Many installers complain that we inspectors always find a way to blame them, well one case where we almost “never” blame them is bubbles between planks on laminate flooring. But maybe we should.
I was recently called out to an inspection by a homeowner on a laminate floor claim. The floor had been “inspected” three times once by the installer, once by the distributors representative, and once by a certified flooring inspector. All three came to the same conclusion, that it was a topical moisture claim. When the homeowner called me to explain their problem, I explained that it was likely that I would come up with the same result due to the description of the problem (I know I’m not supposed to do that). She said that they (2 retired professional adults no pets) didn’t live in the house year round and had no spills ever on their new flooring.
The flooring had been installed 9 months, and the claim was filed after 3 months. And they didn’t have any extra material to do destructive testing (replace removed boards). I offered to “consult” with them on site. I reviewed the site and listened to their story. They had carpet removed from a terrazzo floor, the installers used a black pad and then installed the flooring. The homeowner moved into the house about 3 weeks after it was installed. About 1 month later they noticed a bubble in the middle of the house. And over the next several months more popped up. The installer came out and said they had obviously spilled something on the flooring.
The homeowner professed that nothing had been spilled on it. They continued to complain, that it was progressing so the distributor rep came out and again said that it was obviously topical moisture it was the only thing that displayed that way. The homeowners continued to complain so the manufacturer sent an “inspector” and he said. “the joint swelling exhibited here is consistent with topical moisture contamination occurring on site after installation…” He also commented. “with my moisture meter I measured the content of unaffected boards was 5% and 14-26.1% in affected areas.” Now, mind you this was months after the initial complaint was filled. Why was the moisture so high months later? With my Lignomat Versatec set to General (10) and reading at ¼” I found 35-58% in affected planks and 4-5% in unaffected planks. So, after discussing the situation with the homeowner, I told them the only way I could disprove this was to pull some planks and see what was going on.
There was no pattern to them swelling, it was on some end joints, some side joints, and scattered throughout most of the installation. They gave me permission to proceed with the destructive testing. I call the retailer to get the specs on the pad and found out that it was not to be used over concrete that had an MVER (Moisture Vapor emission rate) of .446 lb. per 1000 sq. ft./day. No moisture testing was performed at the time of installation. Upon removal of the laminate in 2 affected areas both areas were seams in the underlayment, 1 a side seam and 1 a butt seam. The was what appeared to be efflorescence on top of the pad, and standing water under the pad.
My Tramex pinned on the terrazzo flooring. The back of the boards was wet on the edges. No longer will I be calling Bubbles in laminate “consistent with topical moisture” I will be calling it typical with moisture intrusion, further testing needed to determine if topical or subfloor in nature. My thought is if the complaint is several months old and there is still high moisture at the point of failure, it is most likely subfloor moisture unless the end-user keeps spilling in the same area over and over.
Installers need to be aware that most underlayments have moisture limitations, and moisture testing must be performed if the products being installed call for it. And inspectors should be precise when making conclusions, if you don’t have enough data, say so in the report, without destructive testing this report should have been inconclusive!