The Flooring Installers’ Toolbox: Jobsite Tools You Need

July 8, 2015


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When it comes to tools of the trade, what are some of the must haves? I’ll cover a few of thetools that can minimize monetary losses for installers if they just make the investment and use the tools properly.

For carpet, it will be a seam iron, powerstretcher, and knee kicker for positioning (Photo 1). Unfortunately, a powerstretcher is not always considered a must-have with some installers. These installers feel they can get a carpet stretched tight enough with the use of a knee kicker. The knee kicker is used as a positioning tool to “position” carpet once it is in place, and for bumping/setting the carpet on tackless pins prior to powerstretching. Every manufacturer of stretch-in type carpet requires carpet to be powerstretched in order to maintain warranties. So if you or your installers are not powerstretching, you void the manufacturer warranties and are doing a disservice to the end user.

Moisture meters, for hardwood, and qualitative testing of concrete (Photo 2). As I conduct seminars throughout the country I always ask if installers have moisture meters to determine moisture content of hardwood. The number of installers that have meters is so small it always amazes me. If an installer does not conduct any type of testing and documenting, they can be held liable for any moisture-related failures that could occur, whether from too much or too little moisture (Photo 3).

Understanding the moisture content of the hardwood flooring and substrate is critical to determine if the flooring and substrate are actually in balance with the ambient conditions for the installation to proceed. Concrete moisture meters are qualitative, which means they are just giving qualification with a number rather than a quantifiable number. That’s why you will see some concrete meters go from 0-6, and some from 0-1000. Although these are not a quantitative test—which the majority of manufacturers require—some installers will at least use the electronic meters to see if they get high readings and then conduct calcium chloride testing or relative humidity in-situ testing, to get a quantifiable number.

Are moisture tests still lacking by using only the electronic concrete moisture meter? Yes, if the manufacturer requires either calcium chloride or relative humidity in-situ testing, this gives the manufacturer a reason to turn down a claim. On the other hand if the installer is going to make the decision to use the electronic moisture meter and if the readings are high then proceed with quantifiable testing, at least they are making some effort.

In order to determine if wood flooring has properly acclimated to site conditions, along with the moisture meters, a hygrometer/thermometer works in conjunction with moisture meters to determine where moisture content of wood should be in relation to ambient conditions (Photo 4). Once these numbers are documented, an installer can use the “Moisture Content of Wood at Various Temperatures and Relative Humidity Chart.” from the Wood Handbook: Wood as an Engineering Material, from Forest Products Laboratory.

For example, looking at the chart shows that at 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 35% relative humidity, the wood should have a moisture content of 6.9%. I don’t understand why installers would want to take all the responsibility of the site conditions and accept them as is. When a failure or claim arises, the first thing the flooring inspector will ask for is the documentation of moisture content and site conditions at the time of installation.

For tile, using the correct notched trowels to meter the amount of thin-set and get the proper transfer is critical once the substrate meets industry-accepted tolerances for flatness.  TheTCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation states mortar coverage for ceramic tile should have an average contact area for dry areas of 80% and 95% for wet areas. Mortar coverage is to be evenly distributed to support edges and corners. What this means is a 1/4” by 1/4” square-notched trowel may not be enough to achieve this coverage. Installers need to randomly remove a set tile and inspect the back and substrate to determine if proper coverage has been achieved.

Safe practices and safety products are a must for every jobsite, and are actually required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA. A first aid kit, safety glasses, hearing protection, fire extinguishers and a safety plan are all requirements that need to be followed.

Last but not least is a camera, so you can document your jobsites. A digital camera or camera on your phone can document date, time and location. This realization might seem a bit scary as “Big Brother” knows where you are, but it still serves as a good way to document nonetheless. 

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