What are the reasons for this outbreak of flooring failures? Have adhesives changed? Is flooring material different? Hasn’t concrete been the same for years? Why is this all happening now?
Adhesives have changed from when solvent carriers were used but adhesives are actually better now. Flooring products have changed with the onslaught of non-permeable backings which can trap moisture vapor emissions coming from concrete. Concrete hasn’t changed much but it is finished faster and harder and this limits moisture’s ability to escape. Most importantly, construction jobs are fast-tracked meaning the job is rushed to completion without enough consideration for the ramifications of this action.
Moisture in the concrete, missing or improperly installed vapor barrier/retarders under the slab and cycling HVAC systems to save energy are the three biggest contributors to the problem.
When changes in the internal environment of a building are caused by cycling the HVAC system, and moisture of convenience (water used to hydrate the concrete slab) tries to equalize, moisture will move from high pressure to low. When this happens, anything in the way, like flooring, will be affected. If the flooring material is non-permeable, meaning moisture vapor emissions are trapped and unable to escape, it will push the material off the floor. Sheet vinyl will trap the moisture,wood will absorb the moisture; and moisture and alkalinity can affect the PVC in carpet backing and create an odor.
Failing to place vapor barrier/retarders directly beneath the concrete will allow moisture from beneath to move upward into and through the slab affecting the flooring material installed on top of it. Fast tracking- installation often means concrete is not allowed to cure for the appropriate length of time. Installing non-permeable flooring material on top of it is a recipe for disaster.
Installing flooring before the substrate is in the proper condition to receive it allows the laws of physics to work against you. This condition is a daily challenge to flooring installations and results in millions of dollars in claims and losses for the industry. If we keep going the way we are, paranoia will certainly accompany every flooring installation of hard backed goods.
Changes in the way flooring is installed and the materials we use have to happen and the buck stops at every level of our industry. Construction supervisors in the building industry must stop fast-tracking concrete before floor installations and specifiers have to call for moisture retarders under concrete before the epidemic will stop.
Fortunately the minds of men feed on challenges and this is certainly so in the flooring industry. Products do exist to combat problems and make installations easier. The advent of the new Freelay® backing and installation system, for example, allows for any carpet to be installed without using an adhesive. This system works extremely well on substrates that would typically cause installation failures by traditional means. The EnviroStix™ installation system for hard surface flooring such as sheet vinyl, vinyl tile, LVT and vinyl plank is designed to be used on slabs that would cause an installation failure by traditional means. Both of these new installation technologies have been proven under the harshest of conditions. One of the things we do at LGM and Associates is test products and we have tested Free Lay for years. I have written about it in my Claims File column that appears regularly in Floor Covering News as well as the Commercial Flooring Report published monthly.
Failure of flooring materials and their installation has reached epidemic proportions but there are ways to prevent this from happening. The technology of these systems work but they have been met with skepticism by many in the industry. The technology will prevail over the disbelief driven by the demand of the end user who, once suffering the pain of a flooring failure, will insist on it.
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.