Preventing flooring installation issues on the frontend is imperative, but what do you do when the standards that govern installation change or disappear altogether? How do flooring installers protect themselves? 

Dean Craft, principal, ISE Logik, provides an update on the removal of the pH testing requirement from the ASTM F710 standard for resilient flooring installation over concrete. This is a follow-up to an interview with David Foster in August 2021 titled: Installing Resilient Over Concrete.

The following are excerpts of our conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety at floortrendsmag.com/podcasts.

TalkFloor: Dean will you summarize briefly the key takeaways from your conversation with Dave for the sake of context?

Dean Craft: There was a fundamental change coming that involved pH evaluation prior to installing resilient flooring. That talk with Dave was August of 2021, and the reason why the timing is important was that the month prior, pH had been removed as a requirement from ASTM F710 where it had been for 23 straight years. The second big change that happened at the same time, though not related, was that the requirement for substrate surface porosity testing was added to F710. 

TF: Why is it important for the standards that govern flooring installation to evolve? 

Craft: One of the main reasons is that the products themselves continue to evolve. A lot of people go back to the VOCs being removed from the adhesives, and somebody will talk about that like it’s a recent change. That actually started back in 1992. So, that was a major change. 

The other change, I think, really surrounds our understanding of how these products should best be installed; that continues to evolve. For instance, substrate surface porosity—a lot of manufacturers indicated that surface density would impact how long it took a specific water-based type product to cure properly before you install, but it was never codified into how you evaluate. So, that was an important step. The committee went through it for four or five years. That document got approved in 2016, but it still took five more years for it to become an actual requirement for all installations.

TF: Let’s dig into the deletion of the pH testing from ASTM F710. In 1998, the standard was established and became the end-all-be-all of pH testing for the installation of resilient over concrete. However, in 2021, the pH testing standard was deleted along with the process and test methods sections. All of the information that was deleted from the F710 standard was going to be placed in a stand-alone document. What is the status of this document? 

Craft: All ASTM documents and standards go through a consensus review/consensus acceptance, and I think the F710 committee is up to 160 people, so it has to go through this rigorous review process, and that process is ongoing. The most current ballot has already completed. 

The committee is meeting November 3rd and 4th in Clearwater, Florida. Hopefully, we can garner consensus when we meet in person, or what occurs is a negative vote that needs to be addressed, so either the person making the negative withdraws it or the committee finds it not persuasive. [Which means] it's registered as a negative but [the committee] says, “Okay, yes, your vote is still a negative, but it's not sufficient enough to keep the document from moving forward,” or it's found [that] “Yeah, that's pretty important; we need to address that before it can go forward.” We've got the negatives down to a fairly small number, and so it's my fervent hope that we can proceed forward and may have some really good news with a new standard.

TF: Why is it important for this information to be placed in its own document? 

Craft: Well, when it got pulled from F710, it left a significant vacuum. You mentioned 1998—that's the first-year publication of F710, so from 1998 through 2021; the how—the procedure, the process [for testing] pH was embedded in that document. So, it wasn't just telling you that you “had” to do it. F710 told you “how” to do it. When “the how” got removed, it did not get placed into another document where flooring installers can go look and research; that flooring manufacturers can point to; that F710 can point to. So, what's happened now is that we have this “no man's land” where a lot of specifications/project documents require pH. All installers think they have to do pH. A lot of adhesives say there's a pH limit, but there's no consensus of how to do it. So, really, we're trying to close that gap and say, “Okay, this is how you do it.”

TF: How does placing this information in its own document benefit the flooring industry? 

Craft: I think it goes back to why it was removed in the first place from F710. Procedurally, ASTM has rules, and one of the fundamental rules for writing certain kinds of standards. There are standard practices; there are standard test methods or standard guides, classifications, terminology, what have you. In the flooring industry, F710 is probably, I would argue, if not the most important, pretty close to it. F710’s a practice. Now, according to ASTM rules, you can't have a test method embedded into a practice. It's just a procedural thing. How it got there in the first place, why it retained there so long—[I] really can't answer it. But the committee realized and sought to fix that. We were successful, but I think it was a bit of a cart before the horse. We got it pulled out before the standalone was finished. 

TF: In the meantime, where should installers look for guidance on pH testing prior to installation? 

Craft: They really need to look to the adhesive manufacturers and the flooring manufacturers, understanding there are some products that do not require pH evaluation. So, first of all, make sure it's even required. You asked me a question earlier: Why is it important these ASTMs change? Well, one of the reasons why is the products change or the installation instructions change. If a significant portion of the products remove pH as a requirement, then that requirement goes away. So, then why is it mandated that all slabs be tested, if not, all products require it. Really, it should be up to the manufacturer. Then, if the manufacturer requires it, how the pH is done, in my opinion, should be completely up to them to dictate, and they can even say, “Hey, do it this way” or do it by how that ASTM says. So, unfortunately, in the absence of a current standard, and even in the presence, the best thing an installer can always do is reach out or go online and just research that product and see what that manufacturer says about pH and see what that manufacturer says about how to do it if required.

TF: You mentioned previously that porosity testing is now required on all slabs prior to flooring installation regardless of age. Will you walk us through these changes and what precipitated this mandate?

Craft: I mentioned before the major shift in adhesive formulations you can track back to 1992. You have VOC-laden solvents, and what a lot of people don't realize is that in chemistry, water is the universal solvent. So, people say that we lost solvents. Well, no, really, you didn't. You changed the solvent. You lost your VOC-laden solvent. 

People say that we used to have good glues, now we don't. No, there's some fantastic glues out there, but depending on how much water is in that adhesive and depending on how big the trowel is—the spread rate. If you spread too much adhesive on a non-pore substrate, the surface is going to skim over, tack off, there's no transfer. The installer is going to think, “Oh, good! I can install.” But the glue touching the concrete is still wet. So, when you go back to your bond test and you pull it up three days later, you got this big, wet spot. Is it really concrete moisture, or is it too much glue because you used the big trowel instead of the little trowel?

It had far-ranging implications not only to a tremendous number of adhesives, but also to some of the underlayments or finishing skim-coating material. There's a lot of products out there on the skim coating surface prep material that will say if porous, no problem and this is the spread rate. If non-porous, maybe you have to create a concrete surface profile, maybe a CSP of one—grind or sand it or prime. 

The substrate porosity evaluation probably touches on 70% to 80% of the products the installers are first applying to the concrete. So, they really need to know what that manufacturer says about that product, and it really is product specific. They can have three buckets of adhesives from the same manufacturer, and one glue will be for porous or non-porous, just change the trowel size. One bucket will be porous or non-porous—no difference whatsoever. Another bucket will only be for porous substrates. You can't use it on non-porous. If you don't know that and if you're not evaluating, you could absolutely induce a flooring failure simply by using the wrong trowel, wrong open time, or the wrong substrate surface profile. The porosity test is really quick and really easy.

TF: Will you re-iterate the importance to flooring installers on being versed on these standards?

Craft: I have been involved in the industry going on fifteen years, and I think one of the things that has benefited me, perhaps the most, is knowing the standards. When I say the standards, I don't just stop with if it starts with ASTM. I mean the installation instructions for the products, knowing the appropriate ambient conditions; knowing the impact if dew is present; knowing what is supposed to happen post installation. For the installer, I know spreading the adhesive—how to hold the trowel and getting the right spread rate, is absolutely important…the open time. But understanding, the better they know what that manufacturer says is their greatest defense against any kind of claim going forward, specifically post installation. 

A lot of projects aren't acclimated, and if the site conditions are not maintained, the best offense for that installer is to know, “Hey, wait a second. That adhesive said 65 to 85 degrees and 35% to 55% RH before, during and after I installed it. The HVAC wasn't running. When I installed it, the parameters were great, but we've had a heat wave since then.” Now, they've got problems with the flooring. If the installer doesn't know before, during and after, they don't even know how to protect themselves. So, really their best chance for a quality install is embedded in those documents, and their best defense to protect themselves—that they did a quality install—is in that same location.

TF: What can we expect in November?

Craft: Well, two things. I'm really hoping that we can get consensus that the current iteration, the current version of the draft pH guide is close enough that the committee will throw in the towel and say, “Yes, let's approve it, but then let's continue to tweak it.” They can come out with an update three months later. 

The second one, and this is very important. For the first time, dewpoint evaluation looks like It's going to be added to F710. When I say dewpoint, I mean a substrate surface dewpoint. If you're spreading a water-based adhesive, and we all know what dew is, take a shower one cold morning, get the water hot, and there's that sheen of moisture. It's not a lot of water on your mirror. So, even the thinnest layer—a sheen of dew, and then, you spread a water-based adhesive on it, you're not going to get contact. You're spreading a water base on top of water. 

Dewpoint evaluation is something that really needs to be added to F710. The Carpet and Rug Institute actually added it to their commercial installation back in 2015, and a lot of people don’t know that. So, if you're installing carpet, you're supposed to be test evaluating dewpoint. So, we're really trying to get that into F710—make it a requirement. Then, that'll be a substantial change that needs to be communicated.

TF: Is there anything else that you would like to share?

Craft: First of all, if you're an installation contractor, and you can be involved [in the standards process]. If you really want to know how these documents are created, I can't stress enough the F06 committee. If you got heartburn with the committee or heartburn with the standards, we're all fallible, come and tell us. That's where you can make a difference. 

Secondly, I can't reiterate enough that the best defense is a good offense. For installers, especially those who own and run these companies, you really gotta make sure that your employees really understand these standards because it's going to make you much better installers, and it's going to be your best defense should there be a claim going forward.

ISE Logik Industries specializes in moisture mitigating admixtures and topical treatments for concrete. To learn more, visit iselogikcom