CHICAGO—Moisture. Generally speaking, it is the biggest enemy of flooring. Not so much the water spilling on the surface, rather the moisture that seeps through concrete substrates. In fact, it is one of, if not the leading cause of flooring failures, costing billions of dollars annually. And this is just on the commercial side where it is estimated 90% of litigation cases focus on water-related damages. This is the reason why Starnet devoted its entire Fall Membership Meeting to the topic.
“This is probably the most important topic our members have to deal with on a regular basis,” said Jeanne Matson, president and CEO of the commercial buying group. “Everyone of them across the country gets pulled into situations involving water-related problems and it is a tricky liability. That’s why the room is filled whenever this subject comes up.”
Gerry Swift, vice president of the commercial division of Mike’s Flooring Companies in Chantilly, Va., and the new chairman of The Flooring Contractors Association (FCICA), agreed. “The topic of moisture mitigation is an important one. There are far too many moisture related floor covering failures due to flooring contractors, as well as general contractors and architects not being educated on this issue. I am a strong believer in installation training and education.”
Educating its members on the subject is not something new for Starnet. In 2003, the group devoted a half-day at its fall meeting to not only help members understand the issue better but to open a dialogue between the flooring and concrete industries. Representatives from both the concrete and flooring industries sat together on a panel to discuss the issue from scientific research and evidence to real-world solutions (FCNews, Dec. 8/15, 2003).
It was so successful, Starnet packaged the program into a traveling two-hour seminar, “Mix – The Concrete Truth About Concrete Moisture” and toured the country for more than a year, reaching 1,600 specifiers, architects, designers, facility managers and flooring contractors (FCNews, Sept. 13/20, 2004). So good was the course, attendees were eligible to receive continuing education credits through a number of architectural and design associations.
This time around, Starnet decided to devote two full days on the topic. It included bringing in experts to speak on everything from concrete and moisture testing, to why failures happen and how they could have been prevented, to legal issues in terms of who is liable, to panel discussions on how members deal with the problem. In addition, hands-on demonstrations were given by leading companies that offer moisture mitigation systems. And a two-and-a-half hour mini tradeshow featuring companies that have developed products and services to aid in or prevent moisture-related issues was also part of the agenda.
The goal of the event? “That every attendee will leave Chicago armed with new information and better awareness of how to approach moisture mitigation with knowledge and thorough planning,” Matson explained.
Howard Kanare, senior principal scientist in structural evaluation for CTL Group, a leading engineering and scientific services company, got things started by telling the group, “Concrete is not an inert material…in many ways it’s almost alive,” which is why the subject of moisture mitigation is one that has been going on for decades. Lew Migliorie, author of FCNews’ “Claims File” column and the industry’s foremost troubleshooter, added during his session, “Concrete lives; it looses and gains moisture all the time. It’s in a constant state of flux and eventually something has to give.”
If it is related to the floor, he explained, “Once a bond breaks in one spot the entire floor is compromised. And you cannot put a band aid on a hemorrhage.”
The good thing, though, Kanare added is “there is a lot more collaboration taking place” between the different parties—from the concrete industry to the general contractor to the A&D community to the flooring industry. “This is a good thing because it was unheard of 10 years ago.”
Put simply, Kanare told the membership, “You can be in charge and tell them what is needed to have a successful installation. The more we can do to educate the general contractor and owner about what is needed to avoid a moisture problem the more successful everyone will be.”
Lee Eliseian, president and principal consultant of Independent Floor Testing & Inspection, followed Kanare and talked about an extensive country-wide study his firm with a big box to reduce the risk of moisture related flooring problems.
“Testing showed the weakest link was in the subfloor preparation,” he explained. “That is where the most problems existed after the floor covering was installed.”
Migliore chimed in, saying, “There are about a dozen terms to describe moisture problems” and then went on to show the membership photos of each one, explaining how and why it happened.
Claims for water-related problems are “astronomical,” he added. “Six figures is not out of the question in some of these cases…It’s really scary what’s going on and…the problem is not going away. You have to know how to protect yourself.”
Sloan Bailey, a partner with the law firm Flynn Williams, gave an enlightening session on how members can protect themselves from being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars and even losing their business. “There are two rules in economics but they apply in dealing with lawsuits: The universe owes you nothing and there is no such thing as a free lunch. When you act and how you act can be guided by these.”
His point? “Just because you are right doesn’t mean anything. Therefore, keep [meticulous] records. Make sure you have a paper trail. If you act reasonably and can record it, it can be your best protection in a lawsuit.”
Bailey told members, “Don’t shy away from challenging something and insisting on things. Make sure questions or ambiguities are dealt with up front—and record all responses.”
Swift said Bailey’s speech “shed some light on who is ultimately responsible. Although there is still plenty of debate as to who should conduct the testing, the fact remains that we, as professional flooring contractors, must ensure that the substrates are suitable for installation before we start spreading the adhesive.”
Eliseian said the best solution to avoiding problems in the first place is for everyone in the chain to “follow the rules throughout—from the handling and storage of products to when maintenance is done to subflor prep and so on.”
Migliore said, “Don’t take responsibility for things you can’t control. You are not a scientist, a chemist or a substrate expert—you are a flooring expert. So stick to it and get an expert to make sure the concrete is OK to install the floor.”
In the end, Kanare said it starts from the beginning, referencing a 2,000 year-old Roman manuscript with instructions on how to make and use concrete, which calls it the most important part of the structure. “It starts by stating, ‘Do it right.’”