By Jeffrey B. Johnson,
MAPEI Floor Covering Installation Systems Business Manager
Luxury vinyl tile and plank flooring covers the world for many good reasons. To start, just the simple portability of the flooring makes it easy to get from the factory to the jobsite. Next, the installation method only requires a utility knife to cut individual planks to length. Then, depending on the installation method it either clicks together in a floating floor system or uses a simple pressure sensitive adhesive bonding process for a finished look. Another beneficial aspect of LVT is the state-of-the-art for printing and visual creation is becoming more advanced on a daily basis.
Many times, I have looked at a floor and had to get down on my knees to touch it and determine if it was real or LVT. The visuals are simply stunning and the marketing effort behind this flooring product are making consumers ask for it as an upgrade. Lastly, most LVT products are made from some form of plastic making them virtually waterproof. No matter if it is PVC, polyolefin, SRC, WPC, you name it, waterproof or water resistant is the game being played.
People are now requesting ways to put luxury vinyl in other areas of their home. I have had numerous requests for LVT on walls and even ceilings. Recently requests began for using LVT in wet environments – such as shower enclosures and tub surrounds. Thanks to new installation materials this is now possible.
How to put LVT in wet environments
The products used to install LVT in wet environments are all provided premixed and ready to go. This means no mixing of powder into water or worries about pot life and a lot less mess in the form of dust when installing LVT in wet environments. Another benefit of this type of installation comes when you are doing retrofit installations. Traditionally, if you were to put new tile over existing tile this process adds significant weight and thickness over the existing material. Depending on the tile and installation method this can add as much as 3/8-1/2” of additional thickness to the walls. Using LVT, the maximum additional thickness is typically less than 1/8”.
Another great advantage of LVT is the ability to combine multiple visuals and have them all at the same thickness. Think about it. If you want to combine ¾” solid prefinished wood flooring with a ½” thick piece of marble means the marble will have to be lifted up ¼” to be level with the wood. With LVT the wood visual matches up perfectly with the stone visual without having to deal with thickness variations since they all start at 2mm or 5 mm thicknesses. And, since most LVT is PVC-based, it is perfectly suitable for wet environments. There are also many non-PVC types of LVT available, but the general conclusion is that they are made of plastic-based materials and as such are extremely water resistant.
The installation steps
The installation of LVT in wet environments starts off similarly to a tile project with the proper placement of a waterproofing membrane over the entire surface. The surface can be anything from cement boards to waterproof boards to dry wall. The critical success factor is 100% compliance in the installation of the waterproofing membrane. This is no different than what you would expect for tile installations, so it is very important to make sure this step is done according to all written instructions found on technical data sheets and installation guides. There are a variety of types of waterproofing membranes available from multipart cement-based to fabric membranes to roll-on coatings, all will work for LVT installations. MAPEI recommends the use of MAPELASTIC AquaDefense for this application primarily because it is easy to apply, dries quickly and works exceedingly well.
The next step is to make sure the surface is very smooth and flat otherwise those defects will telegraph through to the final finish. For this you will need a special smoothing compound, one that will bond tenaciously to non-porous substrates, dry quickly and be waterproof when dry. MAPEI’s Planiprep 4 LVT is a one-component, premixed skimcoating compound that applies very easily, dries quickly, sands to a super smooth surface and is waterproof when dry.
Now its time to install the LVT on a vertical surface. For this you will need again another special product as you are installing a non-porous material over a non-porous substrate and the assembly needs to be waterproof as well. This is where Ultrabond ECO MS 4 LVT Wall fits all those requirements. Ultrabond ECO MS 4 LVT Wall is a modified silane-based, 100% solids adhesive designed to install LVT of all sizes in vertical applications. It has the proper thixotropy to hold LVT on the wall without slippage. Ultrabond ECO MS 4 LVT cures fairly quickly and is ready for the next steps in the process in about 6 to 12 hours after installation.
Depending on the desired visual, you may choose to use tile spacers when placing the LVT to leave an area for grouting or you can simply butt each piece of LVT together tightly. Grouting is not a requirement for this system and is purely an option based on personal preference. If grout lines are desired, use a resin-based grout such as MAPEI’s Flexcolor CQ or Kerapoxy CQ. The use of cement-based grouts is not recommended. From an ease of installation standpoint, Flexcolor CQ comes premixed and ready to use. It requires approximately 12-24 hours of cure time before the final step in the process. This wait time can be shortened with the use of Kerapoxy CQ which can reduce the cure time to 4-6 hours, but epoxy grouts are not for the faint at heart to use.
The final and perhaps the most important steps are the application of a sealer and traction coat to the surface of the LVT. This step is completed by applying MAPEI’s MAPECOAT 4 LVT, a two-part, aliphatic, non-yellowing isocyanate-based coating that seals all the joints as well as adds much needed traction. Most LVT is not designed to be used in wet environments and that is why the traction coating is so important to this process. MAPECOAT 4 LVT mixes together easily and is applied using a ¼” nap roller to all surfaces. Once this product is applied and allowed to cure for 24 hours the installation is essential ready for water exposure. Finishing details can be handled by using MAPESIL T in all the corners and joints for complete water protection.
MAPEI has brought an innovative and proprietary assortment of products together to enable the secure installation of LVT in virtually all environments — especially those exposed to water, such as tub surrounds and shower enclosures.