Dollar for dollar, a home is the single largest investment most people will make in their lives. Ok, let’s be honest: houses can be money pits! But they’re OUR money pits and we like them to be safe, comfortable, reflect our style and personalities, and last as long as possible so we don’t have to keep sinking our hard-earned cash into them.
But one of the most common culprits in damage to the home is with us every minute of every day. A silent destroyer lives in our homes – and even our bodies! (cue the ominous music!)
Don’t go looking for a hockey-mask wearing, knife-wielding creeper under the beds. The destroyer we’re talking about is water! How could something that makes up more than 60 percent of your body destroy your home?!
Water, and it’s varying solid, liquid and gaseous states, is one of the leading causes of damage to homes every year. According to the Insurance Information Institute, “water damage and freezing” was the 3rd most severe (following bodily injury and fire/lightning) and the 2nd most frequent cause of homeowner’s insurance claims.
This, along with a desire for durable, low-maintenance finishes, leads more and more buyers to seek waterproof and water-resistant flooring options. But what are those options? Why is one better than another? And where can and should I install them in my home? Or more importantly – where shouldn’t I? Let’s dive in deep for a swim into the fluid world of water and floors!
Waterproof vs Water-resistant – What’s The Difference
Buyer beware! This is one of the most misunderstood and critical pieces of information when looking at your flooring options. Waterproof and water-resistant are NOT the same thing! They are NOT interchangeable terms!
In simplest terms, water-resistant means what the name implies: it can withstand, or resist, water for a period of time but it is not waterproof; it will get damaged by water or liquid eventually.
Waterproof means it is impervious to water – water can contact it forever and it will never damage the flooring. That last piece is important to note – just because your flooring is waterproof and impervious to water and moisture, doesn’t mean the subfloor beneath it is waterproof. This is especially true for wood and laminate options, which may have seams between planks that could allow moisture to seep through to the subfloor.
Pros and Cons
Both waterproof and water-resistant flooring have their strengths and weaknesses that should be considered before installing. After all, no one wants to pay money to have their floor warp and pull-up on them. Well, most people don’t!
A big pro for water-resistant flooring is that it is generally less expensive than waterproof flooring. A con, however, is that those core materials that make it less expensive often contribute to it swelling, warping or peeling when exposed to excessive moisture. Basically, water-resistant flooring acts like a big sponge when exposed to liquid for longer than recommended.
Waterproof flooring, since it is impermeable, can cost more, even when made with organic or naturally-occurring materials rather than man-made/inorganic. However, the inorganic core material (such as PVC or wood plastic/polymer) helps make it more waterproof and prevents moisture permeation, which also can prevent mold and mildew development. BONUS!
Where To Install?
Water-resistant flooring is a durable flooring option for areas that don’t regularly get exposed to moisture, wet traffic, or spills. Occasional spills are ok if cleaned up immediately. Living rooms, family rooms, offices, dens, bedrooms are some great places to install water-resistant flooring. Any spills should be cleaned up and the floor dried off as soon as possible.
Bathrooms, mudrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, entryways, and basements are NOT the best places to install water-resistant flooring. Remember – damp areas like basements are notorious for having a lot of moisture in the air that can penetrate and damage water-resistant flooring.
So it will come as no surprise – Bathrooms, mudrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, entryways, and basements are GREAT places to install waterproof flooring! So don’t worry about the days you wash the bath mats, or the kids tracking in rain and mud, or spilling that glass of water on the floor in the kitchen. Waterproof flooring is a peace of mind in those environments.
Types of Flooring
Manufacturers continue to make technological advances in materials to meet the needs of today’s consumer demands for waterproof and water-resistant flooring, offering the customer more options than ever.
For waterproof floors, there’s nothing stronger than tile and stone. Hence their use in bathrooms and showers for literally hundreds of years. When installed, grouted and sealed properly, water can sit on tile floors almost forever and won’t cause any issues. Prices vary based on type of tile or stone and installation requirements. For example, certain natural stone products are great looking and durable, but really should be sealed following install and at regular intervals throughout product life. Think of your travertines or granites. You can go from an inexpensive ceramic product up to a premium stone product.
Another popular waterproof option is vinyl. The sheet vinyl products many of us had in houses growing up was water-resistant if the seams were sealed correctly. Newer vinyl products ain’t your mom’s vinyl however. Today’s vinyl is a stouter product that can mimic the look of tile or wood and provide extreme durability. It is offered in both water-resistant and waterproof varieties and can be a lower cost alternative to other flooring options, and is great for active families and high-traffic areas.
Solid hardwood floors are a water-resistant option. People tend to think of their glue or nail down hardwood floors, hand scraped, hand-stained and sealed floors are waterproof. WRONG! This is a common misconception. While the sealant (typically a urethane or varnish) prevents water from entering the wood, the seams offer a path of least resistance for water, and over time wood becomes a sponge for water, leading to warping, bowing, cupping and a host of expensive repairs. Installing solid wood flooring is labor-intensive and can be on the higher end of the price range, so this would be bad.
Laminate and engineered wood products come in water-resistant varieties. However, be careful as not all are water-resistant! Typically the outer surface of either wood or wood-look material is water-resistant, however, the core of the product is often a composite product that is extremely susceptible to moisture damage.
Engineered products are also offered in waterproof varieties too. You’ll hear an alphabet soup of terms used to describe them – but we can help you find the best options to meet your needs from traffic, family, moisture, and budget. A few to keep an eye peeled for while shopping: RigidCore, WPC, and SPC flooring. These are becoming more and more popular and are really driving the industry’s waterproof flooring boom.
Rigid core is a general term meaning the core of the plank vinyl or laminate is sturdy or rigid. These materials are reinforced in their core with either WPC or SPC typically, and click-fit together.
WPC stands for “wood polymer core” and uses a composite (multiple materials) core as a base for this vinyl product, which includes a foaming agent to create air pockets in the core to insulate for temperature and sound and makes them comfortable underfoot. WPC resists indentations, which makes it a good residential option. WPC floors hold up well in moderate sunlight and heat and are great for active households. It can be installed directly over imperfect subfloors or ceramic tiles and that insulation really helps deaden the sound when walking.
SPC, or stone polymer core, is a great option for those looking for the durability of vinyl with the look of hardwood. The surface resists scratches and water like vinyl, but the core adds strength, stability, and waterproofing. Many SPC’s are even offered with a real hardwood finish to the exterior for the best of both worlds. It’s becoming more and more popular and it can help you meet your waterproof flooring needs without having to sacrifice that wood look so many homeowners desire.