Floor Prep, Underlayment, Backings and Pad: Despite supply chain challenges, business was strong in 2021 – Jan 2022
By Jessica Chevalier
While ultimately unseen, preparation materials play an important role in the look, durability and performance of a finished floor. As the flooring industry evolves, stakeholders in these fields are tasked with creating solutions to address the ever-changing slate of challenges, including moisture issues exacerbated by fast-track construction, acoustic mitigation needs wrought by the increase in hard surface flooring use, and installation hurdles resulting from the development of new flooring materials, such as large-format tile.
THE YEAR’S LANDSCAPE
As one might expect, a strong flooring market generally translates to a strong market for floor prep, underlayment, backing and pad producers. That has held true in the pandemic, as the surge in work-from-home generated an increase in residential remodeling. However, producers offering acoustic mitigation solutions may have fared best of all, as harried parents, for instance, sought to create spaces in which they could happily co-exist and achieve productivity while their children were not only home, but also participating in their own Zooms and educational activities.
That being said, all of the manufacturers of these types of products with whom we spoke reported that 2021 was a good year, and several pointed out that while 2020 had a couple lost months when the pandemic first took hold, revenues for that year were largely decent, as well.
However, while 2021 was good, it would have been better were it not for the many supply chain issues dogging the market. The producers represented in this report were by no means alone in their supply chain challenges, but many of them also source component chemicals from firms affected by natural disasters such Winter Storm Uri and the resulting power freeze that stifled Texas in February and the category-four Hurricane Ida that hit Louisiana in late August. These storms shut down chemical producers and snarled supply chains serving floor prep, pad and adhesive manufacturers.
As a result, many producers have been on allocation from their suppliers for much of the year. In this situation, of course, flooring industry producers are limited in their production, able to make only as much as their raw material supply allows.
The producers that we interviewed handled this in various ways. Some simply worked with that limited output. Others diversified their sourcing, adding new raw material suppliers-if they could find any willing to take on new customers. Still others looked to moving backwards in the supply chain and making their own component materials.
With constrained supply comes increased pricing, and floor prep, adhesive and pad producers were hit with substantial increases throughout 2021. These increases weren’t limited to raw materials but also impacted things like shipping pallets, pails and lids, plastic wrap and transportation rates. Ultimately, many producers were forced to pass along increases to their customers.
Says Gary Scheidker, director of technical services for Taylor Adhesives, “Business in 2021 was good, way up, but I wonder where we would be if we could get everything we wanted. We have been able to source, but not in the quantities we need. We are on allocation with several of our suppliers, and other companies won’t take new customers. We have avoided opening a new distribution center in order to better support our current customer base.”
Adds Ken Mitchell, business development director for Universal Textile Technologies (UTT), “Our challenges started during Covid with BASF and Dow and others shutting down due to worker shortages, and then a couple of serious storms shut Gulf plants down. We have been on allocation for most of the year.”
For U.S. manufacturers, one silver lining is that competing products from overseas have been delayed at the ports, so, if U.S. producers have what the market wants, sales are strong.
Notes Keith Woodason, Trinseo’s global industry development manager and technical sales leader for North American textile binders, “The lack of raw material availability and logistic constraints have been front and center in running our business throughout 2021. The Texas freeze that occurred in February had a major impact on petrochemical production along the Gulf Coast and ended up taking more production offline for a longer period of time than a traditional hurricane. Hurricane Ida crashing through Louisiana in August didn’t help the recovery effort, either. Shipments in rail and truck have been a challenge, given the impact that Covid-19 quarantines and already-tight labor markets have had on capacity. This year has reinforced the value of having strong customer/supplier relationships that are critical to managing raw material and supply chain risk appropriately.”
With the residential market driving activity, much of 2022’s performance hinges on how long that renovation trend continues, and as of yet, no one’s crystal ball knows if and when order rates might moderate. However, on the new-home front, there is still a good bit of need, with Realtor.com estimating a shortage of five million residences in the U.S. And while the pace of new home construction is constrained by both labor and supply challenges, it is likely to make at least modest gains until the need is filled.
Of course, at some point, activity will also increase in the commercial market as Americans venture back into offices and public spaces; however, with new variants emerging, the timeline for that seems uncertain. That’s not unique to this set of product manufacturers, of course, but it will impact them just the same.
One benefit that many floor prep, adhesive and pad producers have is that many of their products can be applied to both commercial and residential installations, so they are buoyed by activity in either sector.
UNDERLAYMENT, BACKINGS & PAD
Calhoun, Georgia-based Foam Products manufactures acoustic underlayments for hardwood, laminate and vinyl flooring, which can be used for either commercial or residential applications, as well as two cushions for commercial carpet-the high-density polyurethane Dynathane and Eco Endurance, which are 100% recycled. The company also produces area rug pad.
About 75% of Foam Products’ business is in flooring, with the remainder going to shoe insoles, press pads for the laundry industry and shelf liners. Multifamily accounts for the largest portion of business for the company’s acoustic products, as noise absorption is key in that sector.
In addition to Calhoun, Foam Products has a production facility in Irwin, Tennessee. The company sells through distribution and national accounts, as well as through private label.
In January, Foam Products will add an acoustic underlayment for ceramic and porcelain tile floors to its portfolio. The product, called Silencer CPS (ceramic porcelain stone), is unique in that it is made of polyurethane foam and is thick and dense, but with no cushioning properties. The product will be suitable for both residential and commercial use.
2021 was a good year for Foam Products. The company notes that sales of its LVT underlayment were strong, as were sales of its laminate/hardwood underlayment, driven by the comeback of laminate.
Regarding raw material shortages, the company’s use of three suppliers of polyols has been a saving grace. “If we’d had only one or two, we would have had major issues, but jockeying between the three, we were able to keep up with demand,” says Jim Wink, vice president of sales and marketing for the firm.
While polyol prices have increased multiple times throughout the year, the company notes that it’s not just component materials that are squeezing margins, but also increases on everything from plastic wrap to wooden crates. However, Foam Products was able to hold off until Q4 to pass along one “minimal” price increase to its customers.
As for labor, Wink says, “We are hiring every day.”
The company’s Eco range of products all feature 20% recycled tire rubber. In addition, in some applications, the company utilizes Agrol soy-based polyols as well as castor oil in place of petroleum-based oils.
MP Global is a carpet pad and underlayment producer based in Norfolk, Nebraska. The company’s underlayment products are used for laminate, hardwood and LVT installations. MP Global serves both the residential and commercial markets and hopes to continue to expand its reach commercially; multifamily is one commercial sector in which the company has enjoyed strength. In addition, the company offers underfloor heat products.
MP Global built its business around its hallmark QuietWalk product, which it developed more than 20 years ago when laminate flooring entered the U.S. market. As the name suggests, the product has strong attributes for sound deadening. In addition to laminate, the product is paired with engineered hardwood. As LVT began to take the U.S. market by storm, the company rolled out its QuietWalk LV product.
Both QuietWalk and QuietWalk LV are made from more than 90% recycled fiber from the carpet and textile industries. Because the company utilizes a “waste” product, its raw material feed source has not presented any challenges or hiccups amid the pandemic. “We’ve had a constant supply of fiber to continue rocking and rolling,” says Jack Boesch, director of marketing.
In 2021, MP Global experienced slight growth over 2020, which was a decent year.
In addition to flooring materials, MP Global sells insulated packaging and ceiling and under-deck systems.
Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, Leggett & Platt is a foam cushion, rubber padding and underlayment firm. The company has a production facility in Fort Worth; two in North Carolina; one in Pennsylvania; one in Mississippi; and two in California.
The company serves both the residential and commercial market with its products, targeting the retail, new homebuilding and property management sectors, among others.
The company originally launched its Whisper Step styrene butadiene rubber underlayment for use under vinyl, but after testing, it now recommends the product for use under hardwood, ceramic and laminate, as well, allowing clients to take the product throughout a space even when the floorcovering changes. The company has seen significant growth in Whisper Step as well as other upgrading products, noting that with less carpet in the home across the board, consumers want better cushions under their hard surface products.
Over the course of the last year, Leggett & Platt has automated some processes and tinkered with its equipment to make it more efficient. During the same period, the company has faced raw materials shortages but notes some slight improvement recently, “depending on the day.”
The company had a good year in 2021 and expects growth in 2022.
Dalton, Georgia-based UTT is predominantly a third-party commission coater of polyurethane backing for commercial carpet and turf. The company has seen its project mix shift a bit amid Covid with hospitality work declining and recreational vehicle applications, such as RVs and boats, increasing. In addition to its carpet and turf work, the company puts backing on a woven vinyl flooring that is used exclusively in RVs and boats. The company also notes an increase in the use of turf residentially.
UTT puts its polyurethane backing exclusively on higher-end broadloom used in commercial, transportation and hospitality settings.
The company creates all its own chemical formulations, which enables it to be innovative, increase performance and save money.
Over the bulk of 2021, UTT reports that it has been on allocation from its suppliers. These challenges were driven by both storm-related shutdowns and worker shortages. However, UTT has not had to pause production, as it has diversified its material sources, noting that sourcing its soybean oil domestically-rather than purchasing an imported castor oil-has been a great benefit. In addition, the company utilizes Arropol’s polyols for polyurethane, which is derived from PET recycled from post-consumer carpet fiber and bottles. The company also has foam pad products that push bio-based and recycled content close to 70%.
2021 has been a “pretty good” year for UTT against 2020 figures.
Healthier Choice offers premium-grade carpet cushion and acoustical underlayment products for residential and commercial applications, serving the residential replacement market directly through its network of flooring retailers and providing foam products for the commercial segment. The company also has a line of solid and engineered hardwood and rigid LVT products. The company’s cushion and underlayment products are manufactured in Dalton, Georgia, with hard surface products sourced from Asian suppliers.
In 2021, Healthier Choice experienced growth in all product categories, with its Healthier Choice carpet cushion products seeing dramatic increases in sales volume. The company is currently expanding its sales footprint into new territories and adding products to its lineup.
Like so many others, Healthier Choice experienced major chemical supply issues for most of the year due to the Texas freeze affecting many polyurethane chemical suppliers. This was followed by major price increases from vendors, with potentially more to come. Though the company is hesitant to pass along price increases to its customers, it was ultimately forced to do so. However, the company reports its production team was able to meet its customers’ demands with extended lead times on delivery, even as raw material supply was greatly reduced, and 2021 was a “record-breaking year” for the business.
The family of FloorMuffler products includes premium underlayments for laminate, engineered and solid hardwood, and flex and rigid LVT. These products offer acoustic mitigation, and most are also moisture barriers. FloorMuffler’s manufacturing plant is located in Swedesboro, New Jersey, where it is headquartered.
With the rise in popularity of attached pad vinyl flooring, FloorMuffler Encore has become the company’s most sought-after product. Using FloorMuffler Encore with attached pad vinyl flooring provides added stability, acoustic performance and a moisture barrier to the flooring system.
FloorMuffler is sold through flooring distributors around the world and can also be found at Home Depot.
FloorMuffler continued production steadily through 2021 and reports that the year was one of its most successful to date.
FLOOR PREP & ADHESIVES
Schönox provides subfloor products, including primers, moisture mitigation systems, patching and smoothing materials, floor-leveling compounds, underlayments, adhesives and waterproofing materials. The company’s products are used across all sectors, with healthcare and multifamily being two significant areas of opportunity. Schönox saw growth across all product categories in 2021. The company’s U.S. business is headquartered in Florence, Alabama, Schönox produces many of its products-including its Synthetic and Hybrid Series of patching and leveling compounds-in its German facilities under ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 quality and environmental management standards. Portions of its adhesives and cementitious leveling compounds, such as S 1500, are manufactured in North America under similar standards.
The company’s Synthetic and Hybrid products feature 40% to 50% recycled content.
Amid the supply chain challenges faced in 2021, the company did not have to halt production at all and, in fact, ran additional production lines and shifts. Now in its 11th year here in the U.S. growth within the firm’s distributor and flooring dealer partners continues to outpace previous years. Looking ahead, the company reports, “Customers are including Schönox in their project plans for 2022 at the highest levels we have seen.”
In May 2021, Taylor Adhesives acquired Frontier Products. Frontier, which manufactures moisture-cured urethanes in Texas, increased production in 2021 and hopes to expand its production availabilities further. In addition, Taylor, which itself was acquired by Meridian Adhesives Group in 2018, has manufacturing facilities in Dalton, Georgia and Fontana, California. Taylor offers adhesives for resilient, hardwood and carpet, as well as moisture mitigation products and specialty products.
For years, OEM business has accounted for more than half of Taylor’s total. The company offers off-the-shelf OEM products to pair with its customers’ products, but more often, it tweaks a concept to create something custom. Last year, the company saw its OEM business continue to grow.
Around a decade ago, Taylor introduced its MS-Plus Resilient to the market with a “moisture resistant” tolerance. After extensive testing and use in the field, the company has increased that tolerance to “unlimited moisture,” which means that, per the product’s requirements, users no longer need to do moisture testing before utilizing the product. The products can be used with both soft and hard surface flooring materials.
At Surfaces, the company will roll out two new innovations. Both products are used with LVT and looselay floorcoverings. They have completely different uses, though both seek to streamline the installer’s job.
Taylor offers both solvent-based products and California-compliant versions, with the company’s Signature line featuring greener chemistries.
Business was “way up” in 2021, reports the firm, which notes that sales numbers would have been even better had it been able to access all the raw materials it needs. Scheidker adds, “We are on allocation with several of our providers, and other [raw material providers] won’t take new customers in these conditions. We have avoided opening new distribution accounts to support our current customer base.”
Plattsburgh, New York-based Schluter Systems had a good year in 2021 with growth in all sectors. Over the course of the last few years, the company has expanded its sales team. The firm believes that diversifying into additional categories-such as tile adhesives five years ago-has helped it gain ground, as it makes sense for a customer to purchase different components from the same manufacturer and thereby streamline their process. Like many, the company has noted an uptick in sales for residential renovation work amid the pandemic. Commercially, Schluter’s products are frequently used in hotel, retail and restaurant chains.
Uncoupling membranes, such as the company’s Ditra product range, are its premium category. Over the course of the last year, the company has improved its Ditra-Heat membrane products, made of polypropylene, with thinner grid lines that make the product more pliable, so it relaxes and rolls out more easily, improving the user experience.
Schluter has worked hard to keep its raw material feedstocks steady amid the pandemic shortages. At times, as one source has dried up, it has had to form relationships and validate supply from new sources. The company has also looked into formulating some of its component materials in-house.
Schluter has production facilites both in Plattsburgh and in Germany, where it is headquartered. In addition to its membranes, the company also offers shower systems, underfloor heating, exterior paving systems, building panels and floor profiles for luxury vinyl.
Trinseo is a manufacturer of latex binders and plastics. For the flooring industry, it provides a wide variety of latex chemistries used as binders for carpet, carpet tile and artificial turf. Additionally, Trinseo latex products are used in flooring adhesives, fiberglass nonwovens, liquid-applied waterproof membranes and felt-backed vinyl.
For the North American market, Trinseo’s latex products are produced in Dalton, Georgia and Midland, Mississippi. The company’s global manufacturing footprint for latex includes three plants in Asia/Pacific and four in Europe.
Trinseo has experienced growth in acrylic latex used as the precoat in carpet tile applications and in carboxylated styrene butadiene latex products used in artificial turf backing. This demand is driven by a combination of market segment demand and the growth of carpet tile over broadloom; 2021 was an exception to this trend, with significant demand seen in residential broadloom. However, the company notes that constraints in raw material availability, manufacturing and logistics limited larger growth.
Trinseo is in the process of launching new products in North America to further improve wet-strength retention and increase productivity through its customers’ carpet finishing ovens.
The company reports that prices on major monomers (styrene, butadiene and acrylates) and other essential raw materials rose significantly in 2021-up by as much as 100%. Freight and fuel surcharges also increased throughout the year, and, as a result of all these increases, Trinseo raised its prices.
Over the course of 2021, Trinseo had two instances in which it needed to curtail production/supply to its non-contracted customers. In addition, a few times during the year, it increased its supply based on competitors having their own supply issues.
The company is currently working to develop new products with an emphasis on improved health and wellbeing. The products currently being launched were designed to substitute raw materials with less-toxic alternatives while reducing VOCs.
The company believes demand will remain strong in the residential market moving into 2022, while the commercial market will likely take another year or two to get back to pre-Covid demand.
Founded in Germany in 1949, Ardex provides systems and solutions for substrate preparation, tile and stone installation, flooring adhesives, polished concrete, concrete repair, and moisture remediation. Over the course of the last year, the company added shower systems within its tile line and launched an upgraded grout color range.
Ardex produces all of its U.S.-sold products domestically, near the cities of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where it is headquartered; Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; and Sacramento, California.
The company services commercial and residential sectors, targeting installers, general contractors, distributors, architects and engineers within, but not limited to, the healthcare, education, residential, retail, hospitality, government, military and prefab modular sectors. Product-wise, the company reports that it is seeing growth in all its categories, especially tile and stone installation systems and decorative concrete surfaces.
In 2021, Ardex developed self-leveling and patching underlayments to solve the needs of rapid, high-flow and moisture-resistant applications. In addition, it developed improved flooring adhesives with high-moisture resistance and high RH.
Ardex reports that most of its raw material sourcing has been challenged this year, and prices continue to rise, though the company has been able to keep production humming along.
The company has achieved Greenguard Gold certifications for 42 product systems, accessible through the SPOT database of UL, Greenguard’s parent company.
DriTac was acquired by Sika in March 2021. This acquisition changed the landscape for DriTac’s go-to-market approach, integrating DriTac’s products into the Sika supply chain. The company is now referring to the brand as Sika-DriTac. All products are U.S. made.
Upon being acquired by Sika in early 2021, Sika-DriTac garnered the advantage of offering customers a fully warrantied system solution from one supplier, including subfloor preparation materials, sound- and moisture-control solutions, and flooring adhesives.
The firm offers a full range of flooring installation solutions tailored to perform across a broad spectrum of floorcoverings. Its primary adhesive technologies include moisture-cure urethane, hybrid polymer, pressure-sensitive adhesives and acrylics. In addition, Sika-DriTac produces four-in-one and five-in-one hardwood flooring system adhesives, including sound- and moisture-control attributes. The company recently introduced a category of foam and rubber underlayment and recycled rubber sports flooring for commercial and residential applications. Sika-DriTac offers no-VOC and zero-solvent products.
Sika-DriTac has been a player in the hardwood and resilient industries for both commercial and residential markets for many years. On the residential side, both remodel and builder (single-family and multifamily) markets utilize Sika-DriTac products. Commercially, business is spread out among retail, education, healthcare, hospitality and corporate segments.
Like many, Sika-DriTac did implement a price increase in 2021, due to dramatic increases in raw material, component, shipping and packaging costs. And the company reported growth last year, in spite of market challenges.
The Sika Corporation has taken a multitude of actions related to the labor crisis, including offering signing bonuses for new employees and referral programs for existing employees.
• As ceramic tile formats continue to grow, proper floor and wall preparation has become even more important. While a smaller tile may “forgive” imperfections, large-format gauged porcelain tiles will not.
• Fast-track construction has necessitated solutions that offer moisture resistance as well as multi-step preparation benefits in a single solution, including both adhesive solutions and combined components like attached padding.
• Greater use of hard surface flooring, both commercially and residentially, has increased demand for acoustic underlayments, greater cushioning underfoot and under-floor products that effortlessly bridge from one flooring product to another without creating a tripping hazard or an eyesore.
• Thin-profile hard surface materials require smoother subfloors.
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