Thor the builder

In this month’s column, an encounter with a hammer-happy builder illustrates for Sid Bourne the issues which arise from non-flooring professionals installing LVT.

A call came in from a consumer nearly in tears. Their new LVT flooring had been installed by Bob right through the ground floor, some 80sq m, which was floated directly onto floorboards with cheap thin underlay.

The consumer said the corners of the LVT were lifting at one side and there were mysterious ridges running throughout the flooring. The LVT was supplied directly via a local supplier to the builder, who then sold and installed this for the consumer.

The new kitchen was installed directly on top of the LVT, along with fitted units in the dining room which had also been installed on top.

I asked the consumer if they had called Bob back to inspect. They told me he had argued the failures were nothing to do with him, and were in fact defects from the manufacturer (true in part, as we will learn later!)

The consumer was persuaded of Bob’s qualifications, and insisted his workmanship was impeccable, but the supplier of the LVT asked that the consumer and Bob get an independent inspection and report. That’s where I came in.

The date of my inspection was booked and, at the consumer’s request, Bob was to be present. After all, Bob the Builder knows everything there is to know about flooring!

When I arrived, the consumer introduced Bob, who immediately said the product was defective and that he had lots of issues when installing, having to revert to a hammer and block to knock down the edges so they were flat, which confirmed to him the product was defective. I asked Bob, ‘If you thought it was defective, why did you carry on?’ To which replied, ‘Time is money, I can’t mess about with contacting suppliers. I wanted to get the kitchen done since I had other work booked in, so I carried on.’

Observing the mysterious ridges throughout the installation, knowing they were in fact the cupped floorboards shadowing through, I asked Bob what, if any, subfloor preparation was carried out? ‘None!’ Came the reply, ‘This stuff goes over anything’. I asked if he had read the instructions which actually state the subfloor should be flat, dry and so forth. Clearly the cupped floorboards were not flat, I measured them at over 3.5mm constant across the width of each floorboard, caused by blocked airbricks over time. I asked Bob if he had read the instructions at all, to which he replied: ‘Instructions are for babies!’

I asked Bob, the man who knows everything, to take some flooring up for me and requested any unused product left over from the consumer, both were obliging. On checking the unused product, I found it was defective along the header joint in the one corner repeated on further planks inspected. Not divulging the find to Bob, I asked if he would mind just showing me how he had installed the LVT, which he politely agreed to demonstrate. He fetched the block and hammer used, (It seemed more like Thor’s hammer to me!) Bob said he had to use it to make sure the floor was flat and duly demonstrated to me how the LVT refused to lay flat in the one corner, which was true. I stopped him at this point and said: ‘Why would you not stop when you realised the LVT was not right?’, To which he replied: ‘I don’t have time to check every detail, I am a busy man’. Bob then hammered the LVT in the corner with force, assuring me this was the only way to get it flat.

The consumer, who was listening along, said Bob is right, he had to knock the ‘living daylights’ out of it to get it flat! This didn’t surprise me, Bob has an amazing gift for getting the consumer on their side, and woe betide you if you say anything negative about him! On lifting the LVT, I measured the cupping as given in the column earlier.

The cutting around the architraves had to be seen to be believed. The LVT was cut around them in a square, and the large gaps and short cuts had been filled with silicone.

The floor had been installed for just two weeks when the issues started. I contacted the manufacturer who agreed the product was defective after receiving a sample, but needless to say, on admitting this they asked the very same question as I had. Why Bob had even continued, and for that matter, how had he even managed to install the LVT? I told them about Thor’s hammer, and then there was silence. I asked if they were still there and repeated ‘Hello?’ down the phone several times, and when the reply came, the manufacturer asked: ‘Dear me, are you serious?’ I said I am always serious, ask my wife. After a bit of persuasion, they agreed supply the new flooring, (only as a gesture of goodwill, which they did not need to). If the case had gone to court, I cannot see Bob’s version of events proving very convincing! I thanked the manufacturer for their help.

I also explained to them how it’s a bad idea to let Bob install flooring and suggested they should look into only guaranteeing their product, if it’s installed by a competent flooring professional. They admitted Bob is a problem, along with carpenters, and informed me they would certainly look into instructions and warranties.

I completed the report, after which the consumer phoned me in shock that I had confirmed the LVT was defective but also that Bob was liable. He had clearly not installed the flooring with reasonable care or skill and should have stopped after the very first LVT plank was revealed to be defective. I heard back from the consumer some months later, who confirmed they had to eventually get a solicitor involved who, together with the report, convinced Bob to pay for the labour while the consumer would pay for the subfloor preparation. The manufacturer kept their word and supplied the new LVT which was all installed and prepared by a professional flooring contractor, with the results being of an excellent standard. The consumer thanked me for my report and assured me they would only ever use flooring professionals for flooring in the future.

This complaint led to a happy ending, (even though it took several months to reach) but many end up with Bob simply walking away or ending up in court action. May I take this opportunity to kindly remind Bob the Builder to keep away from flooring and floor layers to keep away from building semi- detached homes.

Sid Bourne is an independent flooring inspector