Unique challenges of hospitality flooring installation: Flooring Forensics

By Lew Migliore

It used to be that carpet was, by far, the dominant flooring material used in hospitality installations, and while that’s still true, hard surface flooring materials have increased in use and popularity, especially in smaller, specialty hotels. The entries to hotels, regardless of location, are now mostly marble, granite, ceramic or porcelain. Wood and luxury vinyl tile are also being used more frequently.

Most renovations being done in the hospitality market have some type of hard surface flooring in the common entry space, something I have personally experienced with all the traveling that I do. Perfect examples are Las Vegas and New York City, the capitals of hospitality flooring, where hard surface materials are found in virtually every casino and hotel. In small boutique hotels that follow European design trends, hard surface flooring can dominate in common spaces as well as in guest rooms, where hardwood and tile use is increasing. In rooms where there is hard surface flooring, rugs are often used to add some warmth and sound deadening properties. 

In all of these flooring applications, there are always installation challenges, be they with carpet, wood or some other form of hard surface flooring. For hard surface flooring, tile and stone in particular, it is imperative the installation be done by flooring contractors and installers who have experience working with these materials. What we’ve seen that’s of concern in these installations is tiles laid into a base that isn’t level as well as stone or tiles not spaced properly. This results in an unlevel surface, inconsistent appearance of the tiles and depressions that eventually result in tiles cracking and caving in. 

This type of failure recently occurred with an installation of a newly renovated and expanded hotel. The floor was installed so that it was out of tolerance, with dips that were over 1/2” across 12’. Spacers were not used between the stone tiles so that some were butted against each other and others had wide gaps—there was no consistency in the spacing. There was also lippage, which is when adjacent tiles are not level, so one tile edge is higher than the other where they meet. Tiles were also cracked because there were voids in the mud bed beneath them. This type of problem can occur with any type of stone or ceramic tile. 

In another case, where woven Axminster carpet was installed as replacement for the same type of carpet but in another pattern and with lighter colors, the concern was for soiling and staining. Site visits and testing of the two materials revealed that the quality of both carpets was the same; the only difference was that the original carpet was dark in color and the new carpet pattern was dominated by shades of light blue and yellow. Naturally the new, lighter color carpet was going to show more soiling, spots and stains than the original carpet. Maintenance became a nightmare, and the owners of this showplace hotel in Times Square were beyond upset. This was a specification problem, in that the colors were totally inappropriate for this application. Not only was it impossible to keep the carpet clean, but also the use of light blue and yellow meant that staining was very visible. 

In a similar case, a hotel had a light yellow carpet in all of its corridors. When some sections were replaced after about four years, the hotel was astounded that the carpet, old and new, looked so different. The old carpet showed severe fading and appeared dull by comparison, and the color yellow is the worst color for maintaining appearance. On a color scale developed by DuPont years ago, there is a note stating that “there is no optimum range for yellow,” which means it is the worst color for soiling and will quickly “ugly out.” 

In yet another situation, a woven Axminster carpet was installed in the corridors and high-roller rooms of a 50-story casino in Las Vegas. The specification, written by people who didn’t know what they were doing, called for a double stick installation that included, insanely, the use of tackstrip along the walls, in front of guest room doors and around inserts of hard surface flooring. What’s the problem with this? Double stick gluing the cushion to the substrate and then the carpet to the cushion is one separate method of installation, while pad and tackstrip is yet another method of installation. Pad and tackstrip are redundant when gluing the carpet and cushion, yet someone on the casino’s team felt this was necessary. Employing the tackstrip at the doorways—with pins that could be felt when walking on the carpet—created the potential for personal injury liability from guests stepping on the pins in bare feet and impaling themselves. 

It was difficult to get the team at the casino to understand that this type of installation is not correct and is actually dangerous. The general contractors understood this, and there was an argument that developed between them and the casino people. The flooring contractor only did what he was told, and he actually filed the complaint on this project, knowing that there were going to be problems. Unfortunately, things stayed as they were because the owner’s representatives felt they knew more than the flooring people. 

It’s scary how often we’re seeing compromising flooring issues in hospitality and other applications, and it’s very often a designer thing. This is not to cast aspersions on the design community, as they do a great job making things look great, or the furniture, fixtures and equipment folks for product and accessory selection, but beauty and practicality don’t always work well enough together to prevent problems. And common sense doesn’t always figure into the equation to make the flooring perform as expected. 

Let’s look at one more hospitality problem. This one, again, involves tackstrip and an actual personal injury suit that resulted from a guest stepping on the tackstrip that was used to install the carpet, which abutted hard surface flooring in a kitchenette area. The guest claimed that being stabbed by the tackstrip on the bottom of his foot caused irreparable physical damage and constant pain. The fact is that the tackstrip was next to the hard surface flooring, and you could indeed feel it when walking without shoes. However, the length of the pins in the tackstrip hardly penetrated into the skin far enough to hit a nerve to have caused the alleged physical injury. That said, the guest was subjected to the pinch of the tips of the pins that could be felt through the carpet, and the location of the tackstrip made it hard to avoid. Had someone thought clearly, the carpet could have been constructed and installed differently. It could have had an attached cushion back and been glued to the substrate completely, avoiding any tackstrip, and it would have offered better performance, easier and faster installation, noise reduction and insulation—all benefits no one thought of. And no lawsuit, or accompanying financial hit, would have occurred. 

The hospitality market, especially in five-star and boutique properties, is the big leagues of the flooring industry. This is where the beautiful people of the industry are and where close personal relationships exist. One need only attend the Hospitality Design Show to see this. This market is also further segmented as you move down the scale from the five star properties. That said, hospitality stands alone in the industry in demanding a variety of products with various price and performance characteristics that require an awareness not necessarily found in other market segments.

Copyright 2015 Floor Focus