Covering Your Bases
December 14, 2010
In today’s world it is imperative that we cover all our bases for any job. The first contact with the customer begins the process. Most of what we say here is “old hat” and common sense, but every so often we need to review requirements and procedures.
As always, one of the first bases to cover is to determine the customer’s expectations for the wood floor. The product to be used, the look expected and the performance must be understood by all the parties. If any of these items are misunderstood by us or the customer, dissatisfaction is the likely result.
Another important base to cover is product knowledge. For the wood flooring: What are the installation requirements? What are the environmental requirements? How will the product perform at the site?
Installation requirements are directed by the manufacturer of the flooring product. I have encountered product without a specific set of instructions. For these products the manufacturer may defer the installation directive to those associations that publish general instructions for installation such as the Installation Guidelines published by the NWFA or Installing Hardwood Flooring, formally published by NOFMA. Our base is not covered very well if we install a product without knowing or following the manufacturer’s installation directive.
A site visit is also required to determine the conditions of the structure and suitability of the product to be installed. Here is where the check list of site conditions can help cover our bases and determine all the materials necessary to complete the job. Here we also determine if the site is suitably clean, dry, and flat. I have frequented jobs where the flooring is already installed and the HVAC units are not even on site. Other sites have no interior drywall. Or others where the flooring has so much mud, dirt and debris you can’t see the flooring. The contractors that have installed these jobs haven’t covered their bases very well. If anything goes wrong they will likely be blamed for the failure of the flooring.
One very important item for solid wood is to know the moisture condition of the product and assess it for suitability of installation and the expected changes as it acclimates to normal conditions. Flooring that has a too high moisture content will result in shrinkage gaps and or cupping as it dries to normal moisture conditions. Flooring that is too dry will result in cupping and or buckling as it absorbs moisture and expands to normal conditions. This means taking moisture readings of the product before installation. Cover your bases by noting moisture readings of the flooring on job documents like the site checklist. I am sorry to say that all too often when on a problem inspection or consultation and I ask for notes on the pre-installation moisture readings none can be found.
For engineered flooring most instructions do not specifically require the same product moisture checks that are associated with solid wood. Most directives call for site moisture test and protection from moisture within the flooring system itself. Many engineered products require that the environment be maintained within a certain range for the product to perform as expected. This may be very difficult to maintain in geographical areas with wide seasonal environmental swings or extended dry or wet conditions. Sophisticated mechanical equipment may be necessary to stay within the environmental requirements of the flooring product. Cover your base by informing the customer of the requirements and noting these conditions on the job documents.
Installation procedures can be very proprietary for engineered product. Manufacturer’s directions should be followed to the letter. Items such as acclimation or non-acclimation, floor flatness, and cleanliness can be critical for product performance and manufacturer support. Items regarding adhesive application such as, spread rate and trowel size, flash time, working time, and whether to roll a floor or not after installation can also be critical to performance. Again, cover you base by following the directives.
For the finish: What are the sanding requirements for the particular wood product? What particular finish system components are required? What are the proper application techniques? What are the environmental requirements?
For site finished flooring product knowledge of both the wood and the finish is very important. Not knowing the extra time and sanding passes required for difficult to sand or stain species can result in extra labor and costs we may not recover. Neutral colors or lightly stained flooring may also allow for fewer passes and better cost efficiency for us and the customer. Cover the bases by using the recommended system components from a single manufacturer; by applying the proper coverage; by allowing proper dry and cure times. In addition, inform the customer on finish protection such as limited traffic and not covering the floor the first week during curing to avoid finish abuse and objectionable color change.
Other common sense bases
• Make sure the correct product is delivered and installed, regarding items as color, size, finish, and grade.
• Keep the paper trail by including manufacturers’ names and names of products used on job documents.
• Inform the customer the expected time to complete the job and stick to the time line.
• Complete the job by installing all materials such as thresholds and transitions.
• Educate the customer on product maintenance.
• For nailed/cleated flooring, use the correct fastener and a sufficient number.
• Don’t install boards that have obvious defects or have characters that are prominently different from other boards.
• Keep control of the site while installing the floor to prevent abuse by others.
• More importantly, keep exclusive control of the site when site finishing a floor to prevent marring and contamination by others.
• For site finishing, if applying the final coat some weeks after the original finish application you lose control of the site and contamination becomes a high probability.
• Remodel and refinishing jobs are site specific and require verbal and written communication to establish what is the expected and likely outcome.
• Regulation regarding noxious materials such as asbestos and lead may require certification for disturbing and removing such products.
• Use safe practices, proper protection, and required clothing that complies with agency regulations when using tools and electrical equipment.
• Use proper respiration protection when finishing floors.
• Maintain a book of proper MSD Sheets of products used at the jobsite.
• Dispose of refuse properly, particularly finishing materials and sanding dust.
Cover these bases and customer satisfaction will be the result with the agreed upon payday. In addition, the likely hood of call backs decreases. And finally, efficiency and productivity is improved and the unexpected problems become less frequent.