Making mistakes is how we learn. But repeating the same mistakes over and over again means the lessons haven’t hit home yet. Whether through sloppiness, laziness or just plain ignorance, repeating the same mistake can be an extremely costly wake-up call to installers, contractors and other floor covering professionals that they need more
know-how and training.
FCI is excited to bring you a new series of articles from noted industry consultant and wood flooring expert Roy Reichow. He will walk readers through the five most common wood flooring mistakes he sees in a range of industry disciplines. Armed with this information, readers can enter the jobsite knowing that if they keep an eye out for these potential pitfalls, they are already one step ahead of their competition.
Installers know firsthand when something goes wrong on the job, as they’re typically the ones thrown under the bus with no support, stranded alone on the Liability Expressway. Job liability is similar to the scrutiny a head referee undergoes during the Super Bowl where each call is analyzed by everyone with the aid of instant replay. An installer’s exposure to this scrutiny isn’t much different once the job goes south and all of his procedures are tested and examined under the microscope. This short article is to help installers understand a few simple rules, take control and drive his or her own bus. As a wood flooring inspector, I will touch on the five most common installation mistakes that are typically overlooked yet used against installers during inspection.
Rule #1: Professional Image
You only get one chance to leave a lasting impression! Remember your first date? You did everything in your power to dress appropriately. After a few dates you began to dress down and become more relaxed. Our customers may not have met you before, so this is similar to a first date.
Whether you are the salesman, estimator, or flooring mechanic, it is important to make a lasting impression and sell yourself. There is nothing worse than having your customer come home, seeing your crew sitting in their lawn furniture with dusty clothing and cigarette ashes all over the patio. They walk into their home anxious to see what was accomplished for the day, and the first thing they see are soda cans and debris strewn about. They notice saws without guards and immediately fear for their children’s safety.
Through many inspections I hear “he looked terrible” or “my place was a disaster” or “I just don’t trust him to do a good job.” All of these can cost you your reputation and affect your bottom line. I can’t stress enough to have that professional image at all times. A crew dressed in neat, respectable attire creates a professional image. A professional image is a reflection of your professional workmanship, and often will sell your company over price.
Rule #2: Understanding Guidelines
Installation/Warranty/Maintenance guidelines are rarely thoroughly read by installers, yet an inspector will study these guidelines to ensure they complied with every specification and requirement. Most installation guidelines have a section titled “Installer/Owner Responsibility” similar to the example below.Everythingwritten beneath that title will be held against you in an inspection or courtroom. Sounds grim, but like football, an installer who doesn’t play by the rules risks penalties that can cost them the game.
INSTALLER/OWNER RESPONSIBILITY – VERY IMPORTANT
INSTALLATION CONSTITUTES ACCEPTANCE of flooring material, subfloor/substrate, the jobsite itself including the ambient temperature and relative humidity at the time of installation, and all impacting variables that may affect a wood floor. It is the responsibility of both the installer and owner to inspect and approve each piece of flooring prior to installation. The decision not to proceed should be made within the first 10% of flooring opened. Industry standards allow a variance from grading and manufacturing tolerances of 5%.
Rule #3: Moisture Testing
Moisture testing is required by every manufacturer whether it’s for concrete, a wood subfloor, or flooring materials, and involves maintaining the correct jobsite temperature and relative humidity. I can’t stress enough how vital it is to complete the testing requirements and ensure the testing procedure was followed precisely to the appropriate standard. If your meter does not have specie correction, contact the meter manufacturer for the specie correction chart. Most mistakes are made here, resulting in inaccurate test results.
Rule #4: Documentation
Documentation is an essential step to limit your liability. Many times during an inspection I’ll ask the installer what the inside relative humidity or the moisture content of the flooring or subfloor was and their response is “within acceptable range.” Just like football, there is a huge difference between one inch and one foot to make the first down. This is where the inspector will use your “acceptable range” statement against you. You need to be as specific and detailed as possible. Having proper documentation protects your side of the story, and protects you against liability.
Photographs are an ideal way to document job history. Take photos of moisture readings from two different meters, dated, with location and the initials of the mechanic written on the subfloor with permanent marker. If there are any concerns/questions with the hardwood floor, your test results are permanently written on the subfloor.
Mapping the area is just as important, as this will provide location and results of each test site. Also photograph any pre-existing concerns you see such as water intrusion damage at the patio door, etc. This usually gets the builder nervous because you have documented this before installation, and they are responsible for the building envelope.
Rule #5: Fastening Schedule/Glue Down Applications
Whether nailing or gluing down, installers are creatures of habit (I should know after 40 years of installing). On a mechanically fastened floor the installer often jumps into a routine of nailing every 10” on every job, then when that plank floor comes along he is still nailing at 10” out of habit. Will the floor come apart? No, but when the inspector cites your average is outside the 6” to 8” standard you will own the replacement costs, which may include purchasing new material. Engineered flooring that snaps and crackles when walked upon is typical when the installer uses a minimum 1” fastener; however a 1 1/4” or 1 1/2” fastener results in 25-50% more holding power. Remember, minimum standard provides minimum results.
This applies to trowels for glue-down as well. Many times installers will save an old trowel, which is fine when using over wood subfloors, but when using over concrete the teeth get worn down – the spread rate is increased and less adhesive is applied.
When the floor is inspected for hollow or loose pieces, the inspector will remove a sample for third-party testing to determine if the proper amount of adhesive was applied. Again, the installer will be responsible for all associated costs if the spread rate is out of spec. A good rule of thumb is to purchase the new trowel(s) with the adhesive, so retrieving invoices are made easy for the inspector and the appropriate trowel was supplied by the adhesive distributor.
To reduce claims and increase profits, education is the key. Become certified installers. At National Wood Floor Consultants, we instruct installers how to manage their risk exposure, improve their skill sets in order to safeguard against inspections. After 40-plus years of installing wood floors, I know firsthand there is no perfect job that complies with every standard. The key to winning against inspection is to implement and follow the Five-Rule Program I outlined above. Drive your own bus – don’t be thrown under it!
Roy Reichow brings over 40 years of experience in the wood flooring industry as a wood floor contractor, consultant and educator. Roy is founder and principle of Reichow Parquet Flooring and National Wood Floor Consultants. He holds National Wood Flooring Association Certified Professional certification in Wood Floor Installation, Sanding, Finishing, Sales Counselor, Inspector and Commercial Inspector. Roy also serves on the National Wood Flooring Association’s Certified Professional Board of Directors and Marketing Committee.
Roy has authored articles published by the NWFA and the International Fraud Update, a publication of the International Association of Insurance Fraud Agencies. His wood flooring projects have been featured in American Woodworkers Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Mpls/St. Paul magazine. Roy has led educational seminars for the NWFA, wood flooring distributors, contractors, and home builders, and has been a featured speaker at the MPLS Home & Garden Show.