With Flooring, First Step Is a Big One
Whether it’s carpet or hard-surface flooring, correct installation is critical to long-term performance
As the saying goes, it’s “location, location, location” that matters in real estate. When it comes to flooring, the adage might be “installation, installation, installation.”
Many flooring problems can be traced back to poor installation, say industry experts. “When a customer is dissatisfied with a floor covering, it’s usually because of improper installation,” says Ross Leonard, director of architecture and design marketing with Tandus Group.
What’s more, quality installation usually pays for itself. “I have a strong opinion that improper installation costs more for everyone,” says Michael A. Norton, president of Norton Performance Consulting. “Proper installation is a basic requirement, not an add-on.”
For starters, a poor installation can diminish the facility executive’s credibility, as occupants may have to disrupt work schedules to accommodate the installers fixing problems. “It reinforces the perception that a flooring installation is a problem,” says Norton.
Hiring a cut-rate installer can consume a great deal of a facility executive’s time. For instance, some installers who low-bid a job cut their own costs by skimping on the amount or quality of adhesive. “Unless you’re prepared to walk around behind them and monitor everything they do, you need to go with a good firm,” says Bill Richards, director of technical services, Shaw.
Poor installation also can create safety hazards, says Doc Adams, executive vice president, The Invironmentalists. The Invironmentalists is the interior services company of INVISTA and formerly was known as DuPont Flooring Systems. For instance, if adhesive isn’t properly applied, the floor may buckle and cause people to trip.
Or a poor installation may leave a gap in the floor covering, also posing a trip-and-fall hazard, notes Randy Rubenstein, owner of Rubenstein’s Contract Carpet LLC in Seattle. Rubenstein also chairs the board of directors of StarNet Commercial Flooring Cooperative, which includes about 100 independent flooring contractors.
Ultimately, a low-quality installation can cause delays in the overall project schedule, says Adams. Because the floor covering usually is installed toward the end of the construction schedule, there’s little time to make up for delays.
Off On the Right Foot
Facility executives can take steps to ensure installation goes well. The first step is evaluating different types of floor covering. “Make sure the product is right for the installation,” says Sam Bracken, vice president of marketing, The Mohawk Group. If the facility executive chooses a product not intended for heavy wear and then puts it in an area with continual traffic, it probably won’t hold up, no matter how good the installation.
The floor must be adequately prepared for the new covering, says Leonard. For instance, if old carpet is being taken up, the floor must be scraped clean of any glue. “If you’re gluing to old glue, the flooring won’t stay down.”
It’s also important to obtain a copy of the manufacturer’s recommended installation guidelines. If these guidelines aren’t followed, the floor covering probably won’t adhere as it should.
Check that the installer is planning to follow the recommendations. Many floor-covering manufacturers won’t warranty their product unless it has been properly installed using the recommended adhesive, says Bracken.
Before agreeing to work with an installer, check that the firm and its employees are certified. In some cases, the certification is for the company; in other cases, it’s for the individual installer. Certification indicates that the installation firm or the installer has been trained to install floor coverings properly. The facility manager will want to ask whether the certification applies to an individual installer or to the company.
Several industry groups certify installers, including the Floor Covering Installation Board (FCIB) and the Certified Floorcovering Installers (CFI). Many floor-covering manufacturers also offer certification. If so, it’s important to verify that the installer has been certified by the manufacturer whose product has been selected.
Asking for references is a basic but critical step, say industry experts. “Ask the installer how many jobs they’ve done that are like what you need them to do,” says Bracken. “Right there, you can cut 90 percent of the problems.” For instance, many carpets today boast bright, lively patterns. Matching them can be difficult but is critical to the floor’s appearance. Unless an installer has experience with other patterned carpets, he or she may have difficulty getting the pattern to line up as it should.
Ask the installer how the job will be managed and what equipment will be used. For instance, if the floor covering to be replaced is located in a room that has shelves full of merchandise, the facility executive should ask whether the installer has equipment to move the shelves and more easily get at the floor.
Finally, make sure the installer is licensed and bonded. It’s important to have some assurance that the firm will be in business through the duration of the project and beyond.
Once the project is under way, the facility executive needs to make sure it stays on track. A first step is bringing the installer into the planning process early, says Leonard. “Listen to them,” he says. “If they say it will take three days to do a job, don’t schedule it for two.”
Ask the installer to designate a point person to regularly meet with you or one of your employees. “You don’t want to be a sidewalk superintendent, but prudent attentiveness is always a good policy,” says Rubenstein. Regular communication is the best way to keep small problems from snowballing as the project goes on.
Schedule regular reviews of the job. “Don’t, if you see something weird, come back in three days,” says Bracken. Floor covering can go down fairly quickly, so waiting to check on a potential problem may make fixing it much more difficult and time-consuming. In addition, installers are more likely to be careful if they know that you’re inspecting their work on a regular basis.
Once the job is done, walk through the area with the contractor, says Bracken. Check for potential problems and develop an action plan to correct them. Also, ask the installer for recommendations on caring for the floor. Use that to develop a cleaning and maintenance schedule.
The environmental issues that arise during a floor covering installation today typically are not as severe as they were just 10 to 20 years ago. Most adhesives, for instance, emit either no or very low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC).
However, that won’t completely eliminate potential problems, as at least a few occupants are likely to be sensitive to the odor of a new floor covering. If that’s the case, Rubenstein typically provides them with a material safety data sheet (MSDS) on the product, so they know nothing toxic is being released into the air.
Mold and mildew also can be problems, especially on new construction projects, where schedules often are compressed. Installers may be laying the floor covering before the concrete is fully cured, says Leonard.
Typically, a floor covering should not be installed if the moisture level exceeds three to five pounds per 1,000 square feet over a 24 hour period, says Leonard. “Moisture can impair the adhesive quality of the glue and encourage mold growth.” A simple calcium chloride kit can be used to measure moisture in the air.
Another issue: how best to dispose of the flooring being removed. Work with the installer and the manufacturer to determine if it can be reclaimed or recycled.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that a proper installation can increase the longevity of the carpet, which is good for the environment. “If you can install the floor covering in a way that helps it last longer, you’re lowering the environmental impact of the product,” adds Norton.
Dollars and Cents
How can the facility executive determine whether the price an installer is quoting is reasonable? Typically, most bids will be within 10 to 15 percent of each other. Installers may swing that much just to get a particular job, says Bracken.
However, if a firm submits a bid that’s more than 20 percent less than the others, think twice about engaging them. “If someone is significantly below fair market value, they may not be using qualified installers or may be cutting costs on adhesives,” says Bracken.
Another point to consider: The savings to be gained by skimping on the installation process often account for a small fraction of the overall cost. For instance, broadloom carpeting may run $20 per yard, and the going rate for installation might be around $5 per yard. Cutting 50 cents from the installation price — a typical price reduction — shaves just 2 percent of the cost.
When it comes to floor covering installation, another adage also holds true: You get what you pay for. “If you try to cut corners, you’ll get burned,” says Richards.
Installation: The Voice of Experience
Steve Spencer, facilities specialist with State Farm in Bloomington, Ill., has been involved with more than 100 floor covering installations. In the process, he has gained insight into the keys to a successful installation. Here’s what he has learned:
1. Review the instructions. “Familiarize yourself with the product and directions for installation and maintenance,” says Spencer. “It makes corrections less costly and time consuming.”
2. Check that the installer is using the right product and technique, so you can correct a poor installation before it goes too far. For instance, he or she should apply adhesive with a trowel for VCT flooring, but roll or spray pressure-sensitive adhesive under a tile floor.
3. Check the FF, or floor flatness, level. In most cases, there should be no more than a 1/4-inch difference over a 10-foot span, says Spencer. Bigger variations can cause gaps where water or moisture can collect under the floor covering.
4. Make sure the installer is certified by the mill. “Some products have little quirks,” says Spencer. “This way, they know the mill’s idiosyncrasies.”
5. Ask that a contractor use a mock-up board. This should show just how the floor covering will be installed. For instance, if a tile floor is being put in, the mock-up should show the pattern and grout to be used. That makes it possible to check that all elements meet expectations.
6. If needed, make sure the installer will protect the floor covering during construction. Contractors often like to lay the floor covering as quickly as possible, as it increases the percentage of job completed, making them eligible for the next payment. “That’s fine, but make sure they have some provision for protecting the floor while the rest of the construction is done,” says Spencer.
7. Account for all floor covering materials. While most installers are honest, Spencer has seen a few walk off with tiles and other materials. Or they may use the new floor covering to create a walking path for themselves. Spencer counts the boxes of material that come in and stores them in a locked area.