With the slowdown of resilient flooring work, many flooring contractors have expanded to different types of flooring to install. The new construction residential contractor, especially hit hard, has moved into different areas of floor covering such as commercial, Main Street commercial work and specialty floor coverings. Unfortunately, this type of move requires a completely new set of standards compared to new residential work.
Consider the following job: A medical clinic built by new custom home contractor with flooring installed by a new home flooring contractor.
The medical clinic was new construction from the ground up. From the beginning there were all types of concerns and neither group had any previous experience to call upon. The substrate was concrete and both parties predominately had suspended wood substrate experience.
The concrete had a higher than flooring industry recommended water-to-cement ratio concrete (0.50). Also, the concrete had a hard troweled (burnished) highly consolidated surface, over which a concrete curing compound was applied.
Neither the flooring contractor nor building contractor had much experience with concrete moisture testing, but in an attempt to check the concrete they did three calcium chloride tests. These tests were placed on the surface of the concrete immediately after the concrete surface was lightly hand sanded. At the time of the testing there was no controlled environment for the structure, thus yielding a false positive. The moisture test results were in the high six lb. range for a three-pound product.
With the high results the flooring contractor went looking for a solution to the moisture concern. Through the flooring contractor’s local supply house, they decided to use an epoxy-like coating that could be applied with a roller over the concrete surface.
The surface of the concrete was cleaned and the epoxy was applied directly over the concrete curing compound. There was no evidence of any substrate preparation being done. I have found that epoxies do not attain a good mechanical bond to a curing compound or to a hard trowel finished concrete. Epoxies are designed to achieve a mechanical bond to a concrete surface similar to fine sandpaper. The combination of the two was a recipe for disaster.
In all fairness to their inexperience, had they mechanically abraded the concrete surface, a successful installation could have been possible.
After the moisture treatment was applied a short time passed prior to installing the linoleum. The flooring contractor installers had no experience with linoleum. The closest product to their expertise was a rotogravure vinyl product.
I can only imagine what a shock it was to unroll their first piece of linoleum. Linoleum takes specialized fitting techniques like direct scribing and occasional pattern scribing. None of the specialized fitting techniques necessary to install linoleum were used. And the final install had minor tears and gaps around door casings and along walls. The job was terrible.
The job conditions were also poor and the installation was started way too early. It was cold with little or no heat making the linoleum brittle and difficult to cut. This was evident throughout the installation.
Also in question was the lighting. This added to the installers’ inexperience and made for a long arduous installation.
To compound these events even further, the seams of the linoleum had to be heat welded. Heat welding linoleum for an installer who has experience is a challenge. The flooring contractor rented a heat weld gun and hand tools for his installers and the welding was left up to them.
Linoleum, unlike vinyl, needs to be grooved down to but not into the jute backing. In this case, the groove was less than half the depth needed for a good weld. Linoleum heat welding, unlike vinyl, is not a true weld; it is a bond of the thermoplastic rod to the material.
When heat is applied to the linoleum the resins and oils in the linoleum liquefy and are slow to re-solidify. Unfortunately, this reaction allows the rod to easily be pulled out while it is warm or if an installer waits too long to make their first skiving pass, you will end up pulling the rod out. This occurred throughout the installation. The installer’s reaction was to increase the temperature on the heat gun. The higher temperature led to scorching of the material. When it came time for the final skiving pass, the seams looked like chatter marks.
Once the linoleum installation was complete it was covered with paper and then walked over by other trades for about three months. There were still no environmental controls -- the Pacific Northwest weather meant warm to hot days and cool nights.
When the construction process was in its final phase, the contractor removed the protective paper to reveal the nightmare that had occurred while the linoleum had been covered – peaked seams; heat welds coming apart; large bubbles throughout the installation; and moisture treatment failure.
When they tore into the material it was discovered that the moisture treatment, because of the lack of preparation, had failed and was peeling off the surface of the concrete. Moisture had attacked the adhesive and the material. The entire installation was lost.
Both parties were good at what they did, but they went outside their area of expertise and managed to get themselves into a very costly liability. Both parties were to blame for their lack of expertise in this type of construction. A commercial flooring contractor was brought in to replace the entire installation. Please do your homework before you take on large and complicated jobs. The last thing the industry needs is a black eye.