Subfloor moisture is a significant issue, capable of undoing months of hard work.
Warranties play a critical role in protecting against the worst case scenario, but some warranties are so filled with jargon and clauses that it can be difficult to differentiate which ones provide real protection.
So today, we're helping you identify the four core issues found in many flooring manufacturer's moisture warranties - so if your warranty is ever needed, it won't fail you.
1) Standard Warranties Won't Protect You
Considering the scale of moisture problems, and the estimated billion dollars it costs in mitigation and flooring failures each year, it would be fair to assume that most standard flooring warranties would offer protection against moisture problems.
Simply stated, they don't.
In fact, most standard warranties completely distance themselves from problems caused by "excessive moisture and/or alkalinity." Even if the install instructions state a relative humidity (RH) and pH requirement, the warranty can have language like: "Moisture and pH testing are not the responsibility of the manufacturer, and issues related to or arising from excessive moisture and/or pH are specifically excluded from this warranty."
In practice, this usually means that the manufacturer can avoid paying for any moisture-related problems. If your warranty doesn't explicitly state moisture protection, you won't be covered.
2) Adhesive-Less Products Don't Solve Moisture Problems
One approach to addressing moisture issues is to specify adhesive-less carpet, using tabs or tape at the corner of each tile to create a somewhat floating floor. Some flooring adhesives break down in high moisture environments, so the theory is that by removing adhesive from the equation, moisture problems go away.
But adhesive breakdown is one of the dozens of flooring failures caused by moisture. Warranties often include an extensive list of moisture problems that aren't covered - ranging from pH-induced adhesive failure to mold and mildew growth. Each of these problems is capable of derailing an entire flooring project - and leaving you severely out of pocket.
3) Installation & Maintenance Clauses Aren't Realistic
Some of the clauses found in moisture warranties are understood: it makes sense that there should be no standing water on the subfloor at the time of installation. But other requirements are less obvious, ranging from the impractical to the near impossible.
For example, many warranties stipulate that newly poured concrete needs to be thoroughly dried before any flooring installation takes place. "Fully dried" may sound innocuous, but for context, a four-inch concrete slab takes four to five months to fully dry, and even longer for lighter concrete types. That's 150 days where your project must halt, simply to let concrete dry.
This time requirement is often unrealistic, so it's common practice to install flooring before the concrete is completely dry - voiding your entire warranty in the process.
4) Moisture & Alkalinity Testing Don't Guarantee Protection
Almost every moisture warranty makes extensive moisture and alkalinity testing a prerequisite. Usually, these tests are complex, expensive and time-consuming - requiring professional help and lengthy, detailed instructions.
It's difficult enough to comply with these complex requirements, and deviating even slightly from their rubric can invalidate your warranty. But worse still, correctly performed moisture tests are no guarantee of protection.
For example, your warranty requires moisture testing, so you conduct the test to exacting standards and fall well within the range required. You repeat the test across the installation site, and with similar moisture readings.
But a few months after installation, your carpet tiles are ruined. You check the moisture levels again, and this time, they're well outside of acceptable levels. As it turns out, your vapor barrier was compromised. You inadvertently tested the subfloor on a "dry" day, and a few months down the line, fluctuations in moisture levels caused your flooring to fail. Because your latest moisture test was outside of acceptable levels, your warranty won't cover you.
Real Protection from Subfloor Moisture
Subfloor moisture is a massive problem, and a manufacturer's moisture warranty should be your first line of defense. Unfortunately, we've talked to enough architects and designers to know that's rarely the case.
To protect you and your client's flooring investment, vet your manufacturer's warranty before committing to a specification. Look for these revealing hallmarks:
- Simplicity: Hiding behind excessive jargon should be a red flag. The best warranties will use plain talk to make their requirements, and protection, crystal clear.
- Realistic requirements: All warranties will have installation requirements, but not all warranties will be realistic. Check that their requirements are very much achievable on your specific project site.
- Comprehensive protection: Moisture encompasses a broad umbrella of potential problems, and your manufacturer's warranty should address them all - including adhesive breakdown and pH levels.