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Phew! What a scorcher!

Richard Renouf grapples with an inspection where, as happens from time to time, crucial information is missing.

FOR most inspections that I’m called on to do there’s a good amount of basic information to tell me what type of flooring I’m going to be looking at, when and where it has been fitted and what the end-user (or other party) isn’t happy about. But from time to time this information is missing, either owing to the visit being hastily arranged, or simply because no-one has thought about what I might need to know.

All I knew about today’s visit was the name, address and phone number of the customer. Just enough to book an appointment but not a smidgen more.

‘I haven’t been told anything about this.’ Usually meets with a raised eyebrow and a ‘That’s typical of how they’ve treated us throughout!’ So I’ve learned to imply that this is a deliberate ploy on the part of the retailer or manufacturer to ensure my views aren’t coloured in any way, and so the customer can treat me as a blank canvas and tell me whatever they want me to know. That gets a much better response and perhaps salvages a bit of goodwill for the companies.

So this afternoon I was welcomed into the busy family home and awaited the customer’s comments.

It was very cold outside but the home was toasty. Underfoot, having taken my shoes off at the door, I could feel the warmth of underfloor heating as the customer showed round the kitchen island, the area by the telly which had apparently been replaced so was no longer showing the problem, and into the study. I was none the wiser.

The flooring was an SPC (stone-plastic composite, aka rigid LVT, but there was no sign of distorted joints and no indication from the customer as yet about what they were not happy with. Mrs Customer gave me the first hint. ‘It’s not the main issue,’ she said. ‘But I’ve noticed how easily it scratches, even though we’ve put felt pads underneath the breakfast bar chairs.’ She lifted one of the chairs to reveal a nylon stud (officially called a ‘dome of silence’) which didn’t resemble felt in any way, but I knew there was more to come.

‘The main problem is only showing in my study, now,’ said Mr Customer. We went back in and this time he moved the dog’s bed to reveal a curly zigzag of brown scorch marks. ‘This happened to the tiles we sent back already, but the manufacturer hasn’t responded and told us the results of their assessment.’ Then he pointed to the room thermostat. ‘It can’t be the underfloor heating, it’s set below 23deg and I’m an electrician and installed it myself, so I know it’s working perfectly.’

I knew what the problem was but again I have learned to take my time and gather the evidence before jumping to any conclusions, if only to show the customer I am being thorough. I started by asking about the scratching. Were there any tiles left over after the fitting that could be sent away for testing? This could be done to check the flooring against British Standard performance levels and would, I suggested, be fairer than me simply making a judgment about how the flooring was being used.

Mr Customer said: ‘Yes.’ As he went over to the large fridge/freezer. ‘There’s a piece under this.’ He tipped the appliance slightly and grabbed the offcut and brought it over. As I took hold of it I noticed how hot (and floppy) it was. I laid it down beside my toolbox and pointed my digital thermometer. Click. 44.1deg C.

As I proceeded to inspect the flooring for all the usual (flatness, expansion gaps, is the kitchen standing on it, and so on), I kept the thermometer in hand. Beside the fridge/freezer the surface temperature was in excess of 56deg C, but the heat was in hot spots rather than even across the flooring. I switched to the thermometer on my moisture meter just to check my instruments were reliable and the story was the same.

I asked the customer to give me some more detail about the heating. It was an electric mat. A smoothing compound had been applied. But the thickness was not known as some else had done this, and the customer was not aware of any minimum thickness recommended either by the mat manufacturers or the flooring manufacturer. But he was proud to add that a special underlay, suitable for underfloor heating, had been used.

It gave me no pleasure to burst his bubble by producing my report. The flooring manufacturer stated that their product could handle up to 27deg C, but that rugs (and I take that to include dog beds) should not be laid on the flooring as this will build up the temperature.

The flooring had been scorched by excessive heat – I’m surprised the dog could walk on it – and this had softened the tiles to the extent that they marked incredibly easily. I still have the offcut. Even though it has cooled down, it still has the imprint of a foot from the fridge/freezer owing to the effect of the heat on the tiles, and this won’t ever come out.
Richard Renouf is an independent flooring consultant

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