A “Flick of the Wrist” Solution for Multi-Functional Floor Adhesives

Photos courtesy of MAPEI

Using multi-functional installation products for moisture and sound control on commercial wood flooring projects? It is all a matter of managing customer expectations and your ability as a commercial flooring contractor to deliver those requirements within the allotted time. And, it is probably one of the hardest things a commercial flooring contractor has to deal with. This is because it involves explaining how long and how many steps it will take to install the customer’s flooring, when the customer just wants it installed with a flick of a wrist.

Let’s put this into the perspective of a personal home remodeling project we’ve all done, and I think you will understand what I am talking about.

For example, let’s paint your living room. Simple enough, right? Your significant other has selected the color, and all you have to do is paint. In looking at the walls, you notice there are some old picture-hanging hooks that need to be removed. There are electrical outlets that need to have their covers removed, and then the outlets need to be taped off. Then, there’s window and door trim that needs masking. The floor itself needs to be covered to protect it from any drips. And then, there’s the challenge of the new color being a lot lighter than the original color, so a primer will need to be applied. When you finally get to the point of opening up that can of new paint, there already has been a lot of prep work done – none of which is usually in the mind of the end-user (in our example, a forgiving significant other) who simply wanted the color changed.

This is the life and toil of the commercial flooring contractor when dealing with general contractors and architects trying to explain the many steps involved to achieve the requisite performance properties. That is why there has been significant interest in, and growth of, multi-function installation materials used for wood flooring, because they get close to that “flick of the wrist” in terms of reducing the number of steps required.

In the realm of multi-function installation materials used for wood flooring in commercial environments, there are a couple of key attributes that these products provide to the contractor:

  • High-performance bonding
  • Moisture vapor transmission control
  • Acoustic dampening

High-performance Bonding

No matter which multi-function installation material is chosen to install wood flooring in commercial environments, it needs to have the appropriate bond strength to withstand the normal expansion and contraction of the wood without breaking or delaminating.

Wood flooring adhesives need to be resilient in that they can remain bonded and still elongate with normal wood movement. They also need to have the appropriate viscosity such that trowel ridges remain elevated during installation, so that when the wood is placed into the wet adhesive, you get the appropriate transfer to the underside of the wood. Adhesives that slump have a more difficult time in meeting the underside of the wood and creating the necessary bond.

The other important issue with bonding solutions for wood is that they should not contain any moisture or water. Wood flooring and water/moisture do not mix. When you bring wood flooring into contact with moisture from an adhesive or from the subfloor, it will cup, curl, warp, and swell, and there is nothing you can do about it. The best adhesives for wood flooring typically are urethane- or modified-silane-based. These adhesives contain no water and cure from exposure to moisture in the air, concrete, or the wood flooring itself.

There are some other alternatives for wood bonding in the market, including high-performance foam tapes and some very specialized pressure-sensitive-type adhesives and underlayments. But the latter can only be used on engineered wood flooring, and should be recommended specifically by the flooring manufacturer.

Photos courtesy of MAPEI

Moisture Protection

The first step forward in multi-function adhesives came with the addition of moisture protection for wood flooring. This was an extremely important feature for both engineered and solid wood flooring in glue-down applications. The goal here was to remove a step of installing some form of moisture vapor barrier on the substrate, which is costly and time-consuming. In this case, the adhesive works as the moisture vapor barrier and bonding agent. Generally speaking, the only adhesives that work in this way are urethane, modified silane, or foam core high-performance tape systems. They also work by creating a uniform layer of adhesive (or film) under the wood flooring. This uniform layer must create 100 percent coverage in order to function. Any gaps or voids in the adhesive layer can create areas where moisture can pass through, causing the wood floor to cup, curl, warp, and swell.

The challenge to the commercial flooring contractor is to make sure their installers place the adhesive properly and follow all the instructions provided by the adhesive manufacturer. If the contractor is unsure how to create this 100 percent layer, a quick call to the local adhesive manufacturing representative should resolve the issue. There are a variety of ways to achieve this 100 percent layer, most of which rely on notched trowels with lift pegs or sawtooth-shaped trowels. All of these tools help to provide that uniform layer of adhesive, which is critical for moisture vapor protection.

Photos courtesy of MAPEI

Acoustic Dampening

The next multi-function is an intuitive step from the natural resiliency of a wood flooring adhesive, and that is acoustic dampening. Most wood flooring adhesives – being naturally resilient – also are good absorbers of sound transmissions. Sound control is a huge issue in multifamily housing, apartments, hotels, and commercial buildings. There are specific building code requirements for sound attenuation that must be met, depending on the type and use of the structure involved. The ability of a multi-function wood adhesive that bonds, provides moisture protection, and reduces sound transmissions eliminates anywhere from four to six products, multiple steps, and a lot of time.

Keep in mind that to achieve moisture vapor protection and sound reduction, a contractor would have to install a moisture vapor barrier, primer, and leveler solution. Then to get acoustic dampening, the contractor typically would have to install a layer of reground rubber bonded to the leveler and another layer of adhesive to the wood.

Without a doubt, this is a bullet-proof system, but single-component, multi-function wood adhesives can pretty much do all of this from a single bucket.

So, in summary, multi-function wood adhesives – when properly used and installed – are the closest thing we have in the adhesive community to that “flick of the wrist,” where a single product and one application step can provide bond, moisture vapor protection, and sound attenuation. This is a huge boon to the commercial flooring contractor who is always faced with time and budget constraints, no matter the flooring type, but especially when installing wood flooring in a commercial environment.

Jeffrey B. Johnson is the business manager for MAPEI’s Floor Covering Installation Systems line. He brings to the industry more than 25 years’ experience in the development and marketing of floor-covering installation products. Practical experience in the construction industry and as a bench chemist gives Johnson an insightful perspective on surface preparation, moisture mitigation, and floor-covering installation. Contact the MAPEI team at MAPEIdigital@mapei.com.

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