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Moisture in concrete wreaks flooring havoc; learn why it's getting worse

A problem with concrete moisture causing vinyl flooring complaints has increased in epic proportions lately – it’s an epidemic in the making and flooring consumers, retailers, distributorsLew Migliore, manufacturers, general contractors project manager, specifiers and architects need to take heed. Unless addressed it will continue to create massive installation failures costing the flooring industry, installers and end users tens of millions of dollars annually.

In the past two weeks LGM and Associates has had four installation failures reported to us that stem from moisture in concrete – three in hospitals and one in a school. All of the installations involved homogenous sheet vinyl flooring with welded seams and in each case the flooring was lifting off the substrate. These four cases could represent over 2 million dollars in liability. Multiply that number by 10, and that’s being conservative, and you get an idea of what is lurking out there in the mine fields of flooring installation. Dealing with these issues is now the fastest growing part of our business.

Why is this happening?

Flooring complaints can occur whenever flooring it is installed over concrete substrates if the moisture content of the concrete is too high - whether it’s a basement or a high rise, a home or a school. In the case of these four complaints - one was linked to the make up of the concrete itself, in another the building was not properly acclimated prior to testing of the concrete and installation of the material. And in another the building was built over a marsh; the concrete extraordinarily thick, the spec was not followed for testing and communications went awry.

Is this a problem limited to vinyl flooring?
Concrete moisture trapped under LVT flooring
The problem isn’t limited to vinyl and the issue will get worse as new flooring materials are introduced with recycled content backing that is non permeable; that is to say that does not allow anything to pass through it. These new products include carpet as well. Welded sheet vinyl is not permeable therefore any moisture build-up will be trapped beneath it looking for a place to escape and pushing the material off the floor in the process. The picture to the right shows moisture that seeped through concrete and was trapped between the concrete and LVT flooring.

What is the fix for this kind of complaint?

The fixes are not easy, they are very invasive, interrupting to business and unbelievably expensive. These are situations that you want the most knowledgeable, experienced and reputed individuals involved to help bring a resolution and solution.

What can I do to make sure I don't encounter this problem?

This isn’t a product issue; it’s a failure to understand and communicate the product specifications and know the consequences if they are not followed. Sometimes architectural specs are not written clearly or followed. One of the biggest problems is that everyone’s in a such a rush to complete a project - as if taking the time to do it right means the end of the world. Often the project is finished on time but more money is spent after the fact fixing things that should have been done right the first time. Common sense isn’t common in these cases.

When installing floor covering of any kind one of the most important areas of concern is the substrate; it must be clean, dry and free of any contaminants or foreign materials that will prevent the flooring material from being and staying installed. Moisture in the substrate is the greatest of these concerns. It's important to know what the moisture content is in the concrete and to make sure that it is consistent with the specifications of the flooring being installed.

Every flooring dealer whether in the commercial or residential market must be aware of moisture. The same problem can occur in the basement of a home installing a few hundred square feet of luxury vinyl tile that commercial dealers have installing thousands of square feet of sheet vinyl.

Is there anything happening in the industry to help?

There is a big movement in this direction right now and the first certification program offered to individuals who work is this area is being conducted at the World of Concrete 2010 in Las Vegas being held at the same time as Surfaces 2010. One of our associates does the certification program for World of Concrete.

How can I learn more about this?

You owe it to yourself to learn as much about this issue as you possibly can. Research it on the Internet, or contact us for help. I have written about concrete moisture problems with floor covering in the Commercial Flooring Report and the Claims File that appears regularly in Floor Covering news. A compilation of those articles are archived on my company’s website.

At Surfaces I will hold two education seminars on Wednesday, February 3rd and this issue will be covered in both of them. This link will take you to the full schedule of education seminars being presented by my Floor Covering Institute colleagues and provides a summary of my sessions and links to Surfaces registration.

This is an area where you must be proactive as being reactive is far too expensive. If you have comments, or questions we’d love to hear from you. This is a very involved and hot topic covered only briefly here.

Thank you for reading!


Lew Migliore is President of LGM and Associates, a technical consulting firm specializing in all aspects of product and installation performance and education. He is also a consultant with the Floor Covering Institute.


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