Mrs. Crackle phones her retailer 18 months after her vinyl floor was installed. She says her perimeter-bonded vinyl floor covering has cracks, gouges, cuts and wrinkles “all over the place.” After inspecting the problem, the retailer calls the mill representative and lets him know that there may be a manufacturing-related problem

Photo 1
Mrs. Crackle phones her retailer 18 months after her vinyl floor was installed. She says her perimeter-bonded vinyl floor covering has cracks, gouges, cuts and wrinkles “all over the place.”

Photo 2
After inspecting the problem, the retailer calls the mill representative and lets him know that there may be a manufacturing-related problem. The mill rep writes up an independent inspection request and forwards it to the mill. The mill contacts an independent inspector who in turn contacts Mrs. Crackle and sets up an inspection.

Photo 3
When the inspector makes his visit, this is what he is encounters(photos 1-5). The first thing he notices is the numerous cuts in the kitchen prep area (photos 1-3). The interesting thing is these similarly shaped cuts occur only in a small area around the kitchen counters.

Photo 4
What does this mean? Whatever has been making this signature mark did it all in one day or else it has been doing it all along. Under close examination with a microscope, what appears to be a cut is in fact a puncture. Something has exerted dynamic (point-loaded) pressure in this shape, causing the vinyl to fail. Think about this one, I know you can figure it out before you reach the conclusion.

Photo 5
The second complaint the homeowner has is on the steps leading to her basement.Photo 4shows the four stairs, three of which show a crack. And yes, sometimes the obvious answer is the correct one. The third complaint involves one area of the large dining area in the kitchen.Photos 5 and 6(look at the reflecting light) show what appear to be depressions running the width of the roll (another term is across register).

What do you believe is the cause of Mrs. Crackle’s problems? Who is liable?

You Make the Call!

Photo 6
Photos 1-3show repeating shapes around the kitchen counters, so I started looking for something heavy that could be moved around the area. What I neglected to mention earlier is that Mrs. Crackle is somewhat short in stature, and needs some assistance in reaching the top shelves in her kitchen cabinets. I traced the shape of the punctures in the floor to a short stepladder(photos 8 and 9). After lining up the ladder with the marks, the homeowner conceded that this indeed appeared to be the cause. She wondered, however, why she had not been able to notice them sooner?

Photo 7
The marks were clean at the time they were made, with no soil or dirt in them. This allowed them to remain difficult to see, much as when a dropped knife cuts the floor; until soil enters the cut, it is nearly invisible. A little seam sealer will work in a situation like this.

In addressing the second complaint, photo 7 should help point out the obvious: no cove stick. But what is not seen is that only the bottom tread had no cove. The top three did have the stick, and yet two of them still cracked.

Photo 8
So what’s the deal? Basements are normally 20 to 30 percent cooler than the floors above them. Vinyl expands when it is heated and contracts when cooled. Manufacturers know this and engineer their products with this in mind. That is why cuts made in a solid vinyl floor covering should never be made in the sun; during the acclimation period, it will shrink like a cheap sweater.

Most manufacturers will recommend a full-spread adhesive on both the riser and tread. Additionally, let the product acclimate to the environment it will need to perform in prior to applying the adhesive.

Photo 9
To me, this just makes good sense. But if the installer ran short of cove stick, what is the chance that he may have been a little short on glue as well? Perhaps the stairs were not part of the original estimate, but that is no excuse.

Photos 5 and 6 showcase the third complaint. Any ideas? Winder marks. That’s correct, winder marks equal manufacturer defect. But should the installer or the warehouse operator who made the cuts have recognized the problem? I believe that someone should have seen this before the floor was glued, and most manufacturers would agree with me.

This case has a little of everything: one site-related (the stepladder), one installer-related (who stole my cove stick and adhesive?) and one manufacturer-related problem (how did that get out the door?). As usual, there are those who may disagree with my conclusions, and that is all right. As long as I have kick-started even one installation professional’s problem-solving skills, then I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.