While FCI is happy to focus on the new product trends and installation techniques in the industry, we do not want to lose sight of all the impressive, challenging installation work going on around us. In that light, we picked up the phone and spoke with installers and contractors on some of their most memorable and time-consuming recent jobs. If you would like to submit your own story for future case study articles in this magazine, please contact the editor at ChmieleckiM@bnpmedia.com or (603) 791-0215.
Condo in New York City – James Feraca, JH Floors
James Feraca, JH Floors vice president of sales, was involved in overseeing a 68,000 sq. ft. installation of primarily hardwood flooring in a high-end condo in New York City. “It was 113 apartments, 22 floors, and we did the entire building, with engineered hardwood in the apartments, carpet in the corridors and ceramic tile in the bathrooms.”
He said that aside from a couple of busted sprinkler heads and some small scheduling issues “everything went pretty smoothly.” The project required a five-man crew, who put down about 1,800 to 2,000 sq. ft. of flooring a day and around 10,000 sq. ft. a week. Because they had to halt their progress and wait for a building inspection, the project took from “about the first week of December to the last week of April.”
Feraca added, “The biggest issue we always encounter on these jobs is achieving the proper [slab] elevation. Sometimes you have to self-level everything so they can all hit that one elevation. In this project, the elevations were off in the corridors as far as the door jambs were concerned, so we had to take out the saddles, re-pour the corridors and bring them up to height.”
Cooper University Hospital, Camden, N.J. – Tim Fahey, Surface Specialist
Tim Fahey, principal of Surface Specialist, and his eight-man crew were given a big project. They were asked to install 40,000 sq. ft. of USG Durock UltraCap self-leveling underlayment and Durock primer-sealer on two floors of the Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J., in three weeks.
As Fahey recalled, “We are a commercial substrate preparation contractor, and this is what we do. But this project was one of the large ones. In fact, it falls within the ‘jumbo’ category. It took 3,900 50 lb. bags -- 195,000 pounds of underlayment – to fix the floors. At our peak, we were pumping around 150-180 bags an hour.”
The situation was a unique one, with a bustling hospital complex that featured space on the higher floors for additional expansion. Each floor was built with 20,000 sq. ft. of space. The first seven floors were occupied, and now they needed Fahey and his crew to prep the eighth and ninth floors.
“Unfortunately, the building construction was such that the slabs were not anywhere near flat,” Fahey noted. “It was an extremely poor concrete installation. We walked into a completely empty shell space – no ceilings, no walls, nothing – and the concrete had a lot of deflections in it. I’m talking deviations in elevation as much as two inches in 10 feet. There was no way they could properly install a door and wall system until that slab had been corrected.”
To fix the slab, Fahey and his project manager created a grid that they calibrated in millimeters. “We made a topographic layout of the slab, and mathematically corrected it to bring it into 1/8” in 10 feet. We placed pins in the grid throughout the whole floor, and those pins were the guide we followed when we poured the underlayment. Each floor took almost two days alone just to create the grid. It was very tedious, but it was necessary.”
He added, “It was a Rubik’s cube of dimensions we had to get exactly right. It had to be dead on, because when someone is going to hang the ceiling and create the door frames, you can’t have any gaps. You can have the most beautiful floor covering and the best mechanics installing it, but if you don’t have the substrate properly prepared, you’re doomed.”
Corporate Client Meeting Space, Verona Wis. – Leonard Zmijewski, Mr. David’s Flooring
Mr. David’s Flooring won the 2014 Starnet Design Awards grand prize as well as a gold in the hospitality/public space for an installation at the Corporate Client Meeting Space in Verona, Wis. Built into the side of a mountain, the facility for a software development company incorporates a five-story underground training area. Drawing inspiration from what the software company envisioned as a mix of “prehistory, fantasy and legend,” the two 24,000 sq. ft. pre-function spaces resemble caves, and carry the themes of ice and rock. The project incorporated 22 individually designed carpet panels measuring 13’ wide and 81’ long. Hand-painted murals were also incorporated in the ice-themed area. “The INSTALL-trained craftsmen who installed this did an amazing job,” said Leonard Zmijewski, Mr. David’s Flooring CEO. “The patterns in the carpet had to meet the walls exactly at different spots. The murals were hand-painted and everything had to match up. The carpet had to start at exactly the right point and run precisely at the right angle.”
While some minor adjustments had to be made on-site, “there was a lot of pre-planning to get the concept exactly right and cover the possibilities of what might go wrong. Each area was approximately 3,000 sq. yd. There were six men working on it, 10 hours a day, along with working around the other trades. Within a couple days of finishing, the software company had a soft opening and then a grand opening shortly afterwards.”
He added, “Those cave-like walls also needed vinyl base installed. For the most part it was flat like a normal installation, but in other parts the installers had to do some special scribing and funky cuts to get the look exactly the way the designer had envisioned it. We do appreciate the craftsmanship of our INSTALL-trained mechanics. Without them, we never could accept these types of opportunities.”
MaineGeneral Medical Center, Augusta, Maine – Paul White, Paul G. White Tile Co.
Paul White of Paul G. White Tile Co. took on the largest project of his life with a 640,000 sq. ft. hospital installation that was not only the largest of its kind in New England but the biggest in Maine’s history. Winner of a gold in environmental achievement in the 2014 Starnet Design Awards, the project includes a range of products including carpet, tile, resilient and hardwood flooring in a healthcare facility that is in the process of earning LEED Gold certification.
Probably the biggest lesson White learned on the project was how instrumental planning is for an installation of this scope. “As far as the materials were concerned, we had very good communication with suppliers about lead times. There was a lot of pre-planning – probably about two years of it. We were in communication with a lot of vendor partners. As far as installation, everyone seemed very committed to making sure the project was on-time and profitable. The project was actually completed eight months ahead of schedule because of all the planning and communication.”
For his company’s part, “we handled the whole scope of installation, and because our guys are experienced we were able to anticipate problems beforehand. Any flooring issues that came up, we were able to control and find solutions. We coordinated everything from the epoxy to the resilient, ceramic, carpet and wood. We made sure everything went smoothly and all the materials were on time.”
The project was so massive it actually put a strain on the company being able to take on additional work. “When we peaked we had over 80 guys working there all at once. Because of the amount of strain it put on our schedule, we throttled down. We were in there for the better part of a year, and the biggest challenge was balancing our customer list with an opportunity this large. We still had a client list, and some of them wanted work done, so we had to learn how to balance those requests while digesting something this large.”
One more lesson White learned was not to pause too long for a breath after completing the project, and keep his company searching for other opportunities immediately. “This project was two and a half times larger than anything we’ve undertaken before. Even when your project management and estimating resources are completely maxed out, you still have to find a way to keep your momentum going and look for other opportunities.”
Palisades Center Mall, West Nyack, N.Y. – Kevin Killian, Profast Commercial Flooring
Kevin Killian, president of Profast Commercial Flooring, said an enormous, 600,000 sq. ft. installation job at the Palisade Center Mall in West Nyack, N.Y. was “definitely one of the biggest jobs we’ve tackled. We handle between 150,000 to 300,000 sq. ft. usually, so this was like two or three jobs in one.”
Despite the large amount of work involved, including shot-blasting the existing stained concrete, prepping it and tiling it, and keeping transitions between the tiles and the more than 220 carpeted retail spaces, Killian said the job was not overly difficult to manage. “We had 50 guys on the project for five months. There are four floors, and we had crews working in tandem on each floor. After we shot-blasted and did some spot leveling with Custom Building Products TechLevel SP-1 underlayment, we put on the layer of anti-fracture membrane and used a rapid-setting mortar, both also from Custom Building Products. We were able to average between 4,000 to 8,000 sq. ft. of tile per night.”
The biggest challenge in the project, Killian said, was not the installation, but material handling. “We had to move a huge amount of material every night to the job site. We ended up having a four- to five-man material handling crew, and all the did was move the materials. Membrane, grout – you name it. It took some serious coordination between me and the project manager to pull it off.”
Residence in Washington State – Tom Ourada, Ourada Designs
Tom Ourada of Ourada Designs built a 420 sq. ft., celestial-themed hardwood flooring installation in his Washington home out of pine, ash and cherry wood. “We have a lot of windows in there and one night the moon came up and it wasn’t cloudy; it just made the whole room glow. I felt like I needed to do something to make the daytime feel as impressive.”
The pine wood used in the installation was taken from logs on his own property. “You can’t just put wet wood from outside in as flooring, so I had to build a kiln to dry it, too. I drew a rough sketch of what I wanted the floor to look like before I started cutting and piecing everything in.”
He said milling the wood into boards was also a challenge. “The pine I had was stable but it also had a lot of pitch in it, and that tends to make the blade wander. I also had to experiment with the kiln to get it to the right temperature where the pitch would crystallize. Otherwise the sandpaper was just gumming up. I didn’t have a machine to plane everything flat, so there was also a lot of flattening out and hand-planing that needed to be done.”
Ourada set a piece of granite in the center of the design “to finish it off. I’m a problem solver – I enjoyed getting in there and figuring it all out. I worked on this by myself for about a month and a half. I don’t think my floor is any better than a lot of floors out there – it’s just a different type of floor. It was fun to develop.”
For his efforts, Ourada earned the Members Choice Award in the National Wood Flooring Association 2014 Wood Floor of the Year contest.