Sheet vinyl flowing lifting off of concrete substrates that looks like blistered skin from a burn, wood flooring turning up at the edges, carpet tiles emitting fowl odors from reactions with “wet” slabs. All of these compromises in floor covering and then some, occurring on a daily basis all over the country plaguing flooring contractors and end users. Is this a flooring conspiracy or something more sinister? Well, it’s not a conspiracy, nothing so colorful as that I’m afraid and it’s not sinister unless you consider that moisture lurking in the substrates is skulking around waiting to pounce. There are a number of reasons for this outbreak of flooring failures but nothing worth writing a mystery novel about. Many will ask, “has the adhesive changed, is the flooring material different, hasn’t concrete been the same for years and why is this all happening now, what’s different?
Adhesive have changed from when solvent carriers were used but the adhesives are actually better now than they were then. There have been changes in flooring materials with the onslaught of non- permeable backings which will trap moisture vapor emissions from the concrete. The concrete has changed has not changed much but it is finished faster and harder which will limit moisture of convenience from escaping and most importantly construction jobs are fast tracked meaning the job is rushed to completion not taking into account the ramifications of this action.
The biggest culprits are moisture in the concrete, no vapor barrier/retarder under the slab or not being placed properly and the HVAC systems operation being cycled to save energy. These three factors are the biggest offenders. Moisture of convenience in the slab is trying to equilibrate and with the changes in the internal environment of the building by cycling the HVAC system, the moisture will move from high pressure to low. When this happens anything in way is going to be affected and the floor covering is in the way. If the flooring material is non-permeable, meaning moisture vapor emission is trapped and unable to escape it will push the material off the floor in the case of sheet vinyl or the material will absorb the moisture in the case of wood or moisture and alkalinity will affect the PVC carpet backing creating an odor.
Not placing a vapor barrier/retarder directly beneath the concrete will allow moisture from beneath the concrete to move upward, into and through the slab affecting the flooring material installed on top of it. And fast tracking the installation by not allowing the concrete to cure for the appropriate length of time and then installing non-permeable flooring material on top of it is a recipe for disaster.
So what has changed is the speed at which projects are moved forward. Installing flooring materials before the substrate is in a condition to accommodate the properly and safely and forcing the laws of physics to react normally. This condition is challenging flooring installations success on a daily basis and results in millions of dollars in claims and losses for the industry. This challenge has also necessitated changes in the way flooring materials can and will be installed. If we keep going the way we’re going paranoia will certainly accompany every flooring installation of hard backed goods.
Fortunately the minds of men feed on challenges and this is certainly so in the flooring industry. The advent of the Freelay backing and installation system allows for any carpet to be installed without using an adhesive and this system works extremely well on substrates that would typically cause installation failures by traditional means. The EnviroStix installation system for hard surface flooring such as sheet vinyl, vinyl tile, Luxury vinyl tile and vinyl plank materials is designed to be used on slabs that would cause an installation failure by traditional means. Both of these new installation technologies have been proven under the harshest of conditions.
Failure of flooring materials and their installation has reached epidemic proportions but there are ways to prevent this from happening as mentioned. The technology of these systems works but they have been met with skepticism by many in the industry. The technology will prevail over the disbelief driven by the demand of the end user who, once suffering the pain of a flooring failure, will insist on it.