As an expert in providing heat welding help and training, I am often brought into a commercial flooring project when a problem arises on a heat welded resilient floor. Usually, I am asked to visit a facility when there is a noticeable problem with heat welded flooring seams post installation and after the customer has moved into the space.
Typical visible issues, with heat weld floor joints, range from subtle floor seam gaps to completely split seams on, what should be, a seamless resilient floor. Openings in the heat weld seams can cause major problems because it allows bacteria and other germs to hunker down in flooring cracks and crevices. An otherwise sterile environment might be compromised when a floor’s heat weld seams fail. In addition, the compromised floor will take on a dull, dingy appearance because of the dirt deposits that get trapped in the faulty seams during floor cleaning. These are all great reasons to master the fine art of heat welding, or hire someone who is a master at heat welding resilient flooring seams, before completing a large commercial or institutional flooring project.
Widely used in hospitals and other health care facilities, heat welded resilient flooring hermetically seals PVC and non-PVC sheet or linoleum flooring in sterile operating rooms, laboratories and critical patient care spaces so it’s best to get the weld rods thermally fused correctly the first time because making repairs around a busy medical facility schedule requires more time and interrupts the customer’s business. When the process is executed correctly resulting in no gaps in the resulting monolithic flooring surface, a sterile floor can be achieved when the seams are properly heat welded.
Heat welding is a straightforward process that requires a great deal of precision and practice. When equipped with the correct tools, mastering the art of heat welding seams on a commercial vinyl floor is within reach of most quality flooring installers.
Critical Rules to Mastering the Fine Art of Heat Welding:
1. Consistently work through heat welding procedures, in order and in accordance with each flooring manufacturer’s heat weld specifications. Instructions for tools, temperature and rod size vary with each flooring brand and model. This means that you must read the directions on each and every heat weld job!
2. Practice heat welding technique on scraps of flooring material, specific to the job on which you are working, before welding seams on the installed sheet floor. Do this on-site so your technique is appropriate to the environment of your customer’s floor. All environmental factors influence the outcome when welding and trimming, including room temperature, slab temperature and humidity.
3. Cut seams NET, or slightly gapped UNIFORMLY, to accommodate an auto groover! Failure to do so will result in welded joint failure and an unhappy customer -facilities manager, building owner, etc.
4. Thermally fuse, or melt, the vinyl welding rod so it fits uniformly on each side of the seam and underneath the seam. This creates the needed strength at the welded floor joints to hold up in environments where extreme use and heavy rolling loads are common.
5. Avoid contamination and NEVER groove seams until you are ready to weld! When the time is right, center grooves on the seam line. Depth of the groove should be approximately 2/3 of the overall resilient flooring material thickness so that the finished groove provides material underneath and on both sides of the seam line for optimal fusion. Important note: If flooring manufacturer instructions indicate a different groove thickness, follow the flooring brand information.
6. Use welding gun tools that deliver the flooring manufacturer’s required temperature for fusing the rod to their flooring. (reminder: Read flooring installation instructions!) The throat of the heat weld speed nozzle is where the weld rod melts. It is critical that the speed nozzle be the correct diameter for the welding rod and the nozzle’s throat, behind the nozzle’s rod feed port, should be a little smaller than the width of the groove. This will keep the heat from the welding gun focused in the groove and will avoid “glazing” the flooring on each side of the seam. “Glazing” makes the flooring at the seam appear to be glossier than the rest of the floor. See rule number 2 – Practice on a scrap flooring so that you marry YOUR speed with the temperature of welding gun; you should visibly see a nice “wash” or slightly distorted area at the juncture of the welded rod with the flooring on each side of the seam as you weld. If you do not see this wash, the rod can be easily pulled from the groove.
7. Trim welded seams with a sharp spatula knife designed for skiving welded seams or similar tools engineered for the same purpose. Use a trim plate to take the bulk of the excess rod off. THEN WAIT! Wait for at least 30-minutes before making the finish trim. Welding rod has a natural tendency to shrink as it cools. With too short of a wait time, this contraction will leave a slight concave at the trimmed rod eventually becoming a haven for holding dirt, so have patience and wait.
If you love boring flooring like I do, you might want to learn some history about the fine art of heat welding flooring seams…
Heat welding made its debut in 1960s and 1970s in the United States with welded vinyl sheet flooring and welding rods produced by a, then, little European company known as Tarkett. The goal for heat welded seams – to position PVC sheet flooring so it could compete with other “seamless” floors in the marketplace such as epoxy, poured polyurethane and terrazzo.
Heat welded PVC flooring was embraced by healthcare facilities where there was a need for a germ-free environment in hospital treatment and patient rooms.
In the early 1980s, Armstrong introduced a line of homogeneous sheet floor, Medintech, developed as an easy-to-clean, long-lasting commercial flooring solution that required heat welding at the sheet seams and at coved joints for a seamless finished floor. This monolithic, uninterrupted floor provided superior infection control to meet the needs of medical, institutional and technical facilities, for which the product was named. This hard working flooring found great success in the 1980s and continues to evolve and hold strong through the start of the new millenium. Interesting fact – When Medintech was first introduced, Armstrong would only sell this new line of flooring to suppliers that participated in and passed their heat welding certification course.
Forty years after it’s introduction into the flooring market, welded seams on resilient sheet flooring continues to be an ideal solution for the growing number of healthcare and senior living facilities throughout the United States of America and worldwide.
Today, most commercial flooring makers, including Tarkett, Armstrong, Mannington, Roppe, UPO, Altro, Forbo, Gerflor, Shaw, Parterre, Mohawk, CBC America, Lonseal and more, make vinyl, linoleum and other sheet flooring goods that require the expertise of flooring installers to master the fine art of heat welding flooring seams.
Floor prep is critical and the rules are different for a successful glued down resilient flooring installation when using a spray, tape or back-rolled adhesive system instead of the tried and true trowel spread liquid broom method.
It’s interesting that people are reluctant to change in a world where change is fast and constant. The flooring industry is no different in their reluctance to embrace new flooring products and installation methods. I am the first to admit that change is hard and I am often reluctant to alter my way of doing things, but part of my job is to clearly understand and test new resilient flooring materials, adhesives and tools to find both good and bad attributes, then develop procedures to best prepare installers for success using new resilient flooring materials and procedures.
Spray, tape- factory and field applied, and back-rolled adhesive systems were introduced to the resilient flooring market several years ago as a cleaner, easier way to install sheet flooring. Reduced mess and faster flooring install time for these new glue-down methods attracted flooring installers and facility owners alike but after a brief run at working with this new category of adhesives, most flooring installers became frustrated, despite the benefits of the new adhesive, when they encountered telegraphing or bond problems they didn’t face with trowel applied wet adhesives to lay new sheet vinyl. Instead of trying to figure out how to work with this new generation of adhesives, end users and general contractors, along with flooring technicians, began to push away from these products because the finished LVT or rubber flooring didn’t turn out as expected.
There is always a trade-off when a new product, like quick-dry spray adhesive, is introduced as a new way to lay glue-down resilient flooring. Adjustments need to be made to routines to accommodate the nuances of the new adhesive systems and an understanding gained of when and where to use these adhesives for flooring installations. The systems we are discussing- adhesive tape, spray, and the process of back-rolling traditional adhesive- have a variety of features that make them advantageous in some situations but not all.
VCT Installation with Spray Adhesive
Correct spray adhesive pattern
Dry time for these methods is shorter than wet adhesive making it an excellent option for facilities such as hospitals when a renovation space needs to quickly be ready for use or when a floor requires heat welding at the seams that can be done right after the floor is in place, saving time for the flooring contractor by allowing more work to be completed in a day. A new flooring installation can be done and in-use by the owner of the facility quicker than normal with a roll-back, spray or, tape-on adhesive process.
When vapor emissions from the concrete slab exceed the limits dictated by conventional flooring adhesive that are trowel-applied to the subfloor, these newer ways to apply adhesive will often perform well despite the higher vapor emissions. These limits will be specified on each brand of flooring adhesive so read the detailed information prior to use.
Excessive moisture is another condition in which performance for this new generation of flooring adhesives excels. If moisture in a porous concrete substrate exceeds the limits for traditional adhesives this new group of adhesives can often withstand these limits and bond the floor securely to the substrate. Again, read product specifications and adhere to the adhesive manufacturer’s guidelines.
Clearly understanding the features & benefits of back rolled, taped or sprayed adhesive is critical to a flooring installer’s success with these products. Trying to ignore these newer adhesive options is futile so for all resilient flooring installers- you have no choice but to add these systems to your arsenal of flooring installation systems.
Bumps & blemishes in finished floor due to lack of prep work
If you haven’t worked with tape, spray or rolled adhesives, you may be wondering what to look out for and how to use these newer adhesives for a successful VCT or LVT installation. Standard floor covering adhesives are spread with a trowel and have earned the industry nickname “liquid broom”. This has lead to a lack of clean up prep before applying adhesive to the sub floor that is not as critical with the traditional application of wet adhesives where bits of debris can be broken up and mixed right into the fresh adhesive. With the new generation of adhesive materials, vacuuming-up dust, especially at the edges of the room, is a must for proper adhesion of the flooring sheet, tile or planks. End results without removing dust will be a failed floor bond so clean up is critical.
The welcomed “click” of a metal trowel that easily identifies protrusion on the underfloor such as dried clumps of drywall compound is appreciated by any hard surface flooring installer. It affords the installer the luxury of removing that protruding obstacle with a quick scrape using the back of his sturdy trowel. A couple of passes with the trowel using a liquid broom adhesive will quickly roll the dislodged material into the spreading puddle of adhesive. Not the case with the neater application of tape, spray or when back-rolling adhesive. These adhesive applications behave differently so prior removal of stuck-on construction debris from the subfloor is a must otherwise the result will be dimples, bumps and blemishes that show through the finished floor once it’s fully cured and in use by the end user. This will lead to call-backs and claims that any contractor wants to avoid so taking the time to do thorough clean up on the front end of the flooring installation will save time on the back end and you’ll have a happy customer.
Set a new floor prep protocol to achieve a successful resilient floor installation with roll-on, tape and spray adhesives. Use a smoother-tool or spatula as you methodically walk the floor to identify obstructions on the sub floor and with a putty knife remove them as you go. For eliminating loose dirt and dust, a back pac vacuum is ideal for unencumbered ease of getting around the room, especially at the edges and into corners that harbor dust and debris, but any strong vacuum will work with that can reach into corners. Then before rolling out or spraying down adhesive to glue the floor in place, use a damp mop to latch onto any latent dust that can easily become a bond breaker. Use a two-bucket system to make quick work of this step and to always using clean water to best remove dirt. Remember, there is no liquid broom associated with these new generation adhesive systems.
Spray adhesives are easy to handle but do require some finesse so practice before you are on the job to apply the sprayed liquid evenly and in a thin layer. Uneven overspray will show through on the finished floor as bulges and bumps. Too little spray and bond
won’t hold. See if the brand you are working with has a visual sample that you can reference for the correct amount of adhesive per resilient tile or per square inch. When back rolling adhesive that is typically applied with a trowel, consistency of thickness and coverage is key as well as open time so be prepared to apply adhesive at a steady pace then roll the sheet vinyl into place right away. For tape style adhesives, applying tape in a uniform layer doesn’t bunch up which will telegraph through on the finished floor.
If a smoother or two-bucket system is not part of your installer arsenal, you will soon be able to find these flooring install tools at www.1877floorguy.com/Installer Tools . Changing techniques for installing resilient flooring is a bit easier when Reggie does his job and runs to tell it!
When I hear hype that calls out a lack of high-quality flooring installers as a crisis, I feel compelled to add that this “crisis” is not new, it’s been around for years. I don’t see it so much as a crisis but as a culture of low bid gets the job.
Flooring trade magazines are talking a lot these days about a lack of qualified flooring installation labor as an industry-wide problem. Floor Covering Installer Magazine has posted on Facebook about the “Installation Crisis” with a poll they put out on Dec 6th and subsequent articles in FCI magazine. In the spirit of full disclosure, it is only fair that I remind everyone that I only write articles when I have first-hand experience and a great deal of passion about a topic. Having worked in my family’s retail flooring business in the 1970s and run my own retail flooring company from 1995-2007, qualified flooring installation is a topic on which I have a lot to say.
Quality Installation Team
In order for flooring installers to install a floor correctly, they need to charge more, not less, per square foot of flooring. I like to say, “Good work is not cheap and cheap work is not good.” It’s hard to keep a quality workforce when the quality of the labor is not valued so many floor covering installers do piece work and perform as independent contractors, trying to get jobs done fast so they can move on to the next job in hopes of turning a profit. Tom Jennings said it well in his article, Poorly Trained Installers Affect Everyone’s Income,
“While comparable product is available at all stores, when the consumer is spending their paycheck, they will willingly spend more for services when you show them the value of a quality (flooring) installation compared to substandard offerings.” (July/August 2016 edition, Premier Flooring Retailer publication)
Reggie Hill – 1979
I learned this about 45 years ago when I worked in my family’s business in Sulphur Springs, Texas. In our family-owned flooring store, we gave customers a one-year guarantee on labor when they bought a new sheet vinyl or vinyl tile floor from us. In reality we provided a lifetime guarantee because regardless of when we installed a floor, we always responded to a complaint no matter how long it had been since we laid the floor. One day a flooring sales representative came into our store and wanted us to start selling a unique flooring product with a high price tag. During the course of our conversation, he pointed out that customers will pay for quality that goes above and beyond the norm. He likened his top quality product to our store’s excellent reputation for quality flooring installations and our unofficial Lifetime guarantee. He asked why we only charged for a 1-year warranty when we provided our customers with much more. I didn’t have a good answer – and those of you who know me, know that doesn’t happen often. As time went on, we found out that this salesman was right. We increased our mark on labor and found that our customers would pay for it because they saw value in the workmanship of our labor force.
Since that day, I have never considered being “market price” for labor. When I was in the retail flooring business, my labor estimates were two to four times higher than market labor prices. I had my own installation crew that were paid an hourly rate and had benefits like vacation time, installation training and overtime pay. My rate of callbacks to completed flooring jobs was always minimal because the job was done right the first time.
So into September 2016 the “crisis” of poorly trained flooring installers continues to be a topic in flooring industry publications. FCI magazine did a sit down for their Industry Q & A column by Michael Chmielecki. He sat down with Jon Namaba, FCI editorial director and industry veteran. Jon hit the nail on the head when he said,
“We need to create a future for these (flooring) installers, whether they go on to become a subcontractor or an employee—they need to have a career path.”
Now we are talking! I whole-heartedly agree with Jon. To create a successful business in flooring sales and installation it’s important to develop and nurture a strong team. Here are some points that I believe are critical in building and maintaining a workforce that takes pride in excellent workmanship in order to take your business to the next level.
First, define your target market, what they want and what you need to do as a company to succeed in your chosen market. If your flooring market segment will value good installation services, keep reading the following steps.
Hire full-time employees to install the flooring your company sells and treat them well. This allows you to retain control over the finished, installed floor and best ensure quality workmanship. If hiring your own installation staff isn’t possible, apply the same type of rules for subcontractors to follow when they install resilient and other types of flooring for you.
Clean, organized work vehicle streamlines efficiency on the job.
Set standards for your flooring installation team including neatness of personal appearance, cleanliness of on-the-job vehicles, positive attitude, polite manners, exemplary skill set, good condition of tools and participation in ongoing training.
Pay your field employees, who install floors in customers’ homes and businesses, by the hour just as you would for any in-house staff and don’t pressure them to rush when they are putting in a customer’s floor but emphasize the goal of getting the job done right.
Compensate individual workers according to skill level. Pay well up and down the scale from helper to craftsman.
Provide training for flooring technicians at the company’s expense so the team’s skills stay fresh. Pay installation technicians while they are at training and for their travel time & expenses.
Set goals and incentives for excellence in job performance and for putting new skills to work. Create a standard for Excellence in workmanship and do not compromise.
Make installers accountable for their work.
Provide employment benefits such as health care, vacation, overtime, bonuses and 401K.
Provide ongoing installation training to flooring Installer team.
Teach staff how to make the most of their benefits. Treating good employees well will come back to you in fewer installation claims and increased revenue.
Listen to your installation staff. Address issues they encounter in the field during installation and relating to vehicle organization or work schedules. Take and, when appropriate, implement employee suggestions for how to improve job-related routines.
Create a culture of family by recognizing birthdays, anniversaries and include families with an annual company party or picnic.
Continuously streamline installation crew routines to maximize time on jobs by standardizing
vehicle organization, job site protocols and how store and care for tools so they are always accessible and ready for use.
Involve families for Company picnic or party to promote a friendly work environment.
Plan to spend at least half of the company’s sales income for installation training, and maintenance or purchase of uniforms, vehicles, tools.
Price jobs to make a profit. That’s why you’re in business. When providing price quotes to a customer for a new installed floor, calculate labor charges at 2x your labor expenses, including employee benefits. This will ensure a profit.
This recipe will soon not only solve your company’s “installation crisis” but will bring new recruits to you via your current staff when they are happy in their job. When a respected employee suggests someone to join your company, the candidate is likely qualified for the job and in search of a career path.
In closing, my response to the poll conducted by www.fcimag.com regarding the installation crisis is number 3. Not enough value being placed on qualified installers.
Many complex flooring problems can be avoided if one key step is included during the installation process, or rather before the flooring installer gets started gluing, fitting or cutting flooring material. What is this crucial step? Read the Installation Instructions!
Makers of floors, flooring adhesives, patching and leveling compounds and concrete moisture mitigation systems have a common thread in that each, on their branded product labels, inserts, packaging and/or websites, provide documented instructions for flooring installation. Most of these instructions, for successfully laying a floor, share the same logic in their detailed, easy to read, step by step directions that must be followed to ensure a quality installation of resilient flooring.
The directions, that accompany new sheet vinyl, lvt plank or vct flooring, are created after extensive research and development including industry standard tests, in-house and field applications, and then a broader beta test to best ensure that directions can be correctly interpreted before going to the marketplace. This is true for all types of floors including vinyl, cork, rubber and non-pvc floors. Typical hard surface flooring instructions will include detailed specs for adhesives or tools to use in the installation process. These important documents only hold true value when the person contracted to install the floor reads them, prior to installation. Floor covering installation instructions are considered the ‘Holy Grail of the flooring industry.’ Manufacturers of flooring material will reject a defective claim when it’s evident that the flooring installer did not follow their published installation instructions. For a flooring company to figure out if directions were followed during installation, some investigating must be done. That’s where I come in.
Black cutback adhesive must be removed before installing new resilient floor.
Four different adhesives were found under new non-pvc sheet.
On a recent assignment to look at, what was claimed to be, a defective non-pvc sheet floor due to bonding issues, I found that four different types of adhesives were evident in defined trowel ridges when I pulled back a section of flooring. Among the adhesives was a black emulsion that typically signifies black cutback adhesive- which up until 1984 contained asbestos and post 1984 proved ineffective as a water-based adhesive without the asbestos, so either way it was bad. Thankfully, the cutback adhesive on this floor did not contain asbestos according to the laboratory test that were subsequently done. Based on evidence, found while inspecting the subfloor and underside of the sheet flooring, it was apparent that the contractor had applied carpet adhesive (definitely not recommended) over three other existing adhesives and he failed to mechanically remove pre-existing adhesive. None of this is in accordance with manufacturer install directions. After reading, not one but, three sets of flooring-related installation instructions from the flooring manufacturer, adhesive supplier and floor-patch compound company, it was discovered that the recommended adhesive had actually been purchased yet was not used. None of the four adhesives found on the underside of the laid non-pvc sheet matched the recommended adhesive. With this knowledge in hand, we were able to determine that nothing was wrong with the flooring material and that the cause of adhesive bond failure was that the wrong adhesive was used for this flooring job. Ironically, even the incorrectly applied premium carpet adhesive stated on the product label stated, “Restriction: DO NOT install over adhesive residue including cutback.”
Over-use of spray adhesive resulted in visible bumps in finished floor.
Actual spray adhesive pattern on floor indicates spray is too heavy.
Spray Adhesive label illustrates required spray pattern for floor install.
On a separate project, involving a new vinyl sheet floor in a hospital, I was asked to investigate small bumps that were showing up on the new floor, creating a bubbled texture in many areas of the healthcare facility. The hospital administrators were understandably unhappy with the appearance of the resilient floor they had just purchased. In order to take a close look at what was going on, I had to cut into the floor a pull back a section. What I found was that the bumps showing on the face of the sheet vinyl were due to clumps of adhesive where it had been applied too heavily during floor installation. Had the flooring installer read the instructions for the spray adhesive used on this flooring project, he would have seen the photo, on the can of spray adhesive, illustrating the what the spray pattern should look like when the right amount of adhesive is used. This photo alone would have been an excellent guide for the flooring installer if only he had taken the time to read the manufacturer provided installation information before starting the job.
Overlaid floor wears more quickly at telegraphing joints from floor tiles underneath.
When laying new resilient sheet over existing vct floor tiles, results are not always good due to existing conditions.
Everywhere I go I can’t help but look at floors and speculate about a facility’s maintenance routines or techniques used by a flooring contractor when installing a floor based on the evidence I see when I glance around a room. When it’s appropriate, I like to take a closer look and capture some photos. In one instance, while attending a seminar in a municipal building, I couldn’t help but notice the pattern of pre-existing 12-inch flooring tiles, likely VCT, showing through sheet vinyl flooring laid over top of it. I don’t know if the facility manager put in a complaint to the flooring manufacturer but if they did, it was likely denied because most resilient sheet flooring product comes with a set of instructions that includes a disclaimer about new flooring material being installed over old floors. Flooring industry standards typically places the liability on the flooring contractor, retailer or installer when a new sheet vinyl floor is put over top of an existing floor. The recommendation is to remove old flooring material and adhesive before laying a new floor. The language in flooring manufacturer literature is more specific than that and contains certain conditions that must be met for substrates to achieve a successful flooring application.
What is the best way for industry technicians to eliminate complaints, callbacks and claims from customers? It’s simple, ALWAYS READ THE INSTRUCTIONS before installing any floor!
When a floor fails and the consumer signed off on a waiver, who is responsible?
First, let me make it clear…I am not an attorney and have no plans to offer legal advice in this blog regarding “release of liability” as it pertains to the installation of hard surface flooring, or any flooring as far as that is concerned.
Let’s start with any resilient flooring product. A close look at products on the market reveals two detailed documents that accompany any brand of resilient flooring and are critical to the long-term expectations, defining responsibility and indicating exclusions as it pertains to the flooring material. These documents are the Manufacturer’s Warranty and Flooring Installation Instructions.
Manufacturer’s Warranty defines, in detail, parameters, terms and exclusions including liability limitations of the flooring maker and the process for a consumer to submit a complaint during the time that the flooring is covered by the warranty. This document can sometimes be confusing due to the legalese embedded in the body of the warranty, but nonetheless, it is the blueprint for expectations for that flooring product.
Printed Installation Instructions is the second important document for flooring products and should be considered a road map, that shows the most direct route for long-term performance and success after the flooring is installed. Manufacturers of floor covering put a great deal of effort int creating floor covering install directions. They collaborate with flooring industry associations in order to adhere to guidelines established by governing bodies within the flooring industry. Through laboratory tests and field installation trials, they are able to create a set of procedures in compliance with industry best practices and best for installing their specific flooring product. Everyone involved in the process of buying, specifying or installing a new floor, commercial or residential, should read and become familiar with the flooring manufacturer’s Installation Instructions before the floor is put in place. Depending on the size of the flooring job, involved parties might include a General Contractor, Architect, Interior Designer, End User Consumer, Facility Manager, Flooring Installer and/or Flooring Contractor. Flooring Installation Instructions should be considered the Holy Grail as it pertains to handling, installing and maintaining a new floor. Now why would anyone think that getting “Sign Off” would remove the burden of liability and responsibility for conditions that don’t adhere to the flooring warranty or installation procedures?
As I work as a troubleshooter for major resilient flooring manufacturers to resolve problems that arise on large jobs, I find, after discussing project details regarding moisture, slab preparation, pre-existing flooring removal, ambient conditions, job site conditions, etc., that more often than not, a critical step or steps of the flooring manufacturer’s printed literature has been modified, compromised or totally ignored. When the flooring contractor or installer is questioned about such omissions or changes, the response is often, “I got sign off”, indicating that it was, from their viewpoint, ok to proceed with the job even though they could not adhere to flooring installation requirements.
Pattern of existing floor shows through the new floor even though the underlying material should have been removed according to flooring manufacturer instructions.
Excessive moisture coming up from the slab beneath the floor due to vapor emissions that exceed allowable level.
“Gambling and expecting a waiver to absolve anyone of any liability is not a path you want to travel. The guys who make out on that deal when arguments ensue are the attorneys and us.” This statement, by Lew Migliore, flooring industry veteran and inspector, is spot on! (The Commercial Flooring Report, Volume 64, Waivers and Liens, October 2013)
In a story, Do It Right or Walk Away by Michael H. Dean, published in Hardwood Floors Magazine (December 2010/January 2011), a flooring installer’s failure to address subfloor deviation of 3-6 inches on a residential job created major problems post-installation even though the Installer felt comfortable completing the job because he had the homeowner sign a release of liability. The release cited face defects on the value-grade flooring material, deficiencies in the home’s subfloor and that directions for installing the floor were not packaged with the engineered wood material.
You guessed it, off to court they went. The Flooring Installer and the firm that hired the Installer came to court with an attorney. The homeowner, who was suing the Installer for the cost to remove the problematic floor, level the subfloor and install new engineered hardwood, represented themselves in court.
The outcome? A set of flooring installation instructions, located online by the homeowner, clearly
stated that the subfloor should not deviate more than 3/16 of an inch in ten feet. The judge ruled that the homeowners, who were not experts in flooring, hired a professional to do job and the professional flooring installers wre thereby liable. The Installation company was instructed to pay $16,000 in damages to the homeowner and they were not to collect $2,000 remaining on the installation fee from the homeowner. The judge emphasized that no matter what the owners said, signed or authorized, they were NOT experts in flooring and the installer should have done the job the right way or walked away.
The purpose of this blog is to help flooring contractors and installers see the pitfalls of getting “sign off” to cut corners on a flooring job. Often, the “sign off” is not challenged because a consumer believes they have given up their right to retribution. In reality, even with a seemingly iron clad release, the flooring installer or contractor may still find themselves being sued and having to appear in court because instructions for proper installation, based on the flooring manufacturer’s literature, were not followed.
In my professional opinion, it is very simple- If you cannot complete a flooring installation according the flooring manufacturer’s printed instructions, then don’t do it. Remember, you never lost money on a job you didn’t do.
Most of my travels focus on two phases of resilient hard surface flooring installation – 1. while the floor is being installed; 2. after the installation is complete and the floor is in use. The later, which involves a review of maintenance procedures, is where I spend more than 70 percent of my time on troubleshooting issues related to flooring performance. More often than not, the big problem is dirty floors that are perceived, by the owner, as damaged or defective. If I am asked to be on-site, I know that the manager of the facility is quite unhappy so my goal is to see where improvements can be made to create a satisfied customer.
When the floor is just dirty and not being properly cleaned with a mop and bucket, the most effective change is a switch from a single janitorial bucket with wringer to a two bucket mopping system however, when faced with a dilemma such as this, I review a list of criteria to determine if the floor is being cleaned according to flooring industry protocol and, more specifically, flooring manufacturer directions.
Criteria to review for a floor that just won’t come clean:
Use of entry mats at exterior doors
Amount and aggressiveness of traffic on the floor
Frequency of current cleaning routine
Method of cleaning- ie: broom, vacuum, mop and bucket, auto-scrub
Type of mop- microfiber or cotton mop
Bucket being used – one or two section bucket
Condition of equipment
Floor cleaner product- brand, category of cleaner, dilution ratio in use
Flooring manufacturer’s printed instructions for compliance
If it is determined that the maintenance staff is not using a two bucket system, with either two independent buckets or one complete trolley system that holds two individual buckets, stop here and institute a change before getting too involved in the other criteria. Dingy water and dirt particles sit in a lone bucket and are slopped onto the floor over and over again. Without a separate bucket for clean cleaning solution, tiny bits of debris build up and entangle in the mop which puts the dirt back onto the floor with the each slather. Repeatedly cleaning with murky water will not get any floor clean. What’s worse is that it may cause damage. Over time the dirty water migrates into the pores, seams, texture and joints of installed resilient flooring, depositing small dirt particles into cracks, crevices and seams. Eventually streamlined joints fill with dirt causing pressure to push apart seams revealing unsightly grunge and allowing water to penetrate into the flooring joints. Over time this will cause adhesive, used to secure resilient flooring such as sheet vinyl or LVT, to fail as water and dirt migrate into the compromised seam or joint. This embedded slurry of dirt and moisture creates a haven for germs, bacteria and infectious disease, which is a huge problem, especially in health care environments.
Using a two-bucket system and changing out soiled water for clean water frequently will greatly improve cleaning results and can save resilient sheet flooring or LVT floors from failing due to dirty slurry buildup. For best results, pair a 2-sided bucket with a microfiber mops, that are changed and washed routinely. Microfiber works harder than cotton mops with greater ability to absorb water and hold dirt during mopping and the washable microfiber mop heads are easier to get clean than cotton. You will find that the floor lives happily ever after and everyone in the facility with the floor is healthier and happier when initiative is taken to institute a successful two-bucket mopping system.
A frequently encountered and commonly misused phrase about flooring is “My floor is a no maintenance floor!” Apprehensive that I missed something earth shattering one night while sleeping, I decided to research 10 major US flooring manufacturers who make luxury vinyl tile. LVT is not the only type of flooring referred to as ‘no-maintenance’ however it is one of the most frequent so that is the focus of this flooring topic however these rules apply to other types of resilient flooring as well. My homework confirmed that I did not miss anything at all and there is still no such thing as a no maintenance floor… whew! Based on my existing knowledge, my research with LVT brands and a recent conversation with Terry Fitzpatrick, who recently retired after a long tenure as Manager of Technical Services for Mannington Mills, I came up with a consolidated list of 6 MUST-DO items for a low (not a no) maintenance LVT floor.
A footnote from my talk with Terry Fitzpatrick, who has been a close friend since my days at Mannington Mills where he was my Supervisor, he shared a story with me about a gentleman that he worked with years ago, installing floors, long before his days at Mannington. The gentleman told Terry, “The day that we install a floor is the best that floor will ever look. After that, gravity takes over and everything that can, will land on the floor.” A simple statement but it stuck with Terry and it sums up the fact that regardless of the type, brand, quality of a floor, as ‘stuff’ spills, falls and tracks onto a floor, it will need to be cleaned up!
Walk-off Door Mat
Furniture Floor Protectors
6 Must-do Maintenance Items for LVT:
Walk-off doormats. Place them at all exterior entrances and vacuum routinely. Door mats collect moisture and dirt that tracks in from outside keeping most of it off your floor. Use quality matting that has bound, tapered edges and a non-staining backing material. In commercial buildings, retaining soil and moisture at the point of entry reduces flooring maintenance costs and it can prevent slip, trip and fall accidents.
Moving glides. To avoid unwanted damage to the floor, use moving aids such as felt-bottom glides under the items being moved or Masonite® to cover the flooring when moving furniture and equipment across an LVT floor, especially a new flooring installation.
Furniture floor protectors. Equip all furniture, including file cabinets, chairs, chairs with casters, desks, tables, rolling equipment, etc. with soft, adequate floor protectors engineered for heavy-duty commercial use. TIP: Most new furniture including chairs, tables and casters come standard with floor protection designed for carpet use, not hard surface floors. A simple rule of thumb- for a soft surface floor (carpet) the caster or protector should be hard and for hard surface flooring, such as LVT, the protector or caster must be soft.
Sweep or vacuum regularly. Using a soft bristle broom or a vacuum that does NOT use a beater bar on hard-surface floors or is equipped with a soft bristle or felt rib lining on a vacuum attachment head. Your broom or vacuum must be clean and free of dirt and debris to work effectively.
Wash floor with a neutral cleaner. Clean LVT regularly and routinely (determined by location, type of use, traffic, etc) with a quality Neutral Cleaner. When using a mop and bucket, use a two bucket system to capture the dirty grey water in one bucket while keeping other bucket for the clean, cleaning solution. Pushing dirty water around the floor does not count as washing!
Apply a flooring finish. Floor polish or finish, though not always required, will extend the life of a floor because it adds a protective layer against wear and tear. It’s a must in high-traffic areas. There are many finishes out there. I typically recommend Hilway Direct Floor Finishes because I can rely on the quality of their standard finishes, the Plus cleaner/maintainer or the newer Primo extended wear finish. Dr Schutz is another reliable option when a more permanent and highly protective wearlayer is ideal. Some flooring brands specify the exact flooring finish to be used on their flooring. This is the ultimate guide and should be heeded.
Wash LVT routinely with a 2-bucket system or auto-scrubber.
Application of a flooring finish will add protection against surface scratches.
It is truly amazing how words get twisted. Is it the words that are used to describe the amount of maintenance that will be required for a floor? Is it simply a consumer’s desire to hear, “no maintenance required”? I’m not sure but make no mistake…there is no such thing as a NO MAINTENANCE FLOOR.
As a consumer, always read the flooring manufacturer’s maintenance instructions prior to purchasing a new floor so you know what you’re getting. As a salesperson, distributor or installer, do the same and provide a copy to your customer. If you’re concerned about the customer’s perception of the floor because they want something easy to care for and yours calls for routine maintenance, gather the competition’s documents for care and maintenance as well and present the similarities –there will be many. When a customer finds out after the fact that their floor requires more maintenance than they were led to believe, they are not likely coming back to the same person when they replace that floor and they are not likely to recommend a flooring brand that they are unhappy with. It is really that simple.
Installation instructions, from most major flooring manufacturers, reference ASTM Standard F-710 for hard surface resilient flooring. The Standard simply defines the required flatness of a concrete subfloor. The subfloor, or ‘underfloor’ as I like to call it, “shall not deviate more than 3/16 of an inch in ten feet.” Photo 1 shows a ten straight edge being used to gauge the undulation of the floor. Photo 2 demonstrates the maximum allowable deviation- 3/16 of an inch within 10 lineal feet- with a mark on the shim shingle below the straight edge.
Photo 1: 10-foot Straight-edge used to gauge flatness of floor.
Photo 2: Plywood shim replicates maximum acceptable 3/16” deviation in height.
ASTM Standard F710 is a straight forward rule however a quick audit of hard-surface flooring installations indicates that most installers do not provide provisions to accommodate this ASTM standard during installation. The result can be seen in Photos 3, 4 and 5.
Photo 3: VCT run off and gaps at joints.
Photo 4: Rubber floor tile run-off, gapping at seams.
Photo 5: Flooring tile with severe runoff.
In order to simulate the outcome of resilient flooring tiles installed over a flat subfloor that complies with ASTM F710, I set up, labeled and outlined in pencil, a group of four tiles over a flat subfloor surface as shown in photo 6. To demonstrate what happens when there is a hump in the concrete sub floor, I placed a 3-and-one-half inch bump under the 2×2 foot floor tiles. Photo 7 shows that the joints are no longer tight and photo 8 reveals a deviation from a net fit where the uneven subfloor caused the tile pattern to pull away from square. When this happens across the span of a room, cutting tiles and increasing or skewing joint lines is necessary to counteract the runoff caused by an unprepared underfloor. This is often an eyesore and results in claims and complaints from customers to the company that makes the flooring.
Photo 6: Set up of 4 tiles laid on a flat subfloor with tight joints and the perimeter traced.
Photo 7: After simulating bump in subfloor, evident opening at joints.
Photo 8: With 3-1/2” subfloor deviation, tile alignment shifts drastically.
Photo 9: LVT installation meets ASTM-710 Standard for flat subfloor.
As you can see in Photo 9, when the floor meets the Standard set by ASTM F710, the modular flooring is not defective as it visually provides an acceptable finished appearance -that the manufacturer had envisioned when designing, engineering and manufacturing the flooring- with tight joints and straight lines between flooring tiles.
Photo 10: Result of severe underfloor humps.
Photo 10 discloses the immediate problems created when a floor does not comply with this Standard due to a severe hump in the underfloor. Close inspection of the photograph reveals modular components that veer to the left and to the right making it impossible to navigate the hump without gaps and misaligned corners. Even the best flooring installer cannot overcome severe undulation unless they even out the problem areas of the subfloor prior to laying the floor tiles.
The bottom line…installed floors that do not conform to ASTM Standard F 710 are not a manufacturing defect, they are the direct result of poor workmanship or failure to follow the flooring manufacturer’s printed installation instructions. It is important to know that the smaller the format of the modular flooring, the more difficult and challenging it will become to install the flooring with tight net joints in both directions and without runoff. Often in severe situations, a flooring installer may be tempted to make field cuts to modify the floor tiles, so that it is brought into what is perceived as alignment, but soon after cutting the challenge of installing with a net fit at the corners and joints is still impossible.
Replacing a floor can be expensive…especially when the flooring manufacturer is not participating in the cost so take the time to resolve sub floor issues before flooring is installed or you’ll be left with a choice- rip up the just-installed floor in order to level the underfloor or live with an unattactive cut and paste job intended to conceal subfloor undulation that your flooring installer did not fix -it’s your call.
Several years ago I received a call from a flooring manufacturer disclosing that they had a seven-phase commercial project that was in trouble. The first two large phases, approximately 10,000 square feet each, had been installed and there was tile run off throughout the space. The flooring contractor filed a complaint with the manufacturer, claiming defective product, and refused to pay for the product that his team had installed. With no solutions to fix his problem, the flooring contractor went on to order product for phases 3, 4 and 5. The manufacturer of the floor had tried to work with the contractor but had no solution for the problems that plagued phases 1 and 2, despite their numerous attempts to rectify the problem. Site visits had been made by the distributor rep, an independent inspector and even the flooring manufacturer’s Director of Tech Services. These attempts to provide on-site assistance were met with blatant disregard by the flooring contractor who pushed forward with Phase 3 and wouldn’t listen to anything he was told by these specialists. The flooring manufacturer was in danger of losing a good customer and the situation was spiraling out of control with no agreed upon resolution so they called on me.
This is often when I get the “call”- when tensions are high, stakes are high and the cause of the problem is unresolved. In many cases I am the flooring manufacturer’s last stop before litigation. Knowing that my customer, the flooring manufacturer, wants to minimize their liability and make things right on the job site, I set my parameters for how I work so there are no surprises. With full authority over the situation and my customer’s trust, I have the ability to handle the situation and work through it my way.
Before ever setting foot on a job site, to troubleshoot a problem, I talk with everyone and anyone who might have information directly related to the job and the flooring product that was specified. This might include the end user, flooring contractor, Distributor Rep and anyone else involved in trying to solve the problem especially the flooring installer. This time consuming step often reveals hidden agendas and valuable information that can identify the root cause of the problem before I ever set foot in the building where the floor has been installed. Before arriving at the job site, I take the time to educate myself on the technical data and specifications for installation and care of the material being used on the project. Within the printed literature that comes with flooring materials lies a great deal of information including subfloor specifications and acceptable deviations from flat level conditions, which will prove important in this situation. By the time I arrive on site, with all involved parties present, I have a lot of knowledge about the claim, site conditions and the flooring material and I’ve begun to build relationships with each individual so they know I’ll be focused on business when we meet and I’m an expert in troubleshooting flooring problems on large scale projects. These meetings are not always the most pleasant and part of my job is to diffuse tension so we can work on a solution. In a situation where squareness of LVT flooring tiles is being questioned, I use a specific approach that always provides a clear answer as to whether or not the floor tiles are defective in size or shape. Through a process of elimination, the root cause of the problem can be easily identified and a solid solution implemented. The easiest and fastest process is to simply check the product on site for squareness, read the product information sheets and check the floor for level deviations.
First, check the product for square. The simple task takes only a few minutes to execute, but determines, without a doubt, if the problem lies with the product. Assemble four (4) flooring tiles on a flat surface running all in the same direction and mark the top of each so that it is easy to identify. Fit the tiles together so they meet at one corner with joints and edges tight to each other without any deviation. Next rotate one tile to the right 90 degrees and tighten all the tiles for smooth edges at the perimeter and tight joints at the common point of contact. Continue rotating the same tile, 90 degrees at a time, until it has been rotated 360 degrees and is finally positioned at its original starting point. Continue this process for each tile until all four tiles have been rotated successfully 360 degrees. Note any gaps or uneven edges with a mark on the tile(s) edge. Typically if there is a problem with squareness, you will immediately identify the problem with the first tile. If you find a discrepancy, you have uncovered a visible defect (out of square) and you should stop installing the floor immediately! This instruction is included in most flooring manufacturer literature along with directions to call the manufacturer, explain your findings and get further directions on how to proceed.
Second, if during you squareness check you notice a distinct difference between width and length and it is consistent on all four tiles, reference the product installation instructions and look for information pertaining to directionality of the material. If the flooring tiles are intended to follow a particular pattern, more often than not a directional arrow is printed on the back of the tiles to avoid any confusion. If this is the case, following the specified direction should solve the problem. If direction is not specified and you discover a discrepancy between the tile’s width and length, contact the flooring manufacturer. They may recommend alternating the tiles during installation if the deviation between width and length is within certain parameters, this format should keep itself in check.
Third, if tiles check out as true, square and uniform in width and length, compare manufacturer’s instructions for subfloor & preparation to site conditions and procedures followed. Typical specifications include directions that a modular product, like LVT, be installed over subfloors conforming to ASTM F710 for concrete and other monolithic floors or ASTM 1482 for wood floors. Check for subfloor flatness using a true 10 straight edge. Deviation exceeding 3/16” in ten lineal feet or the equivalent of 1/32” in 12 inches is typically too much and must be leveled prior to flooring installation per manufacturer’s instructions. Ignoring this rule creates challenges in terms of maintaining a straight, true, square installation without gaps, runoff or birdeye corners -a void where tiles meet at the corners. Laying tiles over sub floor deviations that exceed flooring manufacturer specifications will also exceed the skill set of most flooring installers and the completed installation will likely be unacceptable to the end user. To make matters worse, the finished floor will progressively look worse over time due to dirt and debris that settles in the gaps and open joints and becomes a haven for growth of bacteria and germs.
Now, like PAUL HARVEY, let me share the rest of the story. After talking with everyone during my front-end loading, about the situation at hand, we met at the job site and performed my 4-tile experiment to check for squareness of the luxury vinyl tiles. Everything checked out and everyone agreed because they watched closely while I turned each tile. In less than an hour, there was consensus among all present, including the flooring contractor, that the material had no visible defects. During the next twenty hours, I worked with the team of installers showing them how to navigate the current conditions that were not ideal with a subfloor that deviated in some places 1-3/4 inches in ten feet. This deviation was the root cause of the tile run off. With guidance, the installation team was able to salvage the project by making corrections to the initial project phases and using the techniques they learned to compensate for the off-level sub floor. The end user was happy with the corrections and the project continued without further issues. All seven phases were completed to the satisfaction of the end user and the flooring contractor made payment, in full, for all seven phases.
It is seldom that hard-surface flooring indentations are the result of flooring material failure. The source of indentations can typically be traced back to installation error, installation system failure, point loads exceeding the flooring system limits or an extreme environment that compromises the flooring. Most important, the flooring manufacturer is usually NOT the culprit when delegating blame and looking for someone to pay for corrective measures.
My travels have taken me all over North America investigating floors that were initially considered, by an end user, architect or general contractor, as substandard flooring material due to indentation damage. I want to share some insights that give a clearer understanding of the nuances associated with hard surface flooring indentations since I have been able to identify, through on-site analyses, that flooring materials almost always perform as expected based on the manufacturer’s product specifications.
Flooring manufacturer product literature always includes ASTM test results that define the limits of a flooring product by looking at point loads and the floor’s recovery after exposure to that point load. This information, found in the performance specifications for a resilient floor, allows an architect or interior designer to understand the capability of a flooring material to bounce back from heavy point loads. This is important information when they specify a floor for an extreme environment that may require greater than typical resistance to indentations.
When load points for a resilient floor fall within the specified limits, flooring failure due to indentations is most often caused by installation errors. These errors include lack of floor prep, failure to roll the flooring after installation and proper selection and application of adhesive.
Using the right adhesive and doing the prep work before application is a big key to success in hard-surface flooring installation where point loads are extreme. A frequent problem is too much adhesive due to incorrect trowel notch or failure to remove a pre-existing adhesive before proceeding with the installation. Photo 1 shows a severe indentation in a school that originally had carpet in the classrooms. As you can see by Photo 1, the surface of the flooring is severally damaged, but Photo 2 confirms the correct overall width of floor protector had been utilized on the furniture in this school (minimum 1” in diameter). Finally, Photo 3 shows the culprit…a lack of prep work seen by residual carpet trowel ridges left behind and the new adhesive spread over the top of the old ridges. The result is adhesive displacement where excess adhesive was pushed to the perimeter of a pressure point causing indentations in the new flooring.
Photo 4 is a simple case of the flooring installer not rolling the floor with the recommended three section roller after placing the flooring material into the adhesive. A close look at the area beyond the indentation damage shows the ridges as they would appear before rolling. As you can see in the photo, this indentation was caused by a point load that simply flattened the ridges. The required step that was omitted left the surface of the flooring appear to be indented, but in actuality, the flooring only followed the contour of what was underneath.
Photo 5 shows the indented surface of a floor in a hospital room under a patient bed. The flooring manufacturer’s literature called for the use of epoxy adhesive under the footprint of the bed to avoid indentations. Specialty adhesive is often required where point loads will be heavier and more abusive than usual so that the installation system can withstand the trauma of the environment. Taking the time to follow the flooring manufacturer’s instructions step by step is critical. Photo 6 clearly shows the damage by the heavy point load of the wheels on the bed where, after investigating, it was discovered that the adhesive specifications were not followed by the flooring installer.
Photo 7 is a classic case of a point load exceeding the limits of the floor and leaving a real depression in the flooring material that never fully recovered. The problem could have been eliminated with more attention to point loads during the flooring specification process or if a glide cup had been used under the equipment to disperse the load and prevent permanent damage.
Last but not least, Photo 8 shows the outcome when prep work is bypassed and holes in the concrete substrate are not patched. Indentations are typically permanent and are seldom the fault of substandard flooring material. Mistakes made in flooring selection or during the installation process are the usual culprits of indentations that cost a lot of anxiety, time and money to resolve. In almost every case, it is not the flooring manufacturer who should foot the bill when indentations show up on a new flooring installation.