As the commercial floor covering industry continues to see steady growth in both carpet tile and resilient, from a manufacturing perspective, ‘Where to start?’ is a question we all have to answer. When the question is raised, many of us automatically start analyzing this in terms of where to start the installation. However, from a technical standpoint, ‘where to start’ means more than where to lay the first tile or plank.

Successful installations always start with successful substrate preparation. This includes the removal of previous adhesives, dust and debris, oil, grease, paint, curing agents, concrete sealers, loosely bonded toppings, loose particles, and any substance or condition that may prevent or reduce adhesion. This requirement is consistent from all floor covering suppliers. 

Which has led me to ask the question: where to start? The phrase “clean, flat, dry, and secure” comes to mind. But what exactly does that mean?

Clean: Have all possible contaminants been removed? Is there anything present on the substrate that could contribute to a bond failure that still needs to be addressed? 

Flat: Is the substrate flat to industry standards or the manufacturer’s standards? Has this been measured and evaluated? Are there dips and crowns that can cause issues afterward, specifically when installing a hard surface floor covering product?

Dry: From a topical standpoint, is there standing water present? Is the slab damp? The most important question: has all the substrate moisture/pH testing been performed? If so, what are the results and have any potential issues been addressed?

Secure: Are there areas of the substrate that are loose and need to be addressed prior to installation? What type of repair is needed for these areas to become secure and not create areas of adhesion failure?

Recently, we have experienced an increase in customer complaints involving bonding issues and carpet face staining around the carpet tile seams. Site inspections revealed that the old broadloom carpet was not adequately removed prior to the installation of new carpet tile. Many of these installations were performed over high moisture substrates. Therefore, as the moisture in the slab reacted with the remaining broadloom adhesive, the adhesive began releasing from the substrate and worked its way through the seams of the carpet tile, thus staining the carpet tile edges.

While on site for inspections, I am often asked questions such as why is this step required? Who is going to pay for it? Do you know how much time you are adding to the job? Is this really important? I have not had to do this before. Why am I having to do this now? While the interpretation of these requirements may seem to add time or cost to an installation, the overall goal is to properly prepare the substrate to ensure the best initial adhesion opportunity. 

For a quality floor covering installation, is it better to properly address the condition of the substrate prior to installation or later after you have a customer complaint? Is the cost of a properly prepared substrate more or less than the cost to correct the substrate condition afterward? I am confident we all know the answer.