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A trick up up my sleeve

Can an inspector check whether there are expansion gaps without causing damage? Yes – as Richard Renouf details in this month’s column.

EVERYONE leaves expansion gaps when they install floating floors such as laminates and click-together LVT. That’s what they always tell me, and I’ll have a hunch it’s because they think there’s no way to disprove their claims without removing skirting boards or beading, and of course the end-user wouldn’t want that to happen.

But I have a trick up my sleeve or, rather, in my inspection toolbox. It allows me to check expansion gaps without causing damage. And as it would be a useful gadget for anyone following up complaints I’ll share it with you.

Browsing in tool shops is a temptation I rarely resist. This is usually costly, but occasionally I see something new that seems a likely candidate for my kit and even more occasionally the purchase proves its worth. One such purchase was on a shelf marked ‘feeler gauge holder’ and it was a simple handle with a clamp mechanism at each end that would grip a feeler gauge to help a mechanic checking spark plugs or doing other work where the gap size is critical.

I took a 0.3 mm feeler gauge out of a set and clamped it into the handle. Then I bent the tip of the gauge to a right angle to create a ‘hook’ which a ground down to only about half a millimetre. This was enough to insert underneath a skirting board or beading and hook over the edge of flooring. Pulling on the gauge identified where the edge of the flooring was and pushing it forward then found the wall or other obstacle. The difference could be seen easily and after a few site visits I learned to use a square so the actual gap size could be seen in a photograph (see above).

Sadly the handle has been discontinued by the tool shop, but I’ve found they can be purchased online, although they don’t appear until the third or fourth page on an Amazon search. Feeler gauges are easy to find, but I’ve also found you can buy them in 5m strips, so I have enough to more than see me out. I could probably just use a longer length and dispense with the handle altogether.

Last week I headed north for a trip that took in six site visits. A mixture of engineered wood, click LVT, and laminate installations.

A farmer’s wife was adamant that her installer had done the job perfectly and the splintering along the joints must be due to faulty flooring. I politely reminded her that wood was a natural product and therefore there must be an external cause of the splintering. She was looking over my shoulder as I used my probe and it didn’t take her long to realise what I was doing and what I was finding.

I went on to an address which turned out to be an old stone cottage dating back to the early nineteenth century.

It was rather disconcerting that, having arrived on a gloomy morning the young lady of the house turned off all the lights and took me into her bedroom by torchlight. It was her way of highlighting the very severe crushing damage to the joints of her laminate flooring. I quickly turned the lights on and checked the ends of the damaged rows.

No expansion gaps at all, and throughout the property there were more places without any expansion gaps and many places where the gaps were too small. The laminate was laid without any protection from the old flagstone floor with its high moisture content (having been built before structural damp-proof membranes were mandatory) so the expansion was inevitable but the installers had failed to take this into account.

The installer was there to meet me at the next call. ‘I’ll take off any skirting boards you want,’ he said confidently. There was no need, of course. There were gaps underneath the skirting boards, but not against the door frames or the kitchen units, and not at the floor-level frames for the bi-fold doors and other external doorways. ‘But I’ve done it all round the perimeter’ said the installer. ‘It says the perimeter of the flooring, not the perimeter of the room,’ I replied. The probe was useful on the next three visits, too. It comes out on every floating flooring installation – expansion gaps are so important.

There’s an added bonus. By using a 0.3 mm feeler gauge I can occasionally remove the blade and use the straight end to check gaps between dry back LVT tiles. I hear suggestions that gaps are okay as long as they’re no bigger than the thickness of a credit card, but although there’s no British Standard the NICF Guide to Domestic Flooring (available as a download from – scroll down the home page) states a maximum tolerance of 0.3 mm which is considerably less than this. As gaps are usually the result of trying to fit onto a subfloor which is too uneven, they can taper and the feeler gauge is a very helpful device to assess what’s going wrong.

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