What Sank the Floating Floor?
September 27, 2002
The flooring looks great as the installer does a final walk-through with the end user. The check is in the bank and clears, and the installer knows that he and his team have displayed professional craftsmanship, and with that, a sense of pride that comes with a job well done. Six months after that great looking installation, the installer receives a phone call one day from a frustrated end user stating that the laminate floor is buckling in several places. Aghast, he thinks to himself, "What could it be?" The product had acclimated for a minimum of 72 hours, calcium chloride tests were conducted on the concrete slab just two weeks prior to the installation, and all tests came in at or below 5 pounds. The floor was leveled to the manufacturer's recommended tolerances. The manufacturer's recommended vapor retardant was installed, and manufacturer installation instructions were followed. Stunned, the installer makes an appointment to look at the customer's concerns the following morning. With camera, pencil and pad, he is now prepared. Upon walking into the retail store, he notices that there are several areas where the laminate has buckled up to 3/8-inch in height in a 30-by-40-foot area. The installer takes note of the heavy fixtures that have been placed on the flooring in the middle of the store (Photo 1), and fixtures along three of the four walls. He is unable to inspect behind the wall fixtures, as there are panels on the sides.
He starts asking the questions: Was there a flood? What type of maintenance was done? Are the fixtures too heavy? Are any of the fixtures attached to the flooring? There was no flood, and maintenance was done with a dry static cloth and the manufacturers recommended cleaner with a spray bottle. What should the installer do next? In several cases, in order to determine what the cause and effect are, you may have to do some intrusive investigating. The installer asked permission to remove the fixture panels and any other moldings necessary to the inspection, which were replaced when the inspection was completed. On this particular installation, the baseboards were removed from the fixtures to determine if they were fastened to the flooring. There are no visible signs of attachment. The one wall without fixtures has wood base installed. Removing a section of molding shows the laminate tight against the wall, which the installer knows had the proper gap at the time of installation. The next step is to determine if the wall fixtures have been fastened to the flooring. Upon removal of the side panels, the installer notices that there are several base plates that have been fastened to the floor and the fixtures are fastened to the base plates (Photo 2). Knowing what caused the failure eases your mind and removes the liability from you, but it still upsets you that the flooring looks the way it does. In this case, the fixture installers knew the type of floor that was being installed. The end user and all contractors involved with fixtures and finish work had detailed specifications stating that it was a "floating floor," and that there could be no permanent attachment to the flooring, yet the evidence is there. Too many times a quality installation is plagued by the ignorance of other trades after the floor installation, and with alarming frequency, the flooring mechanic is found guilty until proven innocent!
This situation also led me to question how much weight is actually too much for a "floating floor" installation? (Photo 3) To answer this question, I recently made an inquiry of several laminate manufacturers and asked what the accepted maximum amount of pounds per square foot was for furniture, fixtures, etc. One response that I received was that they have no published weight limit, "but a baby grand piano is okay." Another stated that 1,000 to 1,500 pounds per square foot static load was their number. One manufacturer advised me to try to minimize putting heavy objects at opposite ends of the room. So you see, there were many answers to the one question. As with any questions referring to installation, contact the manufacturer and get written confirmation of their recommended procedures.