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Installments: Acclimation- Foundation for successful installations

Jan 4/11; Volume 30/Number 14

By Christopher Capobianco

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 3.44.46 PMAs we approach colder months, it is wise to think about the way we work in times of extreme temperatures. Acclimation is the process of getting flooring materials to a jobsite in advance so the temperature of the space and material are the same during installation. While this is common practice in the wood and laminate segments, it is often ignored in resilient and carpet.

If you have ever handled cold carpet, you know it can be stiff as a board. But if you get the material on site a day or two ahead of time, it becomes much easier to install, and since cold carpet tends to “grow” as it warms after installation, you will have fewer complaints about buckling.

Resilient flooring is no less difficult to work with when cold and can react after installation if temperature conditions are not suitable. For example, installing resilient floors that are warm can lead to shrinkage problems later on, and cold materials are harder to work with and tend to expand when the space goes from cold to warm after installation.

Wood underlayment tends to expand slightly when it goes from cold to warm, or shrink going from warm to cool. In either case, this could cause joint telegraphing or worse if flooring is adhered to it.

Adhesives and patching materials are also temperature sensitive. When planning to acclimate your floors, don’t forget the sundries. Freeze/thaw stability refers to an adhesive’s ability to work even if it is frozen and then thaws out. However, even if it doesn’t freeze, workability, open time and cure time can vary widely when it is extremely cold or warm. I find adhesives like epoxy and polyurethane are much harder to spread and take much longer to cure when they are cold. On the other hand, they set up very fast when warm, so you have to spread the adhesive all at one time.

At this time of year, winter acclimation is on my mind. However, if this were early summer, I’d be no less concerned. I worry about vinyl flooring and accessories most of all when the weather is hot. I have seen significant problems with rectangular products such as wall base, edgings and vinyl plank. These products are easy to stretch during handling. Even carrying cartons over your shoulder and allowing the box to bend, or pulling warm material out of the end of the carton can stretch vinyl plank or wall base ever so slightly. Vinyl edgings are easy to stretch end to end as you are setting it into the adhesive. Whether the installer stretches it or it has expanded slightly from the heat, material installed in this state will look excellent with tight seams until the temperature cools. The gaps that show up are thought of as shrinkage, but if you measure it, the material is actually returning to its original size. If you ever notice a vinyl flooring installation in which flooring, reducers or wall bases are gapped, it is probably because the job was done in the summer and the material was not properly acclimated.

Of course, none of this matters if you arrive at the jobsite and there is no climate control. If that is the case, decline the job. The good news is many construction workers understand that temperature is important for interior finishes, so the use of temporary climate control systems is becoming common on construction sites.

All flooring materials have acclimation recommendations as part of the installation instructions, but these are often ignored. Following them avoids some common issues and eliminates complaints.