Appointed by FloorworX as Technical Advisor two years ago, Roy Sinclair has added considerable expertise and experience to the service the company provides to specifiers and contractors on the range of quality vinyl products within the FloorworX sales programme.

Having worked in the flooring industry for over 26 years, Roy learnt his trade with local contractors as well as local and international manufacturers and by operating his own contracting business before moving to FloorworX, thus acquiring the knowledge to provide a service that is largely unparalleled these days.

FLOORS in Africa interviewed Roy to find out what’s good and what’s not in the realm of vinyl installation, on-site requirements, pre-installation preparation, common pitfalls, the tools, and the service he is now able to provide to clients.

Taking a look at the current situation in the flooring industry, Roy says there have been considerable developments over the past few years with the introduction of better products, better systems, and more efficient installation techniques.

Apart from LVT, what would you rate as the most interesting development in vinyl flooring?

Polyurethane Reinforcement (PUR) was a great advance, but it is essential that the flooring contractor uses the correct equipment, nozzles and operating temperatures or it is easy to ruin a beautiful product. PUR needs more care when installing than the traditional vinyls like Superflex, which I still regard as the workhorse of the industry.

The substrate for a vinyl floorcovering must be perfectly smooth otherwise imperfections will ‘grin through’ on the surface. What are your views on that?

You get two different types of substrate to lay on: one where they power-float the floor to provide the smooth finish required by the manufacturer; and the other where the finish is achieved with smoothing compounds or selflevelling screeds.

In my view, self-levelling is the guru of floor preparation – it’s a very simple process, but you must have the proper tools. With the proper tools is it possible to do up to 1 000m² a day with a superb finish for the installer.

However, what the building industry must remember is that flooring contractors are surface experts; they are not supplying the substrate or subfloor at all. When they get on site they don’t know what the moisture levels are, or what compounds or cement mixes have been used.

If the building contractor says the substrate is suitable for laying, the installer can carry on, but if the flooring contractor doesn’t like what is presented to him, he should walk away. If he allows himself to be bullied into doing the job then he is asking for a whole lot of trouble… By going ahead, it means he has accepted the project as it stands – the substrate, the moisture content, the adhesives, everything – and he can be held responsible if the floor fails.

The flooring contractor must study the contract carefully, and get written instructions from the architect or the main contractor saying he can proceed. If there is anything that he is uncertain of, he should put that in writing and accept the work on those terms. It is also particularly important that he take his own moisture-level readings to satisfy himself that the subfloor is suitable to work on.

Moisture is responsible for about 90% of floor failures. Concrete drying times also have a role to play here, but if the flooring contractor is worth his salt, he will test the levels before he starts work.

If the floor tests far too wet, he will come up with a remedy that will include a moisture barrier. But many flooring contractors will not guarantee that, because they know that in these instances the moisture will eventually break through, the moisture barrier will start flaking and the moisture will then take the easy way out and start going up the wall. In cases like this, the client often has to spend more putting it right than the cost of the original flooring!

After moisture, what’s the next problem?

The spreading of adhesive and the general workmanship. I also believe that if you buy a FloorworX floor, you should buy a FloorworX adhesive to go with it. The same applies to other products.

For instance, if you use someone else’s bonding material with their adhesive, and so forth, the manufacturer will pick it up and absolve his product. And it will probably affect the warranties as well, so don’t mix and match the materials.

Furthermore, in my experience many of the problems are due to bad installation through the use of incorrect or poor tools, broken tools, broken stretchers with boards missing – the list is endless!

What other tips do you have for the flooring contractors?

The best advice I can give the young installers entering the market today is that vinyl flooring is hard work, it’s got to be respected, it’s not to be rushed, and if they rush and just slap it down, that is when the problems arise and the arguments start.

The two biggest problems that the flooring contractor faces are getting to the end of the contract and the architect/contractor finds that they are running out of time, so he is pressured to complete the floor in a hurry. Or else they are running out of money – so cut the specification!

I am a firm believer that if an installer is being bullied to finish a floor in an unreasonable time, he should tell them to get someone else. If he says it’s going to take four days they mustn’t get hysterical about it, it will take four days – end of story. Or he should walk away, because if he doesn’t it will become his problem.

It’s like baking a cake – you’re short of time so you turn the oven up to 480ºC and ruin the cake. The flooring contractor should go through everything in detail before starting, install it properly, get it signed off and walk away proud of a job well done. With that sort of attitude people will come back to you with repeat business.

How does the salesman/architect relationship impinge on the flooring contractor?

In defence of the architect – he is working with a lot of different designs and materials and has no chance of being an expert in everything, so if the salesman can get to the architect in time and find out what kind of floor the client can afford, what they are looking for, what kind of application it is, ask all the right questions at the right time, and give him the product knowledge of what it can and what it can’t do, I think you have a chance of resolving this issue.

Problems can occur if a sales representative does not give the architect full information on the product, or misses out any important information, because as soon as there is a problem, the architect will inform the flooring contractor as to what he has or has not been told.

The salespersons are experts on the products they are selling, but they often don’t know the intricacies of installing them; they are good on specification, but, on the odd occasion, may fall down on technical information. Of course, the architect doesn’t know what to ask for, so unless the salesman tells him, he may not be happy with the end result.

What should an architect look for mostly?

Obviously he has to look for good wear qualities. If it’s a commercial application he has to make sure the product is designed for a commercial application – most manufacturers have good products and are not scared of their specifications being used in any application for which they are designed.

So show the architects the full specification, product samples, technical data sheets, the manufacturing process, and let him make decisions based on the complete facts.

Architects and installers have different problems. What is the best advice you can give to them?

Most times the architect says he doesn’t want a sales pitch – he wants a technical person who can give full advice on the product and his problem or what to use on his project, but the installer must not tell the architect that he can do something unless he has experience in whatever it is and really can do it.

It all starts with the specification of the product, what it can and can’t do. If the architect wants something different or special, he should ask the contractor for a price before it goes ahead.

You also need to remember that what works overseas may not be quite so good over here – the climatic conditions are so different.

Do you find there has been an increasing demand for designer floors?

Yes, particularly in hospitals and clinics where architects are trying to bring more design into the flooring to make the place more patient-friendly.

As these are mostly vinyl sheet applications there is quite a demand for Aquajet cutting of the designs, particularly as not many architects like the cutting done by hand these days even though there are many installers that can do that very professionally.

What are your views on training?

In this country you often find that there is one installer in a team that has the expertise and experience, but he hardly ever passes that on, which is where mistakes often come in. In reality, it’s about empowering people – that’s why we have a training centre where we can train people in the industry.

I have my own style when training. I give trainees a 20-min talk on how it should be done, and then we go out and they lay a screed, and then they lay a floor. I show them things like the difference between cutting with a knife that is sharp and one that is blunt, and I show them what happens with a broken blade, and so on – all the things that they might encounter on the job. Often I’ve got seven or eight guys that are keen and really participating, but the others just want certificates at the end of the course.

Generally flooring contractors send me the employees that they want to have trained. It’s all free, and I am currently working on making it more intense, because there is no way that you can teach people properly when they only train for one day. We are also rather hopeful that the current CETA initiative that is in early days will bring a new perspective to flooring training.

Who trains the trainer? Do you have access to your suppliers, to keep up with the latest technologies?

Yes, I’ve been to Forbo twice now, because the tools have changed. In Europe the installers are of exceptional quality. They have their teams and include youngsters – almost like an apprenticeship in the old days – that do everything on the site and then go to lectures all day on Fridays, with a proper university lecturer – and I must say that every single day I learnt something there. You are never too old to learn in this industry!

We discuss new tools, new compounds – like a new contact adhesive which is acrylic-based because they feel the days of the existing contact adhesive are numbered; double-sided tape for the installation of floors – it’s amazing the developments that are going on.

We also bring the Forbo experts out here. This is an advantage if a flooring contractor has a problem and the architect does not agree with how he and FloorworX are defining the problem. In cases like that the manufacturer has the final authority on the performance of the product, and his advice is always acceptable to the architect.

What would you say are the latest developments in tools?

There are many – especially on the finishing tools – the welding and sealing of the material, the opening of joins – you’ve got various openers now which are fantastic!

But it should be remembered that even though the most modern machine may well be extremely expensive, you will probably get your money back on one hospital installation. The latest grooving machine available is beautiful; it gives a consistent opening and produces an absolutely stunning finish for welding. You have other tools these days that are less expensive, for use by hand without a straight edge, but they are not as quick as the electrical machine – which is all they use overseas, and is probably the most stunning tool I’ve ever come across.

Then there is a new spatula with a baseplate (called a Mozart) that doesn’t create scratch marks and gives you a first and a second cut on your welding; it is well-known in the industry here although it’s only been available for about 15 months.

You can now get nice big knives (Dolphin) with different types of new blades; and a welding gun with a temperature control which solves the problem of overheating the sheet; new welding nozzles for the PUR coatings; little nozzle cleaners; proper mixers that run on wheels so that they can move around easily wherever it is required – so quick and accurate for self-levelling mixes.

Installers must look after their tools and keep them clean, because they are expensive and they are all there to make life easier. When I was in the UK a guy nearly had a heart attack when I picked up a roll of sheeting – there they use a trolley where you just push a button and it is unrolled automatically.

Artisans in Europe virtually do everything standing up. Welding guns on handles, tools to do little corners – it’s phenomenal what tools they have, and I am very pleased to see that some of the bigger flooring contractors in South Africa are spending big bucks on these modern tools.

Generally the trade needs more education on tools. With a modern mixer and five guys we can do 1 000m² of self-levelling in one day. Without the machine you will be lucky to get 200m² done in a day, so the modern, correct tools provide quicker, more efficient floor laying and satisfied customers.

Roy, you work in a very intensive environment. What do you do for fun?

I go away and cry in a corner for a while! I just love watching British soccer on the television – particularly Manchester United. Golf is another passion; I find that hitting the ball gets rid of the frustration!