NOFMA Tip Sheet: Contractor Responsibility
January 16, 2008
Wood flooring contractors work with a natural, infinitely variable, renewable product that has a warmth and beauty all its own. We give to customers a unique product that can last a lifetime. Overall, contractors take pride in their work and are passionate about the wood product. So, what is the contractor’s responsibility in order to give the customer this lifetime product?
The contractor is obligated to know the product to be used. The contractor should be accountable for proper placement of the product and the requirements for this activity. The contractor should be depended upon to produce good workmanship for acceptable product performance. Know the product To start, we know that wood is a naturally dynamic and variable product. That moisture will affect it dramatically. That it reacts differently according to species, size and construction. Product literature, schools and instruction courses, and experience are sources of information that teach us about the product. We should understand how each of the common variables affect the flooring and to what extent.
Some of the specificsKnowing the typical environmental moisture conditions for the geographical area and how the flooring will react is our responsibility. The average seasonal equilibrium moisture content in my area, Memphis, TN, is 7 1/2 to 8% with a range from 6 1/2 to 7% in winter to 9 to 9 1/2% in summer. For the Washington DC area, seasonal emc ranges are 5 1/2 to 6% late winter and 8 to 8 1/2% mid-summer. This information along with the moisture readings taken of the flooring will determine acclimation procedures and or the need for field spacing. These evaluations and procedures are the contractor’s responsibility.
You should know if the product, as specified or delivered, is suitable for the application. Some examples: A solid product should not be put below grade. A wide plank or species with high expansion coefficients is not suitable for radiant heating and or areas with extreme moisture ranges. A close grained species, i.e. maple, is not suitable for a site finish dark stain application. A NOFMA #2 Common grade is likely not suitable for a formal application. A relatively soft species is likely not suitable for high traffic. These are attributes of the product the contractor should know so that the customer can be advised of the relative issues. This knowledge along with communication creates proper customer expectation, so that appropriate choices can be made.
The contractor should know site requirements for good flooring performance. It is also contractor responsibility to evaluate site conditions, determine if they are correct or need correcting, and to report inadequacies. Note, we do not suggest the contractor is responsible for correcting a problem situation unless that has been agreed to in the original contract. The dialogue following site assessment is critical. Communication should be specific and directed to the correct individual. Written notes or emails recapping the issues shows you are a responsible contractor. A waiver denying responsibility may not get you out of trouble. You are the flooring expert. Where a serious problem exists, the statement, “You should have known better,” may apply in a legal environment. A site evaluation the day the flooring is delivered gives little time for any corrective action when necessary. A responsible contractor will check the site before the last minute.
The contractor should know the proper procedures for placing the flooring products. This requires reading and following manufacturer’s instructions. This includes all the specifics relating to proper tools, use of those tools, and proper working time lines.
For nail down flooring-lay out, subfloor prep, perimeter spacing, nailing technique and frequency, racking technique, transition detail, etc.
For engineered flooring direct glue-layout, subfloor prep, trowel size, recommended adhesive, spread rate, adhesive working and open time, clean-up, etc
For sanding and finishing-floor prep and repair, grit sequence, layout as related to highly visible areas, hand work, finish application technique, time line for subsequent coats, etc.
Obviously this is not a complete listing I could likely name more than a hundred items, but it is the contractor’s responsibility to know the specifics.
But what if there are no manufacturers’ instructions? NOFMA manufacturing members often refer to NOFMA instructions where they have no specific directive. Even, non-members will refer to NOFMA directive as the recognized industry authority. But where no instruction is presented, it is our responsibility to communicate with the involved parties this is the case. As the flooring expert we can relate from experience procedures and techniques that will and won’t work so an informed decision can be made. Here again the written note on what decision was made identifies the responsible contractor.
Manufacturers also place the placement of the product as our responsibility. In other words it is our responsibility not to install defective product. The board that had the unusual knot, streak, or other character that stands out from the rest of the flooring should likely not be installed. This is where racking out sections of flooring before installation allows for responsible decisions to be made on what is appropriate to install. If an excessive cull rate is determined, then it is our responsibility to stop work and communicate this to a proper individual.
But what about the situation where a factory finished floor has some thickness variation or over-wood? Obvious conditions with boards that create a tripping hazard should not be installed. But where the variation is somewhat uniform in the overall look of the floor, the contractor is not the responsible party to measure the board to board over-wood. This should take place at the manufacturing level. The same goes for grade, particularly those grades that are proprietary such as with factory finished products. If the overall look of the flooring is consistent when racked out, the contractor should not have to grade the flooring as the official flooring grader. Removing the occasional “stand-out” board is our responsibility.
Finally, it goes without saying that the contractor is responsible for quality work. The end result should be acceptable to 90-percent-plus of the consumers. Sure, there will be the extremely demanding customer, but this is often obvious from the beginning and will be reflected in the overall bid and detail of the final contract.
The contractor is responsible for knowing the product; how to use the product; and to perform any work in a quality manner. When in doubt on the specifics of any of these items, contact the principal stake holder for their input and clarification. Also, be more responsible by attending any of the flooring schools to further your knowledge and expertise.