We don’t want a ‘pass the buck’ trade

Hamish hopes that improved cooperation across trades and down the contract hierarchy will have a good outcome for the flooring industry.

AS I have commented before, if there have been any positives to come out of the Covid-19 situation of the past year, they have been around the fact that better programmes with fewer trades onsite have enabled us all to do a better job. This improved way of working, along with better hygiene in canteens and washroom facilities, is to be welcomed, and long may it continue after Covid-19 is gone.

However we’ve noticed the old trend creeping back, where clients aren’t taking sufficient care to ensure subfloors are being laid correctly. This has happened on several sizeable projects that we have been involved in, where there has been a problem with the surface or the levels of the floor.

The screeding contractor may decide not to return to fix their workmanship and just accept that the client will hold on to their retention money. The client might accept this because they may feel they have sufficient funds to instruct others to correct the workmanship thus not losing out financially.

However this leaves a mess for the flooring contractor to sort out, simply because we come along last – ‘tail-end’ Charlie if you like. Since the finished floor is what people see on the final job, it has to be right, and the flooring contractor will tend to be the one who gets the blame if it’s not looking 100%. So that means the flooring contractor having to be instructed to carry out the remedial works, or else doing a job on which there’s a high probability of eventual failure.

I remember hearing of a project in an upmarket hotel some years ago, where moisture readings were taken and exceeded 75%RH. Purely for reasons of cost, it was decided to use DPM and screed only in the vinyl and corridor areas of the hotel. Inevitably and after just 10 months, the carpet in other areas, such as the banqueting rooms and bedrooms started to shrink.

A full investigation found that moisture, combined with heat in the hotel had caused not only shrinkage, but also mould to grow on the underside of the carpets.

Bear in mind also that, owing to the nature of the hotel, this was all specially made bespoke carpet, most of which ended up in the skip. Laying DPM and screed, and replacing the carpets, after the event was a massive additional cost, which was totally avoidable if the flooring contractor had been listened to in the first place.

In a way it comes down to respect for our trade in the wider construction industry. It sometimes seems we can shout as much as we like, but aren’t listened to. People have to realise we’re experts in our field, and we do know what we’re talking about when it comes to floorlaying – but that doesn’t mean we necessarily have the expertise to correct other people’s poor workmanship.

There’s still not an understanding for instance of the importance of moisture control.

Anything over 75% RH is a problem, and needs a DPM and screed. Many clients have this in their standard spec, but it can still get overridden onsite. Too few people realise concrete can sometimes take years to dry properly, and sand and cement needs a sufficient time to dry out.

So what’s to be done? We have to find a way – and personally, I believe the CFA can do this, as an association representing the entire industry – of getting the voice of the flooring contractor heard at all levels.

Getting through to client management is key. They sometimes need to reign in their site staff if they look like letting screeding contractors get away with a sub-standard job. We all know that presenting the client with a flawed project to sign off is not an option, and it is not realistic or fair to leave the flooring contractor with the task of clearing up the mess caused earlier in the process.

The CFA can provide support in these cases – another great reason to be a member! This can include a standard disclaimer letter, to be signed by all parties and which exonerates the flooring contractor of any liability for problems caused by substandard screed or moisture in the subfloor.

It’s also true the CFA’s increased involvement in industry forums in recent months has given us the opportunity to sit down with the major contractors and discuss a common approach to issues such as these that affect the entire industry.

This has been very helpful and will hopefully mean improved cooperation across trades and down the contract hierarchy going forward.
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