Manufacturers and contractors in the flooring industry often complain about correct specifications and installation practices being ignored. To obtain the view of the professionals, FLOORS in Africa asked a number of prominent architects for their comments on a number of thorny issues.
As an introduction to the subject, we asked the architects if they always use the specification provided by the manufacturer or supplier of the product when specifying a certain flooring material, and the general consensus was that, in most cases, the specifications provided by manufactures/suppliers are used, although sometimes they are adapted to meet the requirements of the project in hand.
Amongst the replies, it was stated that in some instances the specifications are altered to comply with relevant South African standards or norms developed and agreed to. It also seems that where architects have ‘preferred’ products or specifications that have worked for them for many years, they tend to keep to them.
Flooring contractors often complain about the substrates they are required to install on, so we tried to find out if the architects include full detailing of the substrate required for specific types of floorcovering.
Their prevalent answer here was that some manufacturer’s specifications do include specifications relating to the substrate, and care is taken to meet these requirements to get the best out of the flooring installation.
Peter Muller of Snow Consultants says, “Looking at epoxy finishes, for example, they usually come with substrate specifications, moisture content, levelness, etc. This is particularly critical where vinyl tiles or sheeting are concerned. When looking at floor tiling, the adhesive company and the applicable SANS standard usually provide more detail on the substrate requirements.”
We also wondered if checks are made to ensure that the specified materials are being used, and regular inspections carried out on the substrate preparation and laying of the flooring material to determine if this is in accordance with the specification, and here not everybody was in agreement, but is seems that in general these checks are carried out. Although specified materials are generally checked on the larger projects, it would seem that on smaller jobs this is often left to the main contractor.
However, Snow Consultants go further in requiring that the contractor submits a sample of the specified finish product, which is compared with the product that was used to prepare the specification. If approved, the sample is signed off and kept on site for comparisons during the construction phase.
Most respondents felt that the substrate preparation is slightly more problematic to assess, and might require some testing by a specialist. For example, where the strength, moisture content, levelness, and items of that sort are of cardinal importance, test results are required to be submitted.
We asked further questions to determine how ‘in depth’ the professionals go to ensure a perfect flooring installation, “Do you always ensure that the flooring contractors are experienced in the type of floor covering being installed? And do you appoint them, or is this left to the main contractor?”
All respondents said that this depends on the scale of the project. With bigger projects most practices have a recommended short list of subcontractors who are known to be able to do the required work to the required standard. This list is provided to the main contractor, to which he can add his comments or additions.
The flooring installation would then be put out to tender and an appointment made by the architect – sometimes with a further recommendation by the quantity surveyor on the project. On smaller projects, this is usually left to the main contractor, but the requirements are discussed with the main contractor as part of the project team.
Flooring contractors regularly complain that fast-track construction often works against being able to provide a perfect flooring installation – particularly if the concrete substrate has not been allowed to cure sufficiently to provide concrete with acceptable moisture levels.
Everyone agreed that this is often a problem, and Peter Muller says this is especially so in smaller projects. “If you look at house construction for example, a house gets built in about 3 months these days. The applicable SANS standard requires that the substrate cure for 4 weeks before screed is applied, and then 4 weeks before tiling. Thus 2 months are required just for the floor to cure properly before tiling. On a three-month project it is obvious that this creates problems,” he says. “On larger projects, the effect is less, but proper management and planning could alleviate this problem, depending on size and the project programme.”
To complete the problems often reiterated by flooring contractors, we asked the ‘golden oldie’. “As the flooring is one of the last items to be installed on any project, how often is the originally specified floor substituted by a cheaper product because the budget is overspent? And is the manufacturer or supplier of the original material contacted at this stage to see if he can recommend a suitable alternative?”
Understandably, everyone is in agreement that this is a rare occurrence, with a more prevalent occurrence being that the specification is changed due to late orders by the contractor, rather than overspent budget. If it does happen, alternatives would seem to be usually discussed with the relevant supplier.
Finally, we asked the architects if they had any comment or complaint about the standard of workmanship and expertise exhibited by South African flooring contractors, and in general there were no real complaints, particularly as they always ensure that the correct instructions are given at the outset. However, one respondent felt that there has been a slight deterioration in the final quality of finishes over the last 20 years.
Acknowledgement and thanks are given to the following for their participation in the compilation of this article: Peter J Muller, Snow Consultants; John Huneberg, HVA Architects; Gavin Tucker, B+P Architects.