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Like a lot of people I meet, I grew up working and hanging around in floor covering stores that were owned by my two grandfathers, my great uncle and my father, doing odd jobs and working on installations as a helper.   I started working full time in sales and operations in June of 1978 at age 19 and have been in the business ever since - 15 years in retail, 12 years in sales and technical for commercial resilient flooring manufacturers, and for the past three years owning my own consulting and sales company.  Thinking back to when I first started, I had to learn a lot of things in a hurry so that I would be able to hold my own on the sales floor, and not fake my way through it. I started to read everything I could get my hands on that had to do with floor covering products, from trade magazines to manufacturer’s product catalogs to installation guides. I picked the brains of every sales rep that came into the store and I attended seminars whenever I could.  Before too long I became more and more comfortable with what I was talking about and became a real product knowledge “geek.”

As my career evolved, I started working as a volunteer on the issue of installer training and before I knew it I was celebrating ten years in the business, still working in retail, but also working as an instructor in a local trade school and writing for a trade magazine. When I left the retail business in the early 1990s I started working for a manufacturer and was asked to be their representative on the ASTM Committee on Resilient Flooring, which has been a great learning experience for me as well.  I have since gotten involved in other organizations such as FCICA (The Flooring Contractors Association) and IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification), that focus on education and training and create documents that are referred to as industry standards, documents that are created by a consensus process where all interested parties have a chance to offer their input and the finished product has agreement by everyone involved.  Manufacturers are increasingly referring to standards because they have an implied credibility and some ‘teeth’ above and beyond doing things ‘the manufacturer’s way.’ 

“So what does all this have to do with floor covering installers and dealers,” you might ask.  “I have umpteen years of experience of experience in the business and I know how to do things.  My answer is that as products and installation systems have gotten more complicated, published guidelines are more prevalent than ever to specify how things should be done. I have written several manufacturers’ installation guides and architectural specifications, which reference industry standards whenever possible. From the manufacturers’ point of view, these publications accomplish two things.  It allows for an opportunity to ‘write the book’ for how their product should be used, installed and maintained.  Whether it’s the product data sheet about how and where the product should be used, architectural specifications that guide the architect and the contractor or the installation guide that directs the dealer and installer.  If the guidelines are followed there should not be a problem.  However if they are not followed for whatever reason, these documents will be referenced in determining what went wrong and who is at fault. 

I have done inspections of flooring failures for many years and last year I was certified as in instructor of two if the IICRC Inspector certification courses.  The process of diagnosing a flooring failure involves gathering background on the job, going to look at the job and then researching the published guidelines to see if everything adds up. If a written standard exists and it was not followed, then the report will show that. Here are some examples:  

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Buckling Plywood (Photo 1)

A resilient manufacturer commissioned me to go look at a job where a plywood underlayment buckled after the floor was installed.  The complaint was that the manufacturer’s adhesive had caused the plywood to swell and buckle.  Plywood underlayment had been installed and skimcoated with a patching compound before solid vinyl tile was installed.  The floor certainly was buckled, as shown in Photo 1, so I measured the spacing of the fasteners (Photo 2).  The spacing was 5-16 inches in the field and 3-7 inches on the edges of the boards.  I also found a bag of the patching compound on the job and read the instructions.  To draw conclusions, I referenced the patching compound manufacturer’s instructions and two industry standards. ASTM F 1482, Guide for Installation and Preparation of Panel Type Underlayments to Receive Resilient Flooring and APA Engineered Wood Construction Guide. Both specified fastener spacing of   three inches along panel edges and six inches over the panel field.  In addition, right on the bag of patching compound, there was a bright yellow label that recommended a different product and a liquid additive for skim coating wood and patching underlayment joints.  It was not hard to explain based on these three published guidelines that the underlayment was not nailed enough and the wrong patching compound was used.  There was not a problem with the adhesive causing the plywood to buckle.

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Curling Tile (Photo 3)

This one involved determining the cause for “curling tile.”  The dealer had used the flooring manufacturer’s adhesive and had prepared the floor using the exact brand of patching compound that the flooring manufacturer recommended. I lifted two tiles (Photo 4) and the patching compound and the product came up together, with the entire back of the tile covered in gray. The patch did not adhere to the concrete.  Why? I sent the sample off to the patch manufacturer to be sure their product had been used and to ask for their help in figuring out the cause. Their reply said,“Upon microscopic examination, it appears that our product was installed prior to the installation. However, the underside of the tile shows it was installed over other patching materials, including what appears to be a white gypsum patching material, adhesive from what could have been another flooring installation, and a black unknown contaminant.” The patching compound was applied over a contaminated substrate and the contaminants let go, causing the entire floor to fail.  The patching compound manufacturer’s guidelines for cleaning the substrate had not been followed.  This is a very common practice – “skim coating” over old adhesive, dirty floors, old patch, paint, you name it. I have seen many floors that failed because of this, even though “The Book” says to clean the substrate before skimcoating.  

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Defective Adhesive (Photo 5)

This complaint for “defective adhesive” was filed because the tile was curling and there was adhesive oozing up between the joints.  When I lifted a tile (Photo 6) there was a mushy mess underneath.  It turns out the old floor was Vinyl Composition Tile (VCT) installed with asphaltic adhesive that was black. The old tile was removed and the new solid vinyl product was installed with a white acrylic adhesive applied right over the old adhesive.  There was a reaction between the two and the floor failed.  In this case, there were numerous published documents to refer to including ASTM F 710, Standard Practice for Preparing Concrete Floors To Receive Resilient Flooring, the adhesive instructions, and the manufacturer’s installation guide that referenced both of the other documents.  All of them said that before installing resilient flooring, the existing substrate “shall be free of dust, solvent, paint, wax, oil, grease, residual adhesive.”

I could continue with examples – wrong adhesive, no moisture testing done, wrong underlayment, jobs done in cold or hot buildings, on and on….I think you get the point.  “The Book” is there for a reason.  If you follow it, you rarely will have a problem.  If you don’t and the job fails, the published guidelines and industry standards will be used to determine if the job was done correctly and the can and may be used against you.

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“They don’t give me time to do the job the right way” is another comment I have heard.  This is where “The Book” is a friend to the dealer and the installer.  If the owner or the general contractor doesn’t want to pay for a “by the book” installation or doesn’t have the time, make sure the owner gets a copy of the published guidelines so they know that what they are asking for will not be guaranteed.  They may think twice. However be careful if they ask to “sign off’ in cases like this.  Even if the owner does “sign off” you may still be liable if the job fails and the situation goes to court, so consult your attorney before you get anyone to ‘sign off.’  It may be better to just walk away from the job.