Make Floor Prep Part of Your Work, Not an Add On Item

By Robert Blochinger

Floor preparation is a work action, related to a substrate, prior to the installation of a floor covering product.
Floor preparation is a work action, related to a substrate, prior to the installation of a floor covering product.

The words floor prep are defined as preparation; to prepare. Therefore, floor prep would precede installation. If it’s done as an afterthought or add on, then it’s too late. Let’s review the definition, as we know it, in reference to flooring installation

The floor covering industry has formulated a standard for flatness and levelness, which are two entirely different properties of a substrate to which a floor covering is installed, i.e. carpet, tile, wood. There is also a numeric value placed with the symbol in reference to architectural drawing and installation specifications:

  • Ff symbolizes flatness
  • Fl symbolizes levelness

 

Now, let’s review the definitions for floor prep and transition build up:

Floor Preparation is a work action, related to a substrate, prior to the installation of a floor covering product. Floor prep ensures the floor covering product will perform as intended and specified. This act of preparation can be mechanical or chemical. Sanding ridges, grinding high spots, floating depressions (trowel application with a cement-based floor patch), scraping off foreign debris (via hand blades or machine), application of cement-based self-leveling compound, or any other labor and/or materials required to make a sub-floor flat. This floor prep work is not an installation act. It is a separate pre-requisite action for a successful floor covering installation.

Transition build up is the work action required to make two transitional areas of different heights flat, an ADA requirement. It also eliminates trip hazards and possible floor covering product damage by covering a transition height difference that will protrude through the floor covering product and create a negative issue.

Transition build up is the work action required to make two transitional areas of different heights flat, an ADA requirement.
Transition build up is the work action required to make two transitional areas of different heights flat, an ADA requirement.

As an installer, whether you are an owner-operated company with a helper, or a multi-personnel company with salespersons, the issue of floor preparation is the same. It must be identified and discussed prior to any job start. Waiting until you have started the job, or removed any existing floor covering only to find out preparation is required, is gambling on your workmanship. This is what makes floor prep an “add on.”


TIP: Hard surface products (wood, tile, laminate, vinyl) require a tolerance of 1/8” in 10′, and are more sensitive to flat surfaces than a soft surface product (carpet, broadloom and tile).


Further, to avoid any issues later, it’s imperative to visit a jobsite when the call first comes. If you’re quoting off a set of plans and the site is not yet built, then detailed line item descriptions must be included in your pricing. I learned long ago to include a budget for floor prep action with a pre-loaded change order within my quote or contract. This one small insertion is not within the bottom line of the regular work quote; rather, it’s a change order that can be executed when the substrate is finally inspected for floor covering acceptance. Keep in mind, WE do not make the rules, the product does, as in the manufacturers who have researched the viability of the product prior to release for sale, thereby upholding their product warranty, maintenance and performance for the expected life of the product.

Considering floor prep as an “add on” is just plain backwards!

There are times when a contractor or owner will say, “Well, if you don’t install it, then will find someone who will!” Some of you will walk away. There goes your reputation and not to mention, the valuable time and effort already spent.

However, if you have already prepared a quote for floor prep, and had the discussion with the owner or contractor prior to job start, then there is no real problem. They understand the possibility of prep work and have the quote, so getting an approval is easy. Compare a wall that has had wallpaper removed. There is some drywall material coming off, and the face of the wall is damaged. The drywall is then patched, sanded, and patched again. Why is the substrate given a different consideration? Wall prep and floor prep have the same considerations.

There is always the issue where you give the perception that the floor preparation quote is another way of increasing your pricing, especially after a moisture test reveals elevated levels requiring remediation. This can be costly and create a major problem with the contractor and owner. After all, to them you’re just the installer so what could you know about construction?

Actually, you know enough that you cannot warranty the installation because the manufacturer will not stand behind your work. You did not follow their guidelines! Your general insurance will never cover negligence on you workmanship decisions.

Floor prep ensures the floor covering product will perform as intended and specified.
Floor prep ensures the floor covering product will perform as intended and specified.

To further the preparation discussion, the use of a third party may be required. A third party is a person who has no financial interest in the scope of work to be performed. They can back up your concerns. They have hourly rates or a flat fee for a site evaluation, testing and consulting required for bringing the substrate within acceptable standards. This could include, flatness, level, moisture content, pH, measure of work area, products to use for best results and any other considerations that requires a disinterested party.

Members of the National Institute of Certified Floorcovering Inspectors (NICFI) are all certified in numerous disciplines of flooring and have no interest on work scope profit. Typically, inspectors are called in after a problem has surfaced. Using them in prior to installation will ensure proper floor preparation with a successful installation.

Preparation is the key to any endeavor. Going fishing, on a vacation, your wedding, without prep these events would not happen and become a complete failure.

Why is the substrate prep and different? Why is there always time and money to fix, replace a prep oversight but there’s never time available during the initial preparation phase? I could never understand this way of backward, expensive thinking.

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