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The Pros and Cons of PVC Backed Carpet Tiles

Posted on Oct 3, 2017, by Mike Brown

In recent years, PVC products have come under increasing scrutiny, particularly from designers and architects looking to vet products containing PVC, and ensure their suitability for health-conscious projects.

Flooring is one area where PVC still has a foothold, so today, we're helping you to understand the pros and cons of using PVC-backed carpet tiles in your next project.

Pros of PVC Backed Carpet Tiles

1) Good Relative Durability

PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is a type of plastic commonly used in all-manner of building applications - from roofing to piping and, of course, flooring. PVC grew to widespread use largely because of its inherent "toughness", and its ability to withstand deformation, even when used in relatively small quantities - a property known as "dimensional stability".

Together, these properties made PVC a good choice for flooring manufacturers looking to provide their carpet with a tough backing material - and to this day, many manufacturers still use PVC as their backing of choice.

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2) Low Cost for Manufacturers

An extra benefit of PVC - one particularly appealing to manufacturers - is its low price point. As a long-lasting material with decades of manufacturing experience behind it, PVC is relatively low-cost to produce.

However, as we're about to see, these low costs come with several compromises - leading many flooring manufacturers to switch away from the use of PVC in their carpet tiles.

Cons of PVC Backed Carpet Tiles

3) Flooring Failure

PVC-backed flooring products carry with them an inherent risk of something called plasticizer migration. In simple terms, PVC backing can cause an adverse reaction with certain types of flooring adhesive, in some instances even causing your newly-laid carpet tiles to become a slippery, sliding mess of loose flooring.

There are only two ways to avoid this problem: either meticulously removing every molecule of residual adhesive from your sub-floor, or more preferably, choosing carpet tiles that omit PVC from their backing material.

4) Poor Moisture Management

All PVC-backed carpet products fall into the category of "hard backed" products, because PVC is tough and impermeable. One unintended side-effect of this is poor moisture management: when moisture levels naturally fluctuate in your sub-floor, PVC backed products will trap the moisture vapor, and force it to condense into damaging liquid water - often leading to serious problems with poor indoor air quality and mold & mildew.

In contrast, carpet tiles that lack this hard backing - like cushioned carpet - allow water vapor to return to a state of equilibrium in the subfloor, and even naturally evaporate away, preventing almost all of the expensive problems caused by subfloor moisture.

5) Poor Ergonomics

Unlike many other building applications, people have direct interaction with flooring almost every minute of every day, and the materials that go into flooring products have a huge impact on our health and wellbeing.

Increasingly, designers and architects are moving to specify flooring with cushion-backing, instead of hard backings like PVC. This one simple change can transform flooring into a valuable aid in health and wellness: offering improved underfoot support, acoustics and warmth, and encouraging sit/stand working practices.

6) Poor Absolute Durability

There's more to durability than being a "tough" product, and it's in the holistic view of durability where PVC-backed carpet falls short.

Despite inherent "toughness", problems with flooring failure, poor moisture management and poor comfort often mean that PVC-backed products end up with a shorter useful life than carpet tiles with different backings.

Thankfully, it's easier than ever to find alternative backing materials that share PVC's benefits without any of its compromises. It's for that reason that all of Milliken's carpet tiles use a cushion-backing system - offering unparalleled performance in every area that it matters.

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Mike Brown

Written by Mike Brown