Moisture: Problems, Causes & Cures
There are several steps flooring professionals can take to mitigate the risks of moisture, including conducting proper testing, identifying areas of concern, engaging in effective communication, and selecting the right materials. Here are two case studies that showcase moisture problems and causes and how they were cured.
A community doorway to reading, resources and lifelong learning, Sno-Isle Libraries has a defined mission for Snohomish Library to be an inspiring cultural center for its 185,000 annual patrons. Part of its guiding principal is stewarding the district’s financial resources. Sno-Isle Libraries recently partnered with Milliken to save more than $130,000 on mixed-material flooring in a high-moisture environment, without the need for moisture mitigation products.
Snohomish Library has an unenviable history of flooring failure. Subfloor moisture, which can be caused by water table fluctuations as well as inadequately cured concrete, wasn’t adequately addressed when the facility was built, and PVC-based modular carpet and cork flooring were installed. While a vapor barrier was installed beneath the concrete slab to account for Washington’s high water vapor, subfloor moisture quickly took its toll, adversely reacting with the adhesive, and causing the floor to buckle and peel in only a few years. With expired warranties, the organization had no option but to begin costly repairs. An additional resin vapor barrier was needed on top of the subfloor to remedy the 23,000-square-foot floor, closing the library from community use for eight weeks.
Brian Rush joined Sno-Isle Libraries soon after as facilities manager, and when it became time to replace the floor once more—after the new resin vapor did not last the full 10-year warranty—he turned to Milliken. Rush was committed to preventing all future subfloor moisture issues from the onset of the project. To fully understand his particular environment, Rush conducted moisture probe and core testing. High levels of humidity were revealed, which explained the poor performance of the previous flooring despite the high cost of preparation to mitigate the moisture. Core testing revealed a compromised vapor barrier explaining why subfloor relative humidity levels varied throughout the space.
After researching multiple flooring options, Rush discovered that Milliken modular carpet, with open-cell cushion backing, would address the initial cause of subfloor moisture issues. Milliken’s moisture vapor-wicking, open-cell, cushion-backed modular carpet enables water vapor to evaporate before it ever condenses into damaging liquid water, preventing the conditions that lead to flooring failure. He found that Milliken modular carpets do not require moisture testing, as they can withstand any levels of relative humidity (RH) and pH; eliminate the need to install moisture mitigation solutions; prevent the conditions conducive to mold and mildew growth in high-moisture environments; and carry full warranties, removing the risk of flooring failure.
Since the Milliken products did not require the removal of the old vapor barrier and installation a new one, it saved Rush an estimated $110,000 on labor and materials, as well as an additional $20,000 on furniture relocation. Strategic mapping and a variety of Milliken adhesives also helped Rush effectively address moisture issues without increasing the project budget.
Since Milliken’s entire portfolio of modular carpet provides the same moisture solution benefits, Rush wasn’t limited in his flooring selection. Acknowledging the interplay between architectural and design elements, he looked to the existing architectural features—including curves, columns and ceiling beams—for inspiration. He selected Applewood luxury vinyl tile (LVT) for the high-traffic entrance and lobby, and it was installed in an oval shape to mirror the architectural elements of the ceiling.
In a time where many libraries are moving towards concrete for aesthetic reasons, Rush said he believes that LVT is a perfect alternative with an easy to clean, resilient surface that also offers noise reduction benefits: “Cherry LVT combines the ‘wow’ factor with high durability and improved acoustics. It always looks clean—even when it’s time for maintenance. It is holding up tremendously against foot, cart and wheel traffic, which often brings in rocks and sand.”
Color Field plank carpet mimics the grain aesthetic in the LVT, but with an open-cell cushion backing for enhanced comfort underfoot and noise reduction. For the children’s area, Rush injected bold with the help of Milliken’s high-resolution print technology gives him assurance that he will be able to order the same product five years down the road. Quadrus modular carpet was installed at entrance vestibules to capture dirt and debris from shoes and book carts, as well as reduce noise.
Milliken supported Sno-Isle Libraries through the entire scope of the project: from concept, design and material selection to ordering and installing the final piece of flooring.
“Knowing that Milliken flooring solutions allowed me to save my company more than $130,000 in installation preparation is a fantastic feeling: like you’re a real value and asset to your organization; that you’re fulfilling your job responsibilities in meaningful ways,” Rush said.
West Reading, Pa.
Three years ago, Reading Hospital in West Reading, Pa., embarked on a $354 million expansion project that would add 476,000 square feet to the 147-year-old hospital. The goal was to replace and relocate operating rooms spread across four buildings and provide 150 new private patient rooms. Today, Seventh Street Tower, as the new nine-story addition is called, welcomes patients and visitors to a facility that features privacy, flexibility and the latest technology available to healthcare professionals and their patients.
The facility included five floors of private patient rooms; 24 surgical suites, including six hybrid operating rooms; eight minor procedure rooms; reception and recovery areas and an expanded trauma area. To reduce project costs and timelines, the project managers sought a flooring system that would require minimal preparation and moisture mitigation before installation.
The team chose noraplan eco with noraplan nTx, a pre-applied, solvent-free adhesive backing that minimizes prep work and eliminates drying protocols, saving time and money. The product is resistant to high moisture vapor emissions and extensive pH limits, which eliminates the need for moisture testing and remediation before installation.
“Nora nTx was very important to us from a schedule and cost standpoint because it did not require a moisture mitigation system to be installed prior to the floor going down, which represents a savings in not only dollars, but also in time,” said Jeff Hutwelker, project executive with LF Driscoll Co, the Bala Cynwyd, Pa.-based company that provided construction management. “We believe that the time saved with the application of the nora nTx floor covering was approximately two months in our construction schedule.”
Hutwelker said the selection of noraplan eco with nora nTx offered two important advantages from a construction standpoint. First, the floor significantly reduced installation time. Second, he was more confident with one company providing all of the warranty for the flooring with one supplier, which simplifies the project.
Patient safety was the key consideration for Marie Keim, director of epidemiology infection control and prevention at Reading Health System. The noraplan flooring was selected because it resists staining so that betadine, iodine and other agents wouldn’t cause a problem over time. The rubber flooring would also provide a more comfortable surface or hospital staff to work on during long shifts.
“From an infection prevention perspective, I think flooring is very important in its durability,” Keim said. “The fact that this floor is very solid and dense provides an extra barrier for us, and it gives Environmental Services a floor that can be cleaned easily. The surfaces are smooth; we don’t need to be concerned about residual water, bacteria and other items going into cracks and crevices and harboring any sort of bacteria or organisms.”
David Major, director of facilities and construction at Reading Health System, said he was looking for a product that would provide ease of maintenance. “Maintenance of the product is greatly enhanced in the fact that we do not have to un-wax or wax the floor,” he said. “The care and maintenance of the product has potentially been the largest, greatest effect.”
Tim Cole, director of environmental services for Reading Health Systems, agreed: “It’s a lower maintenance product, requiring less labor and materials. It offers as much as 20% to 30% in labor savings related to the care and maintenance of the floor. In addition, from an environmental standpoint, you can clean and maintain the floor with fewer caustic chemicals and cleaners as opposed to other traditional floor coverings.”
Looking back on the project and the selection of noraplan eco with nora nTx, Major best summed up everyone’s experience with the product: “If I was advising someone who was selecting a flooring covering, I would tell them to take a very close look at a product with regards to the overall cost and the relative cost over time versus other products, taking into consideration both the use, the durability of the product and the amount of time and number of people required to maintain it. When we examined this over the duration of this project, we found that the nora flooring with nora nTx is far superior than our other choices.”
Cole also points to the positive impact nora flooring has upon throughput, the ability to move patients through the hospital. “With the nora flooring, we are able to turn over patient rooms very quickly—probably in half the time it would normally take to do a floor that we have to clean and wax.” He said he also appreciates the floor’s low-gloss finish. “Historically, flooring and floor surfaces were real shiny and glossy. What we’ve come to find is patients that make up the older population have some difficulty with walking and getting around a facility when they see a lot of shiny floors. It’s sometimes disorienting.”