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Installation care and maintenance issues, which lead to flooring failures

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Editor’s note: Spring cleaning is upon us, and that means floors usually get more attention than normal. But improper cleaning or mishandling of floors can often be worse than ignoring floors altogether. Following advice from Gary in this regard is good to to keep in mind, whether you’re a homeowner or a flooring professional providing guidance to customers.

By Gary Schiedker
Director of Technical Services, Taylor and Meridian Adhesives

Proper flooring care and maintenance is much more than just proper cleaning. It includes maintaining the space at acceptable temperature and humidity levels for the floor covering and protecting the floor covering from potential damage. Insufficient or improper maintenance can affect resilient flooring, hardwood flooring, and even carpet. These are a few of the most common causes of flooring failure that could have been easily avoided with proper care. 

Temperature and humidity fluctuations

Every resilient or wood flooring installation should start with proper acclimation. It is critical that the space continues to be maintained at proper service temperature after installation. Fluctuations in temperature and humidity can cause failures with most resilient flooring and all hardwood flooring products. Even carpet can relax from high humidity and possibly require a re-stretch. It is important that you include climate control as part of the maintenance instructions that you provide to your customer. The space should be maintained under HVAC control year-round including off hours. It is not acceptable to shut off or turn down the HVAC during nights, weekends, or holidays.  For commercial applications, you may want to recommend an environmental monitoring system like Floorcloud® to make certain the space is properly maintained.

Direct sunlight

Many flooring products require protection from direct sunlight. In the case of resilient flooring, direct sunlight exposure can cause it to expand when it is heated and then shrink as it cools. In the case of LVT and LVP, the most common results are peaked or gapped joints. As the flooring is heated, it expands creating pressure on the neighboring tile or planks. Then as it cools, it may shrink leaving gaps at the joints. With sheet goods, the heat can cause the flooring to expand thereby creating bubbles that may never recover. Hardwood can change color from direct sunlight, which will become obvious when furniture or rugs are moved. I have even seen “checking” in the finish of hardwood that only occurred where it was exposed to unbuffered sunlight. It is important that you include the recommendation of window treatments such as curtains, blinds, shutters, or tint to provide protection from direct sunlight in windows. These are exposure considerations in your recommended maintenance instructions.  

Caster chair and other furnishings

Caster chairs in offices can damage resilient flooring, hardwood flooring, and carpet if proper protection is not used. The use of chair pads are essential in office settings where caster chairs are used. Failure to protect the flooring from caster chairs in commercial applications can cause the new floor covering to prematurely wear or ugly out. Using the right chair pad for your application is essential for good results. You should be specific when making recommendations regarding chair pads to your customer. The use of felt or other soft protectors on chair or furniture legs are also important and should be included in your recommended maintenance instructions. The use of walk off mats should always be recommended at doorways that open to exterior, dirty, or wet areas. These steps will keep the floor looking good for a long time.

Improper cleaning products

I cannot believe how many flooring failures I have seen that could have been easily avoided by simply following the instructions on the label of the cleaner. In many cases, the maintenance people use the wrong cleaner or simply use a high concentration. Some of these cleaners are citrus based and have a pleasant sent. Unfortunately, the citrus cleaners are acidic and can attack the adhesive and floor covering. I have seen citrus cleaners attack the latex that attaches the secondary back to the primary back of the carpet. They have also caused finishes to dull and leave oily residues on the surface. We had one case where a chain of veterinarian clinics was having problems at a couple locations and no issues at the others. They had the same flooring and used the same disinfecting cleaner in all their locations. It turned out that high concentrations of the cleaner were attacking the flooring assembly. This disinfectant was so strong at full strength that it ate the epoxy floor in our testing area. We placed the jug on the shelf and it leaked over the weekend. When we came back on Monday, the epoxy had flaked off the slab in the spill area.  I highly recommend that you recommend the right cleaning products and method for the floor you are installing.

Excessive amounts of water

We see too many crazy things when we go to inspect a floor. I had a situation with VCT at an elementary school that was obviously moisture related. This was a new slab with a good quality under-slab vapor retarder installed. The flooring contractor performed both In-Situ RH tests per ASTM F2170 and Calcium Chloride tests per ASTM F1869. We were at a loss as to the source of the moisture until we found a maintenance man using a garden hose to clean the floor. I had another one at a high-end resort with hardwood floors. Part of the floor was over plywood on pier and beam and part was over on-grade concrete slab. I saw the maid throw a pail of water on the floor and swab it like the deck of a ship. I drove five hours to look at a solid wood floor that was cupping. When I arrived, I noticed a mop and a bucket with a jug of oil soap next to it in the kitchen. It turned out the homeowner wet moped the floor weekly with oil soap diluted in water. We asked her to change her cleaning method and the cupping subsided.   

Hot water extraction machines

We typically think of carpet cleaning when it comes to hot water extraction units which are also called steam-cleaning machines. This cleaning method can leave both the carpet and the cushion wet, which will cause it to attract soil and crush from traffic. If this method is used it is necessary to allow the carpet and cushion to dry prior to traffic. Excessive amounts of cleaner will also attract soil and cause the carpet to crush in traffic areas even when dry. For hard surface, some state and local agencies require nursing homes, assisted care facilities and day care centers to clean the common areas up to two times a day. In many cases, these facilities use walk behind hot water extraction units to clean the floors. This hot water will soften the resilient flooring, which allows it to contour to any irregularities on the substrate and telegraph them. You should consider this when selecting an adhesive and recommending the flooring.

Floor finishes

It may sound crazy but have been on multiple complaints where the property owner had a maintenance company apply a sacrificial finish to the floor. This is not an issue unless the gloss level of the coating is different from the factory finish. In every case, the property owner complained that the floor was different from what they selected. It is important that you educate your customer on acceptable applied finishes and how they can affect the gloss level of the floor.   

Conclusion

I recommend that you prepare a recommended maintenance guide for your customers to follow that will help them know how to maintain their new floors. This may require separate guides for carpet, resilient and hardwood since their care can vary greatly. This will help you avoid claims while keeping your customer happy.

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Installation care and maintenance issues, which lead to flooring failures

Editor’s note: Spring cleaning is upon us, and that means floors usually get more attention than normal. But improper cleaning or mishandling of floors can often be worse than ignoring floors altogether. Following advice from Gary in this regard is good to to keep in mind, whether you’re a homeowner or a flooring professional providing guidance to customers.