Laminate and vinyl flooring have really taken off in recent years as attractive, easily maintained and affordable flooring solutions for homes, offices and buildings. As with any other flooring material, however, there are conditions that could cause problems if you aren’t careful.

In this article we’ll look at the issues that arise from contraction and expansion in laminate and vinyl floors.

Laminate floor problems

Laminate flooring comes in the form of planks that lock together with a tongue and groove system. The top layers are synthetic, but the main body of the material is wood fibre. Just as with a solid wood floor, the wood in a laminate floor is sensitive to humidity and moisture as well as temperature. Too much moisture can cause the laminate boards to swell and push against each other, causing them to warp or cup. You will mainly find this happening with accidental splashes of water that pool on top of the boards, but high levels of humidity can also cause a slight swelling that starts creating unevenness in the floor.

In very cold weather, laminate flooring contracts slightly, increasing the spaces between the boards. Quality laminate is designed to withstand a reasonable range of seasonal temperature and humidity conditions, but if you start noticing any significant deformity in the planks you need to look at possible moisture and temperature issues in the room. For instance, in very humid areas you can use a dehumidifier to remove some of the moisture from the air (making you a whole lot more comfortable as well).

In South Africa we have also found that installing laminate in the middle of a very dry, cold winter can lead to problems when the summer rains start and the floors expand. However, this is easily remedied by making the expansion gap a bit wider (10 to 15mm instead of the standard 8 mm). We also suggest using a skirting and quarter round for the finishing as this will allow for the increased expansion gap.

Laminate floor expansion due to moisture

Laminate flooring with expansion buckling caused by moisture in the subfloor. (image courtesy

Vinyl floor problems

Vinyl is a synthetic product that is available in a click-in system (like laminate flooring) or a stick-down system where the material is stuck to the floor. Stick-down vinyl can be in the form of tiles or boards (known as Luxury Vinyl Tiles) or as wide sheets.

While vinyl flooring is far more water resistant than laminate flooring, its one main caution is that it is sensitive to fluctuations in temperature. Vinyl expands and contracts with temperature more than wood, so if vinyl planks are used they need to be spaced in such a way that they allow for this movement. However, even then, the expansion in a room exposed to strong sunlight, for instance, might be too much for the floor and you will start to find curled or lifted edges, or planks being pushed together and erupting upwards.

For this reason, we find the South African market has been moving away from the click-in system for vinyl and is choosing stick-down vinyl sheeting or tiles/boards instead. Glueing the vinyl to the substrate fixes it in place, minimising the possibility of over-expansion or contraction.

Vinyl flooring warping from sunlight

Luxury vinyl tile expansion problems caused by exposure to direct sunlight. (image courtesy

Another point to note with vinyl is that while it is water resistant, like any other flooring product it will be susceptible to moisture that rises up through the concrete floor beneath it. Keep an eye out for lifting or other changes in form and then check whether the substrate beneath the vinyl has a damp problem.

Also, vinyl planks that click together are not the best choice for floors that will have heavy rolling traffic, for example hospital corridors. The rolling causes compression expansion that can cause the planks to separate or buckle. Rather use sheet vinyl for such areas.

Other contraction and expansion issues

For both vinyl and laminate, problems of expansion and contraction can also come into play where heavy objects are placed on the floor. The area under the object will be held in place while the rest of the floor expands and contracts in response to temperature and moisture fluctuations. Keep an eye out for any warping or deformation that happens near a heavy object.


There are many factors that come into play when choosing and installing a vinyl or laminate floor. The best advice is always to use the right product for your purposes and to choose the best quality you can afford. If in doubt,  call us for expert advice, sales and installation.

 Contact us now for your laminate or vinyl flooring quote.

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