‘Seams’ like trouble

Teamwork and knowledge can ensure customer satisfaction
By Christopher Capobianco
Seams in floor coverings — whether carpet or resilient — cause more concern for customers and more potential complaints for installers than any other aspect of a floor covering installation. I can’t count how many questions I’ve had to field about seams – all the way back to the 1970s when I worked as a helper after school and on weekends. Where will they be? Will they show? Will they last? Whether it’s a homeowner, an interior designer, architect or property manager, it is a common concern.
Salespeople often fall into the trap of promising “invisible” seams, which puts a lot of pressure on the installer, unless he is installing “invisible” floor covering!  Getting seams right and overcoming potential objections from the owner is a team effort between the salespeople, estimators and installers — and sometimes the designer or architect as well.Proper placement
Seam placement is the first step. Ideally, seams should be placed in inconspicuous areas that are perpendicular to light sources such as windows. Avoid cross seams (also known as end or butt seams) because they are more noticeable than length seams. More material may be needed to accomplish this, but time can be saved and a less noticeable seam accomplished if cross seams are minimized.
The estimator should never just automatically assume that the customer will want to save money by having more cross seams and using less material. Take a little time to explain the difference and the advantages to them, and in most cases, they will pay a little more to have a better looking installation. Besides, extra material is good to put aside as “attic stock” in case of damage in the future or can be used for mats or a runner in the case of carpet. Back in the day I had many customers who took the extra sheet vinyl and lined the shelves in their cupboards with it. So, maybe it’s not waste after all!
Pattern matching is a big concern with carpet and resilient products alike, and figuring the job correctly is where the process starts so there is enough material to match things up. This is a major area to avoid cross seams because that’s so much more matching that has to be done.

The right preparation
Acclimation can also help make better seams in carpet or resilient because, when the material is allowed to “relax”, it’s easier to move or stretch it to match the seams. This is especially true in patterned carpet. Get the material into the building a couple of days ahead of time and, if possible, unroll it or partially unroll it the night before installing.
Take the cuts in order as they come off the roll and take the rolls in sequence in jobs where you have multiple rolls. On carpet jobs, be ready with a power stretcher to assist in matching the pattern because it doesn’t always work out that the pattern just lines up real easy as you unroll it. It often takes some “finesse” to stretch the carpet in and line up the pattern.
Finally, the main thing customers worry about is actually seeing the seams, not necessarily how many they have. If they stay tight and don’t become overly visible, nobody will complain. This underscores the importance of trimming the seams correctly — don’t use the factory edge unless the manufacturer specifically says to do so, which is rare.
I am also amazed at how often installers leave out the process of sealing the seams on most carpet and many resilient products. Although I am known as a resilient inspector, I get asked informally to look at carpet problems and am sometimes amazed at how many seam failures such as unravelling carpet or gapping sheet vinyl I see, and it’s almost always related to not sealing the seam. Even over tack and pad carpet, “by the book”, you have to see the seam in most cases.

Resilient flooring challenges
It’s even more complex with resilient because there is no
“fuzzy stuff” to hide the seam. A lot of liquid seam sealing (also called cold weld) is done incorrectly because the applicator tip is not inserted all the way into the seams, or isn’t inserted all. The sealer needs to be inside the seam, not applied as a top coat. The applicator can also pop out if you move too quickly, causing “skips” in the seam sealer application. Sealing too soon can be an issue as well if wet adhesive mixes with the seam sealer. The seam can yellow over time or not hold. Resilient seam sealing is very product specific, so read the instructions carefully before you start. What’s recommended on one product may be a different process on another, even if the material looks similar.
Many resilient seams are heat-welded to provide a more sanitary installation such as in a health care facility. Installers who can heat weld are in demand because health care continues to be a strong market for resilient flooring. The process involves the melting of heat-weld thread into the gap of a routed seam using a hot air gun designed specifically for heat welding. Generally, routing (also called grooving) and heat welding of seams get done the day after flooring is installed to allow adhesive to dry. Check with the flooring manufacturer to be sure.
Certain adhesives may allow “same day” welding. Welding rods come in a variety of different sizes, so check the specifications of the product you are installing to be sure you don’t rout the seam too wide or too deep. Some tile products are routed at the factory, but in most cases routing is done on the job. Once the groove is routed, the heat welding process continues. The heat welding gun has a range of temperature settings, and where to set the temperature will vary depending on factors such as the temperature of the substrate and how fast the installer moves the gun. It is important, even for experienced installers, to practice on some scrap material before welding the seams. This way the temperature of the gun can be adjusted.
If you take the time to do it right, the seam will last as long as the floor covering and it won’t be very visible to the eye. That means no call backs, as well as a happy customer who will tell their friends.
A fourth-generation floor covering specialist with experience in retail, architectural sales, technical support, consulting, writing, educating and activism, Christopher Capobianco is owner of Christopher Collaborative. He volunteers with FCICA, ASTM Committee F.06 on Resilient Flooring and the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification.

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