Floor covering removal is a necessary step in a majority of installations, both residential and commercial. FCI convened a round-table of manufacturers to explore the latest advances and look at what is available to installation professionals thinking of adding removal to their service mix.

The Bronco from Taylor Tools

The Terminator 2000 from Innovatech

Floor Covering Installer: Floor covering removal is beginning to come into its own as a recognized profit center for the installation professional. Why has it taken so long?

Jason Root: Previously, the owner or client perceived the demolition portion of a flooring project to be part of the overall job, and the flooring installer was not able to charge for the added services. Therefore, the installer did not include the removal in his scope of work and the owner/general contractor had the removal job done separately and at minimum cost. The problem then was that the floor was not prepared properly and the installer still had to incur extra cost to have the floor leveled, etc. The installer realized that he was losing money and that it would help his cause to better sell the upside of proper removal and preparation. With the decision to up-sell, the flooring installer was able to add to his bid while employing better technology, which allowed for more efficient and profitable removal.

Leo Swan: The proliferation of new and interesting products for the flooring market, new designs, superior maintenance of materials and the promotion of these products to a generation of affluent homebuyers have caused the floor covering market to boom. It's only natural that "removal" is a necessary by-product of this trend. This, together with a shortage of experienced, trained mechanics, has created the need for a specialist installation professional. Floor covering sales outlets have always provided their own mechanics for service after the sale, but since these mechanics are now in very short supply, they have to turn to another method of being able to sell the complete job, hence, enter the installation professional.

Roger Wiggins: I think it has taken so long because the traditional method of flooring removal is time consuming and labor intensive, therefore installation professionals simply did not want to deal with these types of projects. Although flooring removal machines have been on the market for years now, only a small portion of installation professionals truly understood that by investing in the "right" flooring removal machine, they could tackle all types of flooring removal projects with significantly reduced labor and time costs. These savvy installation professionals were then able to secure a larger and more profitable amount of business by offering a complete flooring removal and installation service.

Marty Anderson: Many professionals felt they did not have the time or that it was the general contractor’s responsibility. They did not want the extra expense or “hassle.” Many have not taken advantage of the extra profit that is and has been available.

Frank Sinclair: Ten to 12 years ago, there wasn’t the range of floor removal equipment available. With the introduction of larger, more productive floor removal equipment, it has opened up the opportunity to be a stand-alone business. We have come from hand scrapers, scraper bars and the like to self-propelled strippers. The newer versions of removal equipment have reduced the backbreaking labor factor from the job, and at the same time have brought productivity to the contractor.

The large ride-on floor removal units have had a great impact on profitability. These ride-on units bring speed of removal to a new level to help drive this segment of our industry.

Keith Papulski: Major advances in adhesive technology have forced an equal emphasis on efficient floor removal capabilities. Small, relatively low-powered stripping machines and/or large crews of laborers have been unable to keep pace with the growing demand for fast, economical, mechanized removal. In addition, whereas many old, asbestos-backed materials were simply covered over, those floors are now ready for new flooring and now necessitate the removal of multi-layered flooring. Moreover, the overall growth of the industry has forced successful contractors to investigate the options for revenue sources and many have discovered the potential profitability of floor removal services.

Sinclair Equipment Co.'s Turbo Stripper

FCI: Some installers are of the opinion that purchasing floor covering removal equipment only makes sense for large crews working on big commercial projects. Is this an accurate assumption?

LS: The purchase of floor removal tools and equipment is necessary to enable the contractors, big or small, to finish jobs quickly and profitably. Almost without exception, this type of work must be done on weekends or hours when the commercial establishments are closed. The shortage of labor, once again is the problem, and to overcome this problem - easy to use, efficient equipment must be used.

JR: No. There is floor covering removal equipment designed for every size job, from the smallest to the largest. Not using this equipment because your job is "small" makes the job slower, more difficult and less productive than it needs to be, and costs you money. Also, with rental equipment available, it can be profitable for smaller crews to rent a large machine and finish jobs quicker. Additionally, this equipment is multipurpose and is used for not only floor covering removal but also for removal of mastics, failed coatings and more from concrete.

RW: This is a common misconception that unfortunately many installers have. However, the installation professionals that have used our machines for years realize that you don't need "one big job" to justify the cost of owning a machine. In most cases the most profitable jobs many of our customers have completed are smaller jobs (from 1,000 to 5,000 square feet) that no one else wants to touch doing it by hand. By doing several smaller jobs per month our customers make significantly more profit than the operating cost of a machine each month.

MA: No. If you have the right equipment, it does not take a large crew or large job to do floor removal. The questions should be: Are you doing removal or how much removal could you do per year? Are you losing jobs because you do not offer removal? How much money are you losing by not doing removal?

FS: No. There is a wide range of floor removal equipment available today that will fit all size requirements. There are hand held units, stand up units and self propelled units on the market to match any size contractor needs. Faster production rates equates to lower overhead.

KP: Installers have to determine whether floor prep is a worthwhile investment contributing to the ultimate growth of their company. Or would their expertise be better rewarded by allocating resources toward, for example, finishing services? The decision as to whether or not to allocate resources toward modern floor-removal machinery has to be made after identifying the potential of a large job or repetitive jobs in order to receive a fair return on investment.

The Blastrac BMS-270 from USF Surface Preparation Group

FCI: What are some of the factors an installation professional should consider when purchasing a floor covering removal machine?

RW: There are several factors an installation professional should consider. First is the quality of the machine. Is the machine built to take the demands and abuse that comes with flooring removal? Second is performance. Does the machine have a proven history of successfully removing a large variety of flooring surfaces? How long has the machine been in the market? Does the manufacturer have the experience to be able to instruct you on the best methods of removing various surfaces? The final consideration is value. A flooring removal machine purchase should never be done simply on the lowest price, but on who provides the most value for your investment for years to come.

LS: Reliability of both the equipment and the dealer selling it – Equipment must be designed and built to be maintenance free, easy to use and capable of performing at the advertised removal rate - the contractor must be able to rely on published facts.

KP: The size of the capital investment compared to removal rates of the various flooring materials to be removed in order to better ascertain their ROI. Transportation considerations including the accessibility of the stripper to multi-story buildings. Maintenance procedures. Length and details of warranties. Versatility of the machine including the ability to strip a variety of floor coverings from a combination of substrates including wood. Ease-of-operation. The ability to operate in extraordinary situations, including occupied buildings such as hospitals and hotels. This includes emissions and noise considerations. For example, if the machine operates with an internal combustion engine, the contractor is liable for the safety of every individual in the building, which entails maintaining proper ventilation and the careful monitoring of the environment.

JR: Look for a manufacturer that has extensive experience with different types of surface preparation equipment and applications. You are more likely to get the right tool for the job. Look for a manufacturer that provides the best service and support, ideally with multiple locations. Ask if they offer equipment demos or have rental equipment.

FS: Due to the range of contractors and floor removal equipment, there are many levels based on their needs. Quality of product, proven performance, matching product size to size of work performed and repair support should all be considered.

MA: Pick a company that offers a wide variety of equipment. How much removal are you doing or planning to do? What are the subfloors and what kind of product will they mainly be removing? Consider the size, weight and power of the machine. Noise level. Electric or non-electric. Walk-behind, ride-on or manually operated.

The ALB-BS Chisel Scaler from Edco

FCI: What are some of the more important features a floor covering removal machine should have?

MA: Features should include ease of use and maintenance, the size of machine, the machine’s ability (rate of removal), the noise level (quiet), how difficult is it to transport to a job site, variable speed, a wide range of blade sizes, a low amperage draw, 110 or 220 Volt, and adjustable weight.

JR: Easy start up and maintenance are key features of any floor covering removal machine. And of course, it should be durable. The machine should be safe to operate, preferably with dustless operation if possible due to the typical work environment. Non-combustible engines are also important, again due to the inside, confined nature of the work.

RW: The most important features a flooring removal machine should have are reliability and versatility and safety. Does the machine have a proven history of reliable service and performance? Is it easy to maintain and service? Is the machine you are considering versatile enough to use in virtually all areas and is capable of removing a wide range of flooring surfaces? The final feature to consider is: how safe is the machine to operate?

FS: Oscillating or ram action blade movement, self-propelled action, electrical protection for machine, ease of transportation.

KP: The ability to maintain a constant blade angle. Durable blades that stay sharp and resist breaking. A machine that works on a variety of surfaces, including wood and ceramic. The ability to stay engaged to the floor over uneven surfaces and debris. High removal rates. Maneuverability and transportation facility. Compact size.

The Panther from National Carpet Equipment

FCI: Some installers might be hesitant to purchase equipment they are unfamiliar with. What kind of support and/or training is available in the marketplace?

FS: With most, but not all floor removal equipment manufacturers have on site demonstrations, in house demonstrations and training available. After market backup from manufacturer to contractor is an important part of the package.

JR: Most equipment is fairly straightforward and easy to use, but there are a number of ways that an installer can become familiar with the equipment. Ask for a demonstration at your job site. Rent the equipment prior to buying. Training is included with the rental, and it will allow you to get a real feel for the tool. Reputable manufacturers provide equipment training after the sale, and will provide follow-up calls if needed to help you. Finally, trade organizations often provide training that includes equipment from various manufacturers.

KP: Look for companies that include on-site training so that operators can learn the most efficient procedures on an actual job.

LS: Deal with established, proven dealers that can provide service after the sale, and who have the ability to train installer mechanics.

MA: For some equipment we have on-site training. We have a number of ways to educate our customers on our equipment. They include distributor network in-store and jobsite training, good instruction manuals and instructional videos, market demos, and a full-time technical staff.

RW: Training and support may vary depending on the manufacturer you decide to deal with. We firmly believe the value of a tool is severely diminished if it is not used properly. This is why we provide in-house or jobsite training for our machines and it is included with purchase. Our team can talk you through any of the common removal applications for the machine.

Jason Root is a product specialist for Sawtec and has been involved with surface preparation for over 7 years. Jason is involved with product development, equipment rentals, and assisting customers with their field applications. He works out of the USF Surface Preparation Group office in Rancho Dominguez, CA.

Leo Swan - CEO and founder of EDCO. Active in all aspects of company business, research and development, manufacturing and sales since it's beginning in 1959. EDCO is the manufacturer of the most rental surface removal equipment in the USA.

Roger Wiggins is the President of Innovatech Products & Equipment Co. He has over 31 years of experience in the carpet removal and installation business. He is the co-inventor and pioneer of the patented Terminator flooring removal machine technology.

Marty Anderson is the President of National Carpet Equipment Inc. Mary is known for his innovative tool designing and manufacturing of equipment for the flooring industry. He is focused on helping businesses reach greater efficiency.

Frank Sinclair and Sinclair Equipment Company have been involved with the Floor Removal Equipment industry for approximately 10 years. Specializing in small to medium size floor strippers for use in residential and commercial applications. Our company prides itself in customer support and on site demonstrations that have made us the leader in this field.

Keith Papulski is the General Manager of Taylor Tools and has been involved with floor covering products since the early 70s. Keith has developed numerous tools and floor removal equipment including coating systems.