When customers buy hardwood or engineered flooring, underlayment is often part of the order. If properly matched to the installation, underlayment can provide sound absorption, moisture control, cushioning, and insulation.
Not all products perform equally, and manufacturers’ warranties may reflect that fact. Your sales staff should be prepared to explain the reach and limitations of any warranty to interested consumers. However, before taking on any new product, be sure to read the fine print.
The Federal Trade Commission requires that retailers have written manufacturers’ warranties on products costing more than $15 either posted in close proximity to the products or ready to show upon request before purchase, with that availability made known to consumers in a prominently displayed sign. (Manufacturers are required to provide retailers with the warranty materials.)
A warranty is a guarantee that gives assurance about the quality of the product purchased. But warranties typically have conditions. To protect yourself as the distributor or retailer and also protect your customers, before you take on a flooring product, underlayment, or installation product, it is important to read not only the large print but also the small print to determine what and whom the warranty actually covers – and doesn’t cover. Make sure the warranty extends all the way to the customer who buys from you. A warranty that explicitly notes that it applies to the first purchaser may not extend at all to the consumer because the first purchaser could be considered the distributor or retailer.
Furthermore, what a warranty pays for when enforceable can be severely limited by “hidden” exclusions that can be missed. Sometimes, unnecessary words obscure the true terms of the warranty for both you and your customers. For example, an exemption clause can severely limit or restrict a manufacturer’s liability.
Indeed, all warranties come with a slew of exclusions, terms and conditions, any of which can reduce its potency. Technical language that makes for slow reading may quickly disqualify the end user from any claims under the warranty after installation of the product in the floor assembly.
When selling underlayment, evaluate the warranty for a particular installation. Make sure the underlayment matches the application and the finished flooring. The warranty might exclude a specific type of finished floor (such as a laminate floor) or a subfloor (such as concrete). If the customer uses the underlayment under or over the “wrong” material, the warranty becomes useless before it is even tested.
Also be wary of words that can disqualify a warranty, such as “notwithstanding” or “not recommended under xyz conditions,” because that type of phrasing in effect shifts any burden of proof from the manufacturer to the purchaser.
Here’s one more potential problem: A manufacturer’s warranty might cap the dollar amount of a claim or limit the dollar amount of the claim per square foot. This can come back to hurt a retailer or distributor if the order exceeds either limit because he or she could be held liable for the difference.
Read warranties carefully to make sure there are no stated pre-conditions that, if not followed, could allow a warranty to be declared void.
For example, when a finished floor is slated for installation over a concrete subfloor, a warranty for that floor might call for a calcium chloride test to determine the amount of moisture the concrete releases in a specified time. This test would be conducted to ensure the concrete is not giving off more moisture than the floor manufacturer recommends. Flooring manufacturers do not recommend placing a wood floor directly over a concrete floor with a reading over 3.5 to 4 pounds per thousand square feet for 24 hours as determined in a test conducted over a 72-hour period.
According to the National Wood Flooring Association Appendix C - Moisture Guidelines and Moisture Testing, Calcium Chloride Test - ASTM F-1869, typical limits for direct glue-down wood flooring are 3 pounds. When readings are over 3 pounds and up to 7 pounds, the National Wood Flooring Association suggests you must use a vapor retarder and, further, notes that a reading over 7 pounds may not be acceptable for wood flooring installation.
Given that many kinds of finished floors carry recommendations that moisture limits not exceed 3.5 to 4 pounds per thousand square feet in 24 hours, a warranty that carries a moisture guarantee much higher than that has no added value over one that does not mention such high numbers. So that aspect of the warranty would be moot anyway.
Even if the moisture released is within acceptable limits, how is that moisture addressed? Some moisture barriers in underlayment contain and retain moisture while others dissipate the moisture, which is better.
In evaluating underlayment for sound transmission, acoustical experts often compare test results that define how well a floor/ceiling assembly insulates against noise created from impact and from airborne vibration.
IIC is a popular impact sound insulation test. An IIC rating typically ranges between 20 and 80. The International Building Code minimum standards for multi-family dwellings are 50 for new construction (45 if field tested in a building after the floor installation is complete). A minimum of 50 is also a common requirement for condominium and high-rise associations. Local codes may supersede national codes and can be even more stringent. For example, the City of Los Angeles requires IIC and STC of 50 or above and a field test (FIIC and FSTC) at the same rating.
When a manufacturer of underlayment touts substantially higher IIC ratings, check to see how those ratings were achieved. Test results for underlayment materials that are reported without revealing the composition of the entire floor assembly may not be repeatable in a “typical” floor assembly. If a product carries particularly high numbers, be sure to request the complete test report including a description of the entire test sample.
If a manufacturer claims in its warranty that the underlayment provides a thermal break, the manufacturer’s sales material should include the insulating value and explain how it was achieved with that floor assembly. (An R-value of .50 is generally considered adequate to add to the overall energy efficiency of the floor assembly.)
Reading the fine print on a warranty can help protect your customers and your business by making sure that the product can support the application and that the manufacturer stands behind it.