The décor of the floor

Love and marriage, milk and cookies, law and order. We all recognize these pairings, but luxury and vinyl are two words I never thought would appear together, especially when describing flooring.

When my best friend moved to Florida, I flew down to help her get settled in her new house. As soon as I stepped into the foyer, I was greeted by an odd smell and some wood-look, plank flooring that I could not identify. It turned out to be vinyl, with its volatile organic compounds (VOCs) still off-gassing from recent installation.

Vinyl flooring has been around since the 1800s and used to contain asbestos, although the carcinogen was phased out of the manufacturing process in the 1980s. The product I saw was known as Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) and was entirely unlike the sheet vinyl that used to be installed in our kitchens and bathrooms of yesteryear.

In 1990, the Perstorp chemical corporation of Sweden patented its Pergo laminate flooring. Wildly popular, it was seen as the low-cost, DIY installation alternative to hardwood. These floorboards used photographs of different wood species, with a protective topcoat of melamine with aluminum oxide.

It was easy for a homeowner to “tap” or “click” the boards into place, and they could be installed over a variety of existing floors, including the old asbestos tiles. Unfortunately, they also chipped, warped and opened their seams with exposure to water and humidity. They also felt squishy underfoot and emitted a hollow sounding echo never heard when walking on real wood.

A couple of years ago, an agent in my consortium of Facebook real estate professionals asked whether LVP floors might be appropriate in a $ 3 million + California home.

That took me back to 2005, when I lived in San Diego. While house hunting there, I had learned there were two materials required in a typical suburban home: 1) honed travertine tile with a pinkish cast and 2) everything that was popular 30 years earlier. I intended to be the savior of the 70’s ranch, but only stayed in the area long enough to bring my own house up to East Coast standards.

It came as no surprise, therefore, to hear the collective nodding of heads on the opposite coast, approving the use of LVP floors in a luxury market. At the time, I was aghast.

Now it seems that higher grade laminate and vinyl floors are increasing in popularity among renovators of mid-priced homes in the DMV. The manufacturing process has been refined as well, and the malodorous off-gasses of LVP generally dissipate within a few weeks.

So, between laminate and luxury vinyl flooring, who wins and why?

Ease of Installation: Due to its thickness and installation as a floating floor, laminate is more forgiving of imperfections in the subfloor beneath it. If you’re working with a flat surface, the glued down version of LVP is thinner and can be cut to fit without power tools. Verdict: A toss-up, depending on your DIY skills or those of your installer.

Water Resistance: LVP is considered waterproof and is the winner in this category, making it the better choice for kitchens and baths. If you are cursed with a leaking dishwasher on a laminate floor, then you may find your floors “dead in the water.”

Durability: The protective upper layer of each product will determine durability. With LVP, a 12 mm layer is considered commercial grade and will offer increased protection from scratches, but it is prone to fading in direct sunlight.

Laminate carries an Abrasion Criteria (AC) Rating to measure durability. An AC rating of at least three is recommended for residential use and may withstand fewer dents over time. An AC4 rating can handle most children and pets.

Budget: Both products are equally economical, ranging in price per square foot from $ 1 to $ 10 for laminate and from $ 1 to $ 14 for LVP. Add $ 1 per square foot if you need additional underlayment.

Looks: In the end, you want a floor that not only performs well but that looks good. The quality of both laminate and vinyl have improved to such a degree that they can simulate the look of wood, tile and stone; however, this is not a product you want to select online.

Visit a few flooring stores to look at, feel, and even smell the products. Take samples home if you can, to see them in both natural and artificial light. The winner will become clear.

Whichever you choose, I’m betting that the variety of species, available stains, and sanding capabilities will allow real wood to continue its reign as the true luxury flooring, even if the trend becomes covering it with carpet once again.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in DC, Md. and Va. with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at (202) 246-8602, email her at, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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