Moisture and Flooring: Understanding and Preventing Flooring Failures
Abby Reinhard, April 11, 2017
If you have any concerns about moisture and flooring, here’s a quick reference that I hope will be helpful. It’s a 3-question Q&A – but please reach out with any other questions.
I recently gave a talk on this topic to a room full of architects, and it’s clear that the problem of moisture and flooring is of growing concern.
Here’s more on why that is and what products can help:
1.) Why is subfloor moisture a growing issue?
- Floor-covering materials have become less permeable, which means moisture can’t get out – so it gets trapped beneath the floor covering itself and, sooner or later, can cause problems or failures with the flooring.
- As flooring adhesives became more eco-friendly, they also became less resistant to moisture and alkalinity.
- Before the late 90s, often vapor retarders either were not used, were of poor quality, or were installed incorrectly.
- Certain concrete practices, like using lightweight concrete, hydrated aggregate, and curing and release compounds can significantly increase the drying time of new concrete. Also, burnishing or sealing the slab keeps moisture in.
- Construction timelines are shortening, pressuring flooring installation to happen before concrete is dry, and before the HVAC system is operational, or the building is enclosed.
- HVAC systems are often cycled, particularly in schools and offices, to minimize energy costs. This results in moisture migrating in and out of the concrete, whether on or above grade, resulting in moisture-related flooring installation compromises or failures. Concrete is a living thing and never fully dries – moisture is always present.
2.) What problems are caused by subfloor moisture?
- Flooring failures (blistering, debonding, adhesive degradation, etc.)
- Mold, mildew, fungus and bacterial growth
- An estimated $2.4 billion in costs each year in North America in remediation from moisture-related flooring failures (…plus fun litigation.)
- An additional $1.2 billion spent annually on topical moisture treatments to mitigate moisture issues before floor covering is installed
(Note: Mitigation is not a fun expense, but is about ten times cheaper than remediation after a failure.)
3.) What flooring products can help?
We love all the manufacturers we work with – and where moisture is concerned, Tandus Centiva (Tarkett), Milliken, Ardex and others have great options to help avoid moisture-related problems.
- Looks and feels like carpet, but acts like sheet vinyl (soft/resilient hybrid product in 6-foot rolled goods)
- Closed-cell construction – moisture cannot penetrate, but the vapor can “breathe through”
- 50-year track record
- Can install without moisture mitigation, as long as there is no free water (Visit Tandus Powerbond for more information. It’s awesome . . . really.)
Tandus Carpet Tile
- Can also install without moisture mitigation, as long as there is no free water
- Note: The order must include Ethos backing and Omnicoat Technology, and be installed with Tarkett Tape (Omnicoat)
Tandus Adaptt LVT
- Floating floor with waved backing that allows the sub-floor to breath (Adaptt)
- Can be installed in areas with 95% RH or lower
- If 95%-99% RH, install with SureStart Underlayment – it’s impermeable to moisture/water vapor
Milliken Carpet Tile
- Open-celled cushion back – moisture vapor can “breathe through” (Milliken)
- Moisture guarantee – zero moisture claims in 25 years
- Also: lasts up to 40% longer because the cushion has “give” and fibers don’t get crushed (…We love Milliken – and feet love them too.)
Moisture Mitigation Systems:
These epoxy-like coatings penetrate into the slab to seal out moisture.
- Ardex MC Rapid or Schonox EPA – go-to options, good up to 100% RH (Ardex MC Rapid, Schonox EPA)
- Ardex VR98 – more cost-effective system, good up to 98% RH
We’re suspicious of these adhesives in general – their performance often does not live up to the marketing.
Mold, mildew, fungal and bacterial prevention:
To protect subfloors long-term from growing nasty stuff, BioProtect, is a product we can spray on the subfloor – it inhibits growth of mold, mildew, algae, bacteria, and yeast growth (costs just cents per square foot).
It’s very important to note that any moisture guarantees such as those above are conditioned on the presence of a high-quality vapor retarder (…and slab that’s 20+ years old may not have one). In general, be suspicious of marketing claims – as one of my mentors says, words don’t change the laws of physics and chemistry.
Speaking of physics, a quick note – with permeable floor-covering like Milliken and Powerbond, if solid-bottomed furniture or chair pads are placed on top, they can trap moisture and cause problems.
Even with the use of specialized flooring materials and ancillary products, moisture may still find a way to spoil a flooring project, so the best bet is to keep a moisture problem from occurring by planning in advance of a construction project – getting the architect, owner, GC, concrete contractor, and flooring contractor all on the same page to ward off any future problems. Once a moisture issue is present, however, there are some good options for dealing with it before flooring is installed.
We test for moisture often – and we also highly recommend getting an independent, third-party, certified moisture-testing company to provide a comprehensive report. A great option for that is IFTI – they have hundreds of certified testers around the country.
Please let us know if you have any additional questions on moisture or anything related to flooring!
Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org today!
How to Protect Your Carpet Investment:
Avoid these six common problems
Abby Reinhard, November 14, 2017
1.) Not enough vacuuming or carpet cleaning: Vacuuming at least daily is necessary for medium-to-heavy traffic areas — and a regular carpet cleaning program, based on your building’s traffic patterns, will extend the life of your carpet. If it gets really soiled, cleaning may be too late! Remember that every time someone steps on carpet, soil grinds and damages the fibers.
2.) Wrong carpet cleaning method: Commercial carpet can take a long time to dry from hot-water extraction cleaning. Wet conditions can cause stains to pull from the backing into the fibers of the carpet and can also damage carpet adhesives. Wet carpet causes downtime in a facility, increases risk of slip and falls, and causes security issues because of hoses propping doors open. Low-moisture encapsulation cleaning is often a better alternative.
3.) Inadequate entry matting: The more matting the better — walking on 6 feet of walk-off matting removes 40% percent of debris from the average person’s shoes and 39 feet removes 98% percent of debris from shoes. (*source) Outdoor mats should be a coarse material to scrape the bottom of the shoe, and indoor mats should have an absorbent material to dry the bottom of the shoe. (There are some nicer looking options than there used to be, thankfully!)
4.) Infrequent cleaning of matting: Entry matting must be cleaned at least daily — more frequently than the carpet — or it can become overloaded and non-functional.
5.) Salt: If absorbed, salt or deicer keeps carpet from drying as quickly as normal, creating a “sponge” for soil. Pre-treatment is often necessary in traffic lanes to prevent discoloration.
6.) Incorrect identification treatment of stains: As soon as spills and stains are noticed, they must be quickly identified and treated correctly. A maintenance plan should include an ongoing spotting plan. Having a spotting chart helps greatly with identifying stains and the proper method and chemical for removing the stain.
Breaking Down the Pros and Cons of VCT, LVT, Broadloom and Carpet Tiles
Abby Reinhard, March 14, 2017
Breaking Down the Pros and Cons of VCT, LVT, Broadloom and Carpet Tiles*
1.) Vinyl Composite Tile (VCT)
-Very affordable purchase price
-Durable with proper care and maintenance
-Limited aesthetics; can be associated with sterile environments
-Extensive and labor-intensive maintenance requirements with waxing and polishing
-Often not the most affordable option over the lifetime of the flooring due to maintenance required
2.) Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT)
-Wide range of design options that can mimic the look of natural stone, wood, or other designs at a substantially lower price
-Easy and inexpensive to maintain over product lifetime — no waxing necessary
-Excellent thermal and acoustic properties, reducing temperature fluctuation and noise levels over other types of hard flooring
-Doesn’t match the noise absorption of carpet
-Isn’t “bullet proof” — it can get scratches if hard furniture doesn’t have proper protection and digs into the floor
3.) Broadloom/Rolled Carpet
-Better acoustic profiles compared to hard surface flooring
-Conducive to large patterns and elegant designs
-Often less expensive than carpet tile
-Less durable than carpet tiles due to lack of multi-layered structure and built-in backing that protects the carpet fibers
-Difficult to maintain appearance because you can’t easily replace sections of the carpet for stains
-A lot of waste of material during installation due to fitting broadloom to interior spaces
4.) Carpet Tiles
-Acoustical benefits similar to broadloom
-Better structural integrity due to the composition of the carpet tiles
-Carpet tiles with built-in cushion can reduce wear and tear of the fibers and improve underfoot comfort
-Monochromatic carpet tiles can look like tiles, with visible seams. New designs disguise and/or embrace a modular look
-Often more expensive than broadloom/rolled carpet
*Note: I used Milliken’s Flooring Blog as a reference in creating this overview.
Abby Reinhard, September 30, 2016
In case it’s helpful, here’s some information about how many institutions we work with have gotten new floors without having to abate asbestos flooring (e.g. Vinyl Asbestos Tile).
A number of facilities directors and others have been grateful to learn about this option because it has saved them a lot of time, money and headaches.
So here goes… five things to know about luxury vinyl floating floors:
Luxury Vinyl “Floating Floors”:
- Require no adhesive on the subfloor — the tiles or planks either click together or simply lay on the floor in a stable and secure installation
- Need no wax, and are easy to clean and maintain with just wet mopping
- Offer many beautiful design options (wood look, stone, etc.)
- Come with heavy duty wear layers and stand up to traffic in busy areas including cafeterias and hallways
- Are offered on the NY State Contract!
Some might use this as a temporary solution and can easily have the tiles or planks pulled up when they do want to mitigate. You can even potentially re-use the flooring in another area in your facility.
Please let me or your GP salesperson know if you’re interested in learning more or would like to see samples. We’ll get right back to you.
As always, a big thanks from all of us at GP Flooring Solutions, your friendly WBE-certified, authorized flooring dealer on the New York State contract.
Please let us know how we can help!
Abby Reinhard, June 15, 2016
- Be sure to use a vacuum cleaner with a beater bar, which helps scrub the carpet and raise soil particles up and out of the carpet.
- Use “encapsulation cleaning” periodically to remove deep-down particles and oils. This process involves polymers that are applied to the carpet fibers, breaking down dirt and soil particles that are extracted easily by a vacuum cleaner that has beater bars. Quick drying time is a bonus — foot traffic allowed almost immediately.
- Use walk-off matting in vestibule and lobby areas so dirt and moisture are removed from footwear before reaching internal carpet or hard-surface areas.
- In addition to quickly blotting (not rubbing) a stain, be sure to clean it from the outside of the stain toward the center to prevent spreading the stain.
- If you have any snags or loose fibers in your carpet, don’t pull on them because that may damage the carpet. Instead, cut the strand at the height of the rest of the carpet.
And when all else fails and the carpet needs to be replaced, opt for carpet with high-quality, stain-resistant fibers that will last.
I hope this helps! Please let us know if you have any questions, or if you need more help keeping your floors clean! We’ve got you covered!