Flooring Forensics: Could magnetic flooring technology help remedy the installer shortage? - May 2019
By Lew Migliore
The need for recruiting qualified installers now-and filling their ranks in the future-is of grave concern to the industry. Not only is there an effort to find young people and recruit them into the flooring installation trade but also to make installation easier across all product categories. New flooring technology, including magnetic systems, have been introduced that is making flooring installation simpler and easier.
MAGNETIC FLOORING EXPLAINED
Magnetic flooring can be compared most simply to a refrigerator magnet. Magnetism is the force of things to be attracted or repelled. In this case, it’s the force of attraction-the drawing together of two materials electronically charged by atoms. Relative to flooring systems, we’re talking about ferromagnetism-iron; the iron particles are applied on the back of the flooring material as a laminated layer, and the underlayment is an attractive layer or magnet. The force of magnetism for flooring installation allows for the flooring material, or other treated material, to be “stuck” to the attractive layer strongly enough to be held in place and loosely enough to be releasable. If you had to compare this to a similar installation method, think pressure-sensitive adhesive used to install carpet tiles or vinyl plank or tile flooring.
Magnetic flooring installation systems are not that new. Several years ago at Neocon, a system called IOBAC, which still exists, was introduced for both vinyl tile and carpet tile. This system used technology from 3M with a ferrous iron material that was applied to a substrate, like a coat of paint and allowed to dry, then the magnetically charged flooring material backing could be installed. I gave a presentation at Neocon about this using a piece of flooring and stuck it to the metal doorframe in the room to demonstrate how it worked.
Magnetic flooring systems are also available from China, the U.K., Italy and now in the U.S. The system can be used for flooring but also for applying materials to a wall, such as ceramic tile, hardwood or even wallpaper. This is ingenious technology, especially for walls, and is perfect for do-it-yourself installations. Magnetic installation systems also allow the installer to change the type of flooring or wallcovering material by simply pulling it off and replacing it with something else-anything, that is, with a like backing. The system completely eliminates the need for any type of adhesive out of a bucket or spray can.
These systems are virtually idiot-proof, as installing the flooring means rolling out the underlayment, fitting it, and then simply applying the flooring material. If the flooring placement is botched, or it is decided that the flooring isn’t a good fit for the space, it can be pulled up and adjusted or changed all together.
This technology would be great for, as mentioned previously, DIYers; residential-type installations completed by retailers; and commercial environments where maintenance staff may have to replace damaged flooring (a school or college dorms for example). Interestingly enough, while writing this article, I got an email from Morningstar, an investment research firm, stating that Americans waste over $300 and six hours on DIY mistakes per project. It went on to report, “Flooring installation caused homeowners the most headaches. Mistakes during the labor- and material-intense project added nearly 14 hours of time and $829 to the project.” That would be greatly lessened with this type of installation technology. It would also be a boon to flooring and wall tile sales.
THE PROS AND CONS
Are there down sides? With a separate, non-permeable underlayment rolled onto the substrate, the concern would be its use over concrete and the effects of moisture vapor emission. Over a wood substrate, especially in a house where the heat runs (or duct work) are achieved by boxing the joists, air pressure could billow a looselay underlayment. I’ve seen this happen with underlayment’s used under floating vinyl plank flooring. Any time the transmission of air or moisture vapor is blocked from one location to another, they’ll affect whatever’s in their way.
This technology is safe. It has no detrimental effects to the environment or to humans. It won’t interfere with any electronics in the space in which it is installed, and it will not shock or electrocute a person if the flooring gets wet. We are surrounded by magnetism naturally-we’re living in it by just existing on Earth. In fact, the Earth’s magnetic field protects us from the sun.
The cost of this type of system may be more than a conventional installation, but it allows for a greater flexibility with initially installed material and for future installations. The installation of flooring materials utilizing no type of adhesive or glue-be it mechanical, magnetic, hook and loop or floating-allows for easy replacement of the entire floor and easy installation requiring less skill. These systems may all cost slightly more, but the benefits far outweigh any cost increase.
The future of flooring installation continues to evolve around the ease of installation, with the objective being to make it easier for installers to work with the materials and to continue to improve the versatility and flexibility of these installation systems. Concerning installation costs, retailers should be selling the benefits of the flooring material, which is the affect it has on beautifying the space within which it’s installed and the performance aspects of the floorcovering. The focus should not be on how much it’s going to cost to install the material. Consumers buy flooring so infrequently that they have no idea what the material or the installation should cost no matter how much research they do online. If they want cheap, they buy cheap, and if they don’t, they won’t. Regardless of what the product costs, it still has to be installed, and installation is added cost.
Just like calling a plumber, painter, electrician or carpenter, if consumers don’t want to pay for installation, they’ll do it themselves, but if they want the product installed, they’ll pay to have it done. Flooring stores must know how to market and sell installation services; the inability to do so is the fault of the owner and sales staff. The industry drove installers away by beating them up over price, now it is up to flooring retailers to draw them back in by paying a fair wage and engaging in the new technologies for installation that will make life easier for all involved, the installer included.
Copyright 2019 Floor Focus