Unique challenges for flooring in hospitality: Flooring Forensics - Nov 2016

By Lew Migliore

The hospitality flooring market is the big leagues of the flooring industry. This is where the highest end flooring products are used; where much of the carpet, especially at the upper end, is custom made, one-of a-kind or proprietarily designed; and where the most professional members of the industry hang their hats. 

Having said that, this segment also includes one-, two-, three- and four-star properties—the lowest of which are budget-priced establishments—which also need a great deal of flooring. Within this market, regardless of price point, floorcovering plays a critical role in the consumer’s overall experience. My firm, LGM, gets involved with many complaints that arise from floorcovering installations. 

We were recently called in to assess a budget property, where the owners complained of yarns popping out of the carpet as well as fraying seams. When tested, the product yielded less than stellar tuft bind results and an average number that tested below the industry standard for tufted loop pile products. 

The bigger issue, however, was the fraying at the seams, which was an installation problem. The installer stated freely that he never seals seams—not a wise statement, as it is imperative and an industry-standard guideline that all seams be sealed. In this case, the flawed installation outweighed the tuft bind problem. The sprouting tufts were a random problem that could be dealt with, but the seam failure was prolific throughout the entire installation, a problem that will cause deterioration of the carpet and, ultimately, failure. 

In another complaint, the concern on a high-end piece of woven carpet was about color variation. This is not a normal problem with woven Axminster 80/20 wool/nylon blend carpet. The carpet was all from the same dye lot, and a panic ensued when it was said that the shade was off. 

On these types of installations, the carpet manufacturer has floor plans and an installation layout that must be followed by the installers, as the flooring is a custom product that goes together like a puzzle. In this case, however, the installers failed to follow the manufacturer’s floor plan layout and reversed the panels of one roll used as out-fill. Upon inspection, the color on all the panels was indeed uniform, but since the roll used for out-fill was split down the middle—it was not shipped that way, and it was a mystery how it got that way—it was determined that the fiber was compacted (face-matted from being rolled up), which resulted in a light reflectance change that appeared to alter the shade. By the time the carpet was inspected—within days of the initial complaint—the shade change had disappeared, and the end-user was happy that the new hotel’s opening would not be impacted by a carpet issue.

Maintenance is a huge problem in the hospitality market. In lower-end properties, it is sometimes rare that the carpet is cleaned on a regular basis. With high-end properties, the colors used in a carpet may be a challenge to keep clean, and unfortunately, for some, maintenance is not high on the list of concerns when a product is selected. A carpet may be beautiful, but if you don’t keep it clean, it won’t stay looking that way for very long. A maintenance spec should always be written for a project. 

Installation is another major issue. For five-star properties, there are a handful of installation firms nationwide, and working all over the world, that are experts in installing carpet and flooring. When these expert firms are not used, the installation can go in the dumper very fast. Anytime we at LGM hear that the installers can’t align a pattern or work with a woven product, red flags go up. Unless the installers possess the skills and tools to work with these types of products, installation issues will arise. 

Most manufacturers of high-end carpet know who should install the product, as do the property owners, but there are times when the wrong installers are hired. If an installation firm with no experience installing patterned carpet is employed, you can bet there’s going to be a problem. The most common types of problems are mismatched patterns or patterns misaligned that waver in length, width or diagonally. 

The challenges with installation of hospitality products are getting worse, and with greater frequency we are called upon to oversee a project or send crews in to complete a fix, if the problem can be corrected. Inexperienced installers will blame the product without comprehending that all patterned textile floorcovering material must be manipulated to align the pattern; you can’t just cut it and paste it to the floor. If that’s your approach, I can guarantee the product won’t ever match perfectly. It is a textile, after all, not a piece of wall board. 

With the use of more hard surface flooring, especially luxury vinyl tile and plank, a new series of challenges are presented. Two concerns are paramount: noise and indentations. Hard surface flooring is loud and noisy; it will never be as quiet as carpet. There are ways to mitigate sound issues with the product itself or by using an underlayment. However, an underlayment material may also allow a static load—the weight of furniture or high heels, for instance—to cause indentations. Once indented, the material will not recover, so the affected tiles have to be replaced. 

Furthermore, if the product is not of high quality, other problems, such as planar instability, chipping or delamination, can occur. Another issue that many fail to consider is that vinyl is affected by temperature, and, if in direct sunlight, it can expand or contract. Floating systems are especially susceptible. I’m not trying to discourage the use of hard surface flooring by any means, but specifiers have to understand both the product’s quality and its limitations if they are to avoid troubles. My team and I have already seen the problems caused by unrealized expectations when these types of products are bought on the cheap. 

Often, as is the case with any flooring material, if the wrong product is installed in the wrong place, the success of the product may be doomed from the get-go. The reasons for such failures are often evident at first glance for those who understand the product and its requirements. 

Another consideration is the safety of the product relative to fire and smoke ratings. At LGM, we are regularly tasked with testing products under consideration to ensure they will pass the fire codes where they are going to be installed. Some cities—such as Boston, which has one of the most stringent fire codes—will prevent a property from opening if the product is not independently tested to ensure it meets code. This is something that must be done before any of the flooring is installed. 

My team and I spend a great deal of time dealing with flooring issues in the hospitality market and have the opportunity to see many of the concerns and complaints—some legitimate and others not. This market is very specialized and more relationship-oriented than any other segment in the flooring industry. In hospitality, manufacturers have a closer relationship with specifiers, often working together repeatedly on projects all over the world, and one mess-up can jeopardize that relationship. That being the case, one cannot afford, especially on a four- or five-star property, a flooring failure that may jeopardize a long-standing partnership. 

Copyright 2016 Floor Focus