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Installments: Sweat the small stuff

February 2/9, 2015; Volume 28/Number 16

By Christopher Capobianco

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.23.02 PMI began working in this business in 1971 as an installer’s helper and since then have seen several sides of the floor covering process as a retailer, a manufacturer’s rep and an inspector. On the other hand, I have been a homeowner for almost 30 years so I have also been on the customer side of home improvements.

In recent years I have hired contractors for projects and the results have been mixed. My willingness to do business with contractors again or recommend them is not usually about the quality of the work, but about the details, as I learned from several recent experiences that inspired this column.

A multi-thousand-dollar roofing project was ruined for me because the trim came out badly, and a contractor on a siding project let me down because he left a mess at the end of every day. Floor covering installers often make the same mistakes. Small details stay with a customer even if she loves the floor covering and the installation is otherwise perfect. This kind of dissatisfaction will prevent her from recommending you to her friends.

Assuming that the customer knows what’s coming when she signs the contract for a floor covering project is mistake No. 1. What is common sense to those of us in the trade may not be so common to someone who has never had a flooring job done before. If the job starts with an angry customer saying, “I wasn’t told I’d have to move my furniture,” your company may never win that customer back, even if the installation is perfect and she loves her new flooring. Customers are often surprised when they hear that they have to stay off floors until the glue dries; don’t assume your customer knows how the process works. The same holds true for the question of how long an installation will take. Try to be realistic and honest with the customer, or you will risk being in a difficult situation and having to meet deadlines that can’t possibly be met.

The specifics of the actual installation are also important to review. It is common for a customer to say, “I didn’t know I would have a seam,” or “The salesperson said I wouldn’t see the seam.” These claims put enormous pressure on the installer and on the product to deliver on these promises.

The solution to these communication breakdowns is to be honest about what the product will do and to be sure the customer knows what’s going to happen when the installers arrive and after they leave. I’ve known installers and dealers that call a day ahead to confirm the time of arrival and review details. If material is delivered a day or two ahead of time, not only will the product acclimate to site conditions, but also the installation team can see what the scope of work is while reviewing details with the customer so she knows what to expect.

When the job is complete, double checking all the finishing touches is also important, be it a frayed edge of carpet in a doorway, a gap in a seam or the trim and molding work. It’s often rushed so installers can get out the door.

The point is that these finishing touches are very visible. Even if a customer complains and you come back to fix it, the negative impression is still there. A lot of times she has a busy schedule or other reasons that prevent her from calling back the installer, so she just “lives with it.” But it still bothers her and her impression of the entire job will be negative forever.

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Installments: How to effectively address claims

January 19/26, 2015; Volume 28/Number 15

By Sonny Callaham

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 3.47.40 PMOver the past 23 years of my career in floor covering I have been involved with every side of the claims process. I started out as the service department manager of a large flooring contractor in central Florida. My day-to-day responsibilities included many of the typical issues of any flooring contractor, but my favorite part was going out and meeting with clients to see what the problems were first hand. Many times the problem in person would be dramatically different than what was described on the work order. Sometimes the homeowner just wanted someone to come listen to her.

Before the process of resolving any claim can begin, all parties must fully agree to what the claim is about. Too often a flooring contractor thinks he understands the claim and develops a resolution process only to find out he was wrong about what the customer actually wanted or needed. Training installation managers to practice their communication skills and develop dialogue to get to the absolute root of the issue is a challenge.

There are generally two categories for claims: The customer could be unhappy with the installation or with the flooring itself. It is up to your installation manager to determine if the latter is a warranted claim against the manufacturer or if it is a result of not properly managing customer expectations.

Here are a few steps to maneuver through claims:

  • Have a united front. Claims resolution is warfare, and if your customer can create “dissension among the troops,” the claim gains that much more strength. Training your team to not discuss how unorthodox the original installers’ techniques may have been will help resolve your claim that much faster.
  • If you believe there is a justified claim against a manufacturer, ensure you have the proper documentation prior to submitting the claim. This can include date of installation, type of installation, materials used, run numbers of materials used, etc.

Providing your installation crews with quality materials not only helps ensure a proper installation, but will also more than pay for itself during a claim. Most manufacturers will have a complaint or claim form they can send you; having all the information needed to complete this form will help move along the claims resolution process.

  • Move swiftly to resolve claims. Identify the claim, coordinate the proper materials needed to resolve it and schedule a time to fix the problem.
  • Have a secondary person who can visit the jobsite in case the installation manager cannot determine how to correct the problem. If the root cause cannot be determined at that point and you believe the claim should be covered under a manufacturers’ warranty, contact the manufacturer for specific instructions. Never have the manufacturer’s rep visit the jobsite before your company has seen the installation.
  • Don’t be afraid to follow up. Any costs involved with having someone make these calls is less than having one customer tell everyone she knows that her flooring was installed incorrectly, and when the store tried to fix it they still didn’t get it right.

The secret to resolving claims is partnering with manufacturers that are willing to work with your team before, during and after the sale. If you have a question about a specific application, call the manufacturer and ask; they are ready to help you.


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Installments: Progress in concrete moisture testing

January 5/12, 2015; Volume 28/Number 14

By Jason Spangler

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 1.15.41 PMHuman nature often leads us to stick with the familiar. It seems safer that way. If that’s how people have always done it, it must be right, right? Well, as it pertains to measuring the moisture condition in concrete, advances in science are rapidly leading the industry away from its most common test method.

The most widely used test in America is the calcium chloride test (CaCl test). The earliest known reference to it is found in a flooring manufacturer’s installation guide from 1941.

In the test, desiccant crystals were placed at the slab’s surface and covered with a glass dome. Installers would let that sit for a night and then check in the morning to see if the crystals were wet. They called it the “dampness test,” but it was really a subjective “eyeball test.” If the crystals looked wet, the rationale went, the concrete must not be sufficiently dry.

By the 1960s, the qualitative dampness test had evolved into a quantitative test with numerical results. This newer version of the CaCl test purported to measure the volume (by weight) of moisture released across 1000 square feet over a 24-hour period. The test results were presented in pounds.

The ASTM later standardized the quantitative version of the CaCl test with language known as the F1869 standard. The calculated Moisture Vapor Emission Rate (MVER) of the test holds that an MVER below three pounds generally means the slab should be ready for installing flooring.

Reviewing the results

For many years, while other countries explored different ways to test the moisture conditions of concrete, use of the CaCl test and ASTM F1869 prevailed in the United States. Today, nearly half a million of these tests are conducted each year. However, along the way, floor installers noticed that moisture-related flooring failures remained a common and expensive problem. This was a condition begging for scientific inquiry.

In the 1990s, CTLGroup’s sophisticated testing laboratory conducted a series of scientific tests spanning a decade to assess the accuracy of the CaCl test. The group found that not only did the test not accurately present vapor emission rates, but also that MVER isn’t a reliable measure of the overall moisture condition of concrete.

The results clearly demonstrated that the CaCl test is—at best—only an indicator of surface moisture and fails to account for the moisture condition deeper within the slab. Every slab has a significant moisture gradient that moves toward equilibrium after floor installation; this means the CaCl test doesn’t really get at the critical question needed to determine when flooring can be installed: What will be the long-term moisture condition of the slab after floor installation?

Enter the relative humidity test

In contrast, the now widely recognized in-situ relative humidity (RH) test measures deeper into the concrete. A probe is inserted into 40% of the depth of the slab in order to measure the RH as a percentage. It has been shown that the moisture at a depth of 40% (when the slab is drying from one side) reflects the moisture condition of the slab that the floor covering will “see” over the long run.

Innovations in RH testing in the United States occurred rapidly once the F2170 standard came into being in 2002. RH testing has become fast and affordable. For more information about RH test kits, visit


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Installments: Cork, a guide for specification, installation, maintenance

November 10/17, 2014; Volume 28/Number 11

By Christopher Capobianco

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 4.24.30 PMCork tile has been around for about 100 years and is still widely used for floors and walls, especially commercially. I find it intimidates some people, but if specified, installed and maintained correctly, the result can be a beautiful, warm, quiet, environmentally friendly floor that will last for decades.

I’ve worked with cork full- time for the past 14 years, both in sales and as a technical consultant. I chaired the task group that created the brand new industry standard, ASTM F 3008, twice visited the cork forests and factories in Europe and have presented my seminar, “The Fascinating World of Cork,” to architects, floor coverers and interior design students since 2002. And yes, some of my friends call me “the cork dork of New York.”

A rapidly renewable material from the Mediterranean region, cork is bark from the cork oak tree, which is harvested and regrows every nine years or so. Cork bottle stoppers are the main byproduct of the trees, while all the material that isn’t used as corks becomes a variety of other products, including floor tiles.

Classified as resilient flooring, cork acts a lot like wood flooring but has characteristics of both.

Like wood, pay attention to proper temperature conditions, acclimate material on the jobsite and don’t install cork in a space that isn’t climate controlled. Also, don’t install it in very wet or sunny spaces, and maintain cork just like wood flooring.

Similar to resilient, the substrate for cork needs to be dry, very smooth and solid, so concrete moisture testing and substrate prep are critical.

Cork tile is best installed with water-based contact adhesive applied to the tile and the substrate. I have seen countless failures where a trowel-applied adhesive was used; don’t attempt that shortcut. Contact adhesive for cork has a 25-year track record, and it works. Once you get used to it, it’s easy and has advantages—it’s applied with a paint roller so you are off your knees and it’s a dry set so the floor can be walked on immediately. Just set the tile in place, bang with a rubber mallet and it’s done. You can coat the tile a day ahead of time, so one installer can prep the substrate while the other coats the tile.

The next day, clean the floor, coat the substrate, wait 30-45 minutes for the adhesive to dry and lay the tile. Some cork manufacturers are even offering pre-coated tile, but there is concern about its shelf life. Any older product may need to be coated on the back, anyway.

Cork is manufactured as pre-finished or unfinished homogeneous (through color) tile or pre-finished heterogeneous (veneer) tile. Homogeneous can be sanded and refinished, so it gets used in a lot of high-traffic commercial spaces. I’ve seen 50- and 60-year-old floors that are still in good shape. Urethane pre-finished is the most popular option today, and additional coats of urethane are often applied right after installation. For ongoing maintenance, this same process known as “screen and recoat” can be done periodically to keep a coating of urethane on the floor and prevent wear into the cork itself.

For daily maintenance, sweep or use a damp mop with wood floor care products. Use mats to keep off dirt and grit, protect from sunlight and make sure furniture has soft felt glides.

This is just a quick overview for cork floor tile. When used, installed and maintained correctly, it’s one of the most beautiful floor coverings I have seen.

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Installments: The installation VIP

October 13/20, 2014; Volume 28/Number 9

By David Stafford

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 3.28.48 PMThere is often that moment during projects when the wrong call can spell disaster, or when a cunning, astute decision pulls a win from certain defeat. Frequently, that very important person is the installation manager.

I once had a multi-story floor replacement project that was going down the tubes. It was July, the HVAC wasn’t working properly, there were other trades in the way, and the client was screaming at me.

So I went to my VIP, an installation manager with over 20 years of experience, to the site. “If we can’t find a way to fix this, it will cost us this job and our reputation,” I said. “That job is worth $300k and there are others coming.”

His novel solution was to temporarily pull in two other crews and assign our best field inspector as an on-site traffic manager to run interference. He was able to calm my client down, keep the crew from fighting with other trades and deliver the job on time.

It was not just my VIP’s knowledge and experience; it was also his calm demeanor in the face of absolute chaos and a screaming client.

“Yes, I know you’re upset, and we are behind schedule,” he said. “I know this is important, so let me tell you what we can do: If you reassign your other trades so we can get a clean area, we’ll have an extra crew here on Thursday to make sure we get back on schedule. Fair enough?” Presented with a solution, the client agreed, stopped yelling and made the necessary adjustments.

In another situation, my VIP’s task was to keep an installer, Jason, in the right frame of mind by listening to his feedback and giving positive reinforcement. Jason was exceptionally skilled at intricate pattern installation and certified on several types of flooring. However, he was high maintenance.

“Yes, Jason, I know the floor prep is taking more time,” my VIP admitted, “but we cannot kick everyone out of the area. What you’ve done so far looks great and the client is ecstatic. I’ll see if I can get you a little something extra, OK?” It really wasn’t the job or site conditions, or even a little extra money; Jason just needed to hear that someone appreciated the quality he was delivering, and my VIP knew that.

Conversely, an installation manager of whom we had high expectations ended up being a complete flop. Paul was an excellent former installer with a 25-year career. He spoke well, understood floor plans and related with the crew chiefs. However, he could never quite make the transition to that of a manager; he became their “change order advocate” rather than dealing with frivolous requests.

The final straw was when he got into a screaming match with a frustrated client rather than offering a solution. After that debacle, we agreed to part ways. He had loads of experience and charm, but he was not a manager. He simply lacked the emotional maturity that the position requires.

A great installation VIP must have industry experience, be emotionally stable, an insightful manager and a customer service pro. An integral part of his success will be how well he is trained in his position. The FCICA is now offering its Certified Installation Manager (CIM) program. This program was created by flooring experts from their years of experience and features various knowledge modules and testing. There is also valuable information for project managers, field supervisors and project coordinators, even for those not running crew labor. This would be an excellent requirement for your own VIP. Check it out at

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Installments: The amateur and the pro

Volume 28/Number 6; September 1/8, 2014

By David Stafford

Stafford,-DavecolorThere is a difference between the amateur and the pro, whether it’s selling or installing flooring. You get what you pay for and will pay for what you get, one way or the other.

The sales pro will listen and then offer multiple solutions to fix problems; the amateur will always have a solution, but it may not address the client’s needs (or her pocketbook).

There is often great frustration for the client when the amateur has his own agenda and is not listening. “We cannot use your in-stock color beige; I don’t care how quickly you can deliver or how good the pricing.” A pro will invest the time to ask a litany of questions, find out what is really important, and then offer suggestions. “What is your move-in date? What if I could offer a multi-level surface texture or something in a soft gray?” The smaller change can often make a huge difference in client perception.

The one area where you can count on the amateur for problems and mistakes is in jobsite analysis. This does not mean a cursory walk-through that an amateur would complete, just taking measurements. Rather, you should be looking for building access points for loading and unloading, obstacles to be avoided, debris on site, type of take up and disposal alternatives, substrate condition, moisture testing, method of installation specified or preferred, and furniture movement and replacement.

What is outlined (and priced) as a one-day job can turn into a three-day nightmare. By the time a troublesome job is done, the client, salesperson and the installer never want to see each other again and the client may short-pay the invoice because of the disruption. All can be avoided with a realistic site inspection.

Once an order is placed, shipped, received and admitted into inventory, it should be promptly and carefully inspected. Have you ever had blue carpet show up to be installed when brown had been specified? Or worse, were there streaks or tufting defects throughout the carpet roll? Even a new product that is off shade is subject to rejection, let alone glaring defects whether visual or technical. The pro knows skipping any steps in inspection after receiving can result in big problems. The amateur tries to deal with this at the client’s location and make amends; the pro handles it beforehand and the client may never know there even was a problem.

With flooring, most products must be delivered and installed to receive full value. You may visualize the amateur with a roll of carpet tied down to the top of his car or pickup truck versus the pro, who shows up with an extended cab van. And it’s not just delivery, but also the prep work on the site itself. Floors are patched, repaired, sanded down and swept/vacuumed before adhesive or padding is applied. When presented with a suspicious lump in the middle of a living room full of carpet, the amateur fixes it with a hammer. To get a tight stretch on carpet over pad, the amateur “kicks harder” while the pro uses a power stretcher. Several years ago, when having a house of carpet installed for a relative, I stopped the job because a power stretcher was not being used. You would have thought I suggested burning the Holy Bible!

It’s worth it for everyone involved to spend a few extra bucks and go pro.


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Installments: The 13 mental lapses

June 9/16, 2014; Volume 27/Number 29

By David Stafford

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 11.44.18 AMBoth independent installers and employees of flooring contractors risk losing a job because of personal conduct rather than technical expertise (or lack therof). Here are 13 examples from my own experience:

Walking off the job without telling anyone when job conditions are different than you expected. “This was supposed to be with moderate furniture and now I see we also have rubber-backed take-up in about half the area. Let’s just go have a beer.”

Being late. “Yeah, I know the job was scheduled to begin at 8 a.m., but I needed to have breakfast first and then make a pit stop. Besides, I can still get the job finished by the end of the day.”

Whining about job conditions or the product to be installed. “Why aren’t you giving me an empty glue down job instead of this strip and pad? You know I don’t like these, and besides, this carpet is awfully stiff and would be hard to stretch. I’ll probably have to get that power stretcher back from my cousin to do the job.

Repeated failure to show up for work, citing personal or family problems. “Well, I had to go to my grandmother’s funeral this past Saturday … No, that was my mother-in-law’s grandmother’s funeral last month.”

Using profane language to explain to the client why a job was not finished on schedule. “That @#%!@# manager, Joe, didn’t show up to let us in early, and other trades were in the way.”

Lapses in personal hygiene and appearance. “Well, since this was an unoccupied building, I didn’t take time to shave or take a shower and just wore shorts.” Unfortunately, the architect, project manager, owner and flooring company president were all walking the space in preparation for final acceptance of the job.

Smoking in occupied areas in a smoke-free building. “It was too much trouble to go outside for a Marlboro … No, I didn’t realize those fire alarms could be set off so easily.”

Failure to wear safety items such as hard hats and safety shoes on certain construction projects. “These shoes are uncomfortable and there’s no one around, so I’ll just switch to my Nikes.”

Failure to follow installation standards, such as seam sealer at all carpet seams. “That must be some really alkaline concrete to eat up all my seal sealer that quickly. That was cheap carpet anyway, and it’ll probably fall apart before you have trouble with my seams.”

Taking “shots” at getting extra money for work that was not done or exaggerating the amount of work that was necessary. “When we took the carpet up we had to spend eight hours patching.” (However, only three bags of patching compound were used on the job.)

Delays in providing pertinent job information. “I’ll just turn this next week when I get back from the beach.”

Using drugs while on the job. “It makes the day more harmonious, and since I’m relaxed I can make seams and kick carpet more quickly.”

Fighting with team members while on the job. “Yeah, I needed 30 stitches to close up that cut on my jaw. Tim called me an S.O.B. and I took a swipe at him with my carpet knife. I guess I forgot to duck.”

Lapses in judgment will happen and most clients (and employers) will understand as long as a pattern of behavior does not emerge. Real professionals don’t necessarily have the most technical skill or the lowest price; rather, they have a high standard of personal conduct and make fewer mental mistakes.

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Installments: Reading adhesive labels

May 12/19, 2014; Volume 27/Number 27

By Catherine Panagakos

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 11.20.19 AMDuring the 2014 FCICA convention in St. Petersburg, Fla., I fielded numerous questions specific to adhesives, with one continually being brought up by a number of contractors: “Why is it so important that I’m being required to use the adhesive that the [floor covering manufacturer] is recommending under its own brand? I’m using XYZ brand and besides it saving me money up front and helping the bottom line, I know it’s been working well because my installers say so.  On top of that, my installers complain that the label information is not only hard to read but really appears to just be a way for the manufacturers to cover themselves if a problem appears down the road.”

The answer to the question is very simple.

The recommended and/or required adhesive is specified to help provide satisfaction with the end result. Unless you’re the flooring manufacturer, it’s difficult to understand why it is necessary to use a specific brand-name adhesive. Just as all the adhesives on the market have specific formulations, the same goes for floor coverings, including VCT, solid or luxury vinyl, sheet material, carpet backings, linoleum, etc. They all vary and have nuances that may or may not set them apart, requiring special considerations in the developmental process.

Product labels are written together by the flooring manufacturer and partnered adhesive company to cover a variety of issues beginning with the adhesive description and its recommended use. Testing requirements, mixing instructions, trowel recommendations, subfloor prep and a number of other issues are addressed on the label. There is also an MSD listed on most labels; however, this is not a full material safety data sheet. There are numerous tests performed under rigorous circumstances, stretching the performance of the floor covering and the adhesive. Most adhesive manufacturers have developed specific properties for products, using proprietary raw materials to gain the best performance.

Most private labels are bilingual or trilingual. The labels can include one or two “pages” or may be a trifold; some also include booklets with recommended practices for various layouts. Sometimes there is a lot of writing on a small area, leaving an installer scratching his head. Even though the label may seem confusing and sometimes intimidating, this testing data helps the manufacturer’s technical support team assist you. If the installer gets to a point of confusion, it pays to call the technical support number listed on the label. The user should describe the conditions and the floor covering being installed, letting the experts offer guidance prior to the installation.

Most flooring manufacturers are more than willing and encourage installers to give them a call if there are any questions.  Most companies have toll-free numbers that can be called 24/7. Each manufacturer has experienced practices with adhesives.

The one thing to remember is all adhesives are different, even though the labels may read similarly. This is why a private-labeled adhesive is written as such, to protect end users as well as the flooring manufacturer.

Installers should remember to always read the label carefully and highlight any questions first. They should be sure to follow directions that fit each particular installation based on the material and conditions of the subfloor, gathering as much information as possible prior to calling the technical support number. Everything, no matter how trivial, can have an impact on the answers they may receive.  And, most important, installers must follow the floor covering manufacturer’s recommended practices—they are the experts on installing their materials.

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Installments: Going the extra mile is rewarded with success

Volume 27/Number 23; March 17/24, 2014

Stafford,-DavecolorBy David Stafford

Luck is all about taking the right steps when you get an opportunity to make a sale. This is particularly true in selling a commercial package of products.

You receive a call from Steve, a property management client you’ve pursued for over a year. “I need some help,” he says. “I’ve got a chance to land a new tenant, Magellan, for my Ascot Building property.” Ascot is a Class A property. Steve continues, “They’ll take my prime space but are really pushing me for ‘extras’, and the last area I have to wow them with is flooring. Can you put together some products and ideas for me to do a presentation on Friday?” Continue reading Installments: Going the extra mile is rewarded with success

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Installments: Why should I attend Surfaces?

January 6/13, 2014; Volume 27/Number 18

Swift, GerryBy Gerry Swift

Maybe I’ve been in a rut. Maybe I need some new ideas, a fresh approach or just some enthusiasm for flooring after a tough 2013. There is no better way to ignite those competitive fires than investing the time and money for a concentrated agenda of seminars, meetings, non-stop new ideas and networking. Yes, you have to be away from the familiar grind for a few days, but it’s worth it. Continue reading Installments: Why should I attend Surfaces?