Installation communication

Setting realistic expectations can help installation teams

Christopher Capobianco

For all of my 41 years in this industry, there has been deep concern for the shortage of qualified installers, and the situation is more serious now than ever. Retailers are frustrated by slipshod installation jobs, or we have customers feeling the floor covering they purchased is not what was promised.

One of the problems is false expectations generated by the people who sell flooring materials because they give out the wrong information, exclude information, or make promises the installers or the floor covering itself can’t possibly keep. This can be true of retail or wholesale salespeople, or architectural reps. It’s usually not intentional, but the result of a need for training and communication throughout our industry. I have seen this first-hand and also have had some examples shared with me from others in the industry.

Setting expectations

Misunderstanding of the installation process can create real tension on the job site. For example, when the estimator or sales person is asked how long an installation will take, the answer is often given without consideration for the job site circumstances like moving furniture, removal of old floor coverings, building access and so on. If the job takes longer than the customer was expecting, that can make for an annoyed customer and it’s not the installer’s fault — it just wasn’t communicated properly. It’s better to “under promise and over deliver” and be realistic with the customer, rather than put the installation crew in a no-win situation with unrealistic deadlines.

A lot of times it’s the adhesive layer that indents (inset image), which can happen when there has not been enough drying time, or when too large a trowel is used so there is too much adhesive.

There are many examples of how customers don’t always know what’s coming before a floor is done. “I didn’t know I would have a seam,” “You didn’t tell me I’d have to move my furniture,” “I didn’t know I would have to stay off the floor after it was installed,” and so on. Good communication is the key. Take the time in advance to explain some of the key details for the job, and things will go more smoothly for the installers.

Shining light on seams

The retail salesperson says, “This carpet won’t show a seam.” The sales rep tells the architect “our welding rod is so close to the colour of the floor, you’ll never see the heat welded seam,” or somebody tells somebody “these tiles (carpet, vinyl, rubber) are cut so well that the floor will look seamless.” In the real world, these claims put enormous pressure on the installer and on the product to deliver on these promises.

Every carpet will show a seam to a certain degree. Even so-called camouflage heat weld rods are noticeable, and even if tile joints don’t show much on a brand-new floor, they almost always will as the floor ages. A more reasonable way of having this conversation would be to state that the floor covering will be properly installed so that “the seams are tight and will blend as well as they possibly can.”

Remember, the only invisible seams are in invisible floor coverings. Even seams that are done perfectly by the installer can be visible depending on the light in the room. For example, an installation of a cut pile carpet in a corner room that had windows on two sides. The customer complained that the seams were visible, which was unavoidable. The interior designer that specified the material didn’t have this conversation with her client. The dealer explained it to the customer and demonstrated by closing the blinds, at which point none of them could find the seams.

Honesty about specifications

On the commercial side, I have seen many cases where the written specifications are misused in order to make the sale, or where test methods are “modified” from their original intention. Nowhere is this more blatant than in the test ASTM F970, Static Load Limit. This test is intended to demonstrate a resilient floor covering’s ability to recover from a load such as a piece of furniture.

When the estimator or sales person is asked how long an installation will take, the answer is often given without consideration for the job site circumstances like moving furniture, removal of old floor coverings and building access.

However, F970 is a product test, not a system test. It just tests a piece of flooring material on a steel plate, which does not replicate the impact of a load on the adhesive, the underlayment or the subfloor. The test has a precision for weights up to 250 psi (pounds per square inch) but many manufacturers are publishing much higher numbers or modifying the test to jack the numbers up. The test is done for 24 hours and the material rests for 24 hours and if the indentation is less than 0.13 mm, the product passes. However, that indentation may still be visible, especially on a smooth floor covering that’s polished to a high gloss.

Back when I was a technical consultant, this was a common scenario. A sales rep quotes the so-called PSI ratings that were published by the manufacturer to sell a high-quality vinyl floor. After the installation, a floor is dented by the legs on a piece of furniture. The furniture doesn’t even weigh 700 pounds, but the floor literature says 700 PSI. This is misleading. A lot of times it’s the adhesive layer that indents, which can happen when there has not been enough drying time, or when too large a trowel is used so there is too much adhesive. I’ve also seen cases where adhesive is affected by concrete moisture vapour emissions and gets soft. Of course, when a smooth floor is used and maintained at a very high gloss, these conditions can be even worse!

In reality, different adhesives can be used to improve the indentation resistance of a finished floor, but the fact is that under a heavy load all flooring will indent to a certain degree. ASTM now states that “Testing at loads above 250 psi is outside the scope of this test method.” They added that language to try to stop this practice of unrealistic product claims.

When I am asked by architects and designers about psi ratings on a resilient floor covering,” I usually will answer with the manufacturer’s published result, and then ask questions about whether there is an expectation that the floor will be exposed to heavy loads. From there I may recommend a different product or a different adhesive to give the floor covering the best chance of success.

I could go on with other examples of product claims like “stain resistant,” “no-wax,” waterproof, pet-proof and so on, but I think you get the idea. Sales people need to learn more about the installation process and the products they sell and be honest about what the customer can expect. There are a number of local, national and international organizations doing good work to improve the level of professionalism in our industry. However, many of these organizations have the common complaint that attendance at educational events is never what it could be. The flooring trade needs to make training more of a priority so that our customers get the product and the installation they expect, and not just empty promises.

Christopher Capobianco has been in the floor covering industry since the 1970s in various roles including retail and commercial sales, technical support, consulting, journalism, education and volunteer work. He currently is part of the sales team for Spartan Surfaces in New York City. You can reach him via christopher@SpartanSurfaces.com.

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