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Minor versus major floor prep

by Lew Migliore

The installation of any flooring material requires the subfloor or substrate to receive some type of preparation before the installation takes place. That could be as simple as acclimating the space to the appropriate temperature prescribed by the flooring manufacturer so the material is not shocked when it comes in contact with the substrate.

But the questions arise: What amount of floor prep should be done as part of the bid work for the installation? And, what amount is extra that would not be considered part of the standard practice for installing the flooring material?

Minor prep work would be scraping the old adhesive off the floor so it is smooth; no ridges, high spots or residue which would impede the application of new adhesive or prevent adhesion.

Patching the substrate to even out rough spots, dips, depressions or anything that may telegraph through the new flooring would be minor prep work as long as it just involved troweling on patch.

Minor prep work should be a simple process that does not require extensive and involved processes or procedures; namely those things that would be considered part of a normal installation process.

To make a comparison we can use the analogy of washing the car, drying it and then applying a coat of wax to produce a clean shiny surface.

Major floor prep, on the other hand, would involve a process requiring something other than a simple scraping of old adhesive and application of patch to specific spots. It would involve mechanical scraping of old adhesive, applying a sealer to the old adhesive to prevent reaction, such as containing cut back.

It could also be grinding the subsurface to remove old adhesives or bead blasting the substrate, applying a sealer and a top coat of cementitious material.

Applying a leveling agent overall would be considered major prep as would leveling the substrate.

Major prep could also be putting down a separate sealer for a minor moisture or porosity issue, which could be as simple as an application of latex, or more involved with a specific moisture reducer. Major prep work would also include filling cracks, ramping up the substrate so that two different thicknesses of flooring material could meet evenly or treating large cracks with special fillers.

It could also be applying a leveling agent over a ceramic floor to even grout lines so the new flooring would be level and not show any substrate inconsistencies.

To make a comparison with the car again, this would be like sanding, filling and preparing the car for new paint that will make it shiny and new; a lot more than just washing and waxing.

When you have to start making changes to the substrate to accommodate the installation of new flooring material that involves more than just a simple scraping and patching, you’re into major floor prep. This work should involve an additional charge. All commercial flooring contractors know this but many residential dealers who do Main Street commercial work or who may even chase some major commercial job often don’t.

Major floor prep is a completely separate aspect of the installation process. If a substrate is not conducive for receiving a new flooring material, especially one that requires near perfection, it will require whatever it takes to make sure nothing from beneath spoils the surface appearance of the new material and that means extra work.

Making the substrate acceptable to receive new flooring can be as simple, and minor, an undertaking as scraping off old adhesive with razor scrapers or as involved as refinishing or reconfiguring the entire surface. One is minor and part of the normal installation fee, the other major and a completely different undertaking for which there is a separate charge.