Acclimation is defined as the process in which a product adjusts to a change in its environment, allowing it to maintain performance across a range of ambient conditions. Temperature, relative humidity, dew point and weight of water within the air (grains per pound), are known as ambient conditions. GPP is the physical weight of water in the air. For example, think of a mist or fog, if it’s at 100%.
Adaptation and reaching equilibrium are also words used to explain acclimation; which is explaining the process of a product adjusting to the environmental conditions of a space.; such as the interior ambient conditions, temperature and relative humidity? Expansion and contraction of product is directly related to ambient conditions.
The flooring products of today are specifically engineered for performance under specific conditions. They are continually subject to moisture content of the intended space of the installation. Acclimation is necessary for moisture sensitive products with various components or layers of wood, vinyl, with adhesive; examples as engineered, solid, layered, composite and the adhesives used to hold together the different layers. Carpet also requires acclimation before installation as in, relaxing the carpet prior to seaming. It is delivered from a cold warehouse to a climatized space, as it relaxes it will expand, resulting in bubbles.
Within the wood installation industry, the acclimation of product has been known and performed for many years. Wood is a moisture sensitive product. Remember the basic rule, as a tree, water is the friend of wood, as a processed flooring product, water is the enemy.
Today’s flooring products — LVT, LVP, sheet vinyl, VCT, solid vinyl and wood as engineered, solid, and laminate, are all moisture sensitive requiring some level of acclimation (also referred to time on site). The manufacturer guideline has instructions on what to do:
- Open the wrapping to allow the environment to enter the box
- Take out the product and dry lay
- Open the box and stack criss cross to allow air to ventilate through the boxes
- Place product into the various rooms for installation
- Don’t place at jobsite in one condensed pile
- Ensure HVAC is not only operational but working as well
There are guidelines for carpet products as well. Layout the cut carpet for 24 hours prior to seaming, stretching or glue down. Successful product acclimation requires a continually functioning HVAC system within the space for a minimum of 3 days prior to delivery of any moisture sensitive flooring product.
For proper acclimation, the HVAC system must be not just operational, it needs to be working as intended. This means you, the flooring installer, must communicate with the general contractor as to your responsibility for acclimation and his responsibility to provide a space, not just for security but with proper climate control. And the GC needs to ensure the HVAC is working evenly through the day — prior to, during and post installation.
Along with the acclimation time, there is the moisture testing of the substrate, whether concrete or wood. The installer does have a responsibility to perform according to standards of manufacturer guidelines, in reference to moisture testing and jobsite conditions at time of delivery. ASTM 2170 and 1869 as well as impedance meters, (with a pin attachment for wood) are common test methods for substrate moisture.
If a moisture sensitive product is to be installed, you must explain the parameters of the requirements. Discuss with the owner, architect and general contractor, show them the guidelines.
Job #1: 4’ length vinyl cove base is to be installed as flooring is completed. The cove base goes up, the same day it was brought to jobsite. A few weeks later, the customer calls describing gaps between the 4’ pieces. Why? The cove base had a shrinkage of material due to ambient conditions and installing materials not acclimated. Solution: Deliver and acclimate the flooring and the cove base together for 1-3 days before the job begins. Same conditions apply to vinyl edge and transition trims.
Acclimation is the process required for any moisture sensitive products, to meet equilibrium. That statement encompasses anything within building products, not just flooring. Just like concrete slabs, they need 30 days prior to any flooring work; this is a form of acclimation although it’s called curing. Some carpet needs to off-gas for 24 hours, fiber has to blossom, backing needs to relax and settle from being rolled tight for perhaps weeks on a shelf or rack.
Job #2: Carpet is shipped via truck from a non-climatized storage location for a distance of 1,000 miles (from a mild winter southern area to a winter cold climate with a 50-degree F difference), from 60F to 10F.
Once the carpet piece is delivered to the shop, it needs to be unrolled and relaxed prior to cutting. After cutting, the carpet then gets rolled again and delivered to jobsite. Those cut pieces must be unrolled and allowed to relax and the fiber blossom for a minimum of 24 hours prior to installation procedure.
Job #3: When you spread adhesive, consider both the open time and working time. These are examples of acclimation, as well. Open time related to the adhesive off-gassing, as when a carpet fiber blossoms. Working time is the actionable duration time of the adhesive, time to allow you to align patterns or planks before the adhesive sets.
Wood component products (hardwood and laminate) are porous and absorb moisture causing expansion. The terms expansion and contraction are important to understand, even concrete will expand and contract. Proper acclimation will reduce negative issues after installation.
Acclimation guidelines of flooring products are intended to prevent future failures of performance. It is not an excusable function of the flooring process for installation. Can a plumber, electrician or bricklayer take a step out of their installation process without having a failure? Can the concrete contractor leave out a step or reduce/eliminate components when mixing/pouring the concrete? How about the stucco installer who mixes the cement with the sand and other bonding ingredients, can they leave out a step?
If the answer is no, why would you the flooring installer leave out an important step for product performance to accommodate a schedule that is late in performance? Are you ready going to risk a failure?