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Botched installation: what not to do

ASK a manufacturer – or an independent consultant such as Richard Renouf – what the worst installation is that they’ve ever seen and you’re likely to hear some true horror stories. While these may be entertaining to listen to they surely also present an opportunity to find a common thread around the theme.

With that in mind, let’s take a look back at the answers we’ve received and what they tell us.
Said Shaun Howarth, national technical specification manager at Bostik UK: ‘There are many, but I do remember receiving a technical support request to look at an installation of studded rubber tiles – from my days at nora Rubber Flooring. The customer was complaining his client couldn’t clean the tiles and they were very dirty.

‘On arrival to the site it became very apparent why the client couldn’t maintain the flooring. The installer, in his ultimate wisdom, had installed the studded tiles upside-down, exposing the sanded back of the tiles, with the vulcanised finish laid into the adhesive. He wasn’t very happy when I pointed out his error, trying desperately to keep a straight face.’

So, sometimes good old common sense can make the difference between a successful installation and a failure. Another example of that was provided by Jake Parks, commercial distribution manager at IVC Commercial, who told us: ‘I once saw a customer who had laid a domestic carpet upside down – that was horrific.’

Steve Davies, UK head of training at ARDEX UK, indicated a cap-and-cove job. ‘It has to be the cap-and-cove job which I was asked to repair in my days as a fitter. We turned up to the job and it was awful. The mitres were cut really badly, the floor wasn’t prepared, welds non-existent. The floorcovering was bubbled, the floor was showing through, and it was falling off the walls. I think the previous contractors simply took on a job that was too big for them. They had a complete lack of experience and knowledge and it showed unfortunately. They made a complete mess off it.’

So, that was owing to inexperience. Was that the case with Vicki Stiles, national key account manager for Instarmac, UltraFloor? She writes: ‘I once had to attend a site that was a beautiful eight-bedroom detached new home. The place was stunning. The flooring installation had been completed a few weeks prior and I was called out, as in some areas, the LVT was starting to lift. After completing an inspection, I had to report to the flooring contractor that they’d levelled directly on to a new/wet anhydrite subfloor and the failure was a result of the reaction between the leveller and the anhydrite subfloor.’

For Fleur Carson of Karndean Designflooring, the crucial point was subfloor prep. ‘What can I say? I wouldn’t want to pick out any one example but I’d say good subfloor preparation is key to a successful installation. A lack of it rarely leads to a happy outcome!’

Gareth Gray, national sales manager (flooring) at Tilemaster Adhesives had a similar theme: ‘The ‘worst installations’ I’ve seen have all been caused by bad preparation. Some installers don’t carry out the correct checks on the subfloor, usually failing to check the moisture levels, and this leads to system failure owing to high humidity.’

Gail Alcock, product director for Malmo, had a truly horrific answer to our question. ‘I’ve seen a few over the years but one that sticks in my mind is a wood floor that caused tremendous damage to the structure of a house. It had expanded into a bay window area and made the wall collapse. Needless to say, it was a very expensive fix!’

Adam Schreiber, flooring product marketing manager at Saint-Gobain Weber, pointed out the importance of following instructions: ‘The worst installations can occur when the specification or installation instructions aren’t followed. This can result in failed floors with remediation costs that are far more than the original installation costs.

Then there was Kevin Field, commercial director ceramic & resilient lines at Mapei, who in his 40 years’ experience had two examples: ‘In 40 years, I’d say I’ve really only seen two. Both were domestic installations. One where the tackifier was applied directly onto an old bitumen adhesive and light cushion flooring installed. What a mess! The other was where the builder had installed vinyl tiles direct to a new slab and moisture was coming up and lifting the floorcovering. It wasn’t the point of the failure that concerned me with this one, but the very old couple that were left with a dangerous floor.

‘I removed it, scraped it all off and a local distributor gave me carpet tiles which I installed (badly) so they had something to walk on. The builder had taken their money and run. I was in my late twenties and it was like they were my grandparents and I needed to help. Every time I visited that area, I always called to ensure they were okay and always got a cup of tea.

Again, it’s difficult to determine whether inexperience or ignorance were to blame, but the end result was the same – an unsafe floor.

Lewis Lupton, national training and technical support manager for the ARDEX Group UK, continued the theme of dangerous floors: ‘For me it’s not about any individual installation. I won’t go into anything in great detail, but anytime there’s a danger to somebody, they’re the worst ones I’ve seen. We’ve seen large format tiles and falling from high-rise buildings and expensive commercial flooring installs fail owing to moisture or a lack of understanding on how to prepare a substrate.
‘There’s been some bad ones over the years, but I don’t feel that anybody does a bad job with intent. For me the worst occasions are when a homeowner who’s emotionally invested as well as financially has spent their hard-earned money on a project and it’s failed. Therefore, we always try to ensure our installers have the knowledge and training to provide a perfect, long-lasting installation.’

Andy Hayes, specification manager at CMS Danskin, pointed out an issue with acoustics. ‘Prior to the introduction of Part E of the Building Regulations ‘Resistance to the passage of sound’ in 2003, the standards of construction had declined so noise transfer between floors was a real issue. Thankfully, Part E put acoustics at the centre of building design and construction.’

Pierre Delabie, MD, Tarkett UK & Ireland, answered the question with a bit of self-deprecating humour: ‘My bathroom. I attempted some ill-advised DIY. Yes, I’m sorry, I’ll always consult a specialist in future. It’s safe to say I’ve learnt my lesson!’ But we’re not about to put him in the same basket as some of the horror shows mentioned earlier.

What these examples tell us is that there’s no magic bullet to avoid a failed installation – so many other things have to be taken into account. But they also tell us that if you get the basics right, go on the available training courses and prepare, prepare, prepare, you’ll be very unlucky to mess things up and – in fact – could produce truly scintillating installations.

We look forward to more insight in the months and years ahead from manufacturers about the worst installations they’ve seen and what lessons installers could learn from others’ mistakes.
David Strydom is CFJ editor

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