It takes a meticulous person to install flooring correctly. The planning is just as important as the execution. You often have to work around a variety of shapes, such as the corners of cabinets and the rounded base of toilets. To make matters more complex, you need to take expansion into account to prevent large gaps from forming in and around your flooring.

Why Does Vinyl Flooring Expand and Contract?

There are several reasons that vinyl flooring expands and contracts.

Temperature Fluctuations

Temperature fluctuations are the primary cause of expansion in vinyl floors. Almost every building material expands when it is exposed to heat and shrinks when it is cooled. Although you may think that the temperature inside of your house remains consistent, it varies enough to affect your floors.

Vinyl expands when the sun hits it or the heat is on. It shrinks when the air conditioning is running or the slab below it cools off in the winter. This means that your vinyl floors are constantly moving in miniscule increments.

Moisture Variations

Moisture also influences the stability of vinyl floors. Too much humidity makes the material expand. Extremely dry environments cause vinyl to shrink and become brittle.

The ideal humidity level for vinyl floors is typically 35% to 55%. You can extend the life of your floors by using a humidifier or dehumidifier to regulate the amount of moisture in your space.

Foot Traffic

Although vinyl floors feel hard to the touch, they’re much softer than hardwood and ceramic tile. The tiny air pockets in the porous core allow the vinyl to shift. Any weight that you place on the floors will compress them vertically, forcing them to expand horizontally.

This movement isn’t visible to the naked eye immediately, and you can’t feel it. However, over time, you may start to notice peaking, warping and curling due to the expansion.

What Types of Vinyl Floors Have the Most Expansion Issues?

There are a few types of vinyl floors. Each one has different requirements when it comes to accommodating expansion.

The installation instructions for your flooring should indicate how much of an expansion gap to leave. This is a 0.25 to 0.5-inch space at the perimeter of the floor that gives the material room to grow. You can usually cover it with baseboard molding or seal it with caulk.

Sheet Vinyl

Sheet vinyl is some of the most affordable flooring that you can buy. This flexible material comes in rolls that are 6 to 12 feet wide and can be cut to any length. You can typically cover a bathroom with one sheet. If you are installing sheet vinyl in a larger room, you may have to use more than one piece, which means that you’ll have a seam where they touch.

This seam is especially necessary in very large rooms. It will accommodate expansion and help to maintain the impeccable appearance of your floor.

Traditional sheet vinyl requires adhesive to keep it in place. Even though the glue will prevent it from shifting and lifting, the material can expand. You should leave an expansion gap around the perimeter of traditional sheet vinyl.

Some types of sheet vinyl are designed for a loose-lay application. This material has a fiberglass backing, which makes the flooring more rigid than basic sheet vinyl. Therefore, it remains flat without curling. You should use double-sided adhesive to secure the edges of this type of flooring.

Soft vinyl sheeting generally expands and contracts more than loose-lay options. However, both are prone to swelling and require you to leave an expansion gap around the perimeter.

Tiles and Planks

Tiles and planks are thicker and harder than sheet vinyl. They come in a variety of shapes, such as squares, rectangles and hexagons. You can arrange them in many configurations, customizing their appearance for your décor.

Stick-On Vinyl Tiles and Planks

Some vinyl tiles and planks come with adhesive backings. These act like stickers. You simply peel off the paper on the back to expose the adhesive, and stick the tile to the substrate. Other tiles and planks require a separate adhesive.

While these can expand and contract, they’re less likely than sheet vinyl to buckle. In fact, they will generally only swell and shrink as much as the subfloor does.

If you leave an expansion gap around the perimeter of your room, the tiles could shift slightly over time, creating spaces between them. Cut this type of flooring to the edge of the room. If you end up experiencing buckling, you can always replace a single tile.

Floating Vinyl Floors

Floating floors come as separate pieces that connect with a click-and-lock mechanism. When you measure and install these correctly, you won’t use any adhesive.

This type of flooring is prone to some expansion. However, it’s quite resistant to temperature and humidity. Still, you’ll need to leave space around any vertical surface, such as walls and pipes, to allow for movement. Expansion seams in the center of the floors are necessary in extremely large rooms.

Loose-Lay Vinyl Planks

Loose-lay vinyl planks expand and contract less than other types of vinyl flooring. They’re designed to remain stable in response to temperature and humidity changes. The friction created between their rubbery backing and the subfloor keeps these tiles in place.

Because loose-lay planks don’t expand or contract significantly, they’re an ideal option for rooms with high humidity, such as basements and bathrooms. You don’t need to create an expansion gap around the perimeter of this type of floor.

Preventing Vinyl Swelling and Shrinkage

When the walls or baseboards constrict vinyl as it expands, it can buckle. This may create waves and uneven surfaces in the flooring. If temperature fluctuations happen regularly, the floor will be subjected to repeated expansion and contraction.

Eventually, the material may shift. Cracks might show up between the floorboards. The material can also break down faster than it would if you kept it at a more consistent temperature.

Before installing vinyl flooring, you must acclimate it your environment. Unpack in the room in which you plan to install it. The temperature of the floor in this room should be between 59 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Arrange the vinyl in its expected location on the floor. However, you don’t have to be too nit-picky about it. Leave the flooring there for 48 hours so that it adjusts to the temperature and humidity of the room.

After installation, vinyl will expand and contract the most near windows and vents. Aim to avoid exposure to intense sunlight by drawing the blinds during the day. Keep your indoor temperatures as consistent as you can. In other words, don’t set the thermostat to 55 when you leave for work and raise it to 72 when you return. Finally, wipe up spills as soon as possible to prevent moisture from seeping into cracks.

With proper installation and care, vinyl flooring shouldn’t cause problematic expansion. If you’re dealing with cracks, waves and buckling on your current vinyl floor, you might need to perform some repairs. Upgrading to a new floor using advanced technology can produce desirable results that last a long time and prevent problems down the road.