With the slowdown in resilient flooring work, many flooring contractors are reaching out for different types of flooring to install. The new residential contractor, having been hit especially hard, has moved into new and different aspects of floor covering such as main street commercial work and specialty floor coverings.

This type of move requires a completely different set of standards compared to new residential work. What is even worse is the fact that some of the new home general contractors are doing the same thing and are woefully underprepared. Case in point: a medical clinic built by a 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, concerns with which neither group had any experience. The substrate was concrete; both parties predominately had suspended wood substrate experience.

The concrete had a 0.58 water-to-cement ratio, higher than flooring industry recommended water-to-cement ratio concrete (0.50). The surfaced of the concrete had a hard-troweled (burnished), highly-consolidated surface, over which a concrete curing compound was applied.

Neither group had much experience with concrete moisture testing, but in an attempt to check the concrete they performed three calcium chloride tests instead of RH test, which would have been more accurate; sadly, three was not nearly enough. Worse, the tests were placed on the surface of the concrete immediately after it had been lightly hand-sanded.

At the time of the testing there was no controlled environment for the structure; tests conducted under these conditions would yield a false positive. The results were in the high 8-pound range. The material they were installing was a 5-pound product. 

With the high results, the flooring contractor went looking for a solution to there moisture concern. Through the flooring contractor’s association with a local supply house he found, and settled for, an epoxy-like coating that could be rolled over the surface of the concrete. 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.

It’s important to note that epoxies do not attain a good mechanical bond to a curing compound nor 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 receipt for disaster. In all fairness to their inexperience, had they mechanically abraded the surface of the concrete, they may have had some chance for a successful installation.

After the application of the moisture treatment, a short time passed prior to the installation of the flooring product – linoleum – with which the installers for the flooring contractor had no experience. Their main expertise was with rotogravure vinyl products, and I can only imagine what a shock it was to unroll their first piece of linoleum.

Linoleum is not a “hack it in” material like a rotogravure product. Linoleum takes specialized fitting techniques like direct scribing and occasional pattern scribing, none of which was done. The minor tears and gaps around door casings and along walls were terrible.

On top of the inexperience with the material, the job conditions were poor and the installation was started way too early. It was cold with little or no heat, making the material brittle and difficult to cut. This was evident throughout the installation. Also in question was the lighting. This, added to the inexperience of the installers, made for a long, arduous installation.

To go even further, the seams of the linoleum had to be heat welded. Heat welding linoleum is a challenge for an installer experienced with such techniques. In this case, the flooring contractor rented a heat weld gun and hand tools for his installers…and left them to it.

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.

This type of reaction allows the rod to easily be pulled out while it is warm or, if you wait too long to make your first skiving pass, you will end up pulling the rod out. This phenomenon occurred throughout the installation. The installer’s reaction was to turn the heat up on the heat gun, which only led to scorching of the material. When it came time for the final skiving pass you can only imagine what an unsightly mess remained. With their inexperience with skiving, the seams were chatter marks throughout the installation.

With the linoleum installation complete, it was covered with paper and allowed to be walked over by all of the other trades on the project for about three months, during which time there was still no environmental control. The Pacific Northwest weather provided warm to hot days and cool nights during that time. Temperature fluctuations of about 30 degrees F occurred on a daily basis outdoors.

When the construction process was in its final phase, the contractor removed the protective paper to reveal the nightmare that had occurred during the time the linoleum had been covered.

The seams had peaked, some of the heat weld was coming apart, and there were large bubbles through the installation. 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 and the entire installation was lost.

The truly unfortunate part of this is that both parties were good at what they did, but by going outside their respective areas of expertise without the proper training and education, they managed to get themselves into a very costly liability situation. The accusations that ensued and the finger pointing were uncalled for; the fact of the matter is both parties were to blame.

In the end, a commercial flooring contractor was brought in to make the corrective actions necessary: the replacement of the entire installation. The situation was resolved and the clinic opened. Meanwhile, we all get left with a big black-eye.