Right spec; right process

Making specifications current and meaningful

Chris Maskell

NFCA had the opportunity to speak to the Ottawa chapter of Construction Specifications of Canada (CSC) on March 20 — an important audience for our industry considering the role CSC plays in delivering written instructions that drive pricing, schedule, conditions and actions on-site.

The audience included the full range of construction parties, specification writers, architects, engineers, general contractors, floor covering contractors and manufacturers’ representatives.

The hour-long presentation, “Understanding and preventing floor-covering failure,” was intended to help everyone in the audience understand that the complexities of floor covering installations are often underestimated and the risks are not worth it. Our goal is to offer the various construction parties a place to go for good information that everyone can trust and that will guide logical, fair process. Over time, this will bring positive change.

The alternative is the status quo. Not good because site conditions for installers aren’t going to get better by themselves. Fast track construction will likely accelerate if interest rates increase and raise the cost of borrowing. Will this further compress the construction schedule? If so, who gets squeezed in the middle? The sub-trade.

We assume the consultant and construction manager know about what we need for acceptable conditions on site, but many in our own trade don’t fully understand the basics of what many products need for success. The important difference between “cured concrete (seven to 28 days) and thoroughly dry concrete (180 days +)” usually illustrates the point. Meanwhile, the one thing we do all know too well is how to brace for that moment of tension on site.

How stressful must it be as a specification writer to write instructions that direct actions on site when you don’t/can’t fully understand the intricacies of what is needed. To under-specify or over-specify… that is the question. Not a position I would want to be in. So, our message to CSC was clear. We want to help. We know we can help with accurate floor covering specifications everyone can trust. The best-kept secret in flooring some say is the Floor Covering Reference Manual of Canada.

However, as good as the manual’s content is, it can’t remove the inevitable log jam of trades racing for the deadline. But it will help to drive proper planning for the arrival on site of our trade — something any good construction team would value.

During the presentation, we reviewed a few sections of the manual. “Scope of Work” was one that’s particularly important. This section clearly outlines work included and not included for the floor covering installer. When specified, this language directs responsibility for such things as moisture tests, slab correction, contaminants removal, pouring of toppings and floor protection where they belong: with the construction manager.

Staying with the times

Boilerplate specs (old specs copied into new documents) don’t help. Specifications, like anything else, need to be updated. They need to keep pace with the changing times, as manufacturers have to re-engineer products to cope with ever tightening environmental laws.

A great example of this is the change in adhesives over the years. Adhesives of old, were much stronger when VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) were not so tightly controlled.

Old Black Cutback adhesives offered significant resistance to moisture and alkalinity in a way that today’s water-based adhesives do not. Today we must understand slab and site conditions at a whole new level and consciously specify products and procedures that will tackle conditions that in the past weren’t considered that problematic.

I’ll be speaking at CSC’s National Convention in Regina on May 24 and looking forward to another opportunity for some great discussions.

The National Floor Covering Association (NFCA) promotes industry standards for resilient, carpet, hardwood, laminate, cork and bamboo floor covering installations.

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