This is why I continually stress the importance of industry standards and manufacturer's guidelines. Each stipulates the practices that will prevent installation failures. If these guidelines are ignored, or if your customer insists that you work in conditions that you know are not recommended, the manufacturer's warranties will not bail you out. The responsibility will fall to the dealer or the installer who did the job if the floor covering fails.
But, of course, even those of us who go by the book can find themselves trying to solve the riddle of why a floor isn't just so. Let's take a look at some things to consider when you are either trouble shooting or just simply looking to avoid trouble:
Job Site Conditions
There is a good reason manufacturers have very strict guidelines for the job being ready before installation. Many an installation fails because the job is not ready but the floor gets installed anyway. Maybe the concrete is not completely dry, the heat or air conditioning is not on, the doors and windows have not been put in, other trades are not done, the substrate is dirty...I could go on. These and other conditions can lead a floor covering callback. If the tile is curling, it could be because of concrete moisture issues, the wrong adhesive or too long an adhesive time. If the floor is installed in cold or hot or dirty conditions, the product may not adhere to the floor or may shrink or expand after installation.
Floor preparation is another key - the right underlayment or patching compound, properly mixed and allowed to dry for the right amount of time will provide a smooth and solid base. But remember; hold off on that underlayment until you are sure the subfloor is ready. More resilient floors fail because of moisture problems than any other single cause. The industry standard (ASTM F 710) could not be more clear. It states: All concrete slabs shall be tested for moisture regardless of age or grade level, and every installation guide says the same thing.
An installer I once knew was fond of saying "Acclimation is the foundation of a beautiful installation." If resilient product is not given an adequate chance to adapt to the environment, problems are sure to follow. Many resilient products will expand or "grow" when warm, or contract when cold. While all resilient tile and sheet products are of concern, some specific examples I have seen are rectangular products such as wall base, reducers or vinyl plank, which are easy to stretch during handling, especially if they are very warm.
This can happen when a worker simply throws a carton over his shoulder and allows the box to bend; or pulls warm material out of the end of the carton; or stretches the material end to end while setting it into the adhesive. These actions can stretch the material ever so slightly, and in warm weather the risk is even higher. Whether the installer stretches the material or it has expanded slightly, material installed in this state will look good with nice tight seams until the temperature drops and the material returns to its original size. The gaps that show up when this happens may be called "shrinkage", but the material is in fact returning to its original size. If you ever notice an installation of vinyl flooring where the floor tile, the reducers or the wall base are gapped, it's a good bet the job was done in the summer time and the material was not acclimated. Acclimation of 48 hours is recommended by virtually every flooring manufacturer
Adhesive Selection and Application
It amazes me that someone would switch adhesives on a floor covering job just to save a few dollars. If you saved $20 (which is a lot) on a four gallon can of adhesive with a spread rate of 150 square feet per gallon (which is on the low side), you have saved about 3 cents a square foot. Some of the resilient warranties today, especially on products like high end residential sheet vinyl, are better than they have ever been. It's not worth throwing that warranty away to save a few pennies on adhesive. It also doesn't pay to try to make the installer's job easier by using a more "installer friendly" adhesive for flooring it is not intended for - like using clear VCT adhesive for solid vinyl tile, or using a one part adhesive on a product like rubber tile, when the application calls for a two-part epoxy.
Too much or not enough adhesive can ruin an installation so your trowel selection is equally important. Remember, a trowel has two functions. Aside from being an application device that transfers the adhesive from can to floor, it's also a measuring device that ensures that the proper amount of adhesive is dispatched. It's astonishing that many experienced installers still ignore this detail. Most distributors and manufacturers accept orders for floor coverings and adhesives without saying a word about trowels. Again, it amounts to a few pennies per square foot to have the right trowel. Used on concrete, the average trowel will last about 1,000 - 1,500 square feet, so a $15 trowel (and that's an expensive one) costs less than 2 cents a square foot. When you take the time to send an installation team out with the right flooring and the right adhesive, do yourself a favor and order some trowels too.
Once the floor is in place the job is not over. First, protect your work. Make certain no one is going to saunter across before it is ready. Also, talk to your customer about preventative maintenance measures such as floor protectors and matting, as well as a good cleaning program. Tell her that theses are the keys to a floor's long life. Since so many complaints are maintenance related, some time spent with the customer to discuss "post installation" issues is a good idea.
Finally, I'll say it just one more time: The best way to avoid troubleshooting is to avoid trouble and the best way to do that is to stick to the script and install it perfectly the first time.