Building contractors are important customers to the flooring industry. They make decisions all the time that affect the way we work and the conditions we work in. The trouble is, many are not well versed in resilient flooring. Often they don't understand (or even realize) how they impact the flooring installations. Right or wrong they are making decisions regarding the worksite that have a direct bearing on the performance of the resilient product and adhesives used. Part of it is the way they coordinate the schedule to accommodate other trades and part of it is the way they prep the job site. Two major factors are lighting and temperature.
Let's start with lighting. Too often we are coerced into working in conditions where the lighting is poor. This is not acceptable. Not only is this an unsafe situation, but when you are preparing a substrate in poor lighting conditions, installers can easily overlook small depressions, waves or ridges that only show through the material after the lighting is installed. It is difficult enough to see the minor imperfections in the dull non-reflective substrate when you are doing your prep work. Remember: Once the lighting and the floor polish is applied it is too late to make changes. Insist that the job site have adequate lighting and you avoid all sorts of headaches.
Tempature is a bit more complicated. Resilient manufacturers recommend installing in an environment no cooler than 65º and no warmer than 70º F (18º - 21º C). Often, when we point this out we are scoffed at. People assume we are doing it for our personal comfort when, in fact, the success or failure of the floor is the real issue. If the conditions are warmer than 85ºF (29ºC), resilient materials will soften and may experience severe shrinkage when the temperature dips. Also, adhesives tend to cure too fast and achievement of a good bond is compromised.
On the other hand, if the environment is too chilly (which is any temperature lower than manufacturer's recommendations) the resilient materials can become stiffer and more resistant to conforming to the substrate undulations. The flooring is also more difficult to cut and fit. When the heat does come on, it is likely to expand, and that leads to curled seams and joints. This also applies to felt backings which have a tendency to draw excessive moisture and grow, causing edge curl on sheet materials. In cooler temperatures, adhesives and floor patches are slow to cure as they hold moisture longer requiring more open time and lost productivity. Seam treatments are also compromised in colder situations and it is more difficult to attain a good heat weld due to the possibility of condensation during the welding process. And using seam sealers, which work on a thermo fusion process, is a waste of time. The sealers will not perform in colder conditions.
So why not use a temporary heater? Heating oil and propane will fill the air with moisture creating all kinds of problems. A five-gallon bottle of propane, for example, will release three-gallons of water into the atmosphere. For heating oil, it is almost a gallon for every gallon burned. If temporary heat is to be used; it should be a forced air radiant heat and the temperature must be maintained at a constant 65º - 70º F (18º-21º C) not just during the job but 24 hours a day. Under no circumstances should the temperature be allowed to drop below 55º F (13º C).
The worst case scenario is when temperatures fluctuate up and down. This leads to fluctuations in the moisture vapor emissions, resulting in potential moisture and dew point problems. Temperature fluctuation also causes concrete to move and that allows the concrete joints and cracks to show through the finished floor material. Keep in mind that resilient materials go through an accelerated shrinkage process and adhesives do not set in a timely fashion (especially temperature sensitive epoxy adhesives). That can mean seam peaking, VCT tile joints shrinking open, compromised adhesive performance, the appearance of cracks and bubbles occurring in sheet products.
Another big issue involves access to your work area. Too often the building contractor gets into a time crunch (or is a poor planner). So you end up with several different trades working in the same place at the same time. Invariably they traipse across your floor. This can lead to ill feelings when the flooring installers (correctly) insist there be no foot traffic over an area that is to receive resilient flooring materials for at least 24 hours (72 hours for rolling load traffic). It only takes a small pebble from a shoe or a small amount of dirt to contaminate the area, requiring a second cleaning of the floor. It is understandable that other trades working nearby are unlikely to share our concern for the flooring. Often, they unintentionally do something that can compromise the floor installation (see side bar).
The problem, of course, is that construction sites are often the exact oppostite of the conditions we need to do the job right. Consider the following list of common elements found at a job site and what they can do to a floor if they are spilled or dropped:
- Asphalt - permanent discoloration and difficult to bond to
- Oil and gasoline - permanent discoloration, distortion of material and bonding problems.
- Plumbing primer - permanent discoloration
- Lumber crayon (grease pencil) - discoloration
- Taping compound - discoloration and difficult to bond to
- Magic marker - discoloration and bottom up staining to vinyl-backed materials
- Construction adhesives - permanent discoloration and distortion of some materials
- Over spray of paint and stain - discoloration and unreliable adhesive bond to overspray and bond of overspray to substrate
- Spraypaint numbers and markings - discoloration and unreliable bond to substrate
- Turpentine and paint thinner - discoloration, distortion of some materials and bonding problems
- Shellac - discoloration and difficult to bond to
- Colored chalk lines - discoloration (especially red) bottom up discoloration
- Concrete curing compounds - discoloration and difficult to bond to and unreliable bond to substrate
- Concrete parting compounds (bond breakers) - unreliable bond of adhesives to parting compound
- Lubricants (cutting oil and grease) - permanent discoloration, distortion of some materials and bonding problems
- Asbestos encapsulants - discoloration and bonding problems both from the adhesives and to the substrate
- Wood underlayment and subfloor edge sealers - discoloration and difficult to bond to resulting in a tunneling over the joints
- Synthetic wood patching compounds - permanent discoloration
- Adhesive removers - bonding problems, if not thoroughly cleaned up will attack the new adhesive, cannot be easily detected.
Based on discussions I've had with builders, many seem to think we are asking for ideal job conditions just for our convenience. In truth, these conditions are imperative to ensure a professional installation that is long lasting and problem-free. The challenge is to get the contractor to understand that a success floor installation starts with the job site environment he creates.
Note to other trades: Spare the floorUnderstandably, many workers at a job site are not aware how easy it is to mess up a new floor (even before it is installed). To protect the flooring (and keep the substrate clean) here are some things to avoid:
- Don't place a ladder on a newly installed floor. If it is tile, the ladder base will push the tiles out of position and create unsightly gaps in the joints. It will leave indentations on sheet flooring.
- Don't rest heavy equipment (including wheeled lifts) on the floor. It will leave indentations or twist tile at pivot points and create distorted bubbles in sheet materials.
- Don't let anything spill on the substrate or the new floor. Even innocent materials can discolor a flooring or compromise the adhesive.
- Don't drop any tool or piece of equipment. Even a small item can cut, crack or leave permanent damage.
- Don't allow any dirt or other contaminant to be tracked in. This can contaminate seams and tile joints and create discoloration of the materials. Even a tiny bit of soil can be abrasive to the finish of the new floor covering material.
- Don't leave any material on the floor of the substrate that must be removed by someone else.
- Don't overspray paint in any area of the project or the residue may land on (and contaminate) the substrate.