May 11/18, 2015; Volume 29/Number 3
By Nadia Ramlakhan
Adhesives are often overlooked in the buying process and may be portrayed as an insignificant purchase, yet they are often necessary for proper installation of flooring. While an adhesive may not seem as important as the LVT or hardwood floor a customer chooses, the truth is what supports the floor is just as crucial as the flooring material itself.
“A good floor covering system is only as good as its weakest point, and utilizing a poor quality adhesive can jeopardize the integrity of the entire system,” said John Lio, marketing director for DriTac. “Quality floor covering demands the use of a quality floor adhesive. Together they provide the value to help achieve a successful installation that will stand the test of time.”
Installers in the field tend to agree, and emphasize that no matter how many great qualities a floor has, it won’t stay put without the proper adhesive. Doug Mannell, training coordinator for INSTALL in Kansas City, Mo., compares the flooring installation process to the construction of an entire home. “If the foundation isn’t strong, you can still build a beautiful house on top of it but it’s going to shift, erode, wear away and eventually collapse.”
Retailers and end users need to be aware that cheaper adhesives usually come as a result of using less expensive raw materials. With low cost ingredients comprising the adhesive, customers may pay less for the product but will ultimately pay for it as they run the risk of failed installations. Similar to any other high-ticket item, quality and insurance of a longer lasting floor are worth the extra bucks.
“There are a number of ways to cheapen adhesives,” said Gary Liddington, manager of manufactured brands for W.F. Taylor, “but if you lower the cost, you lower the ability of the adhesive to perform. And when you alter the performance characteristics, you greatly increase the opportunity for problems with installation.”
A poor quality adhesive can cause an installation to fail in many ways. The most obvious reason is that it won’t adhere to the flooring material or won’t form the right bond. Additional problems induced by an inferior adhesive include discoloration, bubbling and buckling in the floor, as well as patches of glue swishing around under flooring. Other issues can occur long after the installation is complete, such as mold or mildew, sometimes becoming visible months later because of a rainy season or drastic change in temperature. Oftentimes a poor quality adhesive may require more layers since it will likely be too thin to get a good coverage rate.
Installation failures can easily be avoided by choosing the right products. “When one job fails it does a disservice to the whole industry,” said Mark Olsen, INSTALL trainer at the Southeast Wisconsin Carpentry Training Center in Pewaukee, Wis. “It makes us all look bad.”
It generally costs a lot more to repair an installation compared with the initial cost of a high quality adhesive. “It’s best to do it right the first time,” said John McGrath, INSTALL director. “The No. 1 cause of a floor covering failure is the use of the wrong product in the wrong application. Floor preparation is integral when it comes to adhesives, so it’s important to find the right product for each environment.”
Manufacturers and installers urge end users to find an adhesive based on the specific application and recommend avoiding those that service multiple types of floors. “People overuse the term ‘multi-purpose,’” Liddington said. “It’s the backing of the flooring that determines the bond, so if you try to use a cheaper adhesive that claims it’ll work well with any floor, you run the risk of compromising the installation. There’s a real danger in trying to buy cheap adhesives. But if you use an adhesive designed for a specific type of backing it’ll do a really good job.”
Customers find value in high quality products; they should put the same amount of effort into researching adhesives as they do for flooring before committing to a purchase. The quality of a flooring adhesive is generally assessed through various categories including application properties (easy spreadability, cleaning characteristics), performance characteristics (rate of cure, mechanical property development, moisture and acoustical abatement), environmental considerations (eco-friendly, sustainability, regulatory compliance) and cost effectiveness.
Because flooring manufacturers want to make sure their products hold up to years of wear and tear, Mannell recommends following manufacturer suggestions when it comes to choosing an adhesive. “Manufacturers know exactly what is being done in the labs and know what will keep their materials in place. They are pretty specific on what they want used with their floors and salespeople need to be aware of that.” In some cases, flooring manufacturers also sell adhesives made specifically for their products. Because they have a better idea of what their floors require, this helps to avoid compatibility issues.
Customers who opt for cheaper adhesives are, in essence, not giving the floor a fair chance, according to David Ford, vice president of sales and marketing for Stauf. “It doesn’t make sense to spend $7, $8, $10 or $12 a foot on floor covering then put $0.03, $0.10, $0.20 a foot underneath. The adhesive is what’s holding the floor to the substrate. You get what you pay for—there’s no question about it.”
The first step to ensuring customers purchase quality adhesives (and in turn receive proper installation) is education. Retail sales associates have to sell products for the proper end use, and not consider adhesives add-on purchases, Liddington said. “Homeowners are always looking for a cheaper price and tend to believe what they’re told instead of investigating properly. RSAs are responsible for relaying the right information to the homeowner.”
Eric Kurtz, market manager of Bostik’s hardwood and resilient flooring systems, encourages sales associates to read a product’s technical data sheet to understand its features and capabilities in order to find an appropriate match for the project. “There are a lot of different types [of adhesives] on the market today from water-based solvents to polyurethane. Some technologies make installation easier, safer and more durable. It’s important to read about the product and check out a manufacturer’s website to help direct customers to the right product.”