By Kacey Perinelli (FCW)

In recent years, multilayer flooring (MLF), which includes rigid core flooring such as WPC and SPC, has become the most dynamic flooring category in the industry, taking share from other categories because of its multitude of performance benefits and stunning visuals. Yet, the exact definition of WPC and SPC continue to elude many consumers. The term rigid core encompasses both WPC and SPC, as both have polymer cores that are rigid in construction.

WPC represents the class of rigid luxury vinyl tile (LVT) flooring products with an expanded or foamed polymer core. SPC refers to the class of rigid LVT flooring products with a solid polymer core. WPC then has a foamed up extruded core with built-in air pockets [that] provide superior comfort and sound abatement and is best suited for residential and light commercial applications.

SPC has a dense, highly mineral filled extruded core [that] provides superior indentation resistance and is best suited for high traffic and commercial applications.  With both product types offering significant benefits, such as dimensional stability and waterproof capability, it is no surprise that many manufacturers are continuing to invest in both products.

WPC defined:

The biggest challenge in terms of selling WPC or SPC is knowing the difference between the two products. WPC are products that feature an expanded polymer core and tend to be softer underfoot than their SPC counterparts.  WPC is a composite material made of thermoplastics, calcium carbonate, and may contain wood flour. Extruded as a core material, it is marketed as being waterproof, rigid and dimensionally stable.  Some may call it ‘wood plastic/polymer core,’ while others refer to it as ‘waterproof core.’ WPC is typically characterized by a foamed core.” WPC’s thicker construction offers certain advantages, including the ability to better replicate textures for realistic wood looks.  The most important benefit of rigid core LVT is the ability to hide most common subfloor imperfections. A locking and floating construction makes installation easier and ensures a smoother finish.  Because all rigid core is also waterproof, it can be installed in water-prone indoor areas, such as kitchens and bathrooms, with the right installation methods. The most important benefit of WPC is that it offers better acoustical qualities and is softer underfoot.  And WPC has its advantages over SPC. The engineered aspect of WPC on the other hand in general allows a superior sound absorption versus SPC, because it is thicker and different materials absorb different frequencies. To some people, a thicker product also offers a nicer feel and a certain comfort of walk.  Of course, these are generalities and specifics will vary based on the manufacturer.  Application is also important when noting the difference between WPC and SPC. WPC is more often used in residential applications than is SPC, though WPC’s stability does make it possible for it to be used commercially as well.

SPC defined:

SPC by definition is a product with a solid polymer core, as opposed to one that uses foam in its construction. This product is denser and more dimensionally stable than its WPC counterpart, but does not necessarily have the same warmth and softness as WPC. SPC is known as ‘solid polymer core’ or ‘stone polymer core.’ SPC is comprised of limestone, polyvinyl chloride and plasticizers. SPC is still a waterproof product, but it adds greater stability, dent resistance and structure to vinyl plank flooring. SPC typically has a denser core and is generally more suitable for commercial installations.  SPC is best known for a resilient surface, meaning that SPC offers better dent resistance and temperature stability than WPC.  The fact SPC is a solid core with a higher proportion of limestone allows it in general to be a lot more stable to temperature variations and sunlight (the main downside to WPC), and a lot more resistant to impacts and dents.

All of these are waterproof. If indentation is important to you, go with SPC or rigid core. If you’re installing over an existing floor or ceramic tile, rigid core is the way to go. As long as the grout depth is within recommended range, there’s no need to fill in the grout lines to prevent telegraphing. WPC does not have the same dimensional stability in those cases and normally requires the grout lines to be filled in for best results.

Learning to Sell

Ultimately, the biggest challenge with selling multilayer flooring products lies in the lack of understanding that surrounds the products, both for consumers and RSAs. And the category is changing and evolving at a rapid pace, so education about changes to the category needs to be continuous.  The constant changes in this category can make it difficult to learn which product is which, and ultimately make the sale. Jimmy Tuley, vice president of residential resilient for Mannington Mills offered that much of the confusion surrounding the MLF category stems from the speed of innovation that accompanies MLF.  “First off, this has been and continues to be a very confusing and complicated category because of the speed of innovation and the number of new players in the market,” Tuley said. “It is incredibly important that we do as much education about this as possible to ensure the long life and the best uses of this growing category.” There was also some confusion surrounding acronyms in the MLF category previously, but the current consensus is that the acronyms for the product categories are WPC and SPC, with MLF and rigid core both encompassing both of these products. However, most flooring experts will agree that product understanding on the part of the RSA is crucial to ensuring consumers leave with the right floor for their needs.   While the acronyms were often used to identify components of the floors’ construction — wood plastic (or polymer) core and stone polymer core – they can also serve as more broad identifiers: waterproof core and solid polymer core. As with any innovation, it takes a while for the industry to build consensus, but this is an important step to help create consistency and assist with educating customers about the flooring and its benefits.