Installation management

Christopher Capobianco

Important details for commercial projects

About 40 years ago, I started working full-time in this industry and since then I have worked in retail sales, technical support and commercial sales, having worked with most types of floor covering along the way. One thing that has not changed since 1978 is the common opinion that our industry has a shortage of talented installers.

Being outspoken about that in the 1980s lead me to work as a volunteer and then a paid instructor in an installer training program near my home town. That endeavour led to me being asked to work as a writer on the topic of floorcovering installation, which I still do. A lot of organizations have worked to address the topic of training and developing installers for our trade. Most notably today, INSTALL and CFI are doing good work in this area.

However, managing the job has never really been taught until recently. Last month, I had the pleasure of attending been midyear conference for FCICA, the Flooring Contractors Association. I was an active member for about 15 years and chaired the board for six years before I had to step away over four years ago. It was good to be back, especially to see the big impact FCICA is making with their Certified Installation Manager program (CIM) that provides training and certification for flooring professionals on many aspects of planning and executing successful commercial flooring projects. As I was taking in some of the seminar topics and having discussions with the flooring contractors and suppliers at the event, it really hit home how important this topic is, no matter what size your company is.

For large flooring contractors, installation management is often its own department but for small- to mid-sized companies like I grew up in, it’s an often overlooked part of the business.

For starters, installation management starts with the estimating process. Accurate take-offs and catching all the details can be the difference in actually getting the job and also have everything to do with profitability and timely completion of the project. I spoke to someone recently who was complimenting the estimator in a company he just joined, saying “he found details in the plans that I never noticed.”

In addition to the right amount of material and charging enough for labor, look out for details like building hours, elevator access and climate control, not to mention finishing touches like transition moldings, which seem to be one of those panic calls I get from dealers as a job is in progress.

Moisture testing? Initial maintenance? Post-installation protection?

These may all be part of the contract — is the flooring contractor responsible? Make sure that’s clearly understood and charge accordingly.

And, the toughest one is substrate preparation. If it’s a new building, you may not have the ability to look at the site before putting in your bid, so be clear about how much floor preparation you are including. Having to do a self-leveling job instead of spot patching can be an expensive mistake.

The second part of installation management that comes to my mind is scheduling. “By the book” specs call for “for floor coverings to be installed after all other trades, especially overhead trades, have completed their work” — or some similar language.

However, on many construction projects, sometimes there is a hole in the schedule and the general contractor may try to plug the flooring into that hole to keep the project moving forward.

If there is no heat or climate control, that can affect the product itself, adhesive may not work as it should and this certainly has warranty implications.

If you are doing patterned material in a space where there are corridors and adjacent rooms, the best practice is to start in the corridors in most cases. If they want you to start in the rooms, it may take very careful planning to make sure the pattern lines up in the doorways later on. If overhead work or painting is done after the floor is installed, that necessitates protection of the floor after installation. Who is responsible? And of course, if you arrive on the job and those trades or others are there at the same time, this becomes a challenge, to say the least. You may have to pay installers for waiting to start their work. Scheduling is one of the big challenges for these and other reasons, so this conversation should happen early in the process as the contract is awarded.

Finally, once you are ready to start the job, communication with your installation team is critical. Review the layout and seaming diagram, walk the job site to see if there are any special substrate issues and review the products being installed.

Are there specialty materials or procedures? It might be wise to schedule a visit from the technical team at the manufacturer to be sure your installers are ready for any special techniques.

Finally, communication from the installers to the office as a job progresses is important so that the installation manager knows how much work is completed and how much time is left before the project is finished.

At the installation completion I recommend a walkthrough as soon as possible so you can do your own “punch list“ and also document the condition of the floor as the crew has completed the job. It may help prevent issues days and weeks later if anything happened as other trades were working.

These “accidents“ can get blamed on your company sometimes and you’ll have to pay to send a crew back, or argue your case before you get paid for the job.

Lastly, if you are responsible for covering the floor after installation, make sure that it’s done correctly. For example, just using paper to protect a floor that will be exposed to rolling traffic may not be enough — Masonite or hard boards could be required. Also, if your company is responsible for initial maintenance, that would be scheduled after the work by other trades is done.

This is just a very short review of some of which goes into professional installation management. As I said earlier, there are some resources out there for training of installers and installation managers. If you are serious about the commercial business, you would do well to pick them up on some of the resources for you and your team.

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 [email protected].

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