If you own a home in America, odds are there's vinyl flooring in at least one of its rooms. That likelihood is bound to continue: According to the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, an industry trade group, nearly 85 million square yards of the stuff were laid in new homes in 1994 - enough to nearly cover the island of Manhattan. And that doesn't include the vinyl floors added during remodeling. Vinyl, or resilient, flooring is so popular because it's affordable and durable. In fact, its pattern usually goes out of style long before its surface wears out. Vinyl flooring isn't indestructible, however. Sliding back a chair can snag and rip it (photo 1), while a dropped can and other sharp objects can easily gouge the material. And high heels are notorious for puncturing the toughest flooring if there's even the slightest void in the subfloor beneath it. Fortunately, repairing vinyl flooring is easy, and requires little more than a utility knife. We'll cover the techniques for replacing sheet vinyl and vinyl tile - the two major varieties of vinyl floor. Here's where you begin.
Assessing the damage
How you repair vinyl flooring depends on what kind you have and how it's damaged. With vinyl tile, the best approach simply is to replace marred tiles . With sheet vinyl, eliminating damage requires fusing the surface or patching in new material. Small cuts and scratches can be permanently fused with liquid seam sealer, a clear compound that's available wherever vinyl flooring is sold. Clean the area with a soft cloth that's dipped in lacquer thinner, then squeeze in a thin bead of sealer. After the sealer has dried, the repair will be virtually invisible. For tears or burns, you'll have to cut out the damaged area and glue in a replacement patch; this type of work requires an extra piece of identical flooring and a technique called double cutting (which is covered in the next section. Installers often leave a few scrap pieces behind for just such an emergency. If there aren't any leftover pieces - and if the flooring isn't too old - you might find an identical piece at a flooring dealer. You can also lift a piece for your patch from inside a closet, under the refrigerator or in some other inconspicuous location.
Patching Sheet Vinyl
To repair flooring using the double-cutting technique, start by taping the replacement patch over the damaged area (photo 2). Be sure to position the patch so that its pattern aligns exactly with the pattern on the flooring. Place a straightedge (a steel rule or framing square works well) on top of the patch. Line it up right in the center of one of the pattern lines. Then use a utility knife to cut along the straightedge through both the patch and the flooring (photo 3). For best results, use a brand-new blade and hold the knife in a perfectly vertical position. Make the remaining cuts around the patch the same way, cutting along the flooring's pattern lines. Next, remove the patch and peel up the damaged section. If your floor is perimeter-bonded, the piece will come up easily because it isn't glued down. If it's fully adhered, scrape up the piece with a putty knife or scraper. Proceed by spreading mastic onto the plywood subfloor with a notched trowel. On perimeter-bonded floors, also lift up the flooring around the cutout and spread mastic under the edges (photo 4). Then press the patch into place (photo 5), cover it with wax paper and weigh it down with a few heavy books. Wait at least 24 hours for the mastic to dry. Then apply liquid seam sealer to all the joints around the patch (photo 6). The result will be nearly undetectable.
Replacing Vinyl Tile
The technique for replacing a damaged vinyl tile is even easier than double-cutting sheet vinyl. Begin by using an electric heat gun to warm the damaged tile and soften the adhesive underneath. Next, pry out pieces of the tile with a stiff-blade putty knife or dull wood chisel (photo A). Be careful not to damage any of the surrounding tiles Once you've removed the entire tile, scrape the subfloor clean of any residual adhesive or bits of broken tile (photo B). Then peel off the protective paper from the back of the replacement tile if it's a new adhesive-back tile (photo C), or apply mastic to the subfloor if you're using a tile you lifted from somewhere else. Finish by pressing the replacement tile into place (photo D). If you used mastic, cover the tile with wax paper and weigh it down. Be sure to wait 24 hours before traversing the newly repaired flooring.