Article | Is SPC (Stone Plastic Composite) the New Sliced Bread in South African Flooring Options?

With LVT (Luxury Vinyl Tile) being all the rage here in South Africa, many importers, distributors and wholesalers are falling all over each other trying to secure their position within our local market. When we saw the first tranche of click-lock LVT products land a few years back, the industry was overjoyed that they finally had a wood-like waterproof alternative to the ever so popular laminate floor.

Well, if you were in the local industry then you will know that we all hit a bit of a hard learning curve on that one. These click-lock LVT products were originally designed and manufactured for bigger markets, such as Europe and USA, who generally have localised climate control and a rather formalised technically-adept installation industry that safeguards their installs. We fell short in quite a few areas.

South Africa is harsh, beautiful and developing. We have a culture of opening our living and work spaces, allowing the light and the air to enter and interact with our internal surroundings. This very unique characteristic is the one that has derailed and shortened the lifespan of many imported first-world products. Our developing installation industry was also initially unfamiliar with the requirements of the product. Being more ingrained with laminate methodology, we relied heavily on local suppliers and importers to provide the correct installation method and requirements. Unfortunately, these were usually based upon or copied from international variants, which we now know are subtly skewed from our unique local needs.

Over time and through costly experimentation some players have perfected the art of installing these products successfully, yet the clear majority have resorted to gluing them down to secure longevity. By gluing these products down the click format is over engineered and overpriced, which has allowed for the thinner variants to solidly step into the market. Today, much like the global trend, glue down variants make up most of imported LVT. Our local installation skills have to a large extent caught up with bankable ways of safely installing them.

While our market is quickly catching up with global trends we are starting to better understand what products work for our environment and what products do not. Entry level laminates are still selling very well because of the obvious price advantage and the fact that the product does not require perfect substrate conditions. This is a very attractive attribute considering our variable building standards. These points become a big factor when considering a new floor type as screed work can add a significant spend to your overall project. Some pricier laminates, which offer higher water resistance and ease of installation, continue to do well. Yet even these products are not waterproof and are subject to damage if exposed for too long.

There have been a few players who have experimented with various imports of WPC (wood plastic composites) as they offered the benefits of a ridged board (less screed work required as mentioned previously) yet retained the much-desired waterproof attributes. Globally they continue to dominate the market yet unfortunately here, much like the original click-lock vinyls, they too continued to grossly expand and contract with their foamed cores when exposed to heat. They died a very quick death.

So, what’s next?

Well the new kid on the global block is stone plastic composite (SPC) and its already on route to a local floor retailer near you. Or it soon will be anyway. If you take foam based ridged LVT or WPC and remove the bubbles and wood component, you end up with a denser, more ridged product and this is what the global industry is now shouting out about. It’s waterproof, stable (in variable heat exposure) due to its density and doesn’t require flat substrates due to its rigidity (at least the better ones don’t). Acoustically and thermally it does not perform as well as laminates or hardwoods as it does not have the encapsulated air component in the core nor the thickness of laminates or WPC. Yet it is stable and waterproof, and the price is also in that bracket that makes it comparable to high-level commercial laminates, which is attractive.

This product is still developing, and different factories’ recipes do vary slightly, which dictates that subtle caution is required when committing to a product. I do think a major component of product security is your wholesaler-retailer relationship, as they won’t generally engage with a product they don’t feel confident with. Further development is to be expected as some factories are still trying to work around the acoustic and temperature insulation properties by applying various layers on top and underneath of the products, as well as refining the joint structures which has initially been a problem.

Personally, I have had a test floor (11m x 6m) installed in my own home for the last 12 months. Besides the short end joint structure becoming compromised in selected areas, which would have been corrected in a later variant, it has performed admirably well. With water, direct sunlight, uneven substrate (0-4mm variations), dogs, kids and compromised expansion gaps, it has remained inert and beautiful the entire time.

Overall we should see these upgraded variants land within the next six months or so. Generally I believe this product will do very well here in South Africa due to rigidity, water resistance and ease of installation.

Coming up in a future vlog (YouTube – Flooring Africa) I will be discussing an in-depth comparison of SPC, LVT and laminate floors so, please subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss out on this exciting episode when it drops.

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