Happy (but costly) ending

The product was wrongly blamed when flooring in an apartment block cupped and lifted. Sid Bourne explains why the true reason wasn’t that simple – or cheap.

I  WAS recently involved with a considerable claim for wood flooring, which had been installed to 35 out of 40 apartments, where the flooring in all apartments had cupped and lifted in some apartments.

The flooring had been installed for several months prior to me arriving and the matter had got to a point where nobody was accepting liability other than to state that the product must be defective.

A meeting onsite with all involved was called including the main contractor for the construction of the apartments, the contract company and a representative from the suppliers of the flooring.

Now considering the floor had been down for at least six months plus, I arrived onsite which was still in construction with every trade possible running around the apartments. Straightaway I knew the floor couldn’t possibly have been installed under the correct conditions.

Before anyone jumps on me, I must say it’s become increasingly impossible for flooring contractors in this type of work to perform to any industry standards for installation of wood flooring and I have great sympathy with this, because if a contract company didn’t carry out the work then another would come along and do it. This means the company that’s only trying to install the wood correctly, will always lose out.

While I fully understand the predicament, we all know when it goes wrong there are two people immediately in the firing line: the contractor and the manufacturer.

I had the background to the problem and had spoken to all parties separately involved with the complaint, which of course was a major issue with someone having to fork out a lot of money.

The contractor who installed the flooring told me he’d been told to install the floor regardless of it not being correct. I asked if he’d got this in writing and he told me it was verbal only.

There were solicitors involved in this complaint for each party and I’d been commissioned to carry out a single joint report on my findings. I was sent details of the contract by the main contractor for work being carried out in the apartments and I must say all legalities were sewn up, so this made it difficult for the installation contractors.

I think - out of desperation in my opinion - the product was eventually blamed, as they had nowhere else to go. The installers insisted they’d never had problems like this with any other product ‘and we install in worse places than this’.

Oops, I thought, don’t be proud of it as eventually these things come back to bite you on the backside; in this case, it turned out to be a nasty bite. The supplier of the wood, to be fair, was trying to help but he really didn’t understand how or why the floor had reacted and was trying to help his customer. It was a stalemate.

Fortunately at this point the situation was still amicable, even though it had become legal. During the inspection, I was taken to random apartments with the same issues with cupping and some lifting. Even as I was present there were other wet trades operating and in one apartment, which hadn’t yet been installed, the flooring was stacked in the middle of the room, with buckets of water on top of the uninstalled packs of flooring. Plasterers were working in the same rooms.

It became obvious I shouldn’t have seen this apartment, as the main contractor stated that this was unusual and promptly told all inside off and asked them to move the flooring to the storage area, with the reply ‘but you only got us to move it up here a week ago’.

One installer who was going around with us, said all the apartments looked like the one I’d seen – and even much worse – and stated that they had to do the work otherwise they’d be off-site.

No moisture checks had been conducted. The installers told me in some apartments the windows weren’t even installed with only boarding put up at night.

I had them take up part of the floor in an apartment that had lifted and found they’d adhered to dusty floors, with plaster all over it. Now it doesn’t matter who you are but the simple task of cleaning the subfloor isn’t rocket science; it gives the floor a chance of bonding. I’m not being unreasonable in saying that.

The long-and-short of it was there was nothing wrong with the product and the complaint was now between the main contractor and the installation contractor.

After everybody had received the report, I was surprised to be contacted by the parties involved to see if they could resolve this rather than go to court. They asked if I could be involved with what was required and eventually it was agreed the flooring had to be fully replaced.

If I’m being reasonable both parties were in my eyes equally to blame; I gave my reasons via phone just in case I became mincemeat – my comments were straightforward. All agreed with me, though, so happy days - but at a great cost.

I don’t know who paid what and if insurance came into it as I’d done my job and how they decided to resolve it was up to them.

Some months after this complaint I was involved with another complaint of smaller value. On turning up at the property, it was the installation contractor from the last complaint and, yes, they’d done the same thing again! The floor had failed and it was their fault.

The company came over to me onsite and said: ‘I know we’ve c**ked up but we thought we’d get away with this one as it wasn’t as bad’.
Needless to say, the floor had to be replaced. Talk about not learning your lesson!

It’s an unfortunate thing with these types of complaints – you know in most cases you’re going to turn up to site to conditions that are completely unsuitable.

You have the suppliers who deliver the product to site knowing what conditions they’re delivering into and the main contractor who just wants things done regardless.

I still can’t understand why they organise the trades onsite as they do. Why on earth would you have wood flooring being installed the same time as the ceiling or walls are being plastered or ladders all over the place denting the floor etc?

In my view, it’s just bad planning. However, flooring is a finishing trade and inevitably they get the blame, which isn’t correct as it’s the management involved who make the decisions. I even get to site sometimes and witness people with mop and buckets, washing the floor which has plaster dust all over, and they find this acceptable. Crazy!
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Sid Bourne is an independent consultant