t be an issue. However, this doesn’t mean that you should let water pool on the surface of the floor.
Easy to Install
Most brands of rigid-core vinyl flooring are floating floors, which feature a click-lock installation mechanism. Installation is therefore simple and can be undertaken as a DIY project without having to spend extra on professional installation services. All you have to do is to slide the tongue of a plank into the groove of the previous tongue. What’s more, the subfloor doesn’t have to be perfectly flat prior to installation, it just needs to be smooth. You- therefore- don’t have to spend too much time sanding or grinding your subfloor.
Acclimation Isn’t Mandatory
For rigid-core vinyl floorboards, acclimation prior to installation is only required if the room temperatures are unregulated. However- if you have a HVAC system and can keep the room temperatures between 50-100-degrees, there won’t be any need for this.
Longer Product Warranties
Owing to the ultra-durable rigid-core construction, most EVP flooring product brands usually offer long warranties for their flooring products. These include 25-year warranties and limited lifetime warranties.
Some can be Installed Outdoors.
Rigid-core vinyl flooring planks that feature UV protection in the wear layer can be safely installed in outdoor settings such as decks and patios without fear of discoloration due to exposure to the sun’s UV rays.
Due to the cork padding at the base of most types of rigid core vinyl flooring, this type of floor boasts incredible sound dampening capabilities. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about disturbing those that are sleeping as you walk across the room at night; or disturbing neighbors with the sound from your music system. The cork underlayment on the planks will dampen the noise.
Cons of Rigid Core Flooring
While rigid-core vinyl flooring planks feature a wear layer to provide resistance against stains and scratches, this doesn’t mean that scratches and dents won’t occur to your flooring at all. There’s a semantic difference between ‘scratch-proof’ and ‘scratch-resistant’. Years of pet scratches, dropping sharp objects, and dragging heavy furniture across the floor surface will certainly cause the rigid core flooring to show unsightly signs of wear.
Uncomfortable Underfoot Feel
Some budget-friendly lines of rigid-core vinyl flooring- such as COREtec’s ‘COREtec One’ collection- feature planks that don’t come with a cork underlayment. With the rigid core already being so hard, these planks usually have a hard and uncomfortable underfoot feel.
Rigid core vinyl flooring has great durability as the rigid core WPC/SPC construction and the upper wear layers provide great structural stability and wear resistance- respectively. With proper installation and maintenance, your rigid core flooring can last for up to 20 years before needing to be replaced. That being said, rigid core vinyl still isn’t as durable as natural hardwood or stone tile flooring, which can last for over 100 years.
The cost of rigid core luxury vinyl flooring depends on multiple factors- including the thickness, the construction of the wear layer, whether there’s a cork underlayment attached to the base or not, and the level of detail on the design layer. However- for context- you should know that rigid-core vinyl is typically cheaper than solid hardwood or natural stone tile flooring. Typically, rigid core vinyl planks range from $1.60-$8.00 per square foot, with the average price being $4.00 per square foot.
Is rigid core flooring waterproof?
Rigid core EVP flooring is 100% waterproof. However, take note that water can still seep through gaps along the edges of your vinyl flooring and cause moisture damage in the subfloor. That’s why it’s important to seal gaps along the edges with moldings.
Additionally, even though moisture won’t directly damage the planks, moisture from the subfloor can create alkalinity issues that may cause damage to the planks- such as curling at the edges.
How to Clean and Maintain Rigid Core Flooring
To keep your rigid core vinyl flooring looking spectacular, you’ll need to adopt an effective cleaning and maintenance procedure. You can clean the surface by sweeping, mopping, or vacuuming it. If there are any fresh spills or stains, dip a piece of cloth into a neutral pH detergent solution and wipe these spots. Finally, avoid using bleach solutions to mop/clean your rigid-core vinyl flooring, as they’ll cause fading.
Meanwhile, maintenance may involve installing blinds and curtain on the windows if the floor is in a room that is directly exposed to sunlight. This is because UV rays can cause fading on rigid-core vinyl flooring whose wear layers don’t feature UV protection.
Remember-too- that regardless of how thick your wear layer is, it’s always important to factor in various maintenance strategies for prevention against wear due to scratches and dents. Doing this will keep your rigid-core flooring looking great and extend its lifespan. For instance, you can install felt pads under furniture to prevent scratches when dragging the furniture across the floor. Installing mats at the room’s entrance will also prevent scratches caused by soil and dirt particles from outside.
NuCore Rigid Core Vinyl Flooring
NuCore’s rigid core EVP products offer the best value for money, as they’re affordably priced from $2.35-$3.80 per square foot. Whether you want planks with weathered patterns for a rustic aesthetic, or those that feature modern linear design aesthetics, NuCore’s got you covered. Their line features over 100 design options that you can select from.
COREtec Rigid Core Vinyl Flooring
If you’re looking for a brand with a wide range of stone-look EVP flooring options, then COREtec is the one. They stock up to 26 different designs of rigid-core, stone-look tiles. Meanwhile, COREtec’s wood-look flooring collections are also breath-taking in terms of visual appeal.
Shaw Rigid Core Vinyl Flooring
Most Shaw EVP products have a thick wear layer ranging from 20-30 mils, thus ensuring maximum protection against scratches and gouges. They also have low VOC content and are not much of a health concern compared to other rigid core vinyl flooring brands.