Affordable and cost-efficient: what works and what can go wrong

by Darren
Affordable Flooring Jnl 5 15

Discussing the affordability of flooring installations brings to the fore various factors that will make for either a cost-efficient installation or one that rips the budget to shreds.

Cost is one of the leading factors that contributes to the specification of a certain floor type or product. Remove aesthetics and the latest trends from the equation, and it becomes evident that affordability is one of the key elements that drives decisions in the commercial flooring sector. Undoubtedly, functionality is another key factor but, before any of these can even be considered, the very first action that has to take place is the formulation of a budget.

The following action steps should be taken in advance, as each determines the final cost implications of a flooring installation:
•    Formulate a budget;
•    Identify the purpose of the floor;
•    Consider life-cycle costs;
•    Decide on a maintenance plan;
•    Select a contractor;
•    Avoid mixing trades on site at the same time; and
•    Cost overruns.

Formulate a budget

The first thing to look at is how much money is available to install a specific floor. Customers may not always have the right budget for what they want. Should this be the case, they need to look at what they like, what they dislike, and why they are replacing the floor in the first place. How long do they want the floor to last and, if they decide on inexpensive flooring, are they prepared to repair or replace it every few years?

However, it should be stressed that, just because a product is considered ‘cheap’ compared to other products, it by no means automatically implies that it is not fit for purpose. Budgets are formulated based on several factors, but clients shouldn’t be pushed into the “more expensive is better” direction. Advancements in technology have resulted in a plethora of products that are capable of performing at levels that may exceed their more expensive counterparts. Products with anti-bacterial treatments, or greater resistance to wear and tear, for example, are available to the commercial industry without making an irreparable dent in the initial budget.

This is where careful selection needs to take place by specifiers and all those involved in selecting a floor type. Factors such as performance, looks, cost and lifespan all play a role in determining the final floor that is chosen for a specific installation.

Identify the purpose of the floor

Every space’s flooring purpose needs to be identified and, without this being done, one cannot even begin to formulate a budget or select a contractor. For example, questions that need to be answered are: Does the surface require a slip-resistant surface? How will the flooring connect to other spaces? Does the pattern need to be matched? What is the waste factor involved? Is it an office, a boardroom, lobby or retail space?

Once again, as the saying goes, “What you pay for is what you get”. For example, if a carpet tile is selected for a busy passageway that is exposed to heavy wear and tear, then the correct carpet tile specified should be one which has been specifically designed and manufactured for this very purpose. In this manner, the carpet’s lifespan is dramatically increased; it maintains its looks and performs perhaps even beyond the specifier’s expectations.

There are numerous flooring products on the market that have superior abilities in terms of performance, simply because they have incorporated some of the latest, proven technologies that often add more benefits than even the specifier may have originally anticipated. This is the goal for all parties involved, and inevitably affects one’s budget in a positive way.

Consider life-cycle costs

Before making any product decisions, life-cycle costs need to be factored in. Higher upfront costs might be more economical in the long run, as the selected product may last longer, perform more efficiently and may be cheaper to maintain. In turn, cheaper initial costs may become more expensive in the long term as the flooring may require more intensive maintenance programmes, may need to be repaired a lot sooner or even replaced, and may not perform according to specification in the long run.

If, for example, one has a ten-year lease on an office building, one wouldn’t want to purchase a product that will only last for five or six years. Due to budget constraints, the pursuit of a beautiful floor that performs exceptionally well isn’t always a possibility, however, performance should never be sacrificed for looks. A big mistake customers often make is not allowing enough money in the budget to achieve design and performance requirements, particularly when related to the length of a lease or replacement cycle.

One doesn’t have to forego looks altogether when on a strict budget, however. The trick here is to up one’s knowledge extensively on all the types of products available to ensure that one can still get the desired, trendy-looking floor that performs well.

Decide on a maintenance plan

Colour, style and design are also crucial maintenance considerations. Some colours are beautiful but may be difficult to maintain. For example, darker colours will hide marks a lot better than lighter colours that may be considered in trend and aesthetically pleasing. This by no means implies that one has to stick to dull, boring colours, but the manner in which these are used or even combined can still achieve the desired outcome – a clean-looking floor.

Some of the biggest budget surprises come from not factoring in problems already present in the floor and the condition of the substrate. Cost overruns often occur when the floor is in worse shape than expected or the original flooring is harder to remove than anticipated. This is why it is paramount to know the condition of the subfloor before installation. If the substrate is not properly prepared, new complications can arise.

A proper maintenance plan can also include added flooring products such as entrance mats, several of which are truly advanced in terms of trapping dirt before it is tracked into a building. This dirt can then just be vacuumed or swept up. Several flooring types, such as Luxury Vinyl Tiles, require only a simple damp mopping to maintain their looks, while carpets may require a deep steam cleaning once every few months. It is extremely important to communicate to a client the maintenance costs associated with a specific floor but, at the same time, they need to be educated on the maintenance plan needed for a specific floor. If they do not have the required knowledge, the floor may deteriorate at a much faster rate or even become permanently damaged.

Select a contractor

To ensure a quality installation one has to turn to a quality contractor who is on the job from the very beginning. It goes without saying that selecting a so-called ‘roadside’ contractor will undoubtedly result in devastating expenses in the long run or, even worse, during the installation. References are a must, and these should be checked out with a phone call at the very least. Does the contractor have a clear understanding of subflooring? Is he experienced in dealing with moisture? Can he install all flooring categories? Be sure that the selected contractor is specialised in the type of floor being specified.

In addition, the contractor appointed must be specialised in commercial flooring. Commercial flooring is highly specialised and there are too many things that can go wrong and too many things that can cause problems, all translating into the fact that a contractor has to have extensive knowledge of the industry, not to mention considerable and reputable experience.

Specifiers need to be able to distinguish between full-service flooring contractors and low-bid contractors that subcontract work to less qualified installers and have little stake in the job once it’s installed. Professional contractors stand by their work. Professional contractors should also be able to anticipate problems caused by local conditions, and foresee problems that may arise, which is possible only through years of experience and gaining knowledge in the commercial flooring industry.

Avoid mixing trades on site at the same time

The best way to ensure a quality flooring installation that will not incur unnecessary expenses is to give contractors the necessary time and space to do their jobs. Just as critical is following instructions for allowing adhesives to set, and there are good reasons for this. A common mistake that is often made is to have other trades working in the same space where flooring is being installed. The flooring contractor should be the last trade in that it’s highly inefficient to work around other trades.

All too often a construction or remodelling project falls behind schedule, resulting in unforeseen costs. To meet deadline, flooring contractors often end up with less time to complete their work than originally planned and, even worse, they might find themselves working elbow to elbow with other trades. This is not ideal and opens the door to the possibility of problems arising and, inevitably, new costs to factor in.

Flooring contractors often declare that their biggest concerns relate to the fact that adhesives require two to five days to set before the floor can be open to traffic. Walking on the floor any sooner can cause bubbles. “You cannot paint a wall then immediately start hanging pictures on it” describes a situation where the same principle applies. It’s when crucial phases in the installation program such as these are neglected or eliminated altogether that problems come to the fore, deadlines are missed, and budgets are exceeded. Simply put, failure is on the horizon and repairing damages dramatically increases costs.

It should also be noted, however, while some adhesives may take a long time to cure, most modern adhesives do allow for foot traffic very quickly. Even some of the self-levelling screeds can take foot traffic after just a few hours. One of the biggest concerns with all the new flooring types is to ensure that the correct installation methods are met with regards to adhesive selection, acclimatisation and more specifically that the screeds are dry enough to accept some of the more technical flooring products that are commonly found in the commercial market today.

Cost overruns

Unfortunately, cost overruns are a fact of life in the construction industry. There are many ways for jobs to go over budget. The following factors can all drive costs up beyond original estimations, which is not ideal because it means that either the contractor gets paid less, or the client has to pay more. The main types of estimating errors are:
•    Omissions: These are items that are accidentally left out of the budget – either soft costs (permits, fees, etc.) or hard construction costs. Omissions may be due to items missing from the plans and specifications that were therefore not included in the estimate and bid.
•    Wrong assumptions: These are items that were assumed to be covered under a contractor or subcontractor’s bid, but weren’t.
•    Inadequate allowances: One may receive an estimate from a contractor or subcontractor with a material allowance that’s too low. This is a very common problem.
•    Price changes: Material costs and/or labour costs may rise between the estimate and the actual project.  Labour unrest can unfortunately play a big role here.
•    Novel materials/techniques: Every new material or building technique has a learning curve. Even allowing a little extra time may lengthen the project longer than planned.
•    Unclear or incomplete plans and specifications: The absence of clear plans leaves much room for disagreement about what exactly was bid on. This can lead to change orders and extra costs for extra work.
•    Jobsite surprises: Hidden conditions (e.g. insect damage or wood decay in remodelling, underground ledge or water problems, subfloor problems). In some cases, these could and should have been detected by more diligent investigation.
•    Construction/design errors: If something is built incorrectly, it has to be torn out and built again. Someone else could pay for the costly errors, but most likely, it will have to be paid twice.
•    It is important to understand the impact that different materials have on product performance for example polypropylene vs nylon vs wool in carpeting.
•    Take into consideration the wear layers on certain floor types. Often a client selects a product based on cost, colour or look without being told or understanding some of the pros and cons regarding what the product is made of.

The best weapon against any of the above, and the best advice to follow, is to invest in one’s knowledge, stay up to date with the products available, formulate realistic budgets based on this knowledge, and carry out an installation built on a foundation of passion and excellence – and, of course, extensive experience.

Acknowledgement and thanks are given to www.facilities.com and http://buildingadvisor.com; KBAC Flooring; and Top Carpets and Floors for the information contained in this article.

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