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I have asked several individuals how they estimate the cost of floor preparation on residential and commercial installations. What I found was that there is not a definitive answer. Here are some of the responses that I received; adding an additional amount per square yard or square foot, a set price for each bag of patch used, charging an hourly rate, estimating the time and materials and then charging on the heavy side to try to cover all costs. My personal opinion on bidding floor preparation is that if an estimator is pricing out the installation, he or she should definitely have installation knowledge and an understanding of what is required for floor preparation.

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If the estimator or salesperson does not have installation experience, discuss the floor preparation with the installer prior to bidding so that both the salesperson and the installer have an understanding of what will be involved.

If you are a flooring contractor, keep in mind that you are a business owner who installs flooring. Knowing how to bid floor preparation is a skill in itself. Here are some topics that may help in your bidding process.

Knowledge of Substrates

If you do not understand what you are installing over, then how is it possible to bid properly? Educate yourself by attending seminars, speaking with knowledgeable individuals and reading related materials.

Knowledge of Products

Understanding what you are installing and what products are compatible with each other is important. Will ABC's floor patching compound work with XYZ's adhesive? Would a self-leveling product be more cost effective versus skim coating several applications over an undulating substrate? Speak with manufacturer technical representatives; they are there to assist you.

Floor Preparation Equipment

Do you have mechanical floor removal equipment or do you manually remove products from the substrate with a scraper?

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Do you patch over concrete control joints that have curled or do you use a grinding system with dust containment to flatten out the area and minimize floor patching? Although mechanical floor preparation equipment can get pricey, the advantages are, the substrate can be prepped in a shorter amount of time, which is cost saving, and, installers are not worn out by the time the installation takes place.

New Site Inspections

Many times new construction is bid from a set of plans; this can be difficult to bid for floor preparation, even though specifications are written concerning substrate suitability. Try to leave a clause open on your bid to negotiate floor preparation. If possible, conduct a walk through of the project during the building phase; this can give you invaluable information. Look where other trades are working; pipe fitters utilize pipe cutters, which use oil to lubricate, and many times lubricants contaminate the substrate which can affect bond on glue direct installations (Photo 1). Bond breaker used on substrate for tilt up concrete walls, causing de-bonding issues with tile; there are other issues also.

Dumpster Availability

This can save hours of time as the installer does not have to load garbage in their vehicle or trailer and then haul to a disposal site.

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Check to see if a dumpster will be available for you on site, if not, you may want to accommodate for one in your bid.

Line Item for Specific Areas of Concern

If there is floor preparation that you feel is more than the scope of work that you provide, put this in a separate line item so that this will be made clear to the general contractor or end user. Many times general contractors or end users assume extensive floor preparation is just part of the flooring contractor's responsibility. A line item stating the exact amount of floor prep that you will provide on new construction can be helpful, as previously mentioned you may not be able to see the substrate prior to bidding.

Documentation

Maintain records of how much time and material it takes for each job. You can start to put together your own template to assist you in future bids. Taking photos of areas requiring prep is invaluable for proof of what the conditions are prior to floor preparation, and many times a salesperson can discuss the concerns with the installer without the installer going to every jobsite to inspect.

Renovations

These types of installations are where profits can be made or lost. Many installations of this type create multiple problems for installers. Look at the following photos and see what you would bid.

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Photo 2 shows the grinding of a filled drainpipe that extends above the concrete substrate. Photo 3 shows residual thinset, with holes in the concrete. In Photos 4 and 5, there is an area where concrete is breaking away. Would you floor patch or self-level with an aggregate mix? In Photo 6, tackless strips three rows wide are being held in with roofing nails in concrete; the tackless strips are too loose to reuse. The transition from tile to carpet has an expansion joint, and the new carpet is a low loop berber. Do you add another row of tackless strip? Use longer nails? Just glue new pieces? Floor patch and hammer drill? Floor patch and glue new tackless strip? Photo 7 shows new sub-floor installed prior to installation of underlayment, replaced due to water damage.

The previous installer used gypsum based patching compound over a water-damaged sub-floor and skim coated over the area. The homeowner noticed hard lumps around the toilet area and the flooring contractor had to re-install a new floor within a year. The hard lumps were the gypsum patching compound breaking out due to no structural strength of the sub-floor. All gypsum based patching compound needed to be completely removed to establish a flat substrate for the underlayment. Are we as installers responsible for the types of floor preparation that are pictured? My answer would be no to a few of them. It should be the responsibility of the general contractor. How often do we as installers do the corrections as the general contractor or end user generally do not have the knowledge to properly prepare the substrate.

Negotiation skills

Being able to ask for what you feel is a fair price for floor preparation does not always come easy. Many times this is where installers get beat up on pricing. Having the knowledge and coming across with confidence, and being able to communicate can make the difference between a profit or loss. Prices and solutions will vary with each job and each individual, using some of the topics that were discussed here may help you with your bottom line.