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Why Flooring Fails in the Builder Market

Posted by Tim McAdoo on Mar 10th 2017

Why Flooring Fails in the Builder Market

With the increase of new housing starts for 2017 comes good and bad news. The good news is the increased business for the flooring world. The bad news is the continuance of fast track homes and the installation issues that we have to deal with. Below are the issues that I see throughout my travels and my thoughts on the perfect recipe on why floors fail in the Builder Market.

Fast Track Housing

The building process continues to get faster and faster. Combine this with lack of environmental conditions and we have a recipe for failure. New homes are being built and turned over in about 45 days or less. These houses are sopping wet and not even close to being ready for finished flooring. The builders have not figured out that when homes dry out, things move and having flooring installed too early in the process will cause failures as the subfloors dry out and move.

Putting the lowest cost products in the worst case environment

Everything is the builder world is about cost. In most cases, new home owners upgrade most products in their house except the flooring. They pick out a nice looking product not realizing what grade of product they have chosen. The products being offered at Level 1 are generally the lowest cost products a flooring manufacturer offers. When LVP is sold for $0.69 or less and that new Hardwood Floor is $1.59 a square foot, we are not getting the top of the line flooring product. We used to have flooring categories of Good/Better/Best. Now we have Value and Value Plus. Again, we are putting the lowest cost products in the absolute worst case environment and hoping they perform.

Concrete supplier is not held to subfloor flatness specifications

For most resilient flooring, the subfloor flatness is 1/8ʺ in 6 feet or 3/16ʺ in 10 feet. Some WPC (water proof core) products have gone to a standard 3/16ʺ in 10 feet. The concrete suppliers’ subfloor specification is 1/4ʺ in 10 feet and they are not even held to that. The best poured concrete in a new home is the garage floor. It is flat and it is smooth. Go into the home and the concrete there looks like a bad road project. Dips, humps and cracks and that is where we are held to the gun to install flooring over this and guarantee this.

Can we install over this? Sure we can. But our LVP and sheet floor will show every hump, roll, and crack in that subfloor. Hardwood will span over the humps and cause hollow spots. Laminate will creak and pop as the Laminate flexes over the dips in the subfloor. I would back charge/change order the Builder for prep until they realize the concrete supplier needs to change/improve their subfloor specifications.

Lack of HVAC

All flooring needs a controlled temperature range. Hardwood and Laminate also require a controlled humidity range. Vinyl when cold shrinks. When warm, it expands. When this happens on a consistent basis, it can have a shearing effect on the adhesive bond. Hardwood and Laminate do the same as the humidity fluctuates. It expands when humid and contracts when dry. This causes excessive movement that can lead to squeaking and popping.

Lack of temperature and humidity controls also greatly affects the drying and curing of patching and setting materials and retards the drying of the adhesives. No one just thought of these temperature requirements. This has been studied and tested and put in place for a reason. It greatly effects the installation of flooring. The area to receive resilient flooring should be maintained at a minimum of 65° F and a maximum of 100°F for 48 hours before, during and 48 hours after completion. During the service life of the floor, the temperature should never rise above 100°F nor fall below 55°F. The performance of the flooring material and adhesives can be adversely affected outside this temperature range. Hardwood requires that the permanent air conditioning and heating systems should be in place and operational. The installation site should have a consistent room temperature of 60-80o F and humidity of 35-55% for 14 days prior, during and until occupied.

The Builder has not yet figured out that having the HVAC on allows the house to dry out and allows the subfloors to move/crack and do their thing before installing sensitive floor covering on it. We could help reduce underlayment show through in sheet vinyl and LVP. Reduce squeaking and popping in nail down hardwood floors and floating Laminate floors.

Energy Efficient Built Homes

The homes being built today are sealed so tight and do not allow homes to breath. When these homes do not breathe, they retain the moisture from the building process which causes issues in the flooring world; wet subfloors and a wet environment for sensitive floor covering and sundries. Then when these homes finally turn on the HVAC system these homes they dry out excessively causing movement in the structure.

Flooring installed way too early in the Building Process

Having flooring installed way too early in the new home construction process causes many issues;

Subfloors and environment is too wet for flooring. No HVAC. Trade damage from other trades working on top of the floors and dragging cabinets and appliances a newly installed floor

Drywall dust from touch ups that are done late in the construction process right before closing. The flooring installer covers the floor covering when finished, but when the other trades are working and dragging things across the flooring, the covering gets damaged and dust from drywall touch ups gets ground into the edges and rough textures of flooring. Other trades are not help responsible for ensuring that the floor covering is protected during their work period. It’s nothing for a new home to have several board replacements in a new hardwood, or patches cut into the new vinyl floor covering

Wet maintenance

After construction, the cleaning crews come in a clean the floors. They have not figured out that sopping wet maintenance is not good for any type of new floor covering, especially Laminate and Hardwood. I have heard and seen instances where puddles of water remain on the hardwood hours after the cleaning crew has left. Dipping the wet mop into the toilet and mopping the floors.

Yes, we have seen it all. Know one on the Builder end is in a hurry to figure this out as long as they can keep pushing the problems back on the flooring contractors and the flooring manufacturers continue to turn their heads to the issues and keep giving into these builders.