Identifying problems key to finding solutions
by Louis Iannaco
With the advent of fast track building, structures and facilities are erected quicker than ever before, but the age-old problem of concrete moisture remains just that—a problem. Adhesive companies are addressing moisture issues, both in new and existing structures, with education and new technology leading the way.
According to Cathy Panagakos, corporate accounts manager for Helmitin, the top moisture-related issues facing installers today involve confusion over test methods (i.e., ASTM F2170, 1869), their performance and what they mean.
Other sticking points, she said, include end users’ lack of understanding of the floor covering and/or adhesive manufacturers’ warranty provisions, along with the industry-adopted white paper regarding moisture testing specific to responsibility and liability.
Jeff Johnson, business manager for Mapei’s floor covering installations systems, believes when it comes to moisture-related problems, contractors face two main issues: Fast-track projects and more serious moisture emission problems. “Working on a design/build project with a short deadline often presents the problem of trying to install flooring over a freshly poured concrete surface that hasn’t had time to completely cure. In these subfloors, water of hydration (water of convenience) that is present in order to make the concrete flowable when poured will generally disappear in time, but not quickly enough for the demands of the project.”
Regarding the more serious moisture emission issues, he noted, concrete slabs with known moisture emission problems due to improper placement or failure of a moisture barrier under the slab, as well as drastic changes in the water table or general environment, can create a constant moisture drive through the slab. “This moisture does not disappear over time.”
According to Mike Kroll, associate brand manager, flooring distribution for H.B. Fuller Construction Products, once a potential moisture issue is identified in the construction phase, keeping project timelines on track is often a major concern. “Moisture issues tend to reveal themselves at the height of a project, which can cause a job to take an unexpected detour. To help avoid this, H.B. Fuller offers same-day-installation solutions to quickly remediate elevated moisture transmission rates and keep projects on track.”
Mihir Gandhi, design manager for W.F. Taylor, said the company’s MS-Plus Resilient MBA is a performance solution for installation of all types of resilient flooring with moisture vapor inhibition. “As a single component reactive cure adhesive, MS-Plus combines ease of use with high performance in severe service applications.”
Art Minite, director of technical services for Laticrete, noted the top two problems arise from moisture-related issues with tile and stone installations, which lead to claims and a damaged reputation. These include damage from leaking wet area installations (showers, steam rooms, spas, water features, etc.). “The required waterproofing membrane is either not properly specified and installed or omitted altogether. In certain cases, faulty reasoning leads one to conclude that since the tile itself is inherently waterproof, no further precautions are required. Erroneous assumptions concerning tile adhesives are also made. Although tile adhesives are not totally waterproof, it’s important to use ones that are suitable for wet area installations and water resistant.”
Another area of concern, Minite noted, includes health issues that can arise from not properly treating tiled wet areas in accord with tile industry installation standards. That includes using the appropriate water-resistant adhesive mortar and waterproofing membranes. “Mold and mildew can be the nasty result of omitting (or the improper installation of) the appropriate moisture and mold resistant tile adhesive and waterproofing membranes in wet areas.”
Brian Kelly, national sales manager, Bostik, noted the majority of moisture-related issues in wood flooring usually translate to cupping, end lifting and peaking. “Acclimation is paramount to having a successful installation.”
Greg Wood, president of Advanced Adhesive Technologies (AAT), believes the most frequent issue is the pressure flooring contractors are put under to install floor coverings over new concrete in structures that are, at best, under acclimated. “Because the concrete is new, the facilities manager has the concrete tested under these same conditions. The results indicate a moisture problem and then everyone begins looking to the flooring contractor for an answer to a problem that may or may not even exist.
“Furthermore,” he added, “this problem, real or perceived, that was not created by the flooring contractor, is left for him to address. To help flooring contractors, we have developed the Problem Solver Triton series and our NXG series to expand the parameters for successful installations of moisture-sensitive floorings from sheet vinyl, LVT, modular and broadloom carpets. AAT’s next generation of adhesive formulas have been formulated to ensure adhesive performance under the very demanding conditions commonly found in today’s fast paced construction.”
Sonny Callaham, product marketing manager at Royal Adhesives, believes one of the most crucial moisture-related problems in the industry today is flooring contractors who choose not to perform moisture testing. “Typically, there are three reasons for this: First, the previous flooring showed no signs of moisture-related issues. Second, they determine no moisture testing is required because the concrete looks dry. Lastly, the contractor doesn’t believe he has time to perform testing.”
John Lio, marketing manager for DriTac, agreed with Callaham in that there are a number of moisture-related issues installers consistently contend with when installing flooring. “One of the biggest issues at hand is conducting the actual moisture tests themselves. There are several moisture testing methods promoted in the marketplace that are available to each installer and often some confusion exists as to which testing method takes precedence.”
For years, the calcium chloride test was the preferred industry standard when testing for moisture vapor transmission within a concrete substrate. “Recently, relative humidity (RH) testing has become very popular,” he said. “Many installers and industry professionals feel RH testing is more reliable.
“The lack of one universally agreed upon testing method makes the battle against moisture that much more difficult for an installer,” Lio added. “The recommended testing method can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, which only further complicates the ability of an installer to meet the requirements of a particular manufacturer and achieve the provisions set forth in any given product warranty.
“Understanding product limitations and the lack of education available to a flooring installer can also be an issue that contributes to moisture-related issues,” he concluded. “For example, some flooring adhesives have vapor-retarding characteristics, however, they are not concrete moisture sealers. If proper moisture testing produces results above the flooring manufacturer’s recommended limitations, then a concrete moisture sealer must be used for the successful completion of that particular flooring installation.”