Keep it on the level. Neither the client nor the general contractor is likely to know all the intricacies of commercial flooring, particularly if it is a tricky job. That is why they hire a flooring pro. Here an installer working on a resurfacing job at Panther’s Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. uses Sakrete B-1 Leveler.  (Photo courtesy of Sakrete)

There are so many times I see situations where flooring contractors get trapped into jobs that they should just walk away from. Sometimes it’s a good customer they don’t want to disappoint or maybe it’s a new opportunity-either way they should know better. But the truth is we have all been trapped into these no-win jobs. They are never a pleasure.

Consider this scenario: A six-year old commercial structure is purchased by a dentist who wants to convert it into a dental clinic. The structure was build into a hillside and the main floor is a concrete slab. Because it is below grade it is subjected to a lot of rain and runoff. The slab is also about six years old and is covered with carpet that shows no signs of moisture. The doctor wants to convert about one-third of the facility into examination/treatment rooms (referred to as “operatories” by architects and designers). Each requires plumbing. That means that once the old carpet is removed, the slab will require a considerable amount of trenching, which will involve cutting down through the vapor retarder directly beneath the slab.

A general contractor hired to do improvement remodeling has the concrete in the trench removed and the plumbing installed. The concrete is then poured back into the trench, without any type of vapor retarder. The concrete is finished smooth. The general contractor calls in his regular commercial flooring contractor who, upon seeing the trenches, points out the obvious concern for potential moisture issues. He does not perform any moisture testing because he assumes that moisture problems and freshly poured trenches go hand-in-hand.

The flooring contractor determines that a moisture mitigation system is needed to correct the situation. It is very costly-but without it, the floor is likely to fail. When informed of this by the general contractor, the dentist refuses to okay the added expense even though he is specifically warned that he is courting disaster. (The dentist would later claim he was never told this information.) When informed of the dentist’s decision, the flooring contractor says he will proceed, but the installation job will carry no guarantee or warranty of any kind. The general contractor instructs him to install the flooring anyway.

Not surprisingly, trouble soon begins to surface. As the installer hired by the flooring contractor begins work, he notices that the patching compound is extremely slow to set. While he’s waiting he cuts the flooring selected, a homogeneous sheet vinyl, and lays it into place. When he pulls it back to apply adhesive he notices water droplets on the floor and on the back of the sheet vinyl placed directly over the trenches. He stops work and calls the flooring contractor. 

The two contractors and the installer meet and the flooring contractor again reminds them that there will be no warranties on this job. The installer says he has seen this type of situation before. He assures them that sometimes it works out okay. Unable to reach the dentist by phone, the general contractor advises the doctor of the situation via email. He then brings in dehydrators and fans in an effort to dry out the area and reschedules the installation for a week later. Upon hearing this, the flooring contractor insists that one week is not enough time to dry the concrete. He reiterates the warranty issue at which point the general contractor indicates he will take over responsibility for the installation.

A week passes and when the installer begins work, he notices the adhesive is slow to dry at the trenches. Other than that, he completes the job as planned. About six weeks later, the dental clinic opens and the first signs of trouble with the floor soon appear. The doctor notifies the general contractor (who in turn notifies the flooring contractor) that there are about 10 bubbles visible in the newly installed sheet vinyl. The flooring contractor, of course, reminds the general contractor that there is no warranty. As a courtesy he sends the installer back to repair the bubbles.

The flooring contractor meets the installer at the clinic to observe the situation and finds bubbles directly over the trench lines. He has the installer attempt to repair the problem with no success. The flooring contractor stresses to the general contractor that the customer courtesy call was not part of his contractual obligation. He reminds him once again that the problems are not covered by a warranty.  

At this point the situation disintegrates into finger pointing and accusations. The doctor now claims he was never told about the moisture issue or the added costs to rectify the problem. He even denies receiving the general contractor’s email about the job being stopped and says he was unaware of any meeting between the flooring contractor, installer and the general contractor.

For his part, the general contractor acknowledges that he was aware of the moisture problem. But he now says the flooring contractor quoted him a price of $7 to $10 a sq. ft. to place an epoxy coating over the floor and that the cost was to be passed on to the doctor.  He also says the installer led him to believe that everything would be fine if they just gave it another week to dry out using the dehydrators and fans. The general contractor informs the flooring contractor that his decision to begin works means he “accepted the floor.”

Enter the lawyers. The doctor is now demanding over a quarter million dollars to redo the four workstations, re-sanitize the area and compensate him for all lost time and lost revenue while the area is being redone.

So the question is not simply “Whose fault is it?” but also “Whose responsibility is it?” The attorneys argue that if you, the flooring contractor, accept a job as a professional you own it unless there are extenuating or unforeseen circumstances. Even if they are dead wrong, you have to hire lawyers and fight back.

My advice: If you decide to accept a job that is marginal and may fail because of known conditions, it is not enough to tell everyone verbally. Make it clear that the outcome is uncertain because of conditions beyond your control. Put it in writing and get it signed by all parties involved. Or better yet, pass up the job and find one where your professionalism is appreciated and your integrity is not challenged.