By Robert Blochinger
Waterproof. Water-resistant. These are terms we see repeatedly in marketing for flooring and installation products. But what is the difference?
The technical definition of water-resistant is the product can resist the penetration or absorption of water to a certain degree, but not entirely. Waterproof, on the other hand, means the product is impermeable to water. No matter how much time the product spends in water, it will not swell or absorb it.
Then we have the word, weatherproof. Does it also mean waterproof? No. Weatherproof is another designation that essentially means water-repellent and water-resistant—but not waterproof. The fabric of a weatherproof garment or outdoor-rated carpet will provide protection, but may admit water in harsh conditions and heavy downpours.
With flooring products, the terminology is relative to the products’ makeup, as we can see in the LVT/P and laminate sectors. My opinion is: placing a piece of LVT/P in a bucket of water is different than installing the full plank, joined to others, in a space under typical use and environment conditions. Similarly, an oven test does not reflect the conditions of an on-site installation; rather it is a measurement test for product expansion and contraction. Changing of ambient conditions and foot or rolling traffic—along with maintenance—are factors in the failure or success of an installed floor. Just as installation workmanship, the sundry materials’ quality and end-usage is a factor.
Vinyl plank flooring, as SPC/WPC, has crossed over from residential to commercial use. The installation is not the same; a floating click system is good for residential, but commercial should be glue-down. This is due to traffic load, and opens the door to substrate preparation following the ASTM F710 standard for preparing concrete floors to receive resilient flooring.
So why does a flooring product marketed as waterproof require moisture testing of the substrate prior to installation? Why does it require a moisture barrier between the substrate and flooring product? The wording in the installation guidelines and warranty have changed recently to include pre-installation requirements such as substrate testing, underlayment, the use of a moisture barrier, regular surface flatness and a clean surface. Acclimation and expansion moldings are considerations, as well.
Reading the various guidelines we soon discover what is considered waterproof, summed up in one phrase: “from the top only.” That is, if there is liquid spillage, the consumer may have up to 24 hours to remove it–the quicker the better. When performing maintenance, what does that mean when using a damp mop? How wet is damp? What amount of water drip is acceptable? Will a steam mop cause damage or is it safe?
Water (moisture) from below is a different consideration. Topical water is a quick, short spill—perhaps a cup or glass of water around 6 to 12 oz. However, from below it’s a consistent amount being driven by ambient conditions, where water is changing from a vapor to a liquid. This action is related to the moisture content of the concrete, relative humidity and the ambient conditions of the space above. Alkalinity and pH value are also to be considered.
SPC LVT has a stone product/polymer core, and this combination of materials is held together by a resin. This resin is mostly likely the material most affected by water/moisture, which creates the issues we have with common LVT failures including warping, cupping and peaked ends (also caused by vertical abutment restriction).
The resin amount within the core is a percentage of material by volume, and how that relates to its moisture sensitivity can be a factor in the warping of the LVT product. This would be the reason for the recommended moisture testing, remediation, and barrier prior to the installation of flooring. ASTM F710 addresses this in detail.
Getting back to waterproof versus water-resistant or -repellant, once the research and development of a flooring product is completed it goes into field testing and then is released out for general sales. The marketing of the product is an essential next step. Along with this goes the guidelines and instructions for installation, usage and maintenance. These areas are ultimately locally controlled, by persons other than the manufacturer. The dealer gives their advice based on marketing information and experience; the installer depends on their experience, training and education to install the product; and the consumer depends on the reviews of others and understanding the guidelines for product use and care.
Within the flooring industry we all have a responsibility to provide information so the consumer gets what they paid for—a product that will perform as promised, backed by an installation that will hold up to use and maintenance. Go beyond the marketing and give them the facts. Similar to when purchasing a car, the product needs to perform according to expectations. When repair is needed a qualified person should perform those repairs.