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Commercial Flooring News

Builders ‘opt out’ Of Faults

John Alcock on the responsibility of main contractors

IT can’t be my fault, I’m the main contractor. How often do we hear this? It’s not a perfect world and flooring installations do sometimes fail and – as I have covered in so many of these columns – failures may be due to anything from human error, product issues or sometimes site conditions before, during or after installation.
But as you know, I always tend to pretty much focus on these issues from the flooring contractor perspective and how problems could have been avoided ‘if only they had…’ However, a couple of recent site visits have prompted me to write this column from a different perspective – what if the problem has nothing to do with the flooring installation or the installer?

In two sites I attended recently, the floors had been down three to four years. In both cases the main contractor had tried to pass all the blame for the failures on to the flooring contractor. The first was a big period house onto which an extension had been built at the rear. All the ground floor is asphalt, except the new extension which is a concrete screed. It’s a good size extension too, with French windows and such and looks the part. The flooring contractor – one I know to be pretty good – explained what had been done in terms of the installation and what had been used etc. It had been finished off with Karndean tiles.

The first thing I noticed as I walked through the house to the extension was that the screed had dropped. It was only about 1-2 mm, but when you walk from the asphalt onto the new floor there is clearly a dip, and further toward the end you could actually see the dip.

Obviously the floor had dropped. I am pretty confident that there was no way the flooring contractor would have started work had he noticed any problems, and in any case he would have levelled the floor.

The tiles had delaminated, but when you lift the tile for closer inspection you could see the smoothing compound sticking or adhering to it. The primer had stuck to the underside and it had delaminated from the subfloor. On inspecting the subfloor I found I could actually dig in with my thumbnail – it was that soft. It would not have been this soft on installation as there would have been no way the installation could have proceeded, and besides the failure would have occurred in 3-4 days not 3-4 years.

Obviously something has happened; I used my Protimeter and it showed damp, but there were no signs of moisture to cause the dampness and no suggestion of leaks.

The owner refused to accept that the screed was at fault as the main contractor who laid it was a relative. Family ties apart,being a blood- relative is no guarantee of a job done correctly, but frequently an option for a cheaper price. I have to go back to this job, and ready to argue my position that the problem is not with the flooring installation – wonder how it will turn out?
The second installation was a school hall extension. The job had been down about four years; it started showing signs of delamination and bubbling a few months ago. The main contractor believes it is ‘obviously’ the fault of the flooring contractor, who claims that he did everything correctly and as required.

The school doesn’t care who is to blame and just wants to use the sports hall. The problem was similar to the one I mentioned previously. Lifting the sports floor you find smoothing compound stuck to it. There was no sign of damp, but when you get to the subfloor you can see the membrane and primer.

Of course the main contractor is adamant that it’s a flooring problem, yet I noticed that the failures were all in line with the expansion joints in the walls around the building – almost line perfect with them, yet I couldn’t find any expansion joints in the floor to correspond with them. For a floor of this size, there should be expansion joints, but what if they are not present? Fault then shifts away from the flooring contractor.

It is sometimes too easy to blame the last guy in, or because the issue manifests itself with the floorcovering then it is a flooring contractor problem. How many flooring contractors just take the hit because there’s little way of proving otherwise? In most cases the main contractor is the big guy and has far greater resources to throw at absolving themselves from blame than the flooring contractor.

We make mistakes, and sometimes *&*& does happen, but sometimes it might not be the fault of the floor!

John Alcock is technical specifications manager at Bostik Laybond
T: 01785 272727

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal website. You can find them at www.contractflooringjournal.co.uk.