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Installing Hardwood Floors Over Vinyl and VCT

Installing Hardwood Over Vinyl

“Sure you can install that new Bruce over the old vinyl flooring…” big box store suggestion.

“Yes, and no…it depends.” Experienced hardwood Hardwood over vinyl kitchen floorinstaller.

What’s The Real Scoop?

For any successful installation over older vinyl flooring a few key ingredients have to be satisfied. The most critical is the condition of the vinyl floor. Considering there are two types, I'll look at both. Who knows, you may not have to think about it. The job on the right had beautiful heart pine flooring under 40 years of vinyl composite tile.

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Vinyl Over Wood Subfloors

One obstacle that always seems to present itself is an underlying sub floor used for the vinyl floor installation. Chances are great you’re not aware of it because there are not any visible signs. Let’s say you have a kitchen area with vinyl that connects to other areas that are covered by carpet.

Nearly all vinyl installations over plywood sub floors contain an additional thin underlayment. This comes in the form of a luan thickness type (one quarter inch) of material. The purpose is to allow for a smooth surface for the vinyl to be glued to. Without doing so, vinyl flooring in their flexible makeup will telegraph every irregularity of the main sub floor. Seams will be seen, knots, cracks, and the like if any vinyl is glued directly to it.

One exception to the above includes floating vinyl floors or ones that are only glued on the perimeter. Also known as interflex vinyl. Their popularity began in the 90’s where it was not imperative an underlayment be used prior to the installation. Only floating or stapled wood flooring can be used in this situation. For concrete installations they can be removed easily for direct gluedown hardwoods.

Additional underlayments are often stapled to the main sub floor. Stapled numerous times as well. Let’s say you’re removing carpet and vinyl with plans to run wood throughout the area. The thin underlayment will have to be removed to achieve a flat suitable sub floor for the new floor to be installed to. Without doing so the area will ramp up and down. Furthermore, any new hardwood installed over has chances of rubbing against one another, causing squeaking.

Vinyl Over Concrete

Here’s where it can become tricky. Most wood flooring installed on concrete are glued type installations, while others are floated. We’ll get into the latter further down the page.

As an installer I’ve always been skeptical of leaving an older vinyl floor in place and gluing over top of it. Who knows how well the glue is holding the vinyl is the biggest concern. We can’t see underneath of it. It may seem intact because we tried pulling some pieces out of a closet for a test run.

Another concern is new wood flooring adhesive technology. Hey, some of these companies are advocating using their glue with solid hardwoods. Considering how much solid products expand and contract during seasonal changes, it has to be strong. The unknown is how these adhesives will react with the adhesive used for the vinyl installation. Some folks may get lucky while others will have an expensive floor failure.

Personally my take is remove the old vinyl. It’s not easy work, but rental tools are available proving very effective in cutting down the brute labor involved doing it by manual means.

Vinyl Over Concrete - Floating Floors

In this case it’s not as important to have a well adhered vinyl floor. Floating systems are not attached to anything underneath. Their success is provided by the locking or glued tongue and groove type installation method. However, any loose vinyl should be trimmed off so it does not interfere. An example would be corners that may be curling. Without any trimming, these areas could become spongy underfoot after the floor is installed. A void exists underneath the new hardwood.

Vinyl Composition Tile - VCT

VCT or those thicker square tiles should be addressed in similar fashion to sheet vinyl mentioned above. For installation of nail down type floors, older tiles can crumble when the fasteners go through them. Another concern is what type of subfloor is underneath. VCT floors were popular years ago; also a period when a large portion of homes had wood floors covered up in larger layouts.

While it may be unusual, nailing any new floor over the older VCT and hardwood could create another problem. While not knowing the direction the older floor was installed, mistakes could happen if the nailing pattern of the new falls into the seams of the older floor underneath. Structural strength is lost with the new floor and it’s nails or staples.