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The ABCs of WPC

FCNews Ultimate Guide to WPC: July 17/24, 2017

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 9.59.57 AMWPC—it goes by several different names depending on to whom you are speaking. Some say it translates as “wood plastic/polymer composite,” while others believe it stands for “waterproof core.” Either way you define it, many would agree this relatively new category represents a game-changing product that has generated excitement and, more importantly, additional sales opportunities for retailers and distributors.

As the WPC category gains steam, however, specialty dealers are faced with a few challenges, from explaining to customers the features and benefits of the new segment to effectively merchandising this classification of product. For those just getting into the category, or for those looking to learn more, here are some basic questions about WPC—along with some advice on how to answer them.

1. What is WPC exactly?
WPC is a composite material made of thermoplastics, calcium carbonate and wood flour. Extruded as a core material, it is marketed as being waterproof, rigid and dimensionally stable. In an effort to differentiate their products, suppliers are branding their WPC offerings with names such as enhanced vinyl plank, engineered luxury vinyl flooring and waterproof vinyl, to name a few. Shaw Floors, for example, brands its Floorté as enhanced vinyl plank with an “improved formulation” that gives it greater density than WPC. Mannington’s new Adura Max is an enhanced vinyl plank the company is touting as the “quietest product on the market.

2. How does WPC differ from LVT?
The main differences are that WPC is waterproof and can go over most subfloors without much preparation. Traditional vinyl floors are flexible, meaning any unevenness in the subfloor will likely transfer through the surface. Compared to traditional glue-down LVT or solid-locking LVT, WPC products have a distinct advantage because the rigid core hides subfloor imperfections. In addition, the rigid core allows for longer, wider formats. With WPC, it is not necessary to worry about the preparation LVT would require for use over cracks and divots in concrete or wooden subfloors.

3. How does WPC stack up against laminate?
WPC is waterproof, while some laminates are engineered to be water “resistant.” Big difference. Proponents of WPC say it is more suitable for environments in which laminate shouldn’t normally be used—typically bathrooms and basements that have potential moisture infiltration. In addition, WPC products can be installed in large rooms without an expansion gap every 30 feet—a long-established requirement for laminate floors. Also, the vinyl wear layer of WPC provides cushion and comfort while absorbing impact. This makes a more quiet floor compared to laminates’ telltale “clickety-clack” sound. Lastly, WPC is also suitable for large open areas (basements and Main Street commercial areas) because it doesn’t require expansion strips.

“Any time you have a product that solves a problem it seems to do well,” said Jeff Striegel, president of Elias Wilf, a top 20 distributor based in Owings Mills, Md. “One of the issues people have with LVT is there is some telegraphing and, therefore, are limitations with what you can put LVT over. That is not the case with WPC. It is clearly a trend that is on the move.

4. Where is the best place to merchandise WPC in the retail showroom?
Most manufacturers regard WPC as a subcategory of LVT. As such, it is likely to be displayed among other resilient and/or LVT products. Some retailers have WPC displayed between laminate and LVT or vinyl since it is the ultimate “crossover” category

5. WPC—A passing fad or category with long-term potential?
If retailer response is any indication, WPC is here to stay. This is based not only on the sales and profits the category is generating for floor covering dealers but also the high levels of investment that suppliers and manufacturers are putting into design innovatiion and new product development.

“WPC can absolutely become the dominant player,” said Eric Mondragon, hard surface buyer for R.C. Willey Home Furnishings, with 13 locations in four Western states. “WPC is what the LVT category has evolved to, although I still see the need for traditional dry-back LVT for multi-family and commercial segments of the market.”

USFloors helped usher in the WPC era with the launch of COREtec at Surfaces four years ago. (In 2015, the company received a patent that covers all engineered flooring products with a WPC core and veneer top layer with or without an attached backing.) Piet Dossche, CEO of USFloors, predicted WPC “will forever change the landscape of LVT and several other flooring categories.”

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WPC: Common ways to lay it down

FCNews Ultimate Guide to WPC: July 17/24, 2017

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 9.52.49 AMWhile WPC-type products may be relatively new to the flooring industry, many boards can be installed using existing installation methods. Of course, installers are advised to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for their specific product lines.

Following are some tips and installation guidelines specific to COREtec plank and tile flooring. (In 2014, COREtec Plus transitioned from a drop & lock glueless profile to an angle/tap glueless profile.) The following installation instructions refer to the angle/tap profile.

Step 1. Shuffle the deck. COREtec flooring replicates the look of a natural product which has natural variations in color, texture and sheen/gloss. For best visual effect, shuffle planks or tiles from several cartons and do not install similar planks or tiles next to one another. Be sure to inspect all flooring materials prior to installation.

Step 2. Prep the subfloor. Subfloor should be dry and level to a 3⁄16-inch per 10 feet radius for best installation results. Note: USFloors’ COREtec Plus floors may be installed with a direct glue-down method on approved wooden (or) concrete substrates that are on or above grade only. Use only USFloors Cork Underlayment Adhesive (or) comparable premium multi-purpose adhesives. Please consult with adhesive manufacturer to determine if suitable for use with this material.

While COREtec Plus is waterproof, it’s not a moisture barrier. It’s still a good idea to make sure concrete is cured and tested for moisture and that a moisture barrier is installed in the crawl space and even under a COREtec Plus floor over a concrete subfloor. Moisture won’t damage COREtec Plus, but it can get in the walls and structure of the home.

Because houses and buildings, as well as adjacent hardwood or laminate floors, expand and contract, USFloors recommends to leave a ¼-inch expansion gap between the perimeter walls and any adjacent hardwood floor. Note: Do not install COREtec Plus floors as a floating floor where it will be exposed to temperatures greater than 140°F. In areas where the floor may be exposed to direct, intense sunlight resulting in excessive heat to the floor, use the glue-down method.

Prior to installation of any flooring, the installer must ensure the jobsite and subfloor meet the requirements of these instructions. USFloors is not responsible for flooring failure resulting from unsatisfactory jobsite and/or subfloor conditions.

Flooring should be one of the last items installed in any new construction or remodel project.

Crawl spaces must be a minimum of 18 inches (46 cm) from the ground to the underside of the joists. A ground cover of 6–20 mil black polyethylene film is essential as a vapor barrier. Joints must be lapped 6 inches (15 cm) and sealed with moisture resistant tape. The crawl space should have perimeter venting equal to a minimum of 1.5% of the crawl space square footage. These vents should be properly located to foster cross ventilation.

Room temperature and humidity of installation areas should be consistent with normal, year-round living conditions for at least one week before installation of flooring. Maintaining an optimum room temperature of 70° F and a humidity range of 30-50% is recommended.

In summary, all subfloors must be dry, structurally sound, thoroughly clean and level. Wood subfloors must be dry and well secured. Nail or screw every 6 inches along joists to avoid squeaking. If not level, sand down high spots and fill low spots with a Portland-based leveling patch. Concrete subfloors must be fully cured, at least 60 days old, and 6-mil polyfilm is recommended between concrete and ground.

Ceramic tile, resilient tile and sheet vinyl must be well bonded to subfloor, in good condition, clean and level. Do not sand existing vinyl floors, as they may contain asbestos.

Step 3. Start the installation. Work from several open boxes of flooring and “dry lay” the floor before permanently laying the floor. This will allow you to select varying textures, colors and sheens, and to arrange them in a harmonious pattern. Remember, it is the installer’s responsibility to determine the expectations of what the finished floor will look like with the end user first and then to cull out pieces that do not meet those expectations.

Begin installation next to an outside wall. This is usually the straightest and best reference for establishing a straight working line. Establish this line by measuring an equal distance from the wall at both ends and snapping a chalk line. The distance you measure from the wall should be the width of a plank or tile. You may need to scribe cut the first row of planks or tiles to match the wall in order to make a straight working line if the wall is not square or “true.”

You may want to position a few rows before starting installation to confirm your layout decision and working line. Helpful hint: When laying flooring, stagger end joints from row to row by at least 8 inches (20 cm) for planks, and equal to 12 inches (51 cm or a half piece) for tiles. For plank installations, you can use the cut-off end to begin the next row when cutting the last plank in a row to fit. If the cut-off end is less than 8 inches, discard it and instead cut a new plank at a random length (at least 8 inches in length) and use it to start the next row. For tile installations, always begin a row with either a full tile or a half tile so that the joints are consistently staggered in a “brick work” type pattern. Always begin each row from the same side of the room.