Why standards matter

Ignoring “the book” brings high liability

I have been involved in many a complaint on floor coverings when a particular industry standard was cited as not having been followed.

Christopher Capobianco

This placed responsibility for whatever went wrong in any number of places, from the architect that didn’t write the standard into the specifications, to the general contractor, dealer or installer not following testing standards, or even to the manufacturer when the product itself was “sub-standard.”

For dealers and installers, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Here are five quick examples across the floor covering spectrum, this first from a Coverings reader.

Tolerance of levelness in an installed vinyl floor

Coverings reader Nick Marcella wrote to me recently, saying, “I read your column in Coverings regularly and need your advice. Is there a tolerance for levelness in an installed vinyl floor? The job is a hallway with light from the outside at both ends. This creates a rolling visual when looking from one end to the front door, which is glass. When a level is placed side-to- side, there is a gap of approximately 1/8 inch in the centre. Is this acceptable?”

My answer came from ASTM F710*. “The industry standard is that the substrate has to be level to within 3/16 inch in 10 feet. It sounds to me like you are not within that spec. It seems there is a dip in the floor; it’s higher on the sides than the middle. I would suggest pouring a self-leveling underlayment to get the floor smooth and eliminate the dip.”

By the way, the “3/16 inch in 10 feet” standard covers several other flooring categories, including laminate and tile. It is not always a concern that the floor is level from one side to the other, but high spots or low spots in the substrate can be a problem.

In Nick’s case, the glue-down vinyl would have telegraphed that irregularity, so he was very wise to put that level on the floor. In the case of tile, lippage is common over an undulating substrate. In the case of a floating laminate, wood or vinyl floor, voids can lead to movement in the finished flooring that can cause such damage as the tongue breaking.

Concrete moisture testing

This one cuts across the entire industry from architects to installers and everyone in between. The assumption that “cured” concrete is dry enough for floor coverings, and the adage, “I never test for moisture and I’ve never had a problem,” both fly in the face of ASTM F710, which says “All concrete slabs to receive resilient floor coverings shall be tested for moisture regardless of age or grade level.”

Note the word “shall,” and don’t assume this just applies to resilient floors. The carpet industry quotes this same document and there are strict moisture testing standards on the tile and wood side as well.

Carpet standards

Ask a layperson for the two most common complaints on carpet installation, and I’ll bet unraveling seams and buckling carpet top the list.

Skipping seam sealer causes the first and “I’ve always used a knee kicker and never had an issue” can cause the second. If you are an installer blaming the carpet for one of these complaints, you can expect to be quoted at the necessity for seam sealing and power stretching from Carpet and Rug Institute CRI 104 and 105 standards. These documents are described as “the industry’s gold standard resource for commercial and residential carpet installation, providing installers, retailers, specification writers and building owners with detailed principles and guidelines for carpet installation,” and are available as a free download at www.carpet-rug.org.

Tile layout and lippage

Earlier this year, this column addressed a situation where common practice went against an industry standard and the job went bad. The complaint was lippage on a 6- by 24-inch plank porcelain tile. The tile was installed at a half-offset, which is often done but runs contrary to the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) standards that call for no more than one-third offset.

Left: Solid vinyl tile showing telegraphing trowel marks. Middle: This photo shows dry adhesive and a very fine trowel notch; both contrary to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Right: A porcelain plank product installed with a one-third offset, per TCNA Standards.

The standard was written to minimize the fact that rectangular tile can be be slightly warped, meaning the middle of the tile and the end of the tile aren’t flush with each other. In this case, the half offset meant that a lot of plank ends were higher than the adjacent tile and, in a handful of cases, the tile chipped. If the installer had gone “by the book” as per TCNA, this could have been avoided. However, there was also the question of whether the architect wrote a specification for the offset or the manufacturer had a warning about it. That discussion is ongoing, I am sure. Visit www.tcnatile.com to get the TCNA Handbook.

Wood acclimation

Similar to the carpet question, two things most laypeople would notice in a wood floor would be some kind of warpage or gapping. These are not always caused by the same thing, but there are standards that apply. National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) has a very detailed installation guide that includes pre-installation recommendations for acclimation of wood flooring and for testing the wood flooring and the substrate for moisture.

Failure to follow these guidelines can cause failures that get blamed on the installer. However, there is also the guideline that the space, “stay within a relative humidity range of 30 to 50 percent and a temperature range of 60 to 80 F. (In some climates, the ideal humidity range might be higher or lower, 25 to 45 percent or 45 to 65 percent, for example.)”

Dealers would do well to make sure the homeowner is aware of that standard as well. Visit www. tinytimbers.com for the NWFA installation guidelines.

Adhesive open time

Although it’s not a published industry standard, the misuse of adhesive continues to be an issue in the resilient sector of the industry.

I’ve mentioned it twice in the past year here in Coverings and I recently saw a third example. Installers, please pay more attention to his detail! Vinyl composition tile (VCT) has always been installed with adhesives that allow for a very long open time; back in the day we even left it overnight!

However, this method doesn’t work with other adhesives. My three first-hand examples in the last eight months? One, vinyl plank installed with the right adhesive and the right trowel but over five hours open time instead of two maximum.

Result: gaps at the ends of the planks. Two, smooth rubber tile installed with a wet-set adhesive that was allowed to dry before the tile was set. Result? Tile could be lifted off the floor without tools. Three, smooth solid vinyl tile installed with the right adhesive but too small a trowel and too long an open time. The result? Severe telegraphing of the trowel notches because the adhesive had hardened and the notches were so far apart.

With the large variety of products and adhesives, carpet and resilient installers and dealers really need to pay attention to which adhesive, which trowel, and how long the open time.

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]
*Standard Practice for preparing concrete floors to receive resilient flooring.

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