Lew Migliore Looks at Sustainability
By Lew Migliore
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in commercial floorcovering installations. Virtually every commercial flooring installation is undertaken with sustainability in mind, with the green aspects of the flooring material, including backing and installation systems, taken into consideration. The end user and architect are driving this growing movement, and the industry is providing products that comply with the desires of those specifying or using the products.
This evolution in the industry and the products is a learning process for manufacturers as well as somewhat of a trial and error procedure. The carpet industry deserves praise for its proactive stance to make its products comply with sustainability efforts. The industry has been recycling for several years and continues to explore the use of various components in the products being manufactured, the use of waste from manufacturing, and the recycling and reuse of the products after they’ve delivered a service life.
Sustainability starts with making sure the right product is installed in the right place. This is the epitome of sustainability—get it in the door and keep it on the floor. The biggest problem in the industry is the wrong product in the wrong place not performing to expectations or failing early on and then having to be replaced. This is a specification or sales problem, and it not only creates a waste of flooring material that may wind up in the landfill but also a massive waste of time, money and loss of business, not to mention goodwill and reputation.
This problem can have several causes. The flooring material may be inappropriate for use “out of the box.” A product may be inherently incapable of performing because it does not possess the physical characteristics that would allow it to perform without failing prematurely. This could be a carpet that does not have the density necessary; the wrong construction, such as too much cut pile in a cut and loop style; or the wrong color.
The industry seems obsessed with yellow and pink in its most recent carpet tile offerings. Yellow is the worst color there is to keep clean, and if you have ever seen the Antron Carpet Specification Guide, which includes the color reflectance and reference chart, it shows you the performance ratings of various colors. Under the Optimum color rating, the note is: “Certain colors, such as yellow, have no optimum range.” It doesn’t even make it onto the chart in the bright shades it is being offered in, and pink isn’t far behind. Colors that cause carpet to ugly out and are near impossible to maintain will not only lead to complaints and claims but also premature replacement. When dealing with sustainability, remember that it must allow compliance with the laws of nature, physics and common sense. Nothing anyone says will change those irrefutable facts, hard as they may try.
So, the start to being sustainable is getting the right product in the right place, and this includes understanding the environment the flooring material is being installed in, especially the substrate. Certainly, the installation should take place in the environment as if it were occupied. Flooring materials of all kinds are reactive to hot, cold, humid and dry conditions. If the environment isn’t what the product requires, the materials will react—and that you can’t blame on the installation, as much as people want to. It is not possible to test for appropriate installation conditions, primarily the substrate, in a space that is not conditioned. ASTM standards for all substrate testing state the tests must be conducted in a conditioned space. If this is not done, the test results are useless and meaningless.
Also, the substrate must be prepared and treated prior to the installation of any flooring material. Clean and dry is the key—no contaminants or conditions that would compromise the installation. If there’s moisture, it must be addressed either by correcting the condition on the surface of the slab or by using technology that takes the slab out of play.
If the wrong kind of abatement process is undertaken, it has the potential to cause the failure of the flooring installation. The use of adhesive removers that are soy or citrus based (i.e. green) can also cause installations to fail from residues left behind that will weaken or destroy the new adhesive. This situation is compounded if there is moisture in the slab that will drive these agents to the surface. Remember, concrete is porous and what goes in also comes out if it has an aqueous base. These agents may be green, but they should make you see red. Often, the flooring people may not know these removers were used, and they are blamed for the flooring failure. And the flooring is often damaged, especially if it is vinyl plank, and will have to be replaced and the substrate matter expensively dealt with. And this will make all the green go away.
UNDERSTANDING INSTALLATION SYSTEMS
Installation technology is changing faster than anyone can keep up with. If you aren’t in the middle of the new installation systems being introduced, most of which do not use adhesive out of a bucket, you’ll be lost. Almost every flooring material comes with a new and different installation system, especially carpet tile—from corner tabs to applied adhesives, some that work well and others that do not. Seeing these for the first time will befuddle the most professional of installers. You can’t just throw up your hands and say something doesn’t work because you haven’t seen it before, and you also can’t always trust that the architects knows a lot about something they spec. And reps, bless their hearts, are not technical people, so just because they effervesce about new installation methods their company has come up with doesn’t mean they work. Again, sustainable means getting it in the door and keeping it on the floor, and words, no matter how convincing or enthusiastic they may sound, don’t change the laws of physics. On the other hand, some of the installation technology works so well that, even in compromising conditions, it works better than one may think. And some of the old fixes used decades ago still work very well. The new installation systems require an open mind, adaptable skills and a need to know how to use them. However, remember to use what the manufacturer tells you to use. Otherwise you assume responsibility no matter what happens, like it or not.
When removing old flooring from a site to accommodate new flooring, the question most often asked is, can the flooring be recycled? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Some materials can be made into new flooring or other useful items, and some can be incinerated to generate energy. Some, like the old adhesive scraped off the floor and the floor patch that comes with it, can be disposed of in the landfill. Much of this is just dirt or natural material that is not harmful.
Lastly, just because natural flooring materials such as wood, stone, cork, bamboo, linoleum and wool sound wonderful and green, that doesn’t mean that they’ll work in place of something else. They each have their own set of characteristics that may or may not allow them to work well in lieu of another material. For example, wood expands and contracts with the gain and loss of moisture; it warps, cracks and scratches. These are natural characteristics that must be understood and are relevant to all the natural materials. People are often enamored of these products without fully understanding them.
It’s amazing how much waste can be prevented in dollars and materials. One component lacking that would truly make flooring material and its installation sustainable is common sense. There is a product and an installation that works for any condition. However, nature’s laws must be heeded. Remember the commercial from the 1970s that said, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”? That’s true of flooring today as well. We can truly be green in the flooring industry, and it has more to do with education and understanding and being proactive than anything else.
Copyright 2013 Floor Focus