Recently, a flooring inspector reached out to share a story about a flooring failure that he had been called to inspect. The claim stated that the carpet tiles had curled. The first inspector was MIA and the independent flooring inspection school that commissioned him was up in arms over the report as well as the missing inspector. It seems it would not be far removed to assume he was in someone’s trunk over a bad report. The second inspector was reluctant to go but did so anyway.
Turns out the owners of the facility in which the carpet tile had been installed had decided to turn off the HVAC unit during the pandemic to “save money.” The adhesive underneath the carpet tile was not given adequate time to dry before the system was shut off. Some of the spaces had walls of windows, and the carpet tiles were baked by the heat of the sun while the other spaces were completely in the shade. The carpet tiles in the shaded rooms miraculously managed to survive.
The flooring inspection school insisted that the carpet tile did not have an adequate amount of adhesive and wanted it replaced at the expense of the installer. Flooring inspector number two found the facility owner at fault for turning off the HVAC unit before the floorcovering adhesive had time to dry.
This scenario is one of thousands reported every single day by flooring inspectors and installers across the country. In this particular case, the inspector provided an unbiased report despite the insistence of the inspection school to alter it. Had the report been altered to reflect the installer at fault, the ending would have been very different.
At a time when the flooring industry is working furiously to come up with solutions to supply chain issues, installer shortages and ever-changing product demands, what is it to toss another log on the pyre? Money is being pulled off the table for someone when an inspector is called, whether that is the homeowner, building owner, the retailer, the installer, the builder or the floorcovering manufacturer. Someone pays when an installation goes awry. But how do you know if the person responsible for passing judgment is going to tell the truth? How do you know if the credentials that inspector is flashing are legitimate? Who is policing the flooring police?
Building a Flooring Foundation
Flooring inspectors have the option to get certified by any number of independent schools offered across the United States. Most schools require some level of experience in the flooring industry before one is allowed to attend. The experience required can be as little as three years in the industry, working in retail, as an installer, as a tech for a manufacturer—the list goes on. It appears that it does not matter what the experience consists of as long as it is in the flooring industry.
There is a difference between an independent flooring inspection school and certifications that can be attained through category-specific associations like the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). Associations aside, the independent schools are viewed as a hit or miss according to the flooring inspector community.
David Horan, owner of Pro Floor Services in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has been a flooring inspector for nearly 30 years. “Anyone can get a flooring inspection certification,” he said.
According to Horan, it is not uncommon for someone with 20 or more years in the industry to be sitting in a flooring inspection certification course next to someone with little to no experience and both exit the course with the same certification. Early in Horan’s career during an inspection training at an independent school, he witnessed a firefighter of 20 years graduate from the course alongside others like himself who had been in the flooring industry for a number of years.
“If you were a dealer, a retail salesperson, a wholesale distributor rep, that’s all wonderful. If you’ve never installed, you shouldn’t be inspecting floors. [However,] there’s guys out there who do perfectly fine.”
– David Horan, Pro Floor Services
Horan stresses the importance of flooring installation experience when getting a flooring inspection certification, “If you were a dealer, a retail salesperson, a wholesale distributor rep, that’s all wonderful. If you’ve never installed, you shouldn’t be inspecting floors. [However,] there’s guys out there who do perfectly fine.”
Flooring installation experience is so important to producing a quality and professional flooring inspector that the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) changed the prerequisites for its Certified Wood Flooring Inspector course about five years ago, according to Brett Miller, vice president of technical education and certification, NWFA. Now, each applicant is required to have hardwood installation experience in addition to sanding and finishing experience before he or she is allowed to complete the inspector course.
Questioning Inspector Education
Unlike the associations who have committees filled with industry professionals who have years of flooring installation and/or industry experience to create their certification curriculum, independent schools rely on technical product information supplied by the mills in addition to the industry experience they possess, however large or small that might be.
Beth Brown, president and CEO, Flooring Consultants and Inspection Training Services (FCITS) in Dalton, Georgia, explains that her curriculum is developed largely through a partnership with the local mills. “I have manufacturers who come in and help me teach about their products,” she said. “I have to keep up to date on these new products; resilient is changing daily. My curriculum is approved by the manufacturers and the standards committees.”
Some independent schools are more credible because they try to work with the flooring manufacturer claims departments, said Jon Namba, president, Namba Services, Inc. “The claims departments will get with groups such as NICFI (National Institute of Certified Floorcovering Inspectors),” he said. “NICFI gets together in Dalton, usually once a year, and brings in claims managers from several manufacturers to work with them to see what information they need from the inspectors.”
Additionally, once someone completes an inspector training, it is not necessary to maintain that certification to remain a flooring inspector. The schools do not police or reinforce the certifications, and it is not their responsibility to do so. When someone signs up for an independent school course, it is just that—independent. It is up to the inspector to maintain certifications and monitor them to determine what is relevant and needed at that time.
For example, Steven Johnston, owner of Steven Johnston Inspections & Consulting in Lexington, North Carolina, has more than 20 years of experience in flooring. His résumé is filled with the alphabet soup of flooring certifications: FCITS, CTEF, IFCI, IICRC, ITS, NWFA, NOFMA, NALFA and CFIU. When asked why so many, he explained that the education is what is important to him— alongside building his reputation and ensuring that he has covered all the bases when it comes to certification.
If you are looking for a professional inspector to complete a job, referrals are generally the number one way in which flooring inspectors get jobs. So, ask a trusted source. Next, review the inspector’s résumé or CV. They will have a long list of flooring experience. This will be complemented by a slew of acronyms from the flooring industry that will be made up of a mixture of associations and independent inspection schools. And, finally, the inspector will be willing to educate you on the process and walk you through the steps rather than rush you through or ignore your questions.
Johnston recommends that flooring installers educate themselves. To start, take a flooring inspection course and learn what they are looking for to protect yourself against litigation. Challenge yourself by signing up with the NWFA. Take a course on wood science at a local college. Sign up for that Resilient Flooring Inspector course offered by the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC).
So, to answer the question, “Who is policing the flooring police?” You are.
By the way, the first inspector, who was called to the education facility and suddenly disappeared, was found safe at home. He was worried he would not get paid by the inspector school who commissioned him.
How to find a qualified flooring inspector
- Ask a trusted source for a referral.
- Ask to see a résumé: Both independent school and flooring association certifications should be present.
- A pro is willing to educate and not humiliate.