A Carpet Installer's Notebook: The Importance of and How-to of Sealing Seams
May 23, 2011
When it comes to seams, I have always been a “belt and suspenders man.” I know some of you are probably thinking, “Hetts, what the H E Double Hockey Sticks are you talking about now?” Let me explain. Grandpa always wore both a belt and suspenders. Once I asked why he always wore a belt and suspenders. He smiled and explained; it seems that when Grandpa was young his family was very poor and lived on a farm out in the country. He had to walk five miles to school everyday, barefoot, in the snow, uphill both ways, or so he said. The only clothes he had were hand-me-downs when his older brother out grew them. Grandpa got the hand-me-downs whether he had grown into them or not. One day after school, wearing a brand new pair (new to him) of hand-me-down pants that were not quite his size, a schoolyard bully started picking on Grandpa. The bully was much larger than Grandpa, but Grandpa was much fleeter of foot than the bully. He had always heard that if you stood up to bullies they would back off. Never really worked with his older brothers, but that’s family, so he figured what the heck… He hauled off, smacked the bully right in the nose, and then took off like a shot. Grandpa was fast making his getaway when the too-large pair of pants slipped off his narrow hips, sliding down to his ankles, tripped him face first into the school yard snow. As you can imagine, he was very embarrassed lying there, in the snow, pants around his ankles in front of his watching classmates. Not to mention how sore he was later from the terrible beating he took from the bully. He said from that day forward he always wore a belt and suspenders determined never to be caught with his pants down again.
I always kinda felt the same way about seams. Having had a couple seams fail when I was first starting out as an installer made me a bit gun shy when it came to seams. Double check and double coverage became my by-words. I have always felt the three most important things you can do on a job, to get out and get paid, are to make good seams, make a neat, clean tuck at the walls, and vacuum before you leave. Not to say that’s all you need to do. No one can see how well you secured the strip or cut the pad and no one can tell if you stretched properly, until it starts to wrinkle later. But, the seams, the tuck, and how clean you left the job site are the first things people see.
An installer asked me recently what carpets I thought needed to be seam sealed. He seemed a bit surprised when I replied, “All of them all the time.” “What! Not just Berbers or level loops? Even cheap cut piles?” I said, “Especially cheap cut piles.” I know there are a couple of carpets designed primarily for commercial direct glue applications that the manufacturer says not to seal the seams, so always be aware of manufacturers specifications. If you are not sure, CALL THE MANUFACTURER! The key here is C.Y.A.
With those exceptions in mind, seal all your seams all the time. Here’s the reason, it’s not because the mills make a lousy product; well sometimes maybe. It’s because you are cutting the carpet and you have to protect the raw edge. If you were making an area rug would you leave the raw edge? No, it would be bound or serged. Why? To stop edge ravel, that’s why as well as leaving a finished edge. The same principle applies to seam edges. They have to be sealed! The raw edge needs protection to prevent edge ravel. It’s no different than turning your old work pants into cut-offs. The cut edge will ravel if not hemmed or sealed in some fashion.
I know you don’t want to hear this, but, if you don’t seal the seam and it ravels or de-laminates within 3 inches of the seam edge, it is considered an installation problem. That is now your carpet; it doesn’t matter if it is in someone else’s house. You are responsible to either fix or replace it.
OK, enough doom and gloom. Here’s how to seal your seams quickly and easily, without making a mess, or waiting for the glue to dry. This job Jon and I did was a face-to-face Wilton with the seam hot-taped not hand sewn. This is a perfect example of a belt-and-suspender approach to seaming. Because it is a woven material we first seal the edge with latex type seam sealer. (Photo 1) Not much is needed just to cover the cut edge. Then push the adhesive into the cut edge by pressure from your thumb sliding along the edge. (Photo 2) The reason for this is the latex type seam sealers penetrate deeper into the weave, in my opinion, locking the woven edge. To eliminate the waiting for the seam sealer to dry part, wipe the excess seam sealer off the sealed edge with a scrap of the carpet you are seaming. (Photo 3) Why does he say use a scrap of the carpet you’re installing? School of hard knocks, boys; Dennis was installing the green bedroom, I was seaming the white bedroom. I grabbed a scrap of the green carpet and wiped down the seam edge…when I remade the seam I used a scrap of the white carpet, because the few tiny green fibers stuck to the edge just didn’t help the seam appearance in the white carpet. After the latex type seam sealer dries we apply a thermoplastic seam sealer that is re-activated by the heat from the seaming tape welding the edges together and help reduce seam peaking. In this case I am using an Orcon Peak Buster tip; it sells for about $10. This tip was invented by an installer in Chicago, Chris Onischuk. (Photos 4 and 5) For more information on FCI web site see “The Latest and Greatest in Seaming Technology,” Sept. 2002, at www.fcimag.com.
I think you should use the thermoplastic sealing tip on all hot melt seams. Why? Because using the hot glue will go a long way to reducing and in many cases eliminating seam peaking. Case in point: I made a seam with half of it sealed with latex and half sealed with the thermoplastic sealing tip. After it cooled I cut 1 ½ inch strips of each side and bent them, using the same amount of pressure. The latex sealed edge hinged easily (Photo 6); the portion sealed with hot glue resisted the hinging (Photo 7). The thermoplastic cools in 15-20 seconds so it certainly does not slow you down. For more information on reducing seam peaking see “Seam Peaking: Causes and Solutions Revisited,” July 2002 at www.fcimag.com.
In a direct glue application, sealer should be applied to the cut edge covering the primary and secondary backing. (Photo 8) All too often the applied sealer does not cover the cut edge as in Photo 8, but in the haste to get the job done the sealer is on the floor and not the cut edge. (Photo 9) When there is a failure the installer swears he used seam sealer and he did, just not where it needed to be. And how can an inspecter tell if you used seam sealer? Both liquid (Photo 10) thermoplastic seam sealers (Photo 11) fluoresce under a black light. Having said that there are times when you do not want to have a seam sealer that would fluoresce under a black light. And when might that be, Mike? I have been told that there is a strip, er ahem..gentleman’s club in Providence R.I. with properly sealed seams that show up beautifully under the black lights in the club, a problem for sure, also for bowling alleys to mention another. There are only two seam sealers I am aware of that can be used in those environments. XL Brand Adhesives has a sealer designed especially for black light environments, XL-One, that will not fluoresce. The other is Crain Cutter Co.’s Jiffy Tex, which is natural latex with no tracers.
For the above reason when it comes to direct glue, Jon and I seal the edges with a latex type seam sealer just like shown above before spreading the glue on the floor. Why do you ask? Well, like this carpet we installed direct glue, a 24 oz. Level loop. (Photo 12) It had a very poor tuft-bind and the cut edges were very fragile with the rows easily breaking off. On some of the edges I even sealed them with hot-glue as well for added strength so they would hold together until the carpet was glued down. We also sealed the seams in the traditional fashion of applying an 1/8-inch bead of direct-glue seam sealer to weld the seam edges together, belt and suspenders, remember.
Too much, you say? That would take too long; you’re wasting time. I thought you might say that. We had two 40-foot seams and three 18-foot seams. I timed how long it took to apply the sealer and thumb it in. One side of a 40-foot seam took right at 2 minutes to apply and rub in the seam sealer. Four extra minutes for a forty-foot seam to make sure it would be right. About an extra fifteen minutes to completely secure the seam edges. Only fifteen extra minutes to make sure the job was right. Only fifteen extra minutes to make sure the seams don’t ravel. Only fifteen extra minutes to make sure I don’t have to come back and deal with an unhappy customer. Only fifteen minutes spent to assure the customer gets the proper wear and use from their carpet investment.
Do you think the carpet mill felt that extra fifteen minutes was wasted time? Think my customer, if they knew, would feel the extra fifteen minutes were a waste of time? They didn’t know or worry about that kind of stuff. That’s what they paid Jon and me for.