As a contractor, I was always looking for an edge over my competition. Often that included expanding my services to meet an end-user’s needs or being more competitive than the other bidders. In order to be competitive, you typically have to be more efficient or sacrifice your quality. Cutting quality is never an option for the professionals in the installation business. After all, it is your reputation on the line. Being efficient is having the skills or skilled workers available to complete the project in a shorter timeframe and incur a lesser investment. Any worker can only move so fast without risking mistakes due to speed. That type of compromise is self-defeating. Technology, meaning advancements in industry products, materials, or methods must be embraced for those wise enough to grasp them. If you are standing around waiting for fast track construction to fall by the wayside, forget it. If anything, the speed of construction will quicken because of the owner’s financial investments. Schedule compression means a quicker turn over, and with that, the quicker the customer is back to business. That applies to all new construction markets, as well as commercial remodels.
Residential replacement may be driven more by labor costs. The more time spent at the customer’s home, the less the profit. Rest assured that the manufacturers are working desperately to simplify installation of their products. If you want to become a multi-millionaire overnight, patent a way to produce finished tufted carpet that has a near zero pattern distortion at the same speed of today’s production. There are examples just like this for every other type of flooring that we install. The big manufacturer players are going to advance their products toward error-proof installation and still meet an end users appetite for fashion. We need to work smarter and utilize technology to overcome installation site issues and boost productivity. Well, what is out there that is worthy of attention? Please understand it is not my intent to push one brand or product over another, or endorse anything. It is unavoidable with some items because of exclusive marketing rights or them being proprietary products.
Adhesives represent a land of opportunity for the installation community. There is a lesson to be learned from this savvy side of the floor covering business. Concrete moisture is simply a plague in the industry. Untold claims damage the profits of the manufacturers of all flooring. It is not lining the pockets of the manufacturer stockholders that bothers me, but the damage that sours end-users towards any particular segment of floor covering. What if those lost claim funds could be spent on marketing flooring to those same end users? Adhesive manufacturers are simply using chemistry to overcome moisture and the subsequent pH problems. They understand that they cannot conquer the “get her done” construction attitudes, but have embraced them and created adhesives to treat the symptom rather than address the problem. A few pennies a square foot and we can join that team. Face it; if you can walk on the concrete, contractors think it is ready for flooring. The challenge is to apply this technology and get the end-user to belly up with better compensation for advanced adhesives, or you absorb the adhesive cost as cheap installation failure insurance. I guess the down side is that the adhesive people know that we are just not doing our job in testing those substrates, and they could be right.
Buck up, because we are seeing the next generation of spray systems hit us. This time around, there are some vast differences. Earlier versions had some glitches. I will not analyze those problems, but I do think installers share the blame. Again, new chemistry has added some distinct value to these adhesives, including an amazing lateral bond. I do not think that there is an installer out there that can deny the advantages of spraying verses troweling. Standing up beats crawling. I respect the adhesive manufacturers much more this time around than last. We are not hearing that spray is the end all, do all for every situation. I also am extremely pleased that there is a huge attempt to keep spray away from incompetent hacks that will just screw up the system once again. I hope that mandatory Certification, ability to purchase, and contractor investment costs will hold the line of integrity.
Swinging a trowel will never outpace the speed of a wand. I know every installer says that the trowel is the final sweep. I understand that logic, but with spray, you need to do a little closer inspection on the last final sweep. If you use a canister vacuum, dragging the wand will bring those same small debris bumps to your attention. Oh yes, and the spray canister clean up itself is real easy and fast.
Moisture issues are not going to go away. Better-engineered adhesives will help, but there is a limit to their capabilities. Certain flooring materials are always going to be more susceptible to moisture than others. There will always be testing required in some form or fashion. Testing at least establishes a slab moisture baseline that must be overcome on a given project. It has been a long slow process, but humidity testing is on the horizon. The American Society of Testing Methods is making headway towards setting acceptable testing standards. It seems that every industry insider is touting the benefits of using humidity as a gauge for concrete moisture. After all, it is big in Europe.
When moisture failures happen, the only defense an installation contractor has is being able to prove himself innocent. I certainly don’t dispute the accuracy of calcium chloride testing when done correctly, but without a lot of documentation it is difficult to really prove that the tests were performed, let alone the results. That is one of the reasons I am partial to the humidity tests that are actually a meter plug that stays in the slab. Drill it, insert the meter plug and check the results. The readings can be easily confirmed by the owner or general contractor. While you may have to dig a little, the meter can always be checked should future moisture issues arise. There is undisputable proof that you did test the substrate. I can relate that there is a heads up cost difference between the meter plugs and a calcium chloride test, but a single claim problem involving an attorney can more than justify a couple years of the added expense.
Hot melt seaming has had the next big jump in technology, with the introduction of the Kool Glide seaming system. You have a tool and seam tape, and the specially formulated glue sticks for thermo plastic sealing. I see distinct advantages with this system. Repair work is certainly far easier. I don’t really care how big of a hot melt seaming Mack you think you are, because I am one, there can always be that one little area that misses the mark. It could be that strategic entry or exit point, or because the tension dropped back right at the bump point. The release and re-bond capability makes the Kool Glide worthwhile.
The Kool Glide is almost a flashback of the transition from hand sewing to hot melt thermo plastic seaming. This is the latest and greatest seaming tool, and added to that, it respects, if not revives, the old ways. I simply refer to stay stitching. This hand sewing technique let installers sew a couple of stitches at each (or every other) pattern match, depending on repeat distance, to ensure a match along the seam line. You then simply complete the sewing by working out the differences between the primary locked in pattern points. The Kool Glide allows the installer to mimic the same procedure with today’s modern tufted carpet.
There are some installation tasks that are easily trained, but the feel of the seam iron handle in regards to its movement over a bed of adhesive is not one of them. Hit the button on the Kool Glide and slide forward, mystery solved. Just another distinct advantage that goes beyond the training equation.
The new double glue tapes allow the same process to be employed for another type of installation. The double glue tapes can even be used on direct glue. Face it, if you can align the seams ahead of time on a direct-glue installation, there is still plenty of challenge left in straightening the field out during the actual installation phase. I have to give kudos to the Impax Group for the capability of upgrading earlier versions to the Pro Tool status with a swap of a chip. Try that with any other piece of electronics you own, like that big screen television that you purchased three years ago.
If you are not quite ready to make the Kool Glide leap, then you should at least consider the conventional seam tapes you are using. With the carpet manufacturers having such a wide variety of backings out there, it can be a tough keeping the correct tape on hand. This can be completely avoided by selecting the latest universal tapes. These seam tapes bond pretty much every carpet backing system you’re going to see on a day in, day out basis. Again, I am throwing some big kudos out to the cooperation level between the tape manufacturers and the carpet mills. The technology is the advanced thermoplastic adhesive that is applied to these tapes. Its appearance, melting process, and working capabilities are all about the same. It is simply the bond strength that bites onto about anything that takes it to a higher level.
There is probably not a single item that will revolutionize the installation industry overnight, but there are certainly some advancing winners for those that are looking for the edge. If there is one bright spot to keep an eye out for, its color is green. Well not literally, but environmental impact-wise. Materials that can be recycled or have a recycled content are quite appealing to many customers. Environmental concepts also play a role, such as flooring materials that use little or no adhesive; using a higher grade of cushion that will perform through two changes of carpet instead of one may count just as well. These types of ideas are appealing because they reduce landfill waste and limit airborne contaminates. Keep your eyes open for new technology that could just give you an edge over the competition.
Getting Down to Business
January 1, 2007