(Stone Plastic Composite) & The Road Ahead!
The floodgates are open and every supplier with a spare buck in their back pocket is climbing onboard. Locally I have seen or have heard of FIVE new SPC ranges landing in South Africa and all within the last few weeks. I think we can confidently say that the SPC Flooring category has officially landed.
So, what does this mean for our local consumer, retailer or installer? Much like any new trend unfolding in a territory, we will see good and bad products hit our shores as the various market players rush for market share and digestible price points. Good products, average products and just plain nasty products will slowly get identified by our retail and installer markets. And, slowly, or very quickly, we will be able to identify what is a viable choice or not.
Having been interested in this new category for quite some time and having been fortunate enough to explore a few overseas factories, I have personally been testing and researching this category on my own for just over a year now. These products aren’t bullet proof. Yet they certainly do hold up to some of the main environmental conditions negatively impacting our local floors, namely excessive heat and moisture. This is definitely a strong contender to steal some sunshine from the ever-popular luxury vinyl tile (LVT) market.
The stability of SPC is achieved by minimizing volatile air content and balancing the correct ratios of natural limestone powder, polyvinyl chloride and required stabilizers. If you don’t get this mix right or overdose on the fillers in an effort to reduce costs, it can result in a brittle or unstable product which will cause a whole host of issues or problems at a later stage.
With LVTs we quickly saw the natural evolution in the South African market as we progressed from floating click-lock versions through to glue-down variants, all the while trying to combat the ever-present heat stability issue. The market was and remains extremely excited about the high water-resistant attributes over wood or wood fiber options yet has had to tackle dimensional stability and semi-skilled installers in a big and expensive way.
As we start to explore SPC, I believe we will very quickly identify those that are viable suppliers and products and where the acceptable parameters lie with product dimensions and grades. In my personal opinion, three main factors will come into play here: coreboard composition as mentioned earlier; thickness of coreboard which will play a huge factor with the quality of South African substrates; and the chosen format and quality of the locking mechanism.
The reason I jointly mention board thickness and joint structure is due to SPC’s density and inherent inflexible nature. Substrates are notoriously bad over here in South Africa and always the first on the chopping block of allowable concessions. While thinner SPC options can easily be successfully installed on a mirror-flat substrate, they will quickly deteriorate if installed on any substrate with the slightest flex or imperfection. This combined with a weak or non-vertical locking joint system will most certainly encourage vertical shear and plank uncoupling. Just think about it: products with 3mm or 4mm cores have very little meat to machine a technical locking mechanism of noteworthy strength.
Much like most floor categories, cost of product, installation skill and site preparation become a delicate juggle to maintain a minimum expected lifespan. What will the market be willing to accept?
One product range that I personally believe hits the local mark is Diamond Core SPC from Finfloor South Africa. This product range has the right dimensions (6.5mm x 228mm x 1500mm) to adequately handle local conditions while having an excellent twin locking mechanism that I have personally tried out. A quick way to test the composition and rigidity of a plank, is to try and break off the corner edge of a plank’s joint mechanism. The easier it breaks off the more worried you should be.
I couldn’t break Diamond Core’s joint…!
Here’s our latest VLOG where we explore DIAMOND CORE a bit further.