Installation Done Properly: Fit the Room to the Floor and the Floor to the Room
Installing the right flooring in the right way to suit the environment it will be used in requires some important decisions to be taken – and they’re not just about aesthetics.
Of course, the appearance of flooring is critical to customer satisfaction - as the popularity of digital tools that enable buyers to model their flooring choice in any chosen room amply demonstrates.
But it’s the installation choices that determine whether those aesthetics will also deliver a resilient, long-lasting flooring solution that will fit right first time and delight the customer, without any need for costly rework.
And those choices are driven, in turn, by many other specific considerations relating to the environment in which the flooring is being installed.
In short, it’s as much about fitting the room to the flooring as fitting the flooring to the room – and here are some of the installation issues (and opportunities!) you need to be looking out for.
What’s in the air (and elsewhere?)
One of the most common issues in flooring installation is the presence of moisture and humidity, both in the air and in the subfloor, which can cause flooring to swell and lift after it’s been laid.
Clearly, in bathrooms and kitchens, this dampness is a given, but it can happen in other areas of buildings too, particularly where a mineral substrate such as screed or concrete has been used.
The question, then, is how you go about selecting and installing a flooring that is resistant to these kinds of conditions – and it’s here that you first need to look at the composition of the flooring material you’re using.
An effective surface seal, for example, provides a hard-wearing exterior that also offers protection against moisture entering from above, but the heart of the flooring material – the core board – must itself also be swell-resistant, to combat moisture coming up from the subfloor.
And whether you choose a click-in installation method or a glue fit, the same moisture protection must extend around the edges of the flooring material too.
The stress factor
The weight of furniture and other heavy objects is perhaps an obvious factor in choosing suitable flooring to install, but more specifically it’s important to consider point-loading – that is, the extent to which the weight and therefore stress of the furniture is concentrated on a small area of the flooring (for example, under a table leg or a castor).
It’s important, therefore, to install flooring that has inbuilt point-load resistance appropriate to its surroundings.
Domestic furniture, for example, tends to exert less point-load pressure than office furniture, office less than retail, and retail less than industrial.
In practice, and depending on the flooring material used, this is down to the strength and resilience of the flooring’s base layer, with options like glass-fibre reinforcement offering a particularly high level of point-load resistance.
What lies beneath?
An uneven substrate is the enemy of a well-laid floor – but the reality is that many older buildings will often suffer from some degree of unevenness in the flooring substrate, and this can cause the flooring above it to sit unevenly too.
So, what’s the optimum installation approach to achieve sufficient re-levelling?
Essentially, this depends on three things: the use of levelling compounds, the thickness of the flooring (a thicker tile or plank will tend to bridge the heaves and dips more effectively), and the use of a non-slip underlay mat to absorb the irregularities and form a stable surface for the flooring to be applied to.
The latter can also have the benefit of reducing noise from walking and impact, and helping to absorb shock underfoot.
When the heat’s on…
Temperature is a hot topic for flooring in more ways than one. On the one hand, significant temperature spikes (such as you might encounter in a conservatory) can damage flooring by causing it to alternately expand and contract.
Flooring in these environments must therefore be able to withstand heavy spells of heat exposure. A good way to check this is to see if the flooring material is certified to EN ISO 23999, which indicates that it has a high level of thermostability and can resist temperature change effectively.
On the other hand, however, with underfloor heating becoming ever more common, flooring must also display good heat conductivity characteristics, in order to maximise the effectiveness of the heating, and minimise its consumption of energy, its running costs, and its impact on the environment.
Ease of installation, time to readiness
Of course, this is all good advice for approaching the decisions that inform a sound installation process – but what about when it actually comes to laying those tiles or planks? What is the easiest process to get to the quickest optimum outcome?
Essentially, two processes present themselves here: glue, or click-in. Clearly, glue requires longer preparation time; the glue must be combed over the floor section by section, the flooring must be laid but then partially lifted to verify coverage of the glue, and then the glue must be allowed to dry before the floor can be used.
Click-in fitting, on the other hand, whilst typically requiring underlay of one kind or another, enables the flooring to simply be slotted into place and locked by tapping the edges down with a rubber mallet. It is not only significantly less messy than glue, but measurably quicker – and, in general, the floor can be walked on and used immediately.
Room for improvement?
Temperature, moisture, and substrate shortcomings apart, however, it’s not just the mismatch between the flooring and the environment that can cause issues – it’s poor practice in the installation process itself.
Much of this, ultimately, has to do with not leaving enough room or flexibility for flooring materials to undergo the natural movements that are part and parcel of their performance tolerances.
Examples of this include LVT (vinyl) click-in tiles being fitted directly to the subfloor with no subfloor preparation, which causes them to fit too tightly, or silicon mastic being applied around the perimeter of a floor, which then prevents the floor from moving as it should, and can eventually result in tenting and lifting.
A good floor in the wrong room is not a good floor – but then a good floor poorly installed in the right room won’t work either!
Delivering better for the future
All this said, there’s no question that innovative installation methods, stringent quality and production standards, and compelling looks and finishes are delivering a flooring choice to professionals and their customers that is wider and more attractive than ever before. But, just as a floor’s work is never done, the flooring market never stops marching on.
And with a new generation of resilient, eco-friendly, domestically produced flooring solutions now emerging strongly, professionals can both address their customers’ environmental concerns and put a tough, beautiful, serviceable surface under their feet.
This is putting a much-needed spring in the industry’s step.