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Why You Should Always Be In Your Prime

John Alcock on being a prime-timer

HERE is a question that really divides opinion. When is the right time to use a primer when laying a floor? On one hand there are benefits from ensuring the subfloor is in the best state to accept the finish, and help the work to be as neat and as durable as possible.

Yet on the other hand, for many jobs it can seem like just another extra hassle. One school of thought is that given the quality of modern smoothing compounds, a primer won’t really offer anything extra to the standard of work, and it will eat into time and profit, especially on larger jobs.

Whilst it may not be the main consideration on a project, the problems created if a floor isn’t properly primed can be much greater than the cost of ignoring the job of priming in the first place. That’s why my advice is to prime every time.

This may seem an old fashioned view, but I can give plenty of examples where those who haven’t primed have let themselves in for much more than they bargained for. Such a situation occurred recently when I visited a sixth form college.

This was a fairly old job, having been completed around five years ago with linoleum laid throughout. However, recently this linoleum had started to blister and rise in certain places. As well as being unsightly, given that this is a very busy college with heavy traffic from the many students attending daily, it also created a potentially serious health and safety problem.

We did a thorough check of the floor, which had been laid with a perfectly normal surface membrane and smoothing compound.

My first thoughts were that the membrane may have been causing dampness problems, but this wasn’t the case. In fact there were no traces of failure in any part of the floor at all.

Yet the primer was conspicuous in its absence – the smoothing compound was applied directly to the membrane with no visible signs of primer having been used.

I can well imagine the logic applied by the firm fitting the floor – ‘it will cost x amount to buy primer, and y amount in time to get it down. I reckon I can do a quality job anyway, so I’ll go ahead and get the job done without.’

It’s an understandable approach, especially given shrinking margins. But in this case it cost someone involved in the project a fair amount of money to put right, likely the entire floor – running into thousands of sq m – will need to be removed and replaced, this time with primer I would hope.

Of course, they will also have to be very careful when removing areas that are still well bonded, so as not to involve further major work by having to replace a damaged surface membrane too.

There is also the inconvenience on the college, having to accommodate workmen and disrupting pupils

taking exams.

It’s important to add that I don’t think people are being careless by ignoring primer, when their experience tells them that they may not need it to do a quality job.

But if you consider the cost of a few jobs like this college going wrong and requiring entire floors to be replaced, you begin to see why over the years and learning the hard way, I am such an enthusiastic advocate of primer.

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