Think like an inspector

Installation Sept Oct 2013

A simple detail, such as leaving proper expansion space, could have prevented this floating floor from developing gaps. A simple detail, such as leaving proper expansion space, could have prevented this floating floor from developing gaps.

Preventing failures will save you time and money

By Christopher Capobianco

The subject of installation troubleshooting is a big one. I spent a good chunk of my career as an inspector of floorcovering failures, and as an instructor of inspector training classes. That inspector mindset has helped me look at new projects and specifications in a whole different way. Even before the floor gets installed, thinking of what can go wrong can prevent failures.

In previous Coverings columns, I have discussed industry standards and manufacturer’s guidelines that call out for specific practices that will prevent installation failures. If these guidelines are ignored, or if your customer asks you to do an installation under conditions that you know are not recommended, manufacturer’s warranties will not help you and the responsibility will fall to the dealer or the installer that did the job if the floorcovering fails. Here are some examples.

Jobsite conditions

It happens all the time. The job is not ready but the floor gets installed anyway. The concrete is not dry, the heat or air conditioning is not on, the doors and windows are not in, other trades are not done, the substrate is dirty, and so on. Installing the floor when the site is not ready can, and often does, lead to a complaint. If the tile is curling, it could be because of concrete moisture issues, or the wrong adhesive. If the floor is installed in cold or hot or dirty conditions, the product may not adhere to the floor or may shrink or expand after installation. If the floor indents, it could be from adhesive that was softened by moisture or from traffic on the floor too soon after installation.
Most manufacturers have very strict guidelines for the job being ready before installation. If the job is not ready, you need to notify your customer that you will have to go against the manufacturer’s instructions and industry standards if you proceed.

Substrate preparation

In my July column, “Patching things up: The ongoing challenge of substrate preparation,” I went into depth about this topic. The right underlayment, clean substrates, patching compound being properly mixed and allowed to dry for the right amount of time and many other aspects of floor prep can really go wrong if not done “by the book.”


My June column, “Concrete moisture: Establishing the basics,” covered the latest concrete-testing methods. The important thing to know is that the industry standard (ASTM F 710) states: “All concrete slabs shall be tested for moisture regardless of age or grade level” and every installation guide says the same thing. If you skip this step, you are gambling with potentially expensive failures.


Acclimation is the foundation of a beautiful installation. Virtually every flooring manufacturer recommends delivering all of your material 48 hours in advance. Many flooring products and carpet will expand or grow when warm, or contract when cold. Specific examples I have seen are rectangular products such as vinyl wall base, reducers or vinyl plank, which are easy to stretch during handling, especially if they are very warm.

For example, someone throws a carton over their shoulder and allows the box to bend, or pulls warm material out of the end of the carton, or stretches the material end to end while setting it into the adhesive. These actions can stretch the material ever so slightly, and in warm weather the risk is even higher. Whether the installer stretches the material or it has expanded slightly, material installed in this state will look good with nice tight seams until the air conditioner get turned on, the temperature cools and the material returns to its original size. The gaps that result are thought of as shrinkage, but the material is in fact returning to its original size. If you ever notice an installation of vinyl flooring where the floor tile, the reducers or the wall base are gapped, it’s a good bet the job was done in the summertime and the material was not acclimated.

Adhesive selection and application

It amazes me that someone would switch adhesives on a floorcovering job just to save a few dollars. If you saved $20 on a four-gallon can of adhesive having a spread rate of 150 square feet per gallon, you save about three cents a square foot. It’s not worth throwing that warranty away for a few pennies saved by switching adhesives.  It also doesn’t pay to try to make the installer’s job easier by using a more “installer friendly” adhesive on a product that the adhesive is not intended for — like using clear VCT adhesive for solid vinyl tile, or using a one-part adhesive on a product like rubber tile, when the application calls for a two-part epoxy.

Trowel selection

Trowel selection is equally important. Too much or not enough adhesive can ruin any adhered floorcovering installation. On resilient, too much adhesive is a very common cause for failures! Remember, a trowel is a two-in-one tool: an application device that gets the adhesive from the can to the floor, and a measuring device that makes sure the proper amount of adhesive is used. It’s a few pennies per square foot to have a new trowel, so there is no excuse for skimping. For example, on concrete floors, the average trowel will last about 1000 to 1500 square feet, so a $15 trowel costs less than 2 cents a square foot.

Dealers often leave this part of the job it up to the installer, and most distributors and manufacturers accept orders for floorcoverings and adhesives without saying a word about trowels. When you take the time to send an installation team out with the right flooring and the right adhesive for the job, order some trowels as well.

After installation

Once installed, proper protection of the floor, recommendation of preventative maintenance measures such as floor protectors and matting, and a good cleaning program are keys to a floor’s long life. Since so many complaints are maintenance related, some time spent with the customer to discuss post-installation issues is a good idea.

It’s all about the small details. I know everyone is under the gun as far as time these days, but it can cost a lot more money to fix problems after the job goes bad than it will to prevent problems in advance with proper procedures, sundries and tools.        

Christopher Capobianco is a flooring expert currently working with Sorest-Hill, Md.,-based Spartan Surfaces, a distributor of commercial hard-surface flooring. Chris’s family lineage in floorcovering goes back for generations. His career includes time as a retailer, architectural sales rep, technical support manager, consultant, instructor, columnist and active volunteer in several organizations.

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