This is one of the fun issues we do at FCI magazine, Troubleshooting. As part of your customer service from installers, retailers and distributors, being a problem solver and troubleshooter is both a benefit and a burden. There are times when being the answer man means being the bad guy or least popular. Other times it makes you the hero (for a day) at least to someone who values your opinion. Bill Avery, technical service director for Great Northern Sales Associates, shared the following pictures with me. He is always giving me ideas for articles that reflect problem areas, which seem to be recurring most frequently in the field. I would like to thank Bill for his insight, understanding and relentless pursuit of the job well done!
As you can see in Photo 1, we are looking at a typical stair tread installation on a rehabbed, pan-poured, commercial stairwell. The complaint from the end user was that the stair treads are no good! The treads are cracking at the nose area, as seen in Photos 2 and 3.
This started as hairline cracks within the first year and is now a full-blown tripping hazarded, vividly visible in Photos 4 and 5. So here it is, 18 months later, and the distributor who sold the treads to the installation company is being asked by the end user to honor a claim for a manufacturing defect because the stair treads did not hold up! Can “You Make the Call”?
Maybe Photo 6, in which the cracked lip has been pulled up, will help you! Photo 7 is another open lip; it is a close-up shot that should help you see what is both there and not there. That’s correct; no epoxy nose filler can be seen in any of the installed treads.
Photo 8 is a typical tread on this job with the edge/end of the tread pulled up; this end is not cracked because well, no one walks on the very edge of a stair tread. Hint, this is a great way to see what is going on without compromising the tread (if it has an integrity). And because this area is not in the high traffic lanes, any repairs that were made would not have been done in this area, thus giving you some insight to what was done during the initial installation. The other visible point to make in Photo 8 is well-defined trowel ridges. What do they mean? Lack of proper fit (for one) of the tread to the stair!
Each tread must be fit to the corresponding stair. This step or operation is not an option, it is a must do just like epoxy nose filler. Also visible in Photos 8, 9 and 10 is a lack of transfer (adhesive) to the tread. Why is the majority of the adhesive still on the stair/substrate? Did he get into the adhesive late? No. Did they prepare the substrate correctly? No.
This lack of preparation is painfully obvious in Photos 9 and 11, due to the amount of contamination in the adhesive that did transfer to the underside of the tread. Back to the lack of transfer to the tread itself; do the words “mold release” mean anything to us? Certainly it does; we all know that rubber stair treads are just that, “molded.” This means that during the manufacturing process a release agent is sprayed on the mold prior to the base/plug material is put in the mold. The mold is then closed and extreme heat is applied to both sides of the mold. This cures the material/rubber into the shape of the tread. To enable the removal of the tread from the mold, the release agent is still on both sides of the tread. Unless a grip strip is applied who cares about the top? But the bottom (or adhesive side) is a different story. All manufactures state that the mold release must be removed prior to the installation. This can be done either chemically with alcohol or mechanically by sanding. After looking at these photos, aren’t you amazed that the adhesive even stuck to the ill-prepared substrate; I know I am!
The last photo, Photo 12, is indicative of the quality (or lack of) found on this job. In this photo, you are looking at the black colored riser head-on, with the lip of a stair tread above it. Do you think a straight edge was used here? Not.
This job was winged from the beginning. The only prayer must have been said by the installer in the form of, “I hope I get paid.” The distributor is not responsible for sub-par, improper workmanship. Their job is to supply and service the quality products they represent. When the material was sold for this job, the distributor asked do you need epoxy nose filler? And when the order was processed by the manufacturer that same question was also asked. When the installer opened the cartons of treads and in bold letters the insert said, “Epoxy nose filler must be used” and, “Mold release must be remove,” did he think the manufacture was kidding? The invoice for this order is the checkmate for this problem situation. The distributor has a record of what went out their door with the stair treads. Adhesive, but no epoxy nose filler!
My father, who was himself a rubber products salesman (the best), said it over and over when he would do clinics wearing his white Johnsonite lab coat: “Don’t get creative with the installation instructions, do it the way we tell you, if it fails we’ll pay for it.” Who should pay for this? “You Make the Call” Thanks again for reading; have a great day!