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Indoor air quality has been a buzzword used in our industry for almost two decades. Quite simply, it means the quality of the air we breathe when we are at work, home or at play within an enclosed space. There are even industrial hygienists whose sole purpose is to ensure that the air we breathe in the work place is not a detriment to our health. Floorcovering manufacturers are very concerned about this due to the increase of upper respiratory infections, which have been in the news; remember the highly publicized Legionnaires’ disease? Manufacturers are very diligent in their quest to ensure that nothing during and after the installation of their products will have a negative effect on the quality of the air in an enclosed environment. This includes the adhesives used in the manufacturing of both carpet and hard surface goods.

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Anti-microbial (another buzz word) is simply a chemical that prevents the growth of mold, bacteria, mildew, etc., reducing their destructive action and eliminating accompanying odors. Almost all adhesive manufacturers have these additives in their formulations to ensure that while the adhesive is in a wet state no mold or mildew will grow. Some adhesive manufacturers have anti-microbial growth additives that protect the product while it’s in a wet state and while it’s in a dry film, but that’s another story. It is not easy to differentiate discolorations due to underlayment, type of patch, adhesive and/or site-related conditions that relate to proper maintenance or lack thereof. Many of us must make a determination of the proximate cause of the discoloration and subsequent failure with very little information available to us. The following hard surface (vinyl) examples are four different installations with four very different causes. Now, look at the effects, and You Make the Call!

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In Photo 1, what you see is what you get: gypsum patch, full spread and felt-backed vinyl. One year after installation, the bright yellow spots are very easy to see, and if the floor was not cut open to reveal the mold growth, you might have made a somewhat different call. The patch did not have the additive as directed by the manufacturer (which has an anti-microbial chemical in it), and this was a cold joint on-grade slab.

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Photos 2 and 3 are of the same job in different areas: gypsum patch (without the additive), felt backed, full spread, 18 months after installation. Photo 2 is the hallway adjacent to the bathroom; Photo 3 is the bathroom. Green, purple, pink and yellow are very easy colors to see. It was determined that an improper crawl space dimension (12 inches) that had no moisture barrier was the cause.

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In Photo 4, there is no discoloration evident here, but there was a loss of bond around the perimeter of this vinyl floor two years after installation. When the vinyl was pulled back (Photo 5), boy could you see and smell it. My advice is to call a professional water damage restoration company. This is not something you want to toy with. A leaky wax ring was the culprit here, and the homeowner pulled and set the toilet himself. A good rule of thumb: always install a new wax ring; one with an inner cone works best.

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Photo 6 shows a full spread felt back installation; 18-20 months after installation, brownish/red discolorations started, and are getting larger with time. And no, the discolorations were not in front of the kitchen sink; they were on the other side of the room. Photo 7 tells the story: a leaking drain line from the sink. That’s right, although the sink was closest to the drain, the water took the path of least resistance and manifested itself on the other side of the room.

These are just a few of the mold problems I have seen. I’m sure you all have stories you could tell of similar experiences. I am not an expert on indoor air quality, nor have I ever professed to be a know-it-all. It is always best to consult with an expert concerning your particular job site conditions to protect yourself and your customer. As long as we look, listen and learn from our, and others,’ experiences, then we’re headed in the right direction. In an upcoming special edition of FCI, we will address in more depth the questions of indoor air quality.