Inspection Safari: A Bamboo Flooring Installation Gone Wrong

As an independent, certified flooring inspector, I am commissioned by various parties to look at flooring complaints. Manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and consumers all call me in regards to flooring problems. Many of the “industry” calls are for “routine” inspections. When a consumer calls me, I know the inspection will be anything but routine.

On today’s Flooring Inspection Safari, I take you to a family’s newly remodeled second floor condominium. The family had updated it in advance of the birth of their first child. They wanted to complete all the work, including new engineered bamboo flooring throughout their home, before the baby came home. Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan!

They had done their homework, researching the “perfect” floor. They “bought direct”, purchasing the wood and adhesive from the manufacturer. Their licensed general contractor told them that his men knew all about installing wood floors, too. They would do a beautiful job laying the flooring. If only!

The family had moved out of the condo during construction. The flooring was the last project, installed in August, 2011. A few days after they moved back in, the couple noticed a hollow sound when they walked across the floor, which was glued down. Then the floor seemed to “bounce” when they walked through the rooms.

They called the contractor, who assured them that everything was normal. He sent his “installer” back to do some repairs. Things got worse over the next few months, and the couple called me. I did the inspection in October, 2011.

As soon as I walked in, I knew that the installer had not even glanced at the installation guidelines that are found in every box of wood.

The first problem was that the air conditioning was turned off before, during, and after the installation. The wood had not been properly acclimated. This is where the wood flooring gets “used to” the inside of the home.

The bamboo flooring did, indeed, noticeably deflect (move when weighted) in the kitchen and hall when I walked across it. By rapping my knuckles on all the boards, I heard hollow sounds under many of them. That told me there was a problem with either the way the floor was glued down, or that the subfloor was not flat enough, or both.

When I tested the concrete subfloor using a special meter for moisture emissions, I found a very high level of water vapor coming out of the concrete.

I used a laser to check the floor flatness. It was not completely flat but was within the manufacturer’s tolerance.

A “T” (transition) molding covers the required expansion gap in a doorway.

I did not see any T moldings in the bedroom or laundry room doorways.

bamboo flooring installation | flooring expert Glenn Revere

I also saw high edges on the long sides of many boards. This condition means that the flooring has buckled and the edges have compressed under pressure. I found caulking under several door jambs and along baseboards. And in the bedrooms, the closet door tracks were screwed directly into the bamboo flooring. A “locked in” floor will buckle when the boards swell (either from high humidity, subfloor water vapor, or both).

bamboo flooring installation | carpet expert Glenn Revere

So, here’s what the installer missed, according to the installation instructions:

  1. The concrete subfloor must be tested for water vapor emissions before installation. No testing was performed by the installer, according to the homeowners. Each manufacturer has their own acceptable levels of emissions. If levels are too high, certain adhesives will reduce these to acceptable levels. When levels are extreme, a special epoxy sealer must be used to bring the levels down.
  2. Installation requirements state that the wood must acclimate for several days before installation in temperatures between 65- 80 F and relative humidity between 35-55%. The HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) unit must run before, during, and after installation to provide a steady indoor environment.
  3. A 1/2” expansion gap is required around all room perimeters and at all vertical surfaces. Even a glued down floor moves. The boards shrink and swell. The floor buckles if you stop this movement. (Think caulking, screws, etc.)
  4. The adhesive must be spread using a specified type of trowel and specified amount of adhesive with a specific “set up” time allowed. The floor must be rolled into the adhesive in both directions with a 100-150 pound roller to achieve a 100% adhesive transfer to the underside of the wood. The floor was not rolled and the wood released from the adhesive.
  5. A “T” molding is required in all doorways measuring less than 36” to allow proper movement of the floor.

It is clear that this flooring failure was only the installers responsibility. I found nothing wrong with the materials or how the family maintained the flooring. And that’s how I wrote my report.

Unfortunately, the consumers couldn’t get the contractor to make things right. It turns out that, while the general contractor is licensed, his “installer” is not. The installer was working under the G.C.’s license. This is legal, but problematic. The material was ruined because of the edge compression and needed a complete replacement. But the contractor wouldn’t replace the wood. He only would make repairs. This back and forth went on for months.

The homeowners finally threatened the contractor with a lawsuit and retained a lawyer. The contractor still wouldn’t budge.

Finally, after almost two years, they filed the suit and got a court date. Two days before they would all have to appear in court, the contractor agreed to a settlement. He would replace the flooring using a certified, licensed flooring installer who would follow all the installation requirements.

So, here’s the moral of this story: Do your homework to find the right materials. Make sure your workers are licensed for their particular jobs. Check things out. Details are important. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly.

AND — be careful out there!


Who is Glenn Revere?

Glenn Revere has been a carpet expert since 1973. He’s a certified flooring inspector and the author of All About Carpets, the only book written to protect and inform you about your carpet choices, from carpet buying and carpet warranties to carpet care and maintenance. You can find him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.


Photos: Glenn Revere

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One Response to “Inspection Safari: A Bamboo Flooring Installation Gone Wrong”

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