What challenges do flooring installers face on the job? Where do architects get information about flooring adhesives? And what drives each group to specify or substitute a product on a particular build?
A comprehensive survey of the flooring adhesives market in North America, conducted by BASF, explores these questions to gain insight into the motivations, influences and experiences of installers and architects who work in the industry. We extracted some highlights from the study to elaborate on the hot topics industry players are most concerned about.
Common jobsite challenges
Flooring installers have specific pain points that show up in every job. Removing old adhesive, meeting tight schedules and managing the moisture content of slabs are just a few common issues. Christopher Hummel, Marketing Manager for Building Materials at BASF, says managing moisture content was widely discussed during interviews conducted for the study.
“The moisture or relative humidity of the slab needs to be a certain percentage, depending on the type of flooring,” Hummel explains, adding that installers perform tests to check the moisture content of a slab. “If it’s a new building, you have to wait for the moisture in that slab to reduce before you can apply the adhesive.”
As contractors know from experience, every project has time constraints, and delays translate to lost money. Waiting for moisture to reach an acceptable level costs flooring installers days or weeks out of their project timeline.
“You want an adhesive robust enough to perform immediately,” says Hummel. “If you have an adhesive that works at 99 percent moisture content, fantastic! You’re ready to rock and roll.”
To create flooring adhesives that overcome the moisture restrictions and save significant waiting time, Hummel recommends formulating with the 3600 series of ACRONAL® dispersions, including ACRONAL 3630, ACRONAL 3633 na and ACRONAL 3636.
“This whole family of products is designed to work in high-moisture, quick-dry applications,” he says. “They have very robust adhesion and excel in these situations.”
Sources of information
When it comes to learning more about flooring adhesives, architects most often use lunch-and-learn sessions and floor system manufacturer websites as primary sources of information. Installers are most likely to check the flooring adhesive manufacturer’s website, but there was a general demand for more education on the subject.
“Many of these flooring adhesive manufacturers offer workshops, and there are different trade associations stepping in to fill the void, but based on our interviews, there’s still a big demand for more,” Hummel says. “We spoke to people in Charlotte, New Orleans, San Diego — they all wanted more training on flooring adhesives.”
One of the installers’ top requests for an educational course was how to manage moisture issues in the process of flooring installation.
Adhesive manufacturers identify the best products to use on a particular substrate, and architects specify products based on the project at hand. Most architects (52 percent) vary the brand at least half the time. The reasons for changing included the manufacturer’s recommendation, the installer’s preference and the condition of the substrate.
When the time comes to install, contractors have the option to replace products with an equivalent (“or equal”) system if they choose.
“Many of the installers we interviewed were absolute experts in the industry. It was interesting to see what types of materials they prioritized,” Hummel notes. “And we were surprised to learn that cost was not the number one driver for substitutions.”
Before cost, installers said familiarity with alternative adhesives, availability and jobsite conditions were their main reasons for making equivalent substitutions. Fifty-eight percent said they use “or equal” substitutions at least some of the time.
“During the interviews for this study, we didn’t find there were many warranty claims, but people wanted to abide by the application methods so as not to violate the warranty,” Hummel adds. “So, the warranty and installation specifications were very important.”
Achieving green certifications
When specifying a particular brand of flooring adhesive, architects look for products that help them meet the requirements for green certifications. Hummel provides a quick breakdown of how these certifications work:
“Let’s say a flooring adhesive manufacturer wants to get an adhesive product certified. They provide a list of raw materials suppliers and basically give them the recipe. Organizations like Green Guard, Green Label Plus (part of CRI), and Cradle to Cradle contact suppliers to find out what’s in their raw materials, then analyze the final content of the adhesive.”
The analysis might reveal the presence of VOCs or other potential ingredients of concern. Depending on those levels, the adhesive gets a score, and the manufacturer gets a sense of how it might change the formulation to achieve safer levels of emissions and improve its score.
In the survey, LEED was often identified as the most important green certification at 63 percent, while GreenGuard ranked 55 percent and Green Label Plus 36 percent.
Low VOC awareness levels
Hummel found there was a general lack of awareness around volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in flooring adhesives, but installers still had general health concerns about the products they use. Odor was commonly cited as a big part of their concerns — installers said they sometimes have to stop a job because the smell is overwhelming.
“Installers didn’t necessarily equate VOCs with those health concerns, but there was definitely a concern with odor and what they were breathing off the adhesives,” Hummel explains.
He says the flooring industry has been steadily trending toward waterborne adhesives. These can be formulated to address odor issues and actual VOC content while offering comparable performance.
Forging ahead in the flooring adhesives market
The installers and architects interviewed by BASF agreed that in spite of steady progress in the flooring adhesives space over the past five years, there is still plenty of room to improve. In particular, tight projects timelines were a primary issue for installers, while architects cared most about installer safety and minimizing their own liability. Both felt it was important to use adhesives that address moisture issues on the job.
Contact us to discuss how BASF can help you meet the needs of the flooring adhesives market.