Flooring Forensics: What do flooring warranties actually cover? - May 2020

By Lew Migliore

When it comes to flooring products and their ancillary components-like adhesives, moisture-mitigating agents and underlayments-do the warranties really stack up to what the marketing statements claim? This is an important consideration for retailers and RSAs, as their communications regarding these warranties guide the consumer’s understanding.

A warranty is a written guarantee issued to a consumer by a manufacturer, promising to repair or replace the product if necessary and within a specified period of time. It assures the buyer that the item being sold works as promised or represented. Usually, they will cover only the affected area and not the entire installation. For example, if one type of flooring is installed across the floor of a house and it fails in the living room, only the affected area will be replaced and without payment for the replacement labor.

But warranties are interpretive and not as clear-cut as many think. And just because a warranty exists doesn’t mean it covers what the consumer thinks it does; it is a matter of law as to how it is interpreted. I’ve always said that whatever a warranty gives you in the first paragraph it takes away in the next three. Let’s look at some warranties for flooring.

A simple one is a wear warranty for carpet. To the consumer, wear is the change in appearance of the material, for example, when it becomes matted or crushed. A wear warranty may cover the abrasive loss of fiber, usually 10%, but synthetic fiber rarely, if ever, wears out or away, so if carpet “uglies out” or changes appearance, it does not constitute wear.

There are also warranties for texture retention, which would be for a textural appearance change in a carpet. And what is that you ask? There are different levels of twist in a carpet. A base-grade product may have minimal twist per inch (TPI), which means it will blossom-the opening up or the loss of twist-easier and faster. A more expensive carpet may have a higher TPI and maintain its twist, but it may matte and crush. Some warranties cover tuft bursting or blossoming. The condition is rated on a TARR scale-Texture Appearance Retention Rating-which tests carpet’s ability to maintain its original shape after being properly installed with the appropriate pad and maintenance.

But warranties aren’t specific to carpet. Hard surfaces, like luxury vinyl tile and plank, can have their own issues and warranties. A warranty covering these might state the product is free from manufacturing defects for a specified period of time. But not covered are scratches; damage caused by fire, flood or moisture intrusion caused by emissions from the subfloor; intentional abuse; damage caused by the vacuum cleaner beater bar; indentations or damage caused by improper rolling loads, chairs or other furniture; cutting from sharp objects; asphalt staining; and staining from rubber mats. Installations where the floor is not acclimated, installed and/or maintained per installation instructions also are not covered.

These floors can also shrink, cup, curl and lift on the ends or edges, and warranties won’t cover these inherent issues and defects, which sometimes get blamed on installation or the environment in the space. It’s important to understand that thermoplastics, which is what these floors are, can be unstable and they do shrink, whether glued down or floating. It’s the nature of the product when it is not stabilized.

Then there are waterproof warranties, which typically state the flooring will not swell, cup or crack from normal cleaning, spills or moisture from the subfloor. But a kicker statement in all waterproof warranties is that flooring issues are covered as long as water does not flow over the edge of the surface. So, as long as the water stays on top of each plank or tile it’s fine, but if the water runs off the edge or ends or sides, there is no warranty. Furthermore, moisture from beneath the flooring is not covered.

Yet another warranty for waterproof floors states the warranty does not apply to floors with alkalis in the subfloor. Well, concrete is inherently highly alkaline with a pH of between 12.5 and 13, so I guess you can’t install this flooring over a concrete substrate. To top it off, the adhesive may be warrantied to withstand moisture, but your installation can still fail due to moisture vapor permeating the adhesive and blowing your impermeable flooring off the substrate. This is a complex issue with a lot physics implications that fail to be recognized by those writing the warranties.

Before retailers sell these products, whether for residential or commercial use, it’s important to read and understand the warranty and then communicate the details of that warranty correctly to the consumer.

One warranty for a highly touted waterproof adhesive states, “The seller makes no warranty of merchantability or representation of any kind, expressed or implied, regarding the products described including any warranty of fitness for a particular purpose.” Fitness for a particular purpose would be what the product is being sold for. The expectation then would be that it would work as marketed and sold, but the warranty seems to be saying that it won’t.

Here’s another: “Warranty does not cover damage due to flooding, hydrostatic head, puddling, improper maintenance, low/excessive relative humidity and/or temperature, or any issues not related to excessive moisture proven to be coming through the membrane. Furthermore, if you have high relative humidity or moisture it will bring with it alkalinity that can destroy the adhesive.” In plain talk, the adhesive warranty does not warrant the installation of the flooring material over the adhesive and a slab that has high moisture levels.

Many of these warranties are regurgitations from other manufacturers. The bulk are not written by lawyers or technical experts. If written by lawyers, the warranty is meant to protect the manufacturer, not you. And when it comes to LVT and LVP flooring, most of the companies selling them don’t manufacture them, so the warranty actually has less validity.

If a retailer is selling based on what a warranty says, they’re crutch selling, especially if they have no history or experience in selling a particular product or component, and they could ultimately be held liable for warrantying the product.

Copyright 2020 Floor Focus