I always look forward to the annual FCI “Floor Prep” issue, for a number of reasons.  One is that it falls on the anniversary of my first FCI “Lets Talk Resilient” column in 2003, which means that this column starts my 9th year as an FCI Columnist.  

Heavy-duty moisture mitigation products are easy to apply, once the preparation of the concrete is done, and can take very high moisture levels.

Even a beat up old cork floor like this one can be sanded and refinished like a wood floor, provided it’s a homogeneous cork tile.

I always look forward to the annual FCI “Floor Prep” issue, for a number of reasons.  One is that it falls on the anniversary of my first FCI “Lets Talk Resilient” column in 2003, which means that this column starts my 9th year as an FCI Columnist. 

The title of my column, “Lets’s Talk Resilient,” was coined by the late Howard Olansky, who passed away in 2006 at the young age of 78. Every time I see the words “Let’s Talk Resilient” with my name under them I think of Howard and I am truly humbled.  Howard was loved and respected for 51 years of service to our industry.  He spent his career in the flooring business and helped to advance the industry in several key areas, such as emphasizing the term “installer” instead of “mechanic,” which seems like a small point but many felt, as I do, that this term more appropriately describes the skilled craft that floor covering installation is. Howard also had a lot to do with opening up the installation of wood floors to the floor covering industry. He also helped make it possible for carpet cleaners to incorporate the word “steam” in descriptions about their service.  Howard was a driving force behind the Floor Covering Industry Foundation (FCIF), which is devoted to assisting people in the flooring industry. And, of course Howard was best known as a journalist and publisher of several prominent industry publications including National Floor Trends, Floor Covering Installer and ICS Cleaning Specialist magazines. I am glad I got to know and spend time with Howard, and like many in our industry, I miss him.

Another reason I enjoy writing this column every year is that substrate preparation is so critical in the installation of resilient flooring – more than for any other floor covering category.  FCI editor John Moore has made this the priority issue of the year, year after year, and this issue stays on a lot of desks all year long as a reference guide.

Last year I did “Resilient Q & A” for the first time and it was well received, so I decided to do it again this year.  I hear from many of you during the year, so I’d like to incorporate some of those questions in addition to some of the common questions I get during my training classes and just in my travels in general.  

Q: I just heard about this new EPA lead rule.  Is this another new way for the Government to make money? Does it really affect us in the flooring trade?

A: The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now enforcing a federal rule regarding “lead-safe” work practices, and it requires training and certification.  Some states have their own rules in addition to the EPA rule so this really is a pretty big deal.  A lot of people think this does not affect the floor covering industry, but it does.  I recently took the EPA Lead RRP (Renovation, Repair and Painting) Renovator Initial Training, an all-day class that was offered by the Long Island Floor Covering Association here in New York.  Based on that, I’ll do my best to answer these questions.  First, although implementation of this rule just started in April, the law goes back to 1992 when the first George Bush was president and discussion go back even further to the 1970s when laws are passed regarding asbestos in buildings.  Someone told me years ago that “lead will be the new asbestos” and he was right.  The fact is, lead poisoning is a serious health issue, especially for young children and pregnant women. Here is what the actual rule says, quoted from the EPA website.

As a contractor, you play an important role in helping to prevent lead exposure. Ordinary renovation and maintenance activities can create dust that contains lead. By following the lead-safe work practices, you can prevent lead hazards. Understand that after April 22, 2010, federal law requires you to be certified and to use lead-safe work practices. To become certified, renovation contractors must submit an application and fee payment to EPA. Contractors who perform renovation, repairs, and painting jobs in pre-1978 housing and child-occupied facilities must, before beginning work, provide owners, tenants, and child-care facilities with a copy of EPA's lead hazard information pamphlet. Contractors must document compliance with this requirement.

This affects our industry because our work often disturbs painted surfaces, and also because there was lead in wood floor finishes at one time, so replacing carpet or refinishing wood has potential to create lead dust. Of course, we don’t create as much dust as a painter or carpenter might but the potential is still there.  The bottom line is the word is out, homeowners know about this law and the fines start at $37,500 for non-compliance or $75,000 for willful non-compliance. The word is that EPA and state governments are hiring people as inspectors to be on the look out for renovation jobs in progress and if that turns out to be true it will only be a matter of time before these fines start getting handed out. The good news is that it’s not that hard for installers and dealers to become certified. I think there is a potential plus side for people who get certified early and market themselves as following “lead-safe” work practices. If you do it and your competition does not, you are more likely to get the job!  

Q: A resilient flooring importer/distributor requires the use of their private labeled adhesive, but it does not perform to the satisfaction of our flooring contractors, but orders from the importer will not be released without the adhesive. Can they really void their warranty if we don’t use their adhesive?

A: This is a new question from one of our readers, but this debate has gone on for a long time in our industry. I have been a long time advocate of using the “name brand” adhesive because if the supplier of the resilient flooring did their homework you have a good adhesive that works and you have a single source warranty.   Sometimes adhesives are switched to save money and we have covered that here before.  I have no sympathy for that practice – if you save $10 on a 4-gallon can where the spread rate is 150 square feet per gallon, the savings is less than 1.7 cents per square foot.  However, sometimes there are good reasons to use an alternate, such as when there is a “system” warranty for using a single manufacturer’s adhesive, patching/underlayment compound, and/or moisture mitigation product. In the case of this reader’s question, this is the first time I have heard a concern where the performance of the “private label” adhesive was in question.  I am not an attorney so the legal aspects of this might be interpreted differently by someone who is. My feeling is that you can’t be forced to use the supplier’s “private label” adhesive, but they can’t be forced to warranty issues related to the adhesive if you don’t buy it from them. If they don’t sell the adhesive, they don’t have to warranty adhesive but if there is a manufacturing defect with the floor covering itself, there is no way the manufacturer could deny a claim because the wrong adhesive was used.  The two issues are unrelated and I can’t see a judge or jury siding against the installer or flooring contractor in such a case.  However, since so many resilient complaints involve something going on underneath the floor covering, this could get sticky, no pun intended.  Moisture issues, adhesive displacement and bond failures come to mind immediately as being blamed on the adhesive.  If you are going to switch adhesives, you need to have a rock solid warranty from the manufacturer that states that any problems related to the adhesive will cover the floor covering, adhesive and labor required to replace the floor.  A “bucket warranty” covering the adhesive only won’t do you any good. As for this case, where the orders from the importer will not be released without the adhesive, I would consult my attorney in that case. I have my doubts about the legality of that practice.  

Q: We’ve removed carpet from an old house and found 8” x 8” and 4” x 8” cork tiles underneath. Overall, they are in very good shape. One area of the house had a black cushion backing which stuck to the top of the cork – is there any way to remove it?

A: I am always thrilled to get a cork question.  I know, I need to get a life but, hey, what can I say? I love cork! This is a great find! Sixty to eighty years ago cork was a very popular floor, and it is back and more popular today than ever.  However, it’s rare to find an old one that is in good shape and worth rescuing.  The first thing to do is see if you are dealing with homogeneous cork versus veneer cork.  Most older cork floors were homogeneous and I bet this one is too.  A “cork dork” like me can tell just by looking at it. However, if you are not familiar with cork it would be wise to pick up a tile in a closet and see if it has a “pattern that is uniform throughout the product thickness,” which is the definition of homogeneous.  If it is, you can sand and refinish the floor just like a wood floor and it should be beautiful!

Recycled rubber sheet goods showing discoloration on the edges and tape marks.  Both are preventable problems and correctable through maintenance.

Q:  I am a commercial contractor. We are remodeling a medical facility and encountered moisture under the sheet vinyl when it was removed in order to install new VCT. The building is 18 years old. We did a moisture test and have reading from 5.6 to 7.56 pounds per 1000 ft. in 24 hours. There appears to be no moisture barrier under the slab. Is there a product to seal the slab so that the moisture will not affect the VCT?

A:  Yes. There are dozens of moisture mitigation products on the market, which can make selecting one confusing. Light-duty products usually have an upper limit on the amount of moisture are guaranteed for, for example, 10 pounds on a calcium chloride test. This can be dangerous if the testing is not done correctly so be sure you do the test right – especially make sure you grind the concrete before doing the test and do the test if the building is not at “in service” conditions.  Light duty mitigation products also make m nervous because calcium chloride testing only “sees” the top ¾” or so of the slab.  You might have less than 10 pounds today but there could be a lot of moisture down below that will move upwards after the floor is coated, causing results higher than the upper limit for the product. That is why the ASTM F 2170 Relative humidity test is becoming more frequently used; it measures moisture inside the slab instead of just at the surface and is a better indicator of future moisture movement.  So, if you are thinking about one of these “light duty” products, do some F 2170 testing to be safe.

Heavy-duty moisture mitigation products usually have upper limits of 20 - 25 pounds on the calcium chloride test, which is actually higher than the test can measure and some can even go on top of a new slab. The best products are 100 percent solids epoxy products that are applied over a shot-blasted concrete slab in one, two and sometimes three coats, depending on the product. Some require sand to be broadcast into the top coat and some do not. Shot blasting is an important part of the process because it removes any contamination and opens the pores of the concrete, which helps create the strongest possible bond. Don’t even consider a moisture mitigation product that does not include shot blasting as part of the process.  

Q: Is there a way I can learn how to do moisture testing “by the book”?

A: Yes. I would recommend one of two programs, or both.  IICRC has “Introduction to Substrate/Subfloor Inspection,” covers all tyopes of subjects regarding wood and concrete substrates.  It’s a prerequisite for the other IICRC hard surface inspector certifications but is also a good course for anyone in the industry, even if you are not an inspector.  Also, ICRI offers a training and certification class on concrete moisture testing.  Both classes are two days long.  If you are interested drop me a line and I will direct you to the next class in your area.  

Q: I installed a sheet “Recycled Rubber” floor and I have dark shading along the edge and marks on the floor where I used tape to hold the seams tight while the adhesive dried.  I put a coat of floor finish on the floor but it still doesn’t look good. How could I have avoided this? Is there any way to fix it?

A: The shading on the edge probably came from a solvent that was used to wipe down the seam after it was set into the adhesive. You need to be very careful with recycled rubber when it comes to taping and cleaning the seams. Manufacturers have very specific warnings about this because the types of urethane adhesives used to adhere these products are difficult to remove from the surface.  The best way to avoid this is to be very careful laying your sheets so there no adhesive gets on the surface.  If you do use a solvent that the manufacturer recommends, go over the area again with a cloth dampened with water, and do it several times to be sure its clean.  As far as using tape, some suppliers say don’t tape at all and others say blue painters tape only.  Duct tape and standard white masking tape may leave a residue that is difficult to remove.  In this case, it may be possible to repair this floor by having a professional maintenance technician strip the floor using a stripping solution and an abrasive pad, and then re-coat the floro with two coats of the recommended floor finish.   

Q: Is there a book about resilient floor installation I can refer to when questions come up?

A: Most resilient manufacturers have their installation specifications on line so don’t do a job, especially on a new product, without taking time to read up on the product and adhesive you are working with. However, a more general source that is not brand specific is the “Resilient Floor Reference Guide” published by FCICA and available from FCI via the BNP Store (store.bnpmedia.com).    

Thanks for the questions! Please keep them coming because if you have a question I bet that many other people may have the same question, and I would enjoy answering them here.  Many of the answers to your questions are in the “Archives” section at the FCI website (FCImag.com) and the “Articles” section of my website (FlooringAnswers.com). You can also contact me directly cc@Flooringanswers.com