FLOORS in Africa gives insights into flooring refurbishment challenges, identifying when replacement would be a better solution and how to help your client plan for downtime.

When a flooring refurbishment project is planned and executed correctly, it can be significantly more cost-effective than installing a new floor. The products and labour required to remove the existing floor and install a new one usually amount to a far greater expense than re-looking the existing flooring system and coming up with innovative ways on how it can not only be salvaged, but improved in terms of aesthetic appearance and performance. But how do you know when the floor is due for a renovation? Besides the obvious reasons that is. One also has to remember that a renovation may take place for aesthetic reasons only or a make-over of the interior for example.

Signs that a floor is due for refurbishment include uneven floors, discolouration and wear sings, rotten or deteriorated timber piles, sunken piles (due to soft ground conditions or deterioration of foundation or subfloor framing) and extend to less obvious signs such as strained ceiling joists that support higher-level flooring or sagging beam foundation from damaged support structures beneath the floors.

Your client probably doesn’t work with buildings on a daily basis, so understanding the interrelationships among the building components can seem mystifying for him, but it remains your job as a professional contractor or specifier to point out any issues that may impact the long-term success of the renovation project. A thorough evaluation of existing conditions, including the accuracy of past site evaluation, the quality of existing utilities, the building’s ability to support flooring renovations, moisture beneath the flooring, the age and operating condition of mechanical and electrical systems as well as any historical elements can help you avoid unforeseen complications.

Prior to embarking on an extensive flooring renovation, it’s vital that a contractor or specifier assess any hidden problems that may affect the outcome of the renovation. There are many techniques and tools that can be used to greatly aid your project. An infrared camera, for example, can be used to show the location of in-floor tubes if there’s radiant heat in the building. Knowing what’s hiding beneath the surface before you start can save you and your client time, money and stress.

When a client decides to embark on a renovation project, he usually wants the project completed yesterday. Technical knowledge on structural and mechanical systems is often a key requirement to accurately assessing the damage to a commercial floor, which is why it’s in your best interest to advise a client that it’s better to take the time needed in assessing the source of the problem and researching appropriate solutions instead of looking for the quickest, cheapest solution. Diagnosing building foundation problems (as opposed to a flooring failure, for example) isn’t always possible by looking at cracks in masonry. Researching the key indicators and signs of potential issues that extend behind the floor and subflooring system might lead you to appointing additional assessors and contractors, but it will be worth the investment at the end of the day.

Planning for downtime
The amount of time that can be spent on the renovation project can influence the type of product you specify. A one-piece vinyl or tile floor installation, for example, will be much quicker than intricate tile patterns, so discussing time constraints and deadlines in advance will give you a better idea of the flooring solution that you would be able to use for the project.

Regardless of the type of flooring renovation, smart planning during the early stages increases your chance of a successful renovation. Offices, retail environments, warehouses, industrial spaces and resorts will all have their own type of upheaval related to a flooring renovation project. Some of the questions that you should ask your client during the planning phase in order to come up with a workable renovation schedule and deadline that they can accommodate include the following:

•    What factors are driving the renovation?
•    Does the flooring solution need to accommodate new tenants or technology?
•    Will the function of the space change after the renovation?
•    What are the aesthetic goals of the flooring refurbishment?
•    Does the renovation need to happen in phases in order to accommodate day-to-day operations?
•    What type of work will take place in the building during the renovation?

Establishing an effective task team can help your client plan for downtime. Get input from all the subcontractors, suppliers and design professionals involved so that any delays related to waiting for products or design sign-offs, for example, can be planned for and scheduled. Review proposals and conduct interviews with potential suppliers, sub-consultants and labourers beforehand to make sure you’ve got a team that can deliver not only what’s expected, but do so in the timeframes that match your client’s expectations.

Budget considerations
One skill that design professionals, contractors and specifiers must have is the ability to make accurate decisions on what needs to be replaced and what needs to be repaired. Often this skill is more of an art than a science. Knowing what needs to be removed, upgraded or repaired is the key to giving a client accurate advice on renovation costs.

Sidewalks, patios and driveways are very visible parts of a building’s exterior and a new walkway can be a high-impact item if your client is considering the renovation in order to sell the property or attract new tenants. Crumbling and uneven concrete walkways can be patched at a lower cost in order to save money, but consider the aesthetic impact of a new exterior versus the return on investment for the client.

Hardwood floors are another example where extra attention to detail needs to be paid when deciding whether to replace or repair. Damaged planks or insect-infected boards can be replaced, holes can be plugged and noisy, squeaky floors can be quieted through tightening.

Salvaging a 50-year-old hardwood floor isn’t necessarily harder for an experienced contractor, so the preference of the design team and the client will often be a deciding factor. Signs that a hardwood floor needs a complete replacement, however, include extreme movement between boards and substantial structural problems. Hardwood floors can be refinished by making repairs and replacing boards, leading to a floor that has all the allure and charm that go along with squeaks, stains and signs of age. This is just an example for one floor type. Each category of flooring will have its own telltale signs.

The key issue with any commercial renovation project is expectations. A brand-new flooring installation offers a different result than a refurbished project. Skilled contractors will be able to not only salvage worn or damaged floors, but add a number of aesthetic and performance benefits to the project and advise clients on everything from developing a realistic schedule to preparing a contingency budget and plan.

Acknowledgement and thanks go to the following for the information contained in this article: www.realisticflipping.com, www.hgtv.com, www.renovate.org.nz, www.macdonaldpropertyinspections.com, www.dev-tips.com, and www.buildings.com.