Don’t Assume: Common Mistakes You Make During Resilient Installation

Floor Covering Installer, March 5, 2013 - By Christopher Capobianco -- When my editor gave me the assignment for this month's "Let's Talk Resilient" column as "common mistakes made during resilient installation," I thought about it for a moment. The first word that came into my mind was "assumptions." Then I thought about the time I was working in my dad's carpet store many years ago and he explained an interesting meaning of the word "assume." But that's another story.

I've been involved in resilient complaints for decades, as a retailer, as a manufacturer's rep and as an IICRC certified inspector. I'd have to say that more than any other reason, complaints happen because of incorrect assumptions by installers, by dealers, by general contractors and even by architects. In my nine-plus years writing this column for FCI,I have touched on this quite often. I would say that assumptions about Substrate Prep and assumptions about Product cause more complaints than everything else, so let's focus on those areas.

Confusion over substrates

Floor prep problems continue to cause a lot of complaints. Here are three examples why:

  1. Underlayment. I was recently on a job site giving advice on installing resilient flooring over plywood that was in pretty bad shape. "We'll just install some Lauan," I was told. "No," I replied. Most resilient manufacturers would say "No" as well when it comes to this situation. If it were 25 years ago, maybe, but today there are much better options for underlayment. Take Baltic birch plywood underlayment, for example. You should only use something engineered and guaranteed as resilient flooring underlayment under resilient flooring. Don't assume Lauan is a suitable substitution; it is not.
  2. "Skim coating."Don't assume that a troweled-on patching compound will cover all sins. Adhesive residues need to be scraped clean and any loose material needs to be gone. If the floor is in really bad shape, it may be necessary to use an aggressive method like grinding or shot blasting to get the floor clean. It may also be much more efficient to pour an underlayment on a really bad floor instead of troweling on several coats of patching compound and hoping for the best.
  3. Concrete moisture issues. This is the king of all assumptions on resilient floor projects. "The building is 30 years old so I assumed the slab was dry." "I've never had a moisture related failure so I didn't bother testing for moisture." "Moisture problems only happen in basements so I assume the second floor should not be an issue." "There are never moisture issues with VCT (or carpet or laminate or...)."

Do I have to continue? There is only one assumption to confidently make about concrete: "All concrete slabs shall be tested for moisture regardless of age or grade level." That's the industry standard, from ASTM F 710, and virtually every manufacturer says the same thing. If you don't test for moisture and the floor fails because of it, you are on your own – and it's usually VERY expensive to remove the failed floor, fix the moisture problem and install a new floor. It's pretty easy these days to test concrete for moisture, so there is no excuse not to do it.

Confusion over product

When I started working in this business full time in 1978, the resilient category was pretty small: vinyl and rubber, and rubber was strictly commercial. Today, there are a host of products in the resilient category but if you assume one installs like the other, you have a complaint waiting to happen. For example...

Linoleum. Back in '78, linoleum was no longer being produced, but the term kept right on going. Even today, dealers and installers call sheet vinyl "linoleum" on a regular basis. In the 1990s, real linoleum started making a comeback, but there are a lot of differences between installing sheet vinyl and the real thing.

So, if an installer or dealer is asked to do a linoleum job and says, "Sure, I've been installing linoleum for years," I am immediately suspicious and I ask questions. Real, jute back, natural linoleum is very different from installing any kind of sheet vinyl. If you assume it's the same and install it the same way, good luck! Different adhesives, different seaming methods, different maintenance's just not the same as vinyl, period!

"Luxury" Vinyl (LVT). The biggest problem with LVT is the term "LVT," which is why ASTM recently published a definition of the product in F 141, Standard Terminology for Resilient Floor Coverings. The new definition identifies Luxury Vinyl solely as "a Marketing Term." It is not a specific product category.

The reason is that all kinds of products are marketed as LVT. Some are Vinyl Composition Tile (VCT), some are Solid Vinyl Tile (SVT) and some are neither. If you get an "LVT" job, don't assume it's installed like the last one you did, especially when it comes to the adhesive. It could be a pressure-sensitive product, like VCT, a wet-set acrylic, a spray adhesive, or, in certain settings, a two-part reactive adhesive such as epoxy. That's not to mention the "floating" vinyl tile products, which don't use adhesive at all and have their own specific requirements.

"PVC Free." There is a whole group of products hitting the market that look like vinyl but are not. I won't get into the argument over the assumed hazards or "un-green" characteristics of PVC or vinyl flooring, but don't assume that if it looks like vinyl that it is vinyl. Wood-look planks, stone-look tile, chip-design sheet products and even tile that look like VCT but have no vinyl in it are all available on the market. These products use different adhesives and different maintenance products, and I have seen the results when they get treated like vinyl. You can assume that it's not pretty.

Cork. Yes, cork. I've covered cork here before so I won't elaborate much other than to say, "Don't assume glue-down cork tile gets installed like other resilient floors." It's classified as resilient, acts like wood and is installed like no other floor except perhaps leather tile.

Don't bring your trowel because you use a contact adhesive system for cork tile products. All you need is a knife, a paint roller for the adhesive and a rubber mallet to set the tile. I was recently asked, "Do we really have to coat the tile and the floor with contact?" Yes, unless the tiles come pre-coated, which some do. "Do we really have to bang every tile with a mallet?" Yes. A roller doesn't do the trick. The advantage is you can use the floor immediately and it will be flat, without curling edges. As I said in an FCIcolumn way back when, "Don't take shortcuts when it comes to cork."

The bottom line when it comes to resilient in today's world is know what you have.Don't assume if it looks like something else that it installs the same way, and don't make any assumptions about substrate prep and testing. With websites, manufacturers reps and/or printed literature readily available, there is no excuse not to take a few extra minutes to be sure you handle, install and maintain every resilient floor the right way. Don't just assume. Be knowledgeable about the products you are working with every day.

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