Prevent Flooring Failure Through Testing

The surest way to solve flooring failure is to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place. With billions of dollars lost every year to concrete-slab moisture-related floor-covering failures, an ounce of prevention can spell the difference between profit and loss.

Senior editor Katherine Field talked with Lee Eliseian, president of Concord, Calif.-based Independent Floor Testing & Inspection Inc. (IFTI), which provides third-party testing and certification of moisture-related issues, about ways to prevent problems associated with moisture-related flooring failures.

What is the primary reason that retail floor-coverings fail?

One of the most common problems in the multi-billion dollar floor-covering industry continues to be floor-covering failures related to excessive moisture and pH of concrete floor slabs. All flooring categories are affected, including resilient flooring, carpet tiles, carpet, wood flooring, coatings and more.

For example, problems from excessive moisture and high pH attack can cause adhesives to ooze from the joints, loss of holding strength because of re-emulsified adhesives, and contamination by mold, which causes indoor air-quality concerns.

Some estimates have been published that concrete-slab, moisture-related floor-covering failures cost retailers, building owners and contractors over $1 billion every year.

What is the floor-covering industry’s position on why this problem is occurring, and what can be done about it?

In 2001, a number of associations and organizations within the floor-covering industry endorsed a white-paper position statement on concrete-slab moisture testing. It stated many concrete-slab, moisture-related flooring problems can be attributed to the advent of rapid changes within the construction industry. Some of those changes included the loss of asbestos in resilient flooring, loss of solvents from adhesive and coating, increased use of water for easier concrete placement, absorptive aggregate in lightweight concrete, and fast track construction schedules.

Many unforeseen problems have surfaced that have led to unnecessary disputes, increasing confusion and lawsuits. As an effort to reverse this trend, a more science-based approach was needed to clearly identify contributory problems associated with moisture-related flooring failures, with reasonable expectations for those responsible for moisture testing. The industry recommends that concrete-slab moisture testing be performed by qualified independent third party agencies.

What can the retail industry do to reduce its risk of moisture-related flooring problems?

Specifying quantitative ASTM moisture testing right from the start will reduce the risk of concrete-slab moisture and pH-related flooring problems. Performing testing in advance of installing a new floor or replacing an existing floor is the only way of knowing the moisture condition of a concrete slab.

Floor-covering and adhesive manufacturers published guidelines that follow ASTM standards. Failure to follow manufacturers’ guidelines usually voids the warranty, and in the event of flooring problems, a great deal of finger pointing can occur, which does not solve the problem and can create ill will among the parties involved.

Where can the retail industry obtain an effective moisture-testing specification?

The best way the retail industry can be assured that comprehensive moisture testing gets done is to write a testing specification themselves with the assistance of an industry specialist. A simple statement such as “install floor-covering according to manufacturer’s instructions” is not enough. What is needed is to create a specification section regarding moisture testing that will leave no question about what testing is to be done, when the floor will be tested, who is to do the testing, how the results are to be reported and who will receive a copy of the test report.

Specifying a qualified independent third-party testing agency (someone whose only interest is collecting and reporting accurate and complete testing information) to perform the testing is the most prudent approach, as opposed to requiring the floor-covering contractor or the general contractor, who typically have a vested interest in the results, to carry out the testing.

It pays for retailers to take charge of the process of creating detailed moisture and pH testing specifications that direct the entire construction team as to what is expected of them so potential flooring problems can be identified and solved in advance.

Chain Store Age Copyright © 2010