A Clean Sweep

Proper installation of an educational facility’s floor — whether it be hardwood in the gymnasium, carpet in the library or flash-coved resilient in the science lab — solves only a portion of the challenge for a school’s flooring project. An essential aspect of the equation is a well-thought-out maintenance program.

Flooring maintenance programs are often pushed to the back burner when school budgets and manpower are stretched. However, that decision could stress tight budgets and janitorial schedules even more because of premature floor failure and the need for replacement. Instead, commit to allocating human and financial resources up front to care for a facility’s floor system properly.

A maintenance program should begin as soon as the floor is installed, and maintenance services should be performed frequently. Creating and keeping to a maintenance schedule — one with accountability measures built in — is a must-have best practice in order to stay proactive.

“Cleaning a floor before it looks dirty is the secret to achieving a long lifecycle of the floor, especially for carpet — a material that is constructed to hide soil,” says John McGrath, director of the International Standards and Training Alliance (INSTALL), a training and certification program of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters for about 10,000 professional flooring installers throughout the USA and Canada.

“If the carpet is maintained properly, the life expectancy of the material could double.”

The most common maintenance plan is called “periodic reactive cleanings.” Under this program, high-traffic areas are cleaned monthly, and then bi-monthly for medium-traffic sections and once a quarter for low-traffic areas. However, the means of cleaning is another important decision.

The hot water extraction method — or steam cleaning — is widely used, mostly on older carpet for spills and spots. Rotary bonnet cleaning is popular with janitorial services, but it is NOT recommended by flooring mills and manufacturers because it drives soil down into the carpet. The result could be discoloration and a shortened life-cycle.

Dry and low-moisture cleaning, used mainly on new carpet or after carpet has been properly restored, is a smart choice for a preventive maintenance program. Low-moisture chemistry provides protection on fiber, which allows dirt to be easily removed by daily vacuuming and future cleanings. This method is most effective when used as part of a frequent, comprehensive maintenance program as opposed to periodic reactive cleanings.

Aside from carpeting, pay equal attention to all of an educational facility’s flooring for regular maintenance. Resilient (VCT, sheet vinyl, linoleum, rubber, etc.), ceramic, stone and wood must be preserved with inspections for tears, bubbles, chips and cracks. Cleaning surface soil and impurities is imperative, not only for the life-cycle of these materials, but also because improper maintenance on these surfaces can lead to problems on the adjoining carpet.

Maintenance programs are essential to the finished floor, but the foundation of a floor’s performance is found in the subfloor, prior to its installation.

Moisture in the substrate, improper use of patch or leveling compound and installation of flooring and adhesive over poorly prepared subfloors are the leading causes of a shortened life-cycle of a floor. In fact, flooring industry research shows that 85 percent of floors fail due to improper subfloor preparation.

Every manufacturer of floor covering has specific statements regarding the moisture content of the substrate to receive their flooring and the proper method of moisture testing. This information must be made known to the specifier, architect, general contractor and flooring specialist. Moisture, and its rate of movement through substrate, is a critical factor in the success or failure in the application of flooring materials.

Bond failure is a time-consuming and expensive maintenance issue to fix. Prevent that by addressing proper installation during the specification process. Causes of bond failure include inadequate adhesive application from an incorrect trowel notch size and/or trowel notch configuration, improper adhesive selection or quality, incorrect open time, residual curing compounds, moisture-related problems and premature traffic or cleaning before adhesives have adequately cured.

Failure to adhere to these specifications will result in mold and bacteria issues on surfaces, thanks to excessive moisture.

Testing for moisture in the substrate should be part of every flooring project. There are two categories of moisture tests — qualitative tests determine if moisture is present and quantitative tests reveal how much moisture is present.

When moisture tests fail, a competent contractor will know that his options are to either refuse to begin the floor’s installation until an acceptable moisture level is reached, use a suspended flooring system or an acceptable moisture barrier or change the flooring material.

Site conditions are major factors in the long-term success of an installation, including ambient temperature, humidity and proper subfloor preparation. Culprits contributing to improper preparation can center on the patch or leveling compound. Issues arise from giving the material inadequate drying time, applying it too thick, using the wrong primer for the type of substrate specified or using the wrong product for on-or-below-grade projects.

Improper floor preparation is also found if a contractor takes shortcuts, such as filling-in low spots with adhesive, which will cause the flooring to indent. Or, the contractor may use patch when underlayment board is needed, or he may ignore the fact that the flatness tolerance is not achieved prior to installing floor covering, or he may not even check the substrate for flatness at all.

“The importance of training cannot be stressed enough for men and women who enter an educational facility to complete a flooring project,” McGrath explains. “INSTALL professionals are trained over four years, in more than 100 learning modules, and then are tested to make sure they not only comprehend, but also demonstrate, their understanding by mastering installation techniques.”

INSTALL also has a certification process for carpet, resilient and wood installers. The test is difficult to pass, but contractors are quickly realizing that hiring only certified INSTALL professionals for their crews means having a highly productive workforce.

The following specification information can be implemented in the different sections of Division 09 in the master specification: 096000 Flooring, 096100 Flooring Treatment, 096200 Specialty Flooring, 096400 Wood Flooring, 096500 Resilient Flooring, 096700 Fluid-Applied Flooring, and 096800 Carpeting.

Part 1 - General: Quality Assurance - Installers: Skilled trades people enrolled in a state-approved apprenticeship program, or certified by a training and certification program equal to the INSTALL program. Key attributes include: four-year apprenticeship program, 160 hours a year, career-long training, manufacturer-endorsed training and fundamental journeyman skills certification

In paragraph format, the following language is suggested: INSTALL certification is a requirement for journeymen floor coverers, or membership in a state-certified apprenticeship program is a requirement for floor coverers who have not yet become journeymen, to be eligible to install flooring on this project.
Clearly, taking care to preserve the life-cycle of a flooring project should begin as early as the specification process. Getting the proper contractor on the project — one who has the skilled manpower to recognize the myriad of situations that could present maintenance issues down the road for a newly installed floor — is the most effective maintenance strategy a facility manager can leverage.

John McGrath is the director of INSTALL and director of the International Standards and Training Alliance, an installation training, certification and marketing program that includes more than 100 industry mills, manufacturers and suppliers as partners. For more information, visit www.installfloors.org.