January 30, 2023, by: Greca Fotopoulos
Smartcore is a low to mid price brand of waterproof rigid core vinyl flooring available exclusively from Lowes, and manufactured by USFloors* using their COREtec technology.
The brand retails between $2 – $4 per square foot and features four different collections, each with specific qualities to match specific needs.
The different collections are: SmartCore, SmartCore Ultra, SmartCore Pro and SmartCore Naturals.
In this Smartcore flooring report we take an in-depth look at each collection, and what sets it apart from the others.
* Note that in 2016 USFloors was acquired by Shaw Industries (the company behind Shaw Floors) and so SmartCore is essentially owned by Shaw.
SMARTCORE – SPECS AND STYLES
You can think of this as the standard SmartCore collection. It’s a type of rigid core EVP flooring called WPC (wood plastic composite) with a middle layer that keeps it stable and not prone to excessive expansion or contraction.
This wood polymer core layer is made from mixing wood fiber, plastic polymers and foaming agents, which gives the flooring a 100% waterproof core and a solid feel, but not so solid as to be completely inflexible like ceramic tile.
The other layers that make up the standard SmartCore flooring are a protective 12 mil wear layer that sits on top of the image layer – that is a printed design that authentically reproduces the look and texture of wood planks or stone tiles. The final bottom layer is an integrated acoustic pad, which acts as an underlayment.
The standard SmartCore collection has a decent range of wood look flooring. The wood representations are oak, maple, walnut, hickory and pine, and there are both classic and contemporary looks available including some quite dramatic multi-toned looks.
The stone look tile options are much fewer – just two at the moment – an attractive, generic stone aesthetic in either dark gray or light gray.
In terms of size the SmartCore planks are 5” x 48” and the tiles are 12” x 24”. Overall thickness for both wood look plank and stone look tile is 6.5 mm.
SMARTCORE ULTRA – SPECS AND STYLES
SmartCore Ultra is constructed in the same way as the standard SmartCore luxury vinyl plank, using the WPC core (wood plastic composite) method and a 12 mil wear layer. The added extras, hence the “ultra” designation, are an image layer with higher definition and a thicker integrated underlayment pad.
The SmartCore Ultra collection may well have more high-def images, but for us the actual range of design options available seems less exciting. There are around fourteen different designs – both wood look and stone look styles.
There are more stone look designs in the Ultra collection than in the standard collection, with a nice breadth of looks including warm tan travertine, dark gray slate and creamy sandstone options. The SmartCore Ultra wood look planks are mainly oak, maple and pine, in varied shades of brown to gray.
SmartCore Ultra planks are 6” x 48”, and the tiles are 12” x 24”. Ultra planks and tiles are 7.5 mm thick.
SMARTCORE PRO – SPECS AND STYLES
The SmartCore Pro collection is designed to withstand tougher traffic conditions – suitable for commercial environments or very busy households.
Firstly, it has a substantially tougher 20 mil wear layer; secondly, the waterproof middle layer is more robust with a SPC (stone plastic composite) core, made by combining limestone powder with plastic polymers.
This stone polymer core gives SmartCore Pro a significant advantage in terms of durability and dent protection; but conversely some say that SPC rigid core flooring feels less comfortable underfoot. We at Home Flooring Pros don’t think the difference is that significant.
What is more significant is the rather more delightful range of styles in the SmartCore Pro collection; there are both wood look and stone look designs, with some great contemporary and on-trend options.
We particularly like the weathered gray Covington Oak, which is designed to look like multiple width planks, and the Paramount tile made to look like a gorgeous patchwork of encaustic cement tile.
In terms of sizes, the SmartCore Pro collection has the widest wood look planks at 7” x 48”, and stone tile slabs at 12” x 24”. The planks and tiles in this collection are 6 mm thick.
SMARTCORE NATURALS – SPECS AND STYLES
SmartCore Naturals flooring is a considerably different type of rigid core flooring compared to the other SmartCore collections.
In fact, it is a kind of hybrid vinyl engineered wood, with a layer of actual hardwood or bamboo veneer on the top adhered to a waterproof vinyl core. The top veneer layer is also sealed with a protective coating.
The advantage of SmartCore Naturals is that you have the waterproof qualities of rigid core plus an actual hardwood or bamboo veneer on the top, so every single plank is entirely unique.
This is unlike the other SmartCore flooring where the decorative layers are digital images which, whilst fairly varied in each carton, do inevitably repeat (this is why it is advised to work form several different cartons when installing such flooring).
The SmartCore Naturals also retains another element of authenticity – whilst each plank is 5” wide, the lengths of the planks in each carton vary – as you would find with real hardwood flooring. SmartCore Naturals planks are around 6 mm thick.
Design-wise, there are currently twelve SmartCore Natural designs; all of them feature a wood veneer – with oak, hickory, maple and bamboo options; colors are generally natural to medium dark brown, with one gray stained oak option.
PROS & CONS OF SMARTCORE FLOORING
From our own testing and feedback reviews from customers we have drawn up a list of Smartcore pros and cons.
The advantages of SmartCore rigid core flooring are:
- good value product, retails at under $4 per square foot
- very good waterproof core
- four different collections to suit particular needs
- SmartCore Naturals offers actual hardwood veneer
- good visuals, wood look and stone look options available
- easy to install
- can be installed in all levels of the home, including basements
- can be installed in bathrooms, kitchen and laundry rooms
- not usually necessary to acclimate before installation
The disadvantages of SmartCore rigid core flooring are:
- not as scratch resistant as claimed
- SmartCore Naturals appears to dent more easily than other collections
INSTALLATION OF SMARTCORE FLOORING
SmartCore flooring is generally suitable for DIY installation, though we would advise that if you choose to do this job on your own that you take time to read the installation instructions carefully, and fully prepare your room before you start.
There are detailed instructions available on the SmartCore website.
WHAT INSTALLATION METHOD CAN I USE WITH SMARTCORE?
SmartCore flooring can be installed using a floating floor method or a glue down method depending on where your room is.
The floating floor method is advised for installations in basements, below grade level; conversely in rooms that are exposed to intense sunlight for long periods of time SmartCore should be installed with the glue down method.
WHERE CAN I INSTALL SMARTCORE?
As mentioned above, SmartCore flooring can be installed in all rooms and on all levels of your home, as long as you pay close attention to using the correct installation method.
HOW DO I PREPARE MY ROOM BEFORE INSTALLATION?
As you would expect, you need to ensure that your subfloor is clean, dry and level. The main cause of poor finish results and rigid core flooring problems are due to bad subfloor preparation.
Like all rigid core flooring, SmartCore claim that their flooring helps diminish subfloor imperfections. In our experience, this is not always true, and so we strongly advise that you start with a very well prepared and very level subfloor for best results.
If necessary, apply a floor leveling compound first before installing your SmartCore.
SmartCore can be installed over most hard surfaced subfloors including concrete, wood and ceramic tile. Care needs to be taken to ensure that moisture and pH levels of the subfloor are in the specified range – any excess moisture in the subfloor can lead to mold and mildew growth, and will void your warranty.
DO I NEED TO ACCLIMATE SMARTCORE FLOORING?
One of the much touted advantages of rigid core flooring is that it does not need to be acclimated in the home environment before installation, meaning that as soon as your subfloor is ready you can get started on setting out your flooring.
This is true too for SmartCore, but the manufacturers advise that you do install it in a climate controlled environment, maintaining a temperature of between 55°- 85°F.
It is also recommended that your SmartCore flooring is stored within this temperature range too; so, if ahead of your installation the floor has been stored in extremely cold or extremely hot temperatures, then you should allow a few days of acclimation at the ideal temperature installation.
Note also, that after installation, your rooms should be kept at a temperature of between 32 and 100°F to ensure best performance.
CAN SMARTCORE BE INSTALLED WITH RADIANT HEATING?
Yes, you can install SmartCore over subfloors that have hydronic radiant heating systems. However, the heating should never be set at more than 85°F, and you should closely follow the very specific installation instructions for best results.
ANYTHING ELSE I NEED TO KNOW
All SmartCore flooring has an integrated padded bottom layer that acts like underlayment.
However, for added soundproofing and thermal insulation, the manufacturer recommends using SmartCore Soft & Sound Underlayment. This product will also provide added protection against moisture and help with leveling subfloors.
Finally, there are a range of matching trims and moldings for all SmartCore floors to help give your floor project a professional looking finish.
CLEANING AND MAINTENANCE
You should keep your rigid core flooring clean with regular vacuuming, using a cleaning head that is suitable for hard flooring surfaces. Follow this up with a damp mop when necessary.
All of the SmartCore floors are designed to be waterproof – but that does not mean you can flood a room or leave water standing in puddles for hours on end. Ensure that stains and spills are dried up quickly.
SmartCore flooring does have scratch resistance – and in the case of SmartCore Pro added dent resistance; but it is not completely scratch or dent proof – and like all flooring, sensible measures can be taken to ensure durability. These include:
- using area rugs, and doormats in high traffic areas to avoid tracking dirt and grit through your home (ensure the rug backing is non-staining)
- vacuuming regularly
- trimming pet nails regularly
- adding felt pads or coasters to the bottom of tables, chairs and other moveable furniture
- moving heavy furniture items carefully, not dragging them over your floor
Rigid core flooring has been known to discolor, fade and expand out of shape when subjected to long periods of direct sunlight. We recommend you use drapes and blinds in very sunny rooms.
PRICES AND OPTIONS
SmartCore flooring is available exclusively at Lowes. Standard SmartCore retails at $2.00 – $2.90 per square foot; SmartCore Ultra retails at $3.30 – $ 3.40 per square foot; SmartCore Pro retails at $3.50 – $3.70 per square foot; and SmartCore Naturals retails at $3.50 – $3.80 per square foot.
In comparative terms SmartCore flooring is in the low to mid range price level for rigid core flooring. Here’s how it compares to other vinyl plank flooring brands:
|Brand||Price per square foot|
|MSI||$1.60 – $3.50|
|Islander||$1.70 – $3.85|
|Smartcore||$2.00 – $3.70|
|Newton Vinyl||$2.00 – $6.00|
|NuCore||$2.35 – $3.80|
|Congoleum Triversa||$2.50 – $3.50|
|LifeProof||$2.79 – $4.39|
|Armstrong Luxe Rigid Core||$2.79 – $4.39|
|Mannington Adura Flex||$3.00 – $3.50|
|Mannington Adura Max||$3.00 – $6.00|
|Proximity Mills Vinyl||$3.00 – $7.00|
|Mohawk SolidTech||$3.50 – $6.25|
|Mannington Adura Rigid||$3.60 – $4.60|
|Pergo Extreme||$3.99 – $5.99|
|COREtec Plus||$3.80 – $7.99|
|Karndean Korlok||$4.50 – $7.00|
|Armstrong Pryzm||$4.90 – $8.00|
Customer Smartcore flooring reviews have been largely positive for SmartCore flooring; most customers like the way it looks and feels, and most people found it relatively easy to install (though not totally simple).
The biggest complaints have been that the SmartCore Naturals dents more easily than the other SmartCore collections – this is probably due to having a veneer layer; and that generally, the flooring can get scratched – perhaps the marketing is not clear that protective measures need to be followed to minimize this risk.
Here is a selection of typical reviews:
“We installed the flooring ourselves. It was more difficult to cut than other flooring we’ve used, but seems to be better quality. We love the texture – it doesn’t feel fake.” – Danni
“It was quite hard to lock the pieces together. It’s not as easy to do as it looks in the installation video on the SmartCore website, and you definitely need two people!” – Ruth
“We tested samples of SmartCore Naturals and Ultra including leaving in water, using chemicals to clean, and using a hammer. They both did good, but the Ultra did best with the hammer. I reckon because the Naturals collection is actually engineered hardwood, not just vinyl, it dents much easier.” – Max
“I’m mostly happy… We installed SmartCore Naturals in our lake house. It looks fantastic! But it dents and scratches VERY easily! And I didn’t know it would fade with the sunshine – the lake house gets lots of sun and already there is a discolored patch where I put a rug.” – Celia
“I totally recommend SmartCore flooring. I have installed it in my own house and other houses of my family. I keep installing it because it’s easy to do and waterproof. I have 4 kids and 3 dogs, and so far the floor looks fine!” – PD
“We love the look of the flooring and my contractor said it was pretty easy to install. If we had to find a negative it’s that it is not 100% scratch resistant, but we knew that so we’ve been careful and the floor still looks beautiful after a couple of months. Everyone that sees the floor compliments it!” – Trey
About the Author:
Greca is the lead style writer at Home Flooring Pros (more), with a BA in Technical Art, she’s focused on flooring trends, flooring ideas, and flooring brand reviews.
“There’s nothing more satisfying than creating a home that you love. The hardest thing about this job is trying not to covet all the great floors I get to review; if I could remodel my home every month, I would!”