We get this kind of question a lot: "How can a plank floor really be waterproof? Won't a flood of water eventually get through the seams to my subfloor?"
Yes. It absolutely can. There is no floor covering - laminate, vinyl, hardwood, cork - none we can think of that will keep water from getting to your subfloor if there is a flood, or if a big spill is unattended for too long or water seeps up through a concrete subfloor. So what do we mean by these terms? Is it just a big bait-and-switch? No, there may be some difficult to avoid confusion, but we really are saying what we mean. Let me try to clear up these seeming equivocations.
Two Things Our Floors Can Be
What does this mean? It means that the flooring itself, the planks or tiles, are impervious to damage from water and humidity. A steam room, a big spill, even a full on flood that badly damages your home will not hurt these planks. If you have a flood, you have a mess, but once that mess has been taken care of, you will still have this floor to put right back down. That is not likely to happen with laminate, hardwood, bamboo and carpet, to be sure. Most floors do not handle standing water water well, and almost none can withstand a flood. As of press time, we have two 100% waterproof floors that will do both, our click-together and loose lay vinyl plank products.What doesn't this mean? It does not mean that these floors can be installed outside (see below). It also does not mean that your house or subfloor has been waterproofed, as if a big, single piece of plastic has been applied sealing off your concrete or wood subfloor. We would love that, but it hasn't been made yet (in a plank form).
Usually this feature is listed for Laminate Flooring, and in flooring it means that the plank is designed to keep any spilled water up on the surface for as long as possible, so you can clean it up without any lasting damage. This is because the exposed part of laminate is in between the planks, where they join together. It's hard for a manufacturer to make an exact time claim, like "For a full 15 minutes!" but they are developing pretty amazing technologies to keep standing water from seeping between the planks and getting under, or into the material of, your flooring.
Things like waxed edges and a sealant called Click Guard aid in keeping the humidity and water at bay.
What doesn't this mean? 'Waterproof'. As well as they resist, there are no 100% waterproof laminate floors. The central 'core' of a laminate floor cannot yet be made impervious to H2O, and if a room floods, the laminate is very likely to become unusable.
Two Things Our Floors Cannot Be
No floor covering will completely seal off your subfloor from any and all water or humidity. There is nothing that acts like a full shield, if you will. Some people think that a waterproof floor waterproofs a room, or a house. It cannot do that.
What about sheet vinyl? Water can get around the edges at the walls. It can get around and under. Then you have to pull the floor up to dry the subfloor and prevent mold.
Stone tile? Does water go through stone? Maybe not, but it has grout between every tile or plank. Even if water doesn't eventually soak through the grout - which it can do - the grout can still absorb the water and become a little mold farm.
What about moisture barriers? They aren't called 'water barriers', and if they could be they definitely would be. No, these are designed to prevent moisture, vapor or humidity from going up from a cement subfloor floor into your flooring. They are not designed to prevent water from going the other direction, down into the cement. That's just not a capability of a vapor barrier.
At Floors To Your Home, we sell interior flooring. It is made to go inside only, generally in environmentally controlled places. None of it is designed to be installed outside. You might think that if something is waterproof, and the outside generally only has rain to throw at you, that our vinyl planks should be fine installed on your deck, but we really don't recommend that. Now, to test the waterproof feature, we set some of our floors out in a storm for a weekend, but it was a deliberately extreme test, but not a demonstration of what you should do with this kind of a floor. (We tested some samples in that aquarium video above, and we also don't recommend putting these there or in your pool.)
Hopefully I've cleared these terms up so you can shop knowing that you'll really get what you think you're getting!
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David is has written and made videos about flooring products and installation since 2011 at Floors To Your Home (.com), where he is also the PPC Manager, a Researcher, a Website & Marketing Strategy Team member, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jito. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, put together a podcast, explore film history, and mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’). Connect with W. David Lichty
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