I was recently asked to name my greatest disappointment in the resilient installation field over the past 40 years. My reply didn’t take long: Fast-track construction. The way I was trained was very fundamental: You spend the time necessary to do what it takes to assure the job is satisfactory to all parties involved. That means the manufacturer, the end-user and everyone in between. Unfortunately, this basic mentality is often at odds with the pressures seen in the construction business.
I was recently on a downtown Seattle luxury condominium project of luxury vinyl tile (LVT) to review concerns expressed by the general contractor. These condos in this six story building will probably go for a million dollars each. But that doesn’t mean it was done right. The LVT had been installed on the sixth floor level which had no permanent heat. As a result, there were fluctuations in temperature and humidity. The floor temperature was cold because the fifth floor was still without windows and doors. The fifth floor was also still in the sheetrock stage. The lighting was poor, there was heavy construction worker traffic and soil everywhere. A gypsum substrate that was supposed to be dry and clean was soft and dusty.
I was met by the manufacturer representative, the floor covering contractor sales representative, the installer and the general contractor job superintendent. They all pointed fingers at each other. My job suddenly shifted from consultant/inspector to referee. I listened to each party. Not surprisingly they all explained why it was not their fault. What follows is a summation of what they told me:
The Manufacturer:It was their LVT tile and adhesive, so should they take responsibility for bonding, curling and scratching that has become an issue for the tile installed? As it happens this company offers a regular adhesive and a premium adhesive, and guess which one was used. The cheap one! There was nothing wrong with the tile or either adhesive had they been used as they were recommended-but they were not.
The Flooring Contractor:He claims the manufacturer never told him to use a primer on the gypsum substrate, nor did they ever suggest that the flooring contractor stick with the premium adhesive. My question to him: How is the manufacturer supposed to know the job site conditions? Would any responsible manufacturer make these recommendations under those circumstances? No, but it is nice to have someone to blame.
The Installer:The installer claims he was just doing what he was told. That’s a fine excuse for an apprentice, but not something you’d ever hear from a self-respecting pro. Where is his pride in professionalism? He had to know from the beginning that the materials specified were not going to work and even if they did, the floor was not going to have a very long service life.
The General Contractor:The job superintendent was the least sympathetic to the problem. His attitude was: “I don’t care what you have to do, get it done!” His feeling was that the conditions were not about to change. Confronted with facts he simply told those assembled that if they can’t do it, he’d find some one who could. For him, it all boiled down to these simply words: “I’ve a schedule to keep.”
Manufacturers don’t spend millions on testing only to produce products that have specifications that are impossible to meet. The reality is that once you cross a certain temperature or humidity threshold, which depending upon materials and/or adhesives is around 60°F (15.6°C), materials change. They become more brittle, more difficult to work with, more difficult to bond and subject to dimensional change. Adhesives will work as they should. The set times and the bond integrity is compromised-both to the material and to the substrate.
The floor contractors must enjoy these headaches. Why else would they take these contracts? They know full well what the specifications for the project are, yet they allow themselves to be coerced onto the jobsite well before they should. All under the threat of being replaced if they don’t compromise their work. So they start the flooring installation too early, then get hit with one problem after another. I often wonder if they ever take the time to figure the long term cost of cutting corners-not to mention the ill will caused. The flooring contractor is also supposed to know about the various types of substrates and applications of materials to those substrates.
For his part, the installer needs to be up to date with the materials he will be working with. Information is readily available to assist in learning about adhesives, substrates, and floor preparation. He will get no sympathy from me if his work is compromised by job site conditions. There have been many times when I reported to a construction site that was not ready for a floor installation. I would rather have lost a day’s pay than let someone else’s poor scheduling tarnish my reputation. That has surely changed from my era. In my day we took a lot of pride in developing a relationship with the job superintendent and worked together to make the job run smoothly. That is all gone.
The job superintendent will get a bonus if he brings this job in on schedule and he doesn’t care whose toes he has to step on to get there. The job superintendent of today is young and inexperienced and all he knows is hurry-up and get it done. They’ll let the attorneys deal with the problems later.
How about the people footing the bill? Do you think they’re getting a fair shake? If they based their decisions strictly on price and went with the low bid, I would remind them not much can be expected from the low bid. I was once told in a class I was attending in Germany, “The United States construction industry has a low bid mentality, but we will spend any thing to fix it.” Do you think the people paying for that project in Seattle are getting their money’s worth? More importantly: How does this reflect on the flooring industry and our industry’s future?
Finally, what about the unsuspecting end user-the tenant or condo owner? Is it fair that they lay out their hard earned money to pay for a second rate installation? This is why there are so many attorneys making a fortune suing contractors and subcontractors for cases just like this. All over fast-track construction.