The World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) announced the launch of MagneBuild by Magnetic Building Solutions (MBS), an LLC owned by the WFCA, last December. This revolutionary new underlayment system uses magnetic technology as the foundation for all types of floor and wall applications. MBS unveiled the system to the flooring industry at The International Surfaces Event in Las Vegas.

We recently spoke with Robert Varden, vice president of the Certified Floorcovering Installers (CFI) division of the World Floor Covering Association, who has been a critical part to its development and testing. He shared some insight about the product and what it means for the flooring industry.

FT: How does the system work?

Varden: The MBS system uses a magnetic base layer that rolls out onto the floor. It cuts easily with a knife and requires very few tools. Once the base layer is down, it’s down for good. This creates benefits for future installs, saving time and money. Then you can install any product you want, including carpet tile, luxury vinyl tile (LVT), luxury vinyl planks (LVP), wood and stone, that has the MagneBuild receptive backing. Not only can the base layer be used as a crack isolation membrane, it can also be used as a vapor barrier using proprietary MBS tape on the seams.

FT: Can you describe the installation process?

Varden: As with any flooring installation, careful floor prep must happen. Floors must be flat, smooth and free of debris. When planning a layout for a plank-type product, such as wood or LVP, it’s best to run the base layer at the opposite direction at a 90-degree angle to the final floor. It helps to increase the chances of a flooring seam directly over a base layer seam. You will also want to balance your base layer so that you don’t have less than a one-foot strip against any wall. As you roll out the base layer, tightly abut the base layer to each seam as you go. If there are any irregular edges, you can overlap the base layer and double cut the material with a straight edge. The MBS material cuts with a carpet or utility knife. When trimming the product in, leave a ¼-inch gap at the walls, unless you are sliding it under baseboards.

The base layer is designed to be loose layed on the floor, but you may run into applications, such as ramps and steps, that might require you to glue the base layer to the floor. Then, flooring that has the MBS receptive material applied to the back from the manufacturer can be installed on the floor. As with any installation of LVP, for example, balance the room to determine your starting point. Follow manufacturer instructions for board spacing and minimum length when determining this point.

There is no need for a locking system, which frees up the installer to start anywhere they like. It also allows installers to start from multiple directions, if more installers are on a job, increasing production and efficiencies in comparison to floors that use locking systems, which require the installer to work in one direction.

FT: The system also works on walls?

Varden: The MBS base layer also comes in tiles for walls with a peel-and-stick adhesive already applied. This makes retrofitting a wall very easy. First, at the beginning of the installation, prep the wall as you would any other surfaces. You will want to be sure the surface is flat and smooth to create good surface contact with the base layer. Once the wall is prepped and cleaned, you will want to arrange the material so that there is no strip less than six inches. To apply, remove six to eight inches of the peel-and-stick paper off the base layer from one corner of the back of the tile. This allows you to position the corner in place without adhering to the wall prematurely. Once it’s in place, you work your way across the tile, remove the paper, pressing the tile into the wall. For the trim end, trim the material to size first and apply to the wall the same way you do the other tiles.

We started out with a 2x2-ft tile. You lay it out in a grid, and it goes up really nice. We changed the size to 18x18-inch for shipping purposes. With the 2x2 size, we could get two stacks on a palette coming from China. With 18x18 inch tile, I can do four stacks and reduce the shipping.

FT: What does this technology mean for the retailer?

Varden: If I was a retailer and I brought in this system, I would hire three or four good guys and teach them the system, show them how to cut LVP properly, how to fit an inlay because you don’t have as much skillset required. Say you’re doing carpet tile with a magnetic system. You don’t have to teach them how to spread glue; you don’t have to teach them how to put tack strip down; you don’t have to teach them how to put in a carpet seam. In installing carpet, there are so many skill sets required. In our five-week carpet class, I have to teach you how to install the tack strips around the wall, I have to teach you how to install the cushion; how to cut the carpet; match the pattern; how to trim it, how to cut it, how to seal it, how to seam it, how to power stretch it.

FT: What does this system mean for the installer?

Varden: Here is my fear of every system. I don’t want this system to come out, especially with my name attached to it, being promoted as “it will cost you less to install.” The installation community has gotten abused on price for the last 40 years. I have price lists from my older brother, who was in this business from the ’70s, and some guys are making less now per square foot or per square yard than we were getting in the ’70s and early ’80s.

We are hurting desperately for installers. I’ve talked to retailers, and they say I’m paying X for this and X for that, I’ve literally raised my prices over 50 percent to keep my installers. I think most successful retailers are realizing that’s what they have to be.

The installer finally has an opportunity to get back where he needs to be. We need to restructure pricing. Unfortunately, one price does not fit all. I was always conscientious and was a very good installer, but because I was that good, I got penalized. So, when the difficult jobs came, say when you’re only getting 80 to 100 yards in a day, they were given to me, while the easy, piece-of-cake jobs—250 yards that you could get in a day—went to the guy who wasn’t as good, but they paid the same per square yard. As an installer, you have your easy day and you have your “cuss at” day where you are going to get the same amount of yardage and it’s going to take you six hours. [Using the magnetic underlayment] is my easy day. Don’t try to take money away from me because it’s an easy day. I’m going to make up for it when I have a hard day.

FT: So, what should the industry do about pricing installation with this technology?

Varden: I think it should be priced like any other product. Some of my associates want to take this to market and sell this as a cheaper way to install. I don’t want to see it marketed that way. If installers were being paid what they should be paid and had been getting that for the last 10 to 15 years, I would say OK. It’s a little easier, so give them a break.

FT: What’s the message you want installers to take away about the technology?

Varden: I want them to take away that they shouldn’t be worried about the system. It’s not going to be putting anybody out of work. It gives them an easy day and hopefully the retailers don’t try to price it for less. Most who have looked at it think it’s pretty cool.

FT: How soon will the technology be used regularly in the U.S.?

Varden: Over the last two years, we have done a lot of testing. After my trip to Domotex Hannover, I think the technology is about to explode. If the manufacturers in the United States don’t get on board, they are going to wonder why the Chinese products are being sold by so many retailers because the retailers won’t wait.