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Commercial Flooring News

Problems Are More Than Meets The Eye

John Alcock on why flooring contractors so often get the blame

THE trouble with flooring is that it’s visible! I am often called out to inspect a site only to find the main contractor pointing to some lifting tile or warped wooden floor panel and telling me that the problem is with the flooring . I am then expected to accept this conclusion simply because the problem is visible.

The thing is, the problem you see isn’t always the cause. It might be due to another issue not even be the fault of the floor or its installation. Yet, time and time again, it’s the poor old flooring contractor who has his money withheld until the ‘floor problem’ is put right.

Take a site I visited recently in Liverpool. A large care home on two floors with some long stretches of corridor around 100m in length. The job, which was complete, was undertaken by a good established flooring company with a decent reputation.

It’s a typical installation so nothing too fancy or potentially problematic – the ground floor is all sand cement screed, and the first floor has timber joists, which are secured and appear to form part of the overall timber-frame construction.

With all the wood used, I suspect they have introduced some sort of fire prevention system together with thermal insulation between the ground and first floors. To prevent any damage to the fire protection elements and insulation, the chipboard is loose laid. The heating is conventional radiator type, but there is also a forced ventilation system in the void between the two floors.

Although the ground floor is OK, on the first floor there are areas of delamination, blistering and loose vinyl, and the immediate conclusion was a problem with the flooring.

On closer inspection, I reckon that the temperature variation between the airspace and the floor above is causing movement of the timber and is the root of the problems. With the floor not mechanically fixed I also suspect that the movement allows the boards to flex, which caused them to curl. In fact, when I pulled the carpet back there is a good 15mm of shrinkage. And as far as I can tell it is this that has caused the delamination.

By my understanding, the construction methodology and free-floating chipboard are both part of the specification as described by the architect and carried out by the main contractor. Surely this is a problem with the construction or specification, not a problem created by the flooring installation or the flooring contractor?

Another site, also in Liverpool, had a similar problem that seemed to be a flooring issue, when it was actually the result of a runaway underfloor heating system. The system was not properly controlled and was so hot it would have boiled the toes off a gecko, let alone cause damage to the overlaid carpet. Again, the first receiving point of the accusing finger was, you’ve guessed it, the flooring contractor.

We’re not perfect and some of these columns have discussed problems of our own making. Yet so many issues arise through factors out of our control and as with the first example here, the problems can even be ‘engineered-in’ as good construction methodology by the architect.

You could argue that the flooring contractor should ask about the construction generally, but I disagree. Beyond what would typically impact on the installation such as site conditions, screeds to be used / applied and suchlike, I think we should all assume that the actual construction is sound and a good specification.

I also think that main contractors should consider the construction as a whole before pointing a finger, withholding money along the way. I wonder sometimes how many claims are settled based on a finger point and an assumption that if I can see the problem and it’s the floor, then it must be a flooring issue.

The bottom line is, with margins for many of us being squeezed tighter than ever, it pays to make sure these matters are investigated properly – not just accepted along with the expense of putting things right.
John Alcock is technical specifications manager at Bostik
T: 01785 272727

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