Necessity: Mother of invention

Christopher Capobianco

Temp, fast-track installations in the pandemic era

First, to my readers, I hope that you, your colleagues and all of your families are keeping well in these uncertain times. As I am writing this, I have started my second month staying and working at home. I could fill these pages with what it has been like to live and work in these circumstances, but I am well and so is my family. I wish the same for all of you!

As this deadline approached, I asked our editor, Kerry Knudsen, how things are in Canada, overall, and found that it’s not too different from the U.S. and many other places in the world with the Covid-19 Pandemic having a dramatic impact, to say the least. Canada’s three largest provinces have begun setting up temporary hospitals to expand their number of available beds in anticipation of an influx of patients. Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, west of Toronto, is building a modular structure that will contain 93 beds as a temporary pandemic unit to accommodate patients who need treatment. Moving forward, there is anticipation of the need for flooring in newly created spaces for medicine.

Sure enough, Kerry had no sooner said that to me, and I received several inquiries in this vein from design professionals that often ask me for advice on floorcovering selection, installation and maintenance. These questions regarding temporary installations or installations in most unique circumstances are coming my way.

The thought process brought me back to a 1992 project that I did in New York’s Central Park. A major carpet mill wanted to have a 12- by 100-foot piece of a new product they were coming out with installed at the finish line for a big “walkathon” to show how good this carpet was. The idea was, “thousands of people have walked across this carpet and it still looks new!” Pieces of the actual walkathon carpet were to be distributed to carpet retailers as an example of the product’s durability. The challenge for me was to install the carpet temporarily, without adhesive, in the middle of a roadway. All I could think about was how to put it down securely so there was no possibility of anybody tripping over it! I assembled a team to make the installation happen and really had to improvise. We had to forget about “by the book.” It was an interesting process, but we got it done. A lot of similar improvisation is happening today.

Emergency environments must provide the same protections found in permanent installations.

With the demand for hospital space, many are dealing with converting existing spaces to hospital spaces and doing so in very short order. Some of these questions I’ve heard recently have been pretty unique. In one case, an emergency tent hospital with over 1,000 beds was being planned for an athletic field. The plan was to install heat welded sheet vinyl flooring over fire retardant plywood on top of wood sleepers over a sheet of polyurethane on grass athletic fields. They wanted my advice for the proper prep for this unusual condition.

My advice was to make sure the polyurethane is as thick as possible to hopefully block moisture from the ground from affecting the plywood. No matter what, the plywood is going to react to moisture and will most likely expand. Even a slight expansion would cause the plywood seams to telegraph. I advised that they should be prepared for those seams be visible through the floor, even with careful preparation. Another concern is going over fire retardant plywood. This is not a recommended application because of the potential chemical reaction between the adhesive and the fire-retardant chemicals used to treat the plywood. I advised that the installation of a 9 mm (3/8”) layer of underlayment-grade plywood over the top would provide more stability to the entire system, less likelihood of joint telegraphing and a proper bonding surface for the vinyl.

I was also asked twice recently about converting an existing space that had carpet installed to a space where resilient flooring would be installed for these hospital uses; one a college dormitory and the other administrative offices. In one case, they were planning to install a “floating” plywood substrate to protect the existing carpet and wanted to install resilient flooring over the top. The other one was even more interesting because of the questions. Can we keep the carpet? Can we cover carpet with a membrane — what kind, and how do we seal it? If we rip up carpet, what about the residual adhesive? Do we need to shot blast or grind the floor, or can resilient flooring can be installed on top?

First, as far as going over the carpet, I made a very unexpected recommendation that’s not “by the book.” If it is a loop pile carpet that’s glued down, install laminate flooring over the carpet. The HDF (High Density Fiberboard) core makes this a rigid material that’s installed with a “click” tongue and groove joint which is fairly watertight. The surface is non-porous and resistant to scratching, soil and staining, so sweeping and disinfecting with a damp mop is all that should be necessary. Since they are normally installed with a pad underneath, the carpet becomes that pad in this case. Again, not “by the book,” but I have had success covering level loop, glue-down carpet with HDF core floating floor products in the past.

Generally, I would not recommend ANY products with a “click” installation where a lot of rolling traffic would be present because of concern for stress on the tongue and groove joint. But, for a temporary space? Worth considering. Another option could be pouring a self-leveling underlayment over the carpet. There are products out now that can be used in this way. However, in this case, I’d be concerned that there would be some “give” in the substrate that could cause indentation from the beds and equipment, so I did not put this option on the table.

As the discussion continued, they were inclined to remove the carpet and install VCT. I suggested the option of vinyl tile or plank in the 5 mm thick “loose lay” format. These products are normally glued around the perimeter of the room and are thick and heavy enough that they stay in place quite well. In this case, the carpet adhesive might actually help it stay in place. Although the material cost is higher than VCT, floor preparation cost would be less and “no wax” maintenance would save money. You literally could rip up the carpet, do a small amount of substrate preparation, install this material and move into the space immediately. Again, if this were intended to be a permanent installation, I would recommend complete removal of the carpet adhesive residue and a “skim coat” of patching compound if not a ¼-inch pour of self-leveling underlayment. But for fast-and-temporary, it’s a different story.

I am hearing many other stories about these temporary installations for health care settings. Have you had any? I’d love to hear from you about it.

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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