INSTALL: Understanding Contractual Flooring Obligations

Get it in writing, and know what you’re getting into

By Marty Murdoch, Executive Vice President, M.E. Sabosik Assoc. Inc.

<yoastmark class='yoast-text-mark'><yoastmark class='yoast-text-mark'>It’s also important to understand that if a moisture issue/remediation is not addressed in writing, then it’s assumed that the flooring contractor is at the very least testing for the presence of moisture.</yoastmark></yoastmark>

Let me tell you a story. A flooring contractor just spent several weeks on a major flooring installation project at a local office building. His team installed tile in the entrance, carpet in the call center, laminate in the kitchens, and hardwood in the conference rooms. Everything looked fantastic and the furniture was returned to where it belonged. The contractor does one final walk-through with the client and the project is paid in full, closed. He moves on.

Several months later, an employee at the building notices that the hardwood is cracking, cupping, and crowning. Down the hall, the laminate floor in the kitchen has raised pieces and feels squishy underfoot.

Almost immediately, the original contractor gets a panicked call from the facility manager. If there is an issue in these two rooms, can he expect the same to happen with the areas where tile and carpet were installed? Did an employee spill something? Is there a slow leak that’s causing this? Why is this brand new job already starting to deteriorate?

What Happened?

Someone on the installation team forgot to test for moisture in the subfloor. While the tile and carpet areas are fine for now, the hardwood and laminate installation is a disaster. The sad thing is that this happens all too often.

Improper installation happens every single day, in each and every state across America. It costs contractors, installers, business owners, and facility managers time and money, and often times it will come back to bite you as an installer or lead contractor.

A quality contractor will test for moisture. However, many others simply try to duck the issue. Regardless of the situation, costly and frustrating issues arise. It’s also important to understand that if a moisture issue/remediation is not addressed in writing, then it’s assumed that the flooring contractor is at the very least testing for the presence of moisture. This is where the importance of a professionally written and reviewed contract comes into play.

Some industry contracts say it is the responsibility of the installation contractor to inform all parties of moisture issues, and no notification will be construed as moisture being a non-issue. After that, if you put the floor down, it is your responsibility for any issues that arise. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict the possible consequences of this.

A simple disclaimer on your proposal as to who will test for moisture, and what will follow after, will open the dialogue and let everyone know who is doing what. Just remember that time and space do not always allow for discussing all aspects of your rights and responsibilities concerning contracts. There is much more to a contract than what you should do and how much will you be paid.

Avoiding the Issue Completely

“The most effective way to ensure a successful installation, free from error and moisture programs, is to only work with superior contractors,” says John McGrath, director of INSTALL, the International Standards and Training Alliance. “It is absolutely essential that effective, superior contractor standards be applied.”

A superior contractor can demonstrate that his crew is trained and certified with a proven track record. This contractor will/can interact with the owner, designer, general contractor, manufacturer, distributor, other trades and the installers. Important decisions, changes, and accommodations are exercised through this contractor.

Installer standards are important but almost impossible to enforce. Workforce schedules and rosters can change on a daily basis. A facility manager has to babysit the jobsite in order to monitor installer standards. A certified contractor will have control over their installers, and the contractual obligation to supply credentialed installers can be supervised and monitored much more successfully.

Tips for a Successful Installation

We live in a time of fast-track construction and very rarely have enough hours in the day to gather all the facts. However, before pricing a flooring job, it is incredibly important for flooring contractors to know their rights and obligations on every job their company undertakes.

Also, it doesn’t matter if you are a two-man firm, or a member of a large contracting firm, the importance of understanding the process can mean the difference between an easy, satisfying conclusion for all concerned, or a never-ending nightmare of finger pointing and recriminations.

The best way to accomplish a successful installation is to follow these steps:

  • Understand the project. Big or small every project brings its own set of questions. It is critical that you understand all parts of the puzzle.
  • Know the materials. Who is supplying the product? Sometimes the job at hand is a “furnish and install.” Sometimes you only install the owner’s material.
  • Make certain the job is installed to the proper specifications. If you do not do this, the term knowledge of an expert will begin to be thrown around, if anything goes wrong.
  • Follow the guidelines. As the professional installer, you will be expected to have followed all manufacturer guidelines. It is up to the expert to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. If there’s a question regarding conditions on site, then it’s incumbent on the contractor to raise those questions. Note: This will not make you the most popular subcontractor at the job meeting, but if you don’t speak up about substandard conditions, then you’re at your own peril.
  • Be smart! Even if you get the contractor or owner to sign off on the spec violation, that does not exonerate you of responsibility in case of a failure. You do not want to be sitting in front of a judge with the opposing attorney asking you if you knew there was a problem. Remember what was said about being the expert.


Finally, contracts are always changing and can be confusing, but they are always necessary. Know what you are agreeing to as a contractor or project lead, but in the end it is also your responsibility to hire and train professionals who know how to properly test and install flooring products. By simply doing it right the first time, you will very rarely, if ever, have to go back and deal with problems like moisture.


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