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We must always consider the importance of prepping the substrate for the installation of carpet tiles – it’s just good marketing! Instead of addressing all aspects of floor preparation, let’s concentrate on substrate preparation for carpet tile installation for a wood or concrete substrate.  I am not addressing vapor emissions, porosity or bond breakers at this time.  The items we will address are those that “could have and should have” been taken care of in the floor prep portion of our installation.

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Most manufacturers now have multiple types of backings on their carpet tile.  PVC, thermoplastic, fiberglass and cushion back are a few examples.  The multiple types of backings require more attention to our prep methods.  The carpet manufacturers must continue to introduce new backings with new marketing strategies to attempt to gain market share.

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As with installation, manufacturing and distribution of flooring products is very competitive.  As installers, we can learn a few things in marketing and creating opportunities by being proactive and getting ahead of the curve.  Make it a personal goal to learn about the new products and why you as a knowledgeable installer, should be the “chosen one” for all your bids. Let me emphasize that great hand skills do not make you a great installer.  Today, it is the package of “Presentation, Quality and Value” that separates you from the crowd.

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Recently at the annual CFI International Certified Floorcovering Installers’ Convention, the guest speaker, Tom Jennings, shared with us one of the best marketing tips I have heard in years.  It is so simple, but it may result in gaining a customer for life with a 30-second phone call.  “Good morning, Mrs. Smith, this is Bob, your flooring contractor.  I want you to know that I will be on time for your scheduled installation.  I am calling you now so you don’t have to worry; I’ll be there on time.” 

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So many of us fail to appreciate the value of a phone call and the importance placed on it by our customers.  How often have you been called to say that the company providing the service you requested will be on time?  You worry, I worry and we all worry about people arriving on time.  The majority of calls I receive are about delays.  Here is an opportunity to create goodwill and customer loyalty.

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Now, let’s talk about something that is part of the “total package” that I mentioned earlier.  It’s knowledge about the substrate.  With any type of substrate, it is important when you are detailing your job to note the existing adhesive that is present on the floor.

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Carpet tile adhesive on top of multiple layers of broadloom adhesive, is a huge liability for flooring contractors.  Many manufacturers state that at the very minimum, the ridges of the existing adhesive are to be removed.  With multiple layers of old adhesive, removing the ridges is just not enough.  Application of a carpet tile adhesive on top an existing broadloom adhesive creates emulsification of the combination of adhesives over a period of time.

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Depending on what occurs between the adhesives, the time frame for reaction may be 3- 6 weeks or even 6 months.  In some instances, the adhesives breakdown and create a gooey substance that liquefies and seeps up between the tiles. 

The breakdown of adhesives is easily recognized by the following signs.  The adhesive turns into thick liquid “goo.”  It is very slick and the initial complaint may be that the tiles are shrinking.  The tiles are not shrinking; they are sliding as we walk on them.  The expansion gaps that were left at the drywall or under the toed base create an area for expansion.   As the field and trimmed edge tiles slide to butt against framing walls, it is very visible that the middle and edge glued tiles are gapping.  The gap locations may change as the tiles are in a state of constant flux.

The breakdown of adhesives can be even more severe if the old adhesive is a solvent-based product.  Cut-back adhesive reaction times are quicker and more severe. 

Photo 1 shows a combination of old cut-back and solvent-based carpet adhesive.

Photo 2 shows emulsification and seepage at the corner of the tile.

Photo 3 shows a situation in which the initial complaint of the tile shrinkage was disproved in examining substrate and measuring several tiles.

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Always compare the tile measured on the floor with shelf stock tile and always measure the length and width of the tile.

Note in image Photo 4, the small amount of adhesive breakdown can be assessed by looking at the darkest shiny images in this photo.  All cut-back and solvent-based adhesives need to be mechanically removed and encapsulated.

At our company, it is policy to always skim coat and sand all of the hard surface installations.  Looking at the image of the cut-back adhesive, notice the holes and pock marks that were filled with adhesive.  This is not the type of work our customer paid for and this is not the surface on which the manufacturers want their products installed.

Photo 5 shows an installer scraping away layers of adhesive.  Note the emulsified adhesive and latex floor patch that transferred to the back of the carpet tiles that are next to the bookcase.

Let’s compare the previous substrate with (Photo 6).  This is the only room out of 800 square yards that did not have problems with shrinking tiles or glue emulsification.  This substrate is clean; there are no multiple layers of adhesive with which to contend.

Photo 7 displays the same area after the skim coat.  Notice the floor deviations and low spots that are present.  The patching material makes it much easier to see the irregularities of the floor.

The previous example showed a building that was built 50 to 70 years ago.  In the next viewing, a building was constructed in 2008 with both wood and concrete subfloors.  It shows an example of a poor installation with minimal preparation.

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Photos 8 and 9 show staples from the subfloor which are visible above the subfloor.  Also, notice the lack of adhesive in Photos 9 and 10 on a 5-ply birch subfloor.  This installation is of a cushion-back tile and even the darkest areas of adhesive provided minimal tack.  The installer should have increased roller fiber depth, primed the floor correctly and/or used a 1/16” square-notched trowel.

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Photos 11 and 12 provide examples of a lower floor concrete substrate on which the paint was not scraped, saw joints were not filled, inadequate adhesive was used and no adhesive is visible around the perimeter.  This photo can be used as an example of 100% preventable service problems.

All installations start with substrate conditions and it is our responsibility to point out areas of concern.  DOCUMENT SUBSTRATE ISSUES!  Explain to the customer and the retailer that your installation warranty will not cover problems that result from complications caused by the substrate in the area of your installation. NEVER IGNORE A SUBSTRATE PROBLEM!  As soon as you start working, without noting deficiencies in the subfloor, the problems become YOURS!  You are the expert on the job.  You will need documentation and a sign-off waiver to avoid liability for any problems related to the surface that receives flooring installed by you.

The next time you are preparing for the next job; don’t forget that “Presentation, Quality and Value” will separate YOU from the crowd.  Marketing is your game plan for success.