For years I have heard the term, “substrate and job conditions denotes acceptance of liability” when installing floor covering products. Do you understand the term? A quote by one flooring manufacturer states, “Installation of any material and flooring related products constitutes acceptance of all materials and site related conditions by the installation contractor.”
Do flooring contractors that proceed with an installation accept the liability for the failure of the installation? In the days of our litigious society that is generally the case. In fact, in almost all of the litigation situations I have encountered, this is the case.
So let’s take a look at ways of preventing this type of situation from happening in your installations.
Pre-Construction Conference. Most flooring contractors do not attend a pre-construction conference. At a pre-construction conference you can work out all of the details of the installation prior to the start of the installation. You can discuss details about job conditions, moisture testing, temperatures, storage of materials, working areas, areas of priority and all details pertaining to the installation. Any concerns (by either party) can also be addressed at this time.
Moisture and Alkalinity Testing. Moisture and alkalinity testing should be conducted by an independent testing specialist, instead of either the general contractor or the flooring contractor. By doing this, it also takes the responsibility from both parties. If there is a moisture issue it can be dealt with without any finger pointing.
Too Early on the Job. It is your responsibility not to let yourself be coerced into starting a job too early. As a flooring contractor you should know when it is best to start an installation. I know some job superintendents want you there as early as possible, but be sure the schedule is right for you and the job. In some cases, the job superintendent is interested in getting done ahead of schedule so he can claim his bonus. He is not concerned about the toes he steps on.
Job Conditions. Keep in mind heating or cooling, lighting, the availability of working in areas in a sequential order, and the presence of other trades. These factors are important to the success of any installation. Things like temporary heat creates concerns with slab movement, crack movement and excessive moisture from temporary heaters. Poor temporary lighting usually cause concerns for the installation personnel. When poor lighting is present, it is difficult to see the areas of preparation that need attention. Good lighting is key to a successful installation and to do your best work.
Slab Temperature. Temperature guidelines need to be established. Nowhere can I find any specifications for slab temperature. A slab needs to be somewhere between 65° to 70°F (15.6°- 21.1° C). When a slab is colder than 65°F, it is not near equilibrium. This results in cracks; joints that are going to move; and show-through after the finished floor is installed. These cracks, joint movement and show-through will probably end up in a complaint that will be deemed your problem. You’ll also find that adhesives and other installation materials will perform better when the slab is not colder than 65°F.
Slab Not in Equilibrium. When a slab is not in equilibrium, the slab is most likely curled and all control joints and cracks are opened up. Once all of the joints and cracks are filled with Portland-based filler and the material is installed the slab will go into equilibrium. When this happens, the slab curl will relax and the joints and cracks will close up. What results is the filler is pushed up out of the joint or crack and telegraphs through the finished floor. I have seen many instances where this is blamed on either the flooring manufacturer or flooring contractor.
Sealers or Curing Compounds on the Slab. ASTM F-710 states the slab surface should be free of any residuals. This means excessive carbonation, (usually from temporary heaters) curing, sealing and parting compounds, to mention a few. If any of these exist they should be removed. I have seen jobs where a sealer was used on a slab and the sealer still had residual solvents attacking the adhesive one-year later. It should have been removed, and it was by the flooring contractor when he replaced the installation.
Slab Curl. If there are any absolutes it is that a slab will crack and curl. The question is: When and how much? The real problem is who is responsible? Cracks and curl need to be acclimated to the environmental conditions it is going to be subjected to. Once that happens, the problems are minor rather than major.
Poor Slab with Lots of Cracks. Slabs that have water-to-cement ratios higher than 0.50 (flooring industry maximum) and slabs that have been poorly cured can have a lot of cracking. Some cracks are difficult to see, but they are there. Eighty percent of the concrete cracking occurs in the first year. The balance occurs in years two and three. When you combine the high number of cracks with slab movement you have the potential for a disaster.
Contractor’s Responsibility Deferred. When a slab is accepted, it is often seen as telling the general contractor or the concrete contractor that you are relieving them of their responsibilities. Even though I feel they should still have culpability, many of them escape. So the way to prevent headaches and complaints from occurring is to be vigilant when going over the site walk-through.