The best way to ensure a quality floor installation is to give contractors the necessary time and space to do their jobs. Just as critical, though, is following instructions for allowing adhesives to set, say flooring industry experts.
The most common flooring mistake that remodeling project managers make is to schedule work for other trades in the same space where flooring is being installed.
“The flooring contractor should be the last trade in,” says Dave Kalberg, manager of commercial operations for Pierce Flooring and Design. “It’s not efficient to work around other trades.”
All too often, a construction or remodeling project falls behind. To meet a deadline, flooring contractors often end up with less time to complete their work than originally scheduled. Even worse, they might end up working elbow to elbow with other trades. Flooring contractors who express concern are labeled “hard to work with.”
The major problem, flooring contractors say, is that flooring adhesives need two to five days to set before they can be open to traffic. Walking on the floor any sooner could lead to bubbles.
“Glue needs time to set up,” says Jim Burke, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Allegheny Contract. “You can’t have heavy equipment rolling on it 20 minutes later. It won’t have the proper bond. You don’t paint a wall then immediately start hanging pictures on it.”
Another way to ensure a quality installation is to make sure a qualified contractor is on the job in the first place, says Lori Dowling, president and chief executive officer of StarNet Commercial Flooring Cooperative, a network of independent commercial flooring contractors and installers.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for references,” she says. “Get a sense of what the contractor does or doesn’t do. Do they have a clear understanding of subflooring? Are they experienced in dealing with moisture? Can they install all flooring categories? Make sure they are experienced in the type of flooring you’re going to install, whether it is wood, ceramic or specialty flooring.”
They also should be experienced in commercial projects.
“Commercial flooring is a very specialized business,” Kalberg says. “Residential flooring is different than commercial flooring. There are too many things to get in trouble with. There’s too much to know. Make sure you talk to folks who do it all the time, not just once in a while.”
Facilities executives should distinguish between experienced, full-service flooring contractors and low-bid contractors that subcontract work to less qualified installers and have little stake in the job once it’s installed. Professional flooring contractors stand by their work. Facilities managers should evaluate flooring contractors based on a combination of local experience and national price clout. Other important qualifications are the ability to anticipate problems caused by local conditions and to understand municipal compliance; both ensure smooth code approvals. The pay-off of selecting the right contractor for facilities managers is less down time and fewer headaches.
After selecting a contractor, the facilities executives should select a product that is suitable for the space. The selection process begins with the budget.
“The first thing to look at is how much money you have to spend,” Kalberg says. “Customers don’t always have the right budget for what they want. You’ve got to remember that you can’t buy a Cadillac with Chevy dollars. If you’re not prepared to start at that point, look at what your issues are now. What do you like? What do you dislike? Why are you replacing the flooring in the first place? How long do you want it to last? If you buy inexpensive flooring, are you prepared to replace it every few years?”
To focus further on what the flooring must accomplish, facilities executives should define the space’s purpose. Does the space require a slip-resistant surface? How will this flooring connect to other spaces? Does the pattern need to be matched? What is the waste factor involved? Is it an office, a boardroom, lobby, school, hospital or a retail space?
A 30-ounce, commercial-cut pile, glued directly to the subflooring without cushion, will perform well for years in a moderately used conference room, but poorly in a corridor with heavy traffic, says Dave Stafford, executive vice president of Commercial Carpets of America. A tightly constructed level-loop nylon carpet with an attached cushion will perform better in most main corridors.
“You will pay for what you get, and get what you pay for,” he says.
Most carpet is made of nylon and “nylon is not going to wear out,” Burke says. Carpet grade is usually determined by the quality of the backing material. When carpet must be replaced, it is often because the backing material wore out. Common symptoms of worn backing include raveling edges, loose adhesion between primary and secondary backing layers, and zippering or long runs. Many carpet mills now use higher quality “branded” backings.
Customers also should factor in life-cycle costs before making any product decision. Higher upfront costs might be more economical in the long run. “For example, if you have a 10-year lease on a space, you don’t want to buy a product that will last only five or six years,” Burke says.
“Because of budgets, you can’t always have pretty carpet that wears well,” he says. “Don’t sacrifice performance for looks. A big mistake customers make is not allowing enough money in the budget to achieve design and performance requirements, particularly when related to length of the lease or replacement cycle.”
If LEED certification is important to the building, then the product selection also must consider where and how the floor covering was manufactured, Stafford says.
“Floor covering selection may just provide those critical LEED points needed for qualification or a higher rating,” he said.
Other LEED factors include how the product is installed and what adhesives are used. Adhesives can affect indoor air quality and timelines for occupancy. Also, some “green” products may require different handling, Stafford says. For example, these materials might have to be delivered to the site in advance so that they have time to adjust to the site’s temperature and humidity. Physical installation may be different and more time consuming. Special underlays might be necessary or the area might need to be sealed against moisture and old adhesives.
Maintenance can make a difference in performance as well.
“The typical 12-inch vinyl tile is the least expensive thing to put on the floor, but it is the most expensive to maintain and to keep looking good,” Kalberg says.
Color, style and design are significant maintenance considerations, too. Some colors look wonderful but are difficult to maintain. For example, blues and grays are aesthetically pleasing colors, but they show soil more than other colors. Brown, on the other hand, hides dirt better, Kalberg says.
Hard surfaces have their own set of concerns. They are neither as warm nor sound-absorbent as carpet. And while hard surfaces appear cleaner, it is easier to kick up dust on them than on carpet.
Installation costs for hard surfaces also tend to be higher because they take longer to install, and there are fewer qualified installers.
Some of the biggest budget surprises come from not factoring in problems already present in the floor and the condition of the substrate. Cost overruns often occur when the floor is in worse shape than expected or the original flooring is harder to remove than anticipated. In remodeling projects, the substrate could have asbestos, mold and mildew, or rotted wood, all of which take more time and money to address.
“The problem is, there is no way to know the condition of the floor underneath,” Kalberg says. “You don’t know what prep work will be needed until you get in there.”
If the substrate is not properly prepared, new complications can arise. To avoid these troubles, the substrate must be tested for alkalinity, water vapor and moisture emission. Most flooring manufacturers have established specific conditions for installation to ensure proper bonding between the floor covering and the adhesive. Product failures brought on by improperly prepared substrate conditions typically cost two-and-half times more to fix than the cost of the initial project, Burke says.
Once the floor covering is installed, facilities executives also should ask for a warranty on workmanship, Dowling says. “If they won’t do that, be suspicious. Get at least a one-year warranty. If the contractor is willing to do this, they are giving you assurances that they’ll do the right thing so you’ll not have to deal with it.”
Stafford says that product and installation are two separate types of warranties. A one-year installation warranty is typical on commercial work. All warranties must be in writing and facilities executives should read the fine print before signing. If there is a potential claim, facilities executives should first contact the flooring dealer or contractor. If the problem is not solved satisfactorily, then the facility executive should contact an independent flooring inspector.
After the flooring is in place, facilities executives should ensure that it is properly maintained. “If you’re going to invest all that money in a floor, you have to put some work into maintaining it,” Dowling says. When selecting a product for a space, facilities executives must ask about initial and long-term maintenance, she says.
Maintenance is important. Carpet can be ruined faster by improper maintenance than by the heaviest traffic, Burke says. That’s because “improper maintenance typically is performed by people who don’t know what they’re doing. They’re not trained in carpet maintenance.”
Stafford adds, “Frequent hot water extraction-type cleaning would be a mistake. The carpet will develop ripples, bubbles, and may result in a tripping hazard.”
“The more liquid and chemicals you put on a carpet, the more recurrence you have of the stain because the chemical actually acts as a magnet to future stains,” Burke says. “A little stain becomes a big stain because the carpet was inappropriately maintained.
“Dry systems eliminate that problem because they don’t degrade the fibers. A lot of replacement projects stem from improper maintenance, not because the carpet is worn out.”
Hard surfaces have their own set of cleaning issues. “A highly polished terrazzo or marble floor in a main lobby entrance looks beautiful, but without a sophisticated mat system to capture water and dirt from the outside, there will be slip-and-fall accidents,” Stafford says.
Finally, environmentally conscious facilities executives will ask about options for having the old flooring and carpet recycled. Flooring installers are becoming more knowledgeable about the ways to keep used materials out of landfills.
“Ask the installer to help guide you through the recycling process,” Dowling says.
Typically, whoever removes the flooring is responsible for its disposal, whether it is the flooring company or a demolition company. That includes recycling. The debris usually is dumped into a landfill, Burke says.
However, if recycling is important to the building’s operational philosophy, facilities executives can make other arrangements by writing it into the project specifications.
Regardless of the flooring project and the related specifications, facilities executives, architects and project managers must have a complete understanding of what it takes to select and install commercial flooring correctly the first time.
“If it were their own house, they would not tolerate compromise,” Kalberg says. “They should get in the field and get a closer look at how it should be done. They only talk about dollars and cents, but don’t look at impact in the long run.”
StarNet Commercial Flooring Cooperative is a national network of independent commercial flooring contractors and installers with a record of craftsmanship, customer service and financial stability. Prospective members meet StarNet’s strict criteria and undergo extensive background checks before they are admitted to the organization.
“Not all contractors are alike,” says Lori Dowling, StarNet president and chief executive officer. “StarNet members are prequalified. They have been in their markets for a long time. They have a history of quality installation and are knowledgeable in all product categories.”
Established in 1992, the StarNet network includes 130 firms with 230 locations in 45 states, making it the largest network of its kind in the country. StarNet provides marketing, educational and technical support to its members from its Ridgefield, Conn., headquarters.
StarNet members are experienced in a range of commercial applications, including health care, hospitality, education, public space and commercial office buildings.
“StarNet is not tied to any product,” Dowling said. “Our contractors are neutral and unbiased in giving customers advice. Our contractors will provide the best product for the best price.” For more information, contact StarNet at 1-800-787-6381.