Installers putting down vinyl composition tiles (VCT) with a latex-modified asphalt emulsion adhesive

This installation of rubber flooring in a gym was done with a two-part reactive adhesive, which is low in VOCs.

To help keep pace with design trends, floor-covering manufacturers continue to offer a growing array of floor-covering options. No longer are consumers limited to carpet, sheet goods and tile – they can now enjoy the resurgence of homogenous vinyl, along with unique looks created from cork, bamboo, exotic wood and luxury vinyl tile. Contractors and installers looking to maximize profit while minimizing the risk of callbacks need to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to new floor covering products, to ensure they choose adhesives that perform effectively.

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The world of carpet

When choosing an adhesive for a carpet installation, one must consider the type of backing, necessary grab, traffic load, maintenance schedule, and quality and lifecycle of the carpet. Historically, the two most popular carpet backings have been ActionBac and jute. However, industry demand for fast-track carpet installations as well as new technologies and materials have led to a new world of carpet backings, including: smooth, rough and woven unitary, hot-melt, Kanga, Karastan and solid PVC. Moving from two-step to one-step added carpet installation methods, such as with Enhancer-backed carpet, meant that adhesives also had to evolve to provide more aggressive bonding. The majority of today’s one-step carpet installations rely on the use of styrene butadiene rubber (SBR)-based adhesives due to their fast grab and excellent re-tacking characteristics. For builders and business owners desiring a short-term carpet installation, an economy-grade, SBR-based adhesive would be suitable.

On the other hand, a higher-end, commercial installation expected to last several years, which calls for double glue-down application, would require a higher-grade adhesive.  For carpets without design patterns where seams can be “trace-cut,” an adhesive offering ultra quick grab should be used. This will allow the carpet to be rolled right away, ideal for today’s fast-turnaround installation schedule. More expensive, patterned carpets require a higher-quality adhesive with strong grab and appropriate slip time for matching up the patterns.

This installation of hardwood flooring in upscale high rise apartments in New Jersey was done using a 100%-solids moisture-cure urethane adhesive, which is recommended for mainstream wood flooring installations.

Sheet-goods adhesives

It is imperative that the sheet-goods backing (e.g., felt-backed vinyl, PVC-backed vinyl and solid PVC) dictate the choice of adhesive for the installation, thus avoiding the dreaded “plasticizer migration” syndrome and subsequent callback. When an incompatible adhesive is used to install solid vinyl sheet-goods products, the chances are high for experiencing bubbling, severe discoloration and installation failure. Avoid product incompatibility by checking the adhesive manufacturer’s recommendation for proper choice of adhesive. 

Be sure to consider the specific application criteria that the sheet-goods installation will be subjected to. For example, if the floor-covering product will be subject to heavy “point loads,” as in healthcare facilities, a harder-setting polyurethane adhesive such as a premium urethane adhesive should be used. While a higher-quality, more durable adhesive may cost a little more, the chances of installation failure now and later drop significantly.

Vinyl composition tile

While adhesive selection for a typical vinyl composition tile (VCT) installation should be foolproof, experienced installers could tell you otherwise. Quite often, a VCT installation appears flawless on the day of installation but has tiles mysteriously out of position on the following day. Chances are, another construction trade trampled across the floor, moving ladders or carts and causing “fresh” VCT to slide. Having to execute immediate damage control creates much grief for both the floor-covering installer and contractor. Spending a little more money on an adhesive with a shorter open time, very aggressive grab and ultra high shear strength is well worth the investment, particularly in fast-track, heavy commercial flooring applications.

Wood adhesives

Wood floor coverings continue to thrive and are growing in popularity. Because wood is a natural product, much consideration must be given to the type of adhesive used in its installation. The type of adhesive appropriate for engineered wood product installations is very different from that for solid wood planks. As is the case for all floor-covering products, wood products need to acclimate according to manufacturer’s recommendations. Because solid wood products require a strong bond, urethane-based adhesives are excellent choices for holding solid wood in place. Once cured, both of these high-quality, solvent-free adhesives provide the needed flexibility and superior bond strength that solid wood installations demand. For approved pre-finished, engineered wood, cork and parquet floor-coverings, a water-based adhesive is a choice pick due to its ultra high tack and excellent re-bonding characteristics. Before beginning any wood product installation, always consult the wood manufacturer to determine if their product is recommended for glue down, because some engineered woods must be installed as floating or nail-down systems.

Keep in mind that in the world of construction, warranties are given with only one condition: The manufacturer’s installation recommendations must be followed. Before beginning any installation, take the extra step of consulting with the floor-covering and adhesive manufacturers regarding the proper adhesives and trowels. Doing so will help protect you from future liabilities and teach you more about the products’ characteristics and capabilities, which pays off with an easier, faster and more successful installation.