Namba's World

Using a stand-up scraper to remove staples and padding prior to a carpet installation.

It seems like every edition of FCI covers some aspect of floor preparation. "Why is that?" one may ask. Other than the installation of the product itself, floor preparation and the way flooring products are removed are one among the most important factors for a successful installation. With the current technology available today, the removal of existing flooring surfaces is becoming much easier than days past. There are the ride on type removal systems, the self- propelled walk behind machines, scarifying discs, winch type systems, chemical removers, shot blasters, and a myriad of others. The advantages of the mechanical removal systems, without a doubt outweigh the manual hand scrapers.

But what about the installer who is doing an installation where all these products may not be available to them, where price may be a factor, as these removal products come with a price, some as much as a high priced automobile? There are a number of flooring supply distributors who rent removal systems and rental facilities that also have removal systems. In this issue we will discuss some of the procedures involved with the removal of flooring products that relate to both residential and commercial installations.

Cushion particles require scraping prior to installation.
The removal of carpet in a stretch-in installation is relatively simple. First, disengage the carpet from the tackless strip, cut it up in smaller pieces for ease of handling and roll it up. Next, remove the cushion. If the cushion has been adhered or stapled around the perimeter and seams, be sure to scrape any remaining cushion using a stand-up scraper and scrape up the old staples and bits of cushion. Many installers do not scrape the staples when removing the old cushion over a wood floor. I have heard the famous line "I've been doing it this way for twenty years and haven't had any problems yet and besides they don't pay me for scraping, let alone take up." Why not display some professionalism, show that you care about your work and display job site cleanliness. This can also help you in establishing that you are worth more for the services you provide than the installer who just installs over the existing staples.

For glue down installations, mechanical removal is the preferred method. Which system you use will need to be determined. Will the removal be during business hours or when the facility is unoccupied? Will the machinery involve a lot of noise or some exhaust emissions in an occupied area? If so, a winch type system or electric system may be more advantageous. Address these concerns prior to starting the job, as it will save you the headaches of having to confront them with an angry building manager over noise and emission issues.

When removing glue direct carpet, the installer must address the existing adhesive. If during removal the adhesive is removed, no problem, but if the adhesive is left on the floor, it will have to be removed prior to new glue direct. Why? Many older glue direct installations were installed with solvent-based adhesives. With adhesives becoming more environmentally friendly, the solvents have been replaced with water. Remember, water and solvents don't mix; therefore you have incompatibility of the two adhesives. You're bond is only as strong as the weakest link, in this case the adhesives being the weak link.

There are liquid removers, scarifying discs and shot blasters on the market that can be used for the removal of adhesives. Make sure to contact the manufacturer of the floor covering and the adhesive manufacturer to determine if liquid removers are acceptable to use. There are liquid removers that leave a residue that may affect the new adhesive. Also, make sure that you have the proper disposal containers at the job site with this type of removal, as it can get messy. If you are going to be walking across areas that have floor coverings that are not going to be replaced, make sure to cover these areas to prevent any contamination from shoes or spillage.

Another reason to remove the existing adhesive is for the proper amount of adhesive spread rate. With old adhesive residue, the proper amount of adhesive cannot be applied if there are ridges from the old adhesive. There are installers that leave the old adhesive and find that when they use the proper notched trowel, it leaves too much of the new adhesive, so in turn they will use a smaller notched trowel or even the smooth side of the trowel to maintain what they feel is a decent spread rate of adhesive; this is not the proper installation method.

Resilient flooring covers a broad spectrum of floors. Some of the floors installed prior to the late '80s contained asbestos in the backing products or adhesives (black cut back). Prior to removal, a small sample the size of a quarter can be taken to a lab for testing. If you do not have a contact for a lab, contact your local OSHA office for names and phone numbers. Testing by a lab is the only way to determine asbestos containing materials. If you don't know if the product contains asbestos, always assume that it does and have it tested. The initial cost to find out is inexpensive compared to what could potentially lead to heavy fines and litigation.

On a concrete substrate, if the product contains asbestos and cannot be embossed, have an asbestos abatement company take on the responsibility for the removal, but find out what type of removal system was used, as many of the abatement companies use solvents for the removal of the old adhesives which can affect the new adhesive. Most manufacturers of resilient flooring have specific guidelines to follow for the removal of their products and have installation manuals available. The procedures for resilient vary as some flooring installations can be embossed or an underlayment installed over the top of an existing resilient floor covering.

When bidding floor removal, there are always the unknown factors that have to be considered when putting the bid together. How easy will the product come up and how easy will it be to remove the adhesive? Where and how to dispose of the flooring after removal. Unfortunately, too many jobs get bid improperly, and the result is that shortcuts take precedence over proper floor removal and preparation due to time and monetary constraints. An installer, retailer, or estimator may not plan to use a mechanical means of removal and bid a job thinking that it can be removed manually, just to find out that when the time for the actual removal occurs, mechanical is the only way to remove the floor coverings. This is where one would generally "lose their shorts" on a job due to the costs of renting or contracting mechanical removal, and from this point the entire job is installed with the thought of cutting corners and making up for lost revenue instead of a quality installation. A pre-bid inspection of the site and pulling up of an inconspicuous corner can help in determining the difficulty of the pull up.

Safety is extremely important. Here is a list of some items an installer should have: first aid kit, safety glasses, work gloves, shoe protectors, kneepads, air moving equipment, properly maintained equipment, dust masks or respirators, noise protectors, shop vacuums, caution tape and fire extinguisher (for propane powered equipment).