THERE are certain phrases I hear regularly which don’t impress me, but there’s one that seems to come up more often than I’d like that makes my heart sink. It’s not ‘I’ve been fitting this type of flooring for xx years and never had a problem before’, nor is it: ‘This fitter is the best there is!’ Afterall, the best fitters are the ones who know you never stop learning.
Twice in the past few weeks a customer has used it. On the first occasion I’d been called in to look at a bamboo floor that was changing colour. It was fitted in the customer’s open-plan living space which included the kitchen, dining room and lounge.
The golden honey colour was changing to dark brown. The customer greeted me from a Covid-19 safe distance and began to explain in minute detail where it had started – to the side of the kitchen area where there were no appliances or pipework – how it had spread, and why it could only be owing to faulty material used in manufacturing the boards.
It was only at the 22-minute mark (and, yes, I was counting as it was a Covid-19 safe requirement to minimise time in each customer’s home) that the customer let slip the phrase that explained his obsession with detail. ‘I’m an engineer, you know.’
It was time for me to ‘get out the gadgets’. I knew what the issue was, but unless the customer saw me go through a logical process of confirmation and elimination, my conclusions would merely be speculation. So both moisture meters were switched on and left to acclimatise, the laser floor scanner came out (totally unnecessary on this occasion, but it always impresses) and a few other bits -and-pieces to put on a good show.
What I’d observed was the darkest planks were up against the kitchen plinths just to one side of the sink. Here the surface finish had begun to blister as well. It was definitely a moisture problem, in a fairly small area but with such a high level of moisture the boards were beginning to rot. I started to take moisture readings from one side of the area to the other.
The highest readings, which the customer could see from where he was standing, were from the darkest area of the flooring. The customer repeated his belief the problem hadn’t started there, but I explained to him that these were accurate readings and were showing where the moisture was now, even if it had changed over time.
I took off the kitchen plinth, with his permission, and shone a torch under the kitchen units. There were the water supply pipes, including the mains supply and the various feeds for the sink and appliances. And there was a tell-tale droplet of water underneath one of the bends which dripped to the floor every few seconds.
The second occasion was, coincidentally, another moisture issue, this time with a laminate floor. The planks were badly swollen in an area about a metre wide and two metres long at the point where a suspended timber floor met the new concrete floor of an extension. This time, however, the customer simply stood back and left me to diagnose the issue, but clearly had ideas of his own that I was going to have to address at some point.
The swollen areas of the boards maxed-out my moisture meter. Flat portions nearby gave normal readings, over both the timber and concrete subfloors. I showed the customer. I explained that if the problem had been caused by water on the surface, the issue would have affected the joint lines first and the appearance would have been very different.
‘I’m an engineer,’ he said, ‘I could tell it wasn’t anything we’d done.’ I discussed, and dismissed, another couple of options that it might have been – a still-wet slab wicking moisture into the floorboards, something in the flooring that might be causing it – and then explained that I suspected there was a leak under the timber floor. ‘Do you know if there are any pipes in this area? I asked.
He pointed to what look like the remaining stub of the old back wall of the house and said ‘That’s actually boxing for the water and central heating pipes, so there must be some of them running under here. I thought that was likely to be the problem, but the builder disagrees with me and I wanted you to form an independent opinion so he couldn’t accuse me of leading you.’
For both customers I was able to provide a report they could use to make a claim against their insurers who, in turn, might find the underlying problem was owing to the contractors working on the properties before the flooring was laid, but that would be for them to follow up, not the customer.