Unless your schools are very different from all others, there’s one part of them that gets more use and abuse than anything else — the floors. The hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of feet that traverse your school every day, not to mention sliding desks, chairs and equipment, put a lot of mileage on whatever type of flooring material is down there.

Yet, the amount of wear those floors can withstand depends as much upon“who” installs them as what covers them. Be it carpeting, tile, wood or even linoleum, improper installation can substantially foreshorten their lifespan. For school districts, that can spell wasted money. While you may be under the impression that the people installing your flooring are properly trained, this may not be the case. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, 43 percent of all carpet, flooring and tile installers and finishers are self-employed, and most of them learn on the job.

Since most publicly funded contracts for flooring installation are awarded on the basis of being the lowest and, purportedly, the best, you may very well need to make sure the people doing the job have the training required to do it correctly.

Perhaps you’re thinking,“What could possibly happen?” After all, how hard can it be to lay tile or carpet? You don’t want to wait for an installation failure to find out?

When the Glue Doesn’t Stick

Lew Migliore, a carpet industry troubleshooter, calls himself “the forensic pathologist of the (carpet) industry.” Through his company, LGM Technical Carpet Services , he’s seen just about anything that can go wrong. A lot of the time, it has nothing to do with the quality of the product itself.

That message is echoed by John Kozak, manager of Installation and Technical Services for Tarkett Commercial . Even though your installers may be properly trained, carpeting and flooring installations can be compromised from the outset, particularly on new construction.

As Kozak explains, flooring installers and finishers usually are among the last ones to complete their work on a building site. Inevitably, various phases ofconstruction tend to hit delays, so when the deadline approaches, it’s the flooring people who are hardest pressed to complete their work on time.“One of the last products going in is the flooring, and they’re (installers and finishers) under the gun,”says Migliore.

Often, this means that the concrete underlay they have to work with may not be dry enough or sufficiently cured before the carpeting or tile is applied. Moisture-related issues alone can spell installation disaster. “Flooring should be installed in the climate conditions that it’s going to be used,” Kozak says.

Moisture-related alkalinity problems can cause adhesive release or breakdown, explains Migliore. Then there are other problems, such as using too little adhesive, or using a poor-quality adhesive. Not following the manufacturer’s recommendation for specific adhesives also may cause the product to fail, Kozak adds. Another adhesive failure, though fairly rare, is adhesive bleed through.

Migliore comments that a failure could even be caused by something as basic as using the wrong carpeting or flooring in the wrong place. In addition, any unevenness of the concrete underlay will be exacerbated, particularly in the case where vinyl tile or sheet goods are used. “The sub-strait must be clean, dry and free of imperfections and contaminants,” Migliore says.Even with properly trained and experienced trades people, the net result of these various issues can be carpet that lifts up or buckles, or tile that slides, cracks or buckles. In any case, you’re looking at a serious reduction in the lifespan of those flooring products.While the use of carpeting and vinyl tile is expected in educational settings, the trend toward brightly colored learning environments and green schools has prompted designers to introduce more naturally based products like linoleum into school settings. Though not very often, there are times, Kozak says, when the expectations for those products outstrips the products’ performance abilities, and maintenance issues arise.

The floor covering industry doesn’t have the ability to make installer training and certification mandatory. It can only recommend them. So, when you factor in those installers who aren’t properly trained and certified for these types of jobs, you can have the ingredients that spell product failure.

Flooring By the Seat of Their Pants

One of the primary reasons that installers may not be industry-trained and certified is that training is not free. According to Werner Braun, president of the Carpet and Rug Institute , an installer’s profit margin may be too low to make training and certification cost effective.

Braun says that proper installation is of paramount importance. Also, there are numerous well-qualified, well-trained installers in the industry, though many of them do receive their training on the job.

One main method of on-the-job training, Kozak explains, may be an on-site product installation demonstration by the manufacturer. He adds that many of them are done for job starts, often at no charge to the contractor.

Migliore, however, says that while “on-site training” may be a somewhat viable alternative to no training, it isn’t a guarantee against installation failure.

Installers should be aware of even the basic standards for flooring and carpet installation. Braun says the Carpet and Rug Institute has codes and standards available for commercial installation.

“Some installers don’t even know there are standards,” Migliore says. “There’s information available out there.”

In addition to the Carpet and Rug Institute, installation standards data can be found through industry-related organizations, such as the Resilient Floor Covering Institute and the Certified Floorcovering Installers Association .

According to Kozak, manufacturer-based training is available in a number of venues, including at the manufacturer’s headquarters and through their distributors. “Our industry, like every other industry, is changing,” he says. “It’s important for the independent contractor (installer) to go back for training or, at least, get a copy of the manufacturer’s installation manual.”

The Certified Floorcovering Installers Association, Migliore says, offers numerous methods and opportunities for installers to obtain training and certification at a reasonable cost. So why don’t all flooring installers bother to obtain that training?

Show Them the Money

Kozak says he finds some of the older installers are more resistant to obtaining training and certification. They’ve been doing the job for years, so why do they need training now? But materials and adhesives change, he says, so “independent installers need to be proactive” by learning about these changes.

The largest problem, Migliore says, is that installers seldom are given any financial incentive to get that training andcertification. Often, these self-employed installers, rather than the general contractors, have to ante up for the training and certification, yet they don’t receive higher pay for having obtained that training. “They (installers) should be paid for their training and skills and their advanced education,” Migliore says. He suggests greater incentives, such as increasing their pay if they go to the trouble and expense of obtaining the training and certification themselves, or, at least, that contractors consider paying for training installers. “The better the installer is, the better the flooring contractor is,” he remarks.

“You have to make it worth their while,” Migliore says.