Carpet is one of the most popular flooring surfaces for both residential and commercial settings, and that can translate to extra money in your pocket. It can also mean big headaches if you do not follow the proper procedures and manufacturer’s instructions.
A vast array of carpet, modular carpet tile, backings and cushion are available, and to delve into each product’s installation procedures, from woven to tufted, synthetic to natural, direct glue-down to an installation over cushion, would take more room than this magazine has. Rather, this month’s Tool Time will walk you through some best practices and basic procedures that you can use on any carpet installation.
The biggest mistake installers and contractors make when working with carpet is choosing the wrong adhesive for the job. A comment made by Sonny Callaham, Royal Adhesives & Sealants’ technical product manager, was typical of the answers we heard from manufacturers: “Not all carpet adhesives are created equal and will not perform equally in the field. Contractors should look at the complete installation before choosing the carpet adhesive.”
He said that much of the time, contractors are making decision based on economics instead of performance. “Adhesive manufacturers offer multiple types of carpet adhesives for different levels of installation, from light residential to heavy commercial. Always contact the manufacturer if you have a question about an application.”
Jack Raidy, Jr., president/CEO of W.F. Taylor, said there are several things to consider when choosing a carpet adhesive. “Select a solvent-free, premium-grade adhesive for whatever carpet type is being installed. Adhesives should always have excellent moisture resistance as the carpet may be exposed to a variety of moisture or water sources during its lifetime.”
He also recommends going for a product with a high solids content, as “the solids are what you have left when the adhesive cures.” He added, “If the same size trowel is used, the lower solids adhesive will put less actual adhesive down to do the job, often leaving insufficient adhesive to bond the flooring. Also, the use of fillers to raise the solids merely dilutes the strength and performance of the adhesive. The filler content can be found on the MSDS.”
Mark Roberts, Franklin International’s sr. technical specialist, stressed the importance of good subfloor preparation to ensure a clean, dry and smooth surface for the adhesive. Installers always need to use the correct size trowel for the job – not just a one-size-fits-all approach – and be careful not to exceed the adhesive’s open time. “Once the adhesive forms a skin, it must be removed and a new application of adhesive troweled to the floor,” he warned.
“Clean up any messes as you go,” he added. “Once dried, the adhesive is very difficult to remove. If the adhesive is still wet, it will clean up with soap and water.”
According to Ron Loffredo, H.B. Fuller Construction Products’ sr. area technical manager, not knowing the condition of the substrate is not just a rookie mistake. “It is important to know the substrate so you will know how the adhesive will react, the amount of adhesive to apply and allow for sufficient time to install the carpet.” Generally speaking, an adhesive applied to a porous substrate dries faster than one applied to a less porous surface.
Knowing the characteristics of the backing is also key, he added. “The backing dictates how well the adhesive will set. A closed backing constructed of plastic does not breathe. This will determine which method the material should be installed—wet, tacky or dry.”
Jeff Johnson, MAPEI’s business marketing manager, Floor Covering Installation Systems, said early “leg” or “tack” is an important feature of a good carpet adhesive, as it “is extremely important to holding a stiff, boardy carpet in place during the installation process. If an adhesive does not have this attribute, then the contractor will invariably have to roll and reroll the carpet to get it to bond properly.”
He said to also pay close attention to the flash time. “Most carpet adhesives require some time to ‘flash off’ moisture before they really start to perform. If an installer does not give an adhesive enough time to flash off, the adhesive may be too wet under the carpet and take a long time to dry.”
Tools. A show of hands: How many installers think the be-all and end-all of carpet installations is the knee kicker, the star-wheel roller and a nice and hot seam iron? These tools all have their places, but they are not magic bullets. Poll any installation trainer, and when the topic of the knee kicker comes up they will call it a “positioning tool,” not a “stretching tool.” Ask them about the star-wheel roller, and they will say for all its advantages, it can also damage the carpet fiber if it is used too aggressively. As for seam irons, they will caution that many installers set it too hot.
According to Jerry Palys of Halex Corp, “heating the seam tape adhesive to the proper temperature is key.” If not set properly, this can result in scorching. “Poor seams are a mistake easily noticed by the homeowner.”
A carpet tucker will also give a professional, finished look to the installation, but it must be used properly. “A common mistake is baseboards that are scuffed after the carpet installation is completed,” Palys noted.
Brad Miller, Q.E.P. Co. Inc.’s vp channel marketing, offered a few tips when selecting tools. “A knee kicker, cushion back cutter, wall trimmer, stair tucking tool, seam roller and a carpet knife should do the trick when installing carpet. Beyond the basic tools mentioned, a professional installer will also have a power stretcher, seaming iron, carpet tape and hammer tacker to name a few things.”
“Some of the key things to look for when selecting the tools is the weight of these items, the strength of the steel and the overall feel of the tool in your hands,” he added. “These tools do take time to perfect but with a little practice it will soon become second nature.”
An installer’s view. Master-II installer Kelly Huddleston of Kelly Flooring in La Junta, Colo., said installers should always keep up with training to stay on top of the latest technologies. “They’re only used to three or four different types of carpet and if you ask the junior guys how many backings are on the market today, their best guess is five. There are actually hundreds.”
He added that an often overlooked but extremely important part of any installation business is to always act professional. “Introduce yourselves and be polite. I recommend wearing ID tags and uniforms. If you look the part and act the part, you’ll get the part. That’s how you’re going to make money.”
Huddleston noted that there is plenty of work for installers who are willing to take the time to learn their skills. “We have far fewer qualified people in the flooring industry than in any other industry. It’s an untapped market for anyone who wants to get some training and do a proper job.”