Setting expectations

Advance planning and site visits help clear the air

Christopher Capobianco

I recently did a pre-installation walk-through representing two different flooring manufacturers on a hospital project and it was worthwhile for everyone involved. These conversations about how the job goes down help to set expectations for the floor covering team, the owner, architect and/or the general contractor. Any specific concerns are best addressed in advance of the installation and, if nothing else, it’s a good thing for people to get to know each other.

So, if you get called for a preinstallation meeting, what should you do? First, confirm the agenda with whomever is asking for the meeting.

Is it just a routine walkthrough or are there specific aspects of the project that the owner or the architect wants to make sure are done a certain way? It would be good to know in advance what those concerns are so that you can do some homework and be ready to have an informed discussion.

Is it ever necessary for the flooring contractor to ask for a meeting? If you have seen the job site and have concerns about conditions, or if it is a particularly complex installation process, it might be a good idea to ask for a meeting so that you can review what needs to be done with the owner and/ or construction team. If you can have a representative from the flooring manufacturer or distributor with you, that can help you to reinforce the proper procedures for installing materials. Again, it’s about setting expectations.

Site inspection prior to installation.

In all cases, the installation manager should review the different products that are being installed. Put together installation guidelines and samples and meet with your lead installer to determine their familiarity with the products. If there are materials that you have not worked with before, contact the manufacturer’s technical department and review the procedures for substrate preparation and installation. If time permits, ask if they can put on a small installation clinic for the team, either in advance of the job in the dealer warehouse or “a job start” review on the job. If you cannot have an installation demonstration, get your hands on some of the products that you will be installing, especially if there are unique procedures for installing these materials. To do a small mockup, either at your facility or on the job site, can give the installers some practice with the materials and adhesive so there are no surprises on the day of the installation.

Prior to the walk through, get there early so that you can walk the entire space and see what the conditions are. Most, if not all, floor covering products have specific requirements for the temperature and humidity of the space, so be ready with those requirements in writing. Often, jobsites don’t have climate control systems running when they want to put flooring down, so you need to be prepared to discuss that. If you are going to be asked to work under those conditions, it can present serious warranty issues for your company and for the floor covering products and adhesives. The same is true for concrete moisture issues, as you have read in my columns before. The potential liability for moisture related floor covering failures makes it imperative that conversations about moisture testing happen prior to even signing a contract do the job. The industry Standard, ASTM F710*, states that “all concrete slab shall be tested for moisture regardless of age or grade level,” so it needs to be clear who is responsible for that testing. A few days or even two weeks before the installation is too late to be discussing this, so do this early. If there is a high moisture issue on site, mitigation procedures can often become a last-minute change order that is expensive for the owner, so it is better that this is clarified from the very beginning.

Technical specifications can be better understood with installation team training.

Once you are walking through the job site with the construction team, it’s a good time to talk about the schedule and pacing of your part of the project. Having the space available with no other trades should be part of any discussion, and protection of the floor after installation is just as important. Another discussion is transitions between different flooring materials. With such a focus on safety in recent years, any potential tripping hazards can present problems and liabilities on floor covering installations. Architects often go to great lengths to design the flooring systems so the different materials meet flush to each other without any type of molding or change of height. For this reason, it’s good to have samples of the materials that you are installing when you go through the space. Too often the floor covering installer bears responsibility for making sure a new carpet or resilient floor meets an existing flooring such as tile without any transition issues. This is especially challenging when the new flooring is higher than the existing flooring. Having these discussions prior to the beginning of the installation can give everyone a chance to look at options.

Seaming and layout should be discussed as well; for broadloom or resilient sheet goods, seeming diagrams are very important. I encourage installers to make sure that they are supplied with a seaming diagram prior to installation. If the seaming plan was designed as part of the estimating process, make sure it is approved so everyone knows where seams are going to be. For tile products, direction is a decision that needs to be made as well. For square tile (resilient, carpet, or hard tile) there is almost always a choice of whether to install tiles running in the same direction, often called monolithic, or quarter turn each tile so that they run at right angles to each other. The owner or designer needs to make that call. Another tile layout discussion regards rectangular tiles, and where will the end joints lineup? Often a 50 percent stagger or “brick” design is preferred, and this is fine for carpet or resilient flooring. However, in the case of tile and stone, any rectangular tile with a length of 15 inches or more can only be installed with a maximum 1/3 stagger according to TCNA (Tile Council of North America) guidelines. Make sure this is clear before the job starts and also clarify the spacing of the grout joints.

Moisture testing is a topic that should be reviewed well in advance
of flooring installations over concrete.

Finally, it’s very important to be clear on what happens to the new floor covering immediately after installation. Protecting the floor after installation is critical when construction will be continuing after the floors go down. The importance of keeping traffic off of new floors cannot be understated, and I’ve seen countless complaints related to premature traffic being allowed on the floor. That is another written guideline that would be good to have in hand when you do a walk-through. I was recently on a job site where they were preparing to install terrazzo tile, and they already had a plan in place to cover the floor with brown paper and hardboard panels after the tile was installed. Often times, the floor covering installation team will be hired to do floor protection.

Last but not least, initial maintenance is something that often gets done incorrectly or not done at all on new floor covering jobs because it’s not clearly spelled out who will be doing the work. For example, many resilient and tile floors require some type of a sealer or finish be applied to the new floor. It is often assumed that the floor covering installer will be doing that work, but not all flooring companies do maintenance, so be sure not to miss this detail. I get asked all the time by architects and general contractors who is responsible for initial maintenance, and its widely assumed that’s part of the flooring contractor’s scope. I prefer that those responsible for maintaining the floor during its life also do the initial maintenance. If the building maintenance company or the custodial staff has that responsibility, they “own the floor” from the start. This is also a good opportunity for the flooring contractor and manufacturer’s rep to meet with that staff to discuss how the maintenance should be done. Establishing that relationship can also present some opportunities in the future for additional work as needed for new floors in other parts of the building.

Again, whether you do a walkthrough or not, regardless of the size of a job its good policy to be clear on the procedures for installation so there are no surprises for anyone.

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.

*ASTM F710, Standard Practice for Preparing Concrete Floors to Receive Resilient Flooring. Available at ASTM.org or 610.832.9500

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