An installer positions hardwood planks after applying Taylor's new Ms Plus Wood Flooring adhesive.

If adhesives work best when pressure is applied, the current business climate may be perfect. Rising fuel prices have greatly increased production costs, environmental issues have never been more prominent and builders are demanding supplies that help speed construction. At the same time, contractors, installers and DIY consumers can afford to be fussy: they have never had more flooring adhesives to choose from. In short, those competing in the adhesives market are faced with a number of sizeable challenges on numerous fronts.

So what’s the good news?  “The overall flooring adhesive market has been unaffected by the downturn in the residential building market.” observes Jeff Johnson, product manager for MAPEI’s Floor Covering Installation Systems, who notes that the business continues to grow at 3 to 4 percent annually. “This is because adhesives are used in commercial projects rather than residential ones.” He adds that the one area of residential flooring that has stayed strong during the ongoing slump is also an area that often requires an adhesive.

“Wood, and wood adhesives, have seen significant growth year-over-year,” Johnson continues. “The growth of non-adhesive laminate flooring appears to have dropped off in favor of stronger growth in the solid hardwood and engineered wood products.”

Indeed, those in the category agree that the twin engines of commercial construction and hardwood flooring have propelled the adhesive category at a time when many other areas of floor covering are sputtering along. Also, there appears to be more interest in using hardwood in a commercial setting. Not surprisingly the race to develop new products has focused on these areas. The competitive climate has also spurred development of more niche products designed for specialized applications.      

“Demand for wood flooring in commercial applications has increased, and as such, demand for high-quality wood adhesives has increased.” notes Rachel Gibbons, director of marketing, Specialty Construction Brands, whose products include the CHAPCO Champion wood adhesive, the Safe-Set line of adhesives for carpet and sheet flooring, and TEC tile adhesives. “We’ve seen growing demand for more exotic wood types, including bamboo and others, which is creating increased requirements on the capabilities of wood adhesives.”

Gibbons notes that the competitive climate has been further complicated by the emergence of adhesives that carry familiar brand names. “Another change is that more and more flooring manufacturers are offering their own adhesives brands as part of a complete system to offer their customers,” she says. “This puts pressure on manufacturers of branded products to differentiate their offerings and also partner with flooring manufacturers to provide complete systems.”

The effort to stand out in a crowded field favors those companies that find a way to put a new twist on a product category with a very long history. While manufacturers agree, for example, that environmental issues are hugely important, they stress that it is not enough to simply slap a “green” label on their product. The issue demands new and imaginative approaches, those participating in the category say.

Jack Raidy Jr., CEO and president of W. F. Taylor Co., notes that his company’s “science oriented” approach to the category has helped offset the challenging environment seen in flooring. “The impact has been minimized for our company by gaining market share with new, innovative, patented, Greenguard listed adhesives that incorporate moisture inhibiting and sound reduction properties within the adhesives,” he explains. A case in point, Raidy notes, is Taylor’s Meta-Tec MS Plus wood flooring adhesive which is engineered to act as a moisture inhabitant and sound reduction membrane. “It offers easy clean-up from tools and hardwood flooring and is Greenguard certified,” he adds

Adhesive manufacturers generally agree that the product segment does not get enough recognition for its “green” qualities. This may be a result of the complex chemical composition used to produce adhesives and, often, the presence of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Still, there is wide agreement that engineers formulating adhesives have contributed to improved indoor air quality.

Johnson of MAPEI says his company has been “at the forefront of the environmental movement in adhesives since 1989 with the development of its Ultrabond ECO line.” While he adds that the product contains no VOCs, he adds that the company’s environmental efforts go beyond product formulation. With the goal of reducing the overall environmental impact-or carbon footprint-of its products, MAPEI has established a network of facilitates that reduce the resources needed for shipping. Overall, he says, MAPEI produces more than 100 products that are LEED compliant.

As more and more manufacturers of flooring covering stress issues related to the environment, adhesive manufacturers say they are in a good position to build on that message. If a marketing effort stresses such qualities as recycled product or low VOCs, they agree, it seems logical that the adhesive used to install that product should embrace similar qualities.

“Adhesives manufacturers need to look for ways to support flooring manufacturers’ green efforts and address ongoing regulatory changes,” says CHAPCO’s Gibbons. “This can include offering low VOC adhesives as well as offering products that improve the installation environment, including low odor. In the commercial arena, architects are looking for ways to gain LEED credits, and adhesive manufacturers need to provide the products and tools to facilitate this.”

MAPEI’s Johnson agrees. “Near term, commercial projects will continue to drive demand for adhesives for glue-down flooring. Long term, adhesives will need to evolve to meet the installation requirements of new flooring systems that employ ever more recyclable materials.”

Still, veterans of the adhesive business stress that the category has been challenged on many fronts over the years. A tight supply of raw materials, they note, has been responsible for greater efficiencies in product and distribution. Demands for product that cures faster and is easy to use have been a top priority for engineers. Environmental issues have been a major factor in the category since its earliest days when it became apparent that many powerful adhesives also carry a powerful industrial odor. 

“The old adage ‘What’s Old is New Again’ applies,” says Raidy of W. F. Taylor, referring to the issues prevalent in the category. He notes that Taylor has been selling solvent-free products for nearly 20 years, beginning with the Envirotec line He adds that the current business climate will favor those companies that have a history of adapting to market forces. “New environmental initiatives are under way,” says Raidy. “The strong adhesives manufacturers can support floor covering mills. Research and development capabilities will be increasingly required to collaborate and partner with the scientists of progressive flooring manufacturers.”

USG Sticks with the Basics

A new wood adhesive formulated to address the concerns of builders and environmentalists alike reflects a number of the top priorities shaping the overall category. Apart, from its “green” qualities (no solvents, no VOCs), the product is formulated to make life easier for installers. 

USG says its new product - Durock wood flooring adhesive - is formulated to assure “superior bond strength and outstanding troweling properties” and relies on humidity and ambient temperatures for curing. Also, in an effort to address the concerns of installers and contactors, the product has a 20- to 30-minute working time. After it is applied, light foot traffic can resume in four to eight hours, and normal traffic typically can resume in 24 hours. The product also is easily cleaned up or removed using alcohol or mineral spirits. Durock wood flooring adhesive also has a light tan color and mild mint smell.  It is sold in 3.5 gallon pails.