This is one of the largest areas of risk that a flooring contractor may face when performing a job. This risk increases or decreases with the contractor's ability to properly define what "floor prep" is and is not during the initial contract phase.

For instance, it is very reasonable for a flooring contractor to define his floor prep as "filling saw cuts and nail holes" or other minor blemishes. One might want to clarify his floor prep by saying what it is not: "This proposal does not include corrective [concrete] work such as flattening, leveling, grinding, moisture remediation and/or pH reduction." This type of statement will also apply to other types of substrates because many of the same problems exist.

The flooring contractor needs to set the boundaries rather than having to perform any floor prep that needs to be done without additional cost. This is important because the flooring contractor should not be responsible for the craftsmanship of other trades including faulty concrete placement. For instance, it is not the flooring contractor's responsibility to bring a slab up to a level of 1/8-inch in 10 feet without being paid for thousands of dollars worth of underlayment and labor required to achieve this. If sheet vinyl is to be installed and the concrete slab is emitting nine pounds of moisture per 1,000 square feet (three times the generally accepted rate for most sheet vinyl), the flooring contractor should not be responsible for correcting the problem without being paid for all of the extra work. If not clearly stated, the chances are your customer thinks it is your problem, not his. The number one profit buster is, "Go ahead and do it now and I'll take care of you on a change order" (which usually means you are lucky to get a small portion of cost and no profit).

Here are four specific tips for increasing profit and limiting liability for floor prep:

1. Define major and minor floor prep (as noted above); minor floor prep is not rebuilding a floor.

2. Add in your cost factor for the minor prep you expect to do on a job and then mark up along with other costs for labor and materials, this way you are not taking away profit to pay for floor prep.

3. Control costs by carefully reviewing the site before starting work and take digital pictures to document conditions.

4. Get paid for extra floor prep by insisting on proper authorization before work is done rather than negotiating after the fact.

Jonathan Stewart is director of marketing for Acoustic Engineering Company of Florida, in Orlando, and is a member of the FCICA board of directors.