Against a dark blue background, the podcast title 'Static Bursts' appears in white at the top of the image, with an orange and white stopwatch icon between the two words. A lightning spark appears at the right hand side of the image with a cascade of sparks radiating out across the rest of the image. The podcast title Episode 1: Avoid Flooring Failure: What to Know Before Installing Static-Control Flooring Over Concrete is overlaid in white and a dark blue semi-opaque square covering the middle of the image. The company name and logo Staticworx appears in orange (first half) and white (second half) at the bottom.

Static Bursts (Ep #1): Avoid Failures

Installing Static-control Flooring Over Concrete

Moisture problems are the #1 cause of failed flooring installations.

Often the result of aquifers or other environmental conditions, moisture may be invisible. So how do you know if you have a moisture problem?

Once you’ve identified the problem, how do you fix it? What if you choose to ignore high moisture readings? If you’re in a 24/7 operational facility – call or data center, 9-1-1 dispatch, flight tower or other critical space – how do you solve a moisture problem – adhesive breakdown, for example – without shutting down or compromising your core mission?

Dave Long, president of Staticworx, Inc., discusses these and other issues related to mitigating moisture in new construction, renovations, and occupied workspaces.

The Gist: Avoid Failures:
Installing Static-control Flooring Over Concrete​

Moisture Mitigation and
Relative Humidity in Concrete

Standard ASTM 2170 tells you how to determine whether or not there is vapor in your concrete subfloor.

Liquified Adhesive
Adhesive oozing through seams between vinyl tiles – caused by vapor.
What is Vapor?

Damaging moisture or vapor is not the water you see.

It is the invisible vapor that comes through concrete from below or water retained in concrete that is not fully cured.

Combining vapor with alkaline (concrete) produces a chemistry that attacks conductive flooring adhesives.

Testing the Floor

To address vapor problems, tests must be done correctly. This requires controlling the site conditions.

The ambient environment must be controlled and tests done under the environmental conditions you expect to experience when the building is occupied and the floor in use.

Every adhesive manufacturer rates their product for how it will handle relative humidity in concrete.

If you get measurements in excess of vapor ratings for the adhesive, assume these numbers will not change – and proceed as if you have a vapor problem.

Ignoring high readings to save money is a mistake.

Installing Vapor Barriers

Every flooring installation has its own set of challenges.

Look at strategies that are compatible with the operation, so you can solve the problem under the conditions presented to you.

How would you test for and address moisture issues when installing static-control flooring over fresh concrete?

The most common solutions is to shot blast the concrete and use a two-part liquid epoxy (vapor barrier).

When choosing a vapor barrier, look at the length of the company’s warranty and the strength of the company.

Ask whether the product can do the job and if the company can fix the floor if their barrier doesn’t do the job.

How would you handle an occupied space – for example a mission-critical environment – where you can’t have any downtime and you’ve got employees working in the space at the same time as you’re installing the floor?

Roll-on vapor barriers can be rolled over the concrete, the flooring material placed directly over the barrier, and equipment placed back on the floor – all while the facility is in use – without compromising the operation.

Roll-on vapor barriers require no cure time, no blasting of concrete, and no chemicals.

Moisture Ratings

Be sure you know what humidity the vapor barrier you purchase is rated to handle.

Readings of 99% humidity are not uncommon.

A floor may test at 85% or 90% in multiple areas and 99% percent in an outlying area. Do not purchase a barrier rated for 85 – 90% humidity, while ignoring one area measuring 99%. If there’s a problem you will be required to take moisture readings, and if the floor failed at the spot with 99% humidity, you’ll be stuck footing the bill.

“If you don’t have a surface that is properly tested and certified for installing a floor, you could wake up in your factory and discover that you are spending more time putting up traffic cones, repairing floor tiles, then you are pumping out the product that you’re trying to make.”

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Dave: Welcome to Static Talks. I’m your host, Dave Long, Founder and President of StaticWorx. We make static-control flooring and our podcast will discuss the threat static electricity poses to your business, and how to address those risks.

As you all know, we’re the static-control flooring experts; however, even if we’re in the static-control industry, every flooring project starts out the same – whether it’s a conductive or static-dissipative floor, a tile floor, a ceramic floor, an epoxy floor – the first thing we have to do is look over our site conditions and determine what obstacles we are going to face. In today’s discussion, I have Rick Frauton with me, my colleague, and we’re going to talk to you about an area that’s quite misunderstood, called moisture mitigation and relative humidity in concrete.

Rick: Thanks, Dave. I’d love to learn more about that.

Dave: Well, Rick, we have in front of us the ASTM standard for testing relative humidity in concrete which I’m sure is the most interesting topic any of our listeners will ever hear about. (laughs)

Rick: It looks important.

Dave: It’s the reason why people don’t like flooring. If you don’t have a surface that is properly tested and certified for installing a floor, you could wake up in your factory and discover that you are spending more time putting up traffic cones, repairing floor tiles, then you are pumping out the product that you’re trying to make. So what we’re going to do is, we’re going to go over a standard- it’s an ASTM standard – called 2170; every so often they update the standard but ASTM 2170 is a document that tells you how to determine whether or not there is vapor in concrete.

By the way, when I talk about vapor, a lot of the times people will say to me “Well, we don’t have any water in our building… We don’t have an aquifer anywhere near our location… We’re in Colorado, it’s dry here.” I will hear things about drainage and French drains and all sorts of extraordinary lengths the contractor went to when they excavated a building. That’s not what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about is invisible vapor that is either coming through the concrete from somewhere below or water that is still in the concrete because it hasn’t fully cured. We need to determine where the vapor is coming from and how much there is because concrete is an alkaline substance. If you’re installing an ESD floor and you combine vapor with alkalinity, you end up with a chemistry that attacks conductive flooring adhesives.

Rick: Okay, so we know that humidity can be a real challenge when installing this type of flooring. If you do testing and find out that there is in fact too much humidity in this environment, how do you address that?

Dave: Well, before we address it, Rick, what we need to do this first make sure that the tests are done correctly. So what will happen a lot of times is a flooring contractor will tell a general contractor or the owner of the building that they’ll do moisture testing for them. Moisture tests will be done, flooring will be installed, and a year later they’ll discover they have a problem with the floor lifting and the adhesive breaking down, and everyone will look at each other and say “well, we did the testing and we passed the tests – where did we go wrong?”

Well, the reason you want to buy a copy directly from ASTM of the test method, is because you need to know how to control the site conditions when you do the test. So what I mean by that – and I’ll kind of give you a short story – most buildings, if it’s a renovation, don’t have their HVAC systems running. So what’ll happen is a flooring contractor will go in a building, and whatever the temperature happens to be outside that will be the temperature inside. Say it is 50° and 40% humidity – whatever it is outside, will be the same inside. They’ll drill holes in concrete – which is what you have to do to do this test – they’ll drill them to 40% of the depth of the concrete, they’ll put in these test probes that create a micro environment that they can now plug a tester into and push it into the hole and make their measurement and they’ll get numbers. However, those numbers don’t mean anything unless that is the condition under which you will operate the building.

First, you must know how to control the site conditions.

So, let’s say for some reason it is a building in the midwest or the Northeast or someplace where they actually have a winter and maybe it’s 45° in the building. When they acclimatize that building and actually use the floor, and in fact when they installed the floor, that building is probably going to be 65 or 70°, so right away you’ve tested for a condition that could come back to haunt you under different circumstances then you expect when you use the building. So if you read that 2170 document, the first thing it’s going to tell you is that you have to control the ambient environment when you do the test. That gets done probably 10% of the time.

Another way to possibly look at testing done under the incorrect circumstances, is if you get measurements that are in excess of what the adhesive is rated for. You should assume that any time in the future, regardless of the ambient environment, those measurements will be in excess of what is acceptable for the adhesive – and proceed as if you know you have a vapor problem.

Unfortunately, most of the time when people get measurements that they don’t like and mitigating the problem is going to cost a fair amount of money, there’s a temptation to say “we’re not really using the right conditions to do this test, so let’s ignore the results.” Think of any example you want, but that’s usually the worst direction to go in.

Rick: Okay, Dave, so assuming the relative humidity testing is done correctly, what do those measurements mean and if there is a problem how do we get rid of it?

Dave: Every adhesive manufacturer – and we’re talking about conductive adhesives right now – has a rating that they will attest, that they believe their adhesive will handle for relative humidity in concrete. So, for example, one part acrylic adhesive is usually rated at somewhere between 80 and 85% relative humidity. So let’s assume that the tests have been done correctly and now, your question, Rick, how do I get rid of the problem, now we get into a situation where we have to ask ourselves “what’s the best way to do this?” And by best I don’t just mean the materials that you use to correct the problem but also what obstacles do you have? Is this a renovation?

In my business, we do a lot of work in police stations, where we’re putting flooring in 9-1-1 call centers. Think about shutting down a call centre so they can put a vapor barrier in. How do you do that? How do you not allow 9-1-1 calls to come in for a couple of days while you correct a problem with concrete that won’t allow the flooring to stick? So you’ve got to look at strategies that are compatible with the operation that you’re working under. The operation could be new construction, completely empty building, brand new concrete, with no one to get in your way, so you’ve got all options on the table for that situation. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got a data center that can’t be shut down, an FAA navigation flight centre that can’t be shut down, a police station. So when you’re looking at these problems, you want to be looking at them not just from the perspective of how do I get rid of vapor, but how do I do it under the conditions that have been presented to me.

Rick: But what about a brand new facility? How would you test for and address moisture issues when installing static-control flooring over fresh concrete?

Dave: Let’s talk about new construction. New construction is easy. One of the most common solutions in new construction is to do what they call shotblast the concrete. So what they’ll do is they’ll profile the concrete so that a liquid put on top of it can penetrate the surface. In this case, with eliminating vapor problems, that liquid would be a special type of two-part epoxy solution that would penetrate some of the concrete and also reside on the top of the concrete, leaving kind of a glassy looking finish. These vapor barriers, these two-part vapor barriers, are made by at least a dozen companies and I’m not going to recommend any one but I can tell you that there are differences between these products and one of the things that you want to look at is the length of warranty and the strength of the company itself. Whenever you’re putting down something to get rid of a major problem – that could in fact also jeopardize your business – you want to look at it from the perspective of can this product and can the company backing it do the things that would need to be done, if it doesn’t work.

Rick: Okay, and how would you handle an occupied space, for example a mission-critical environment where you can’t have any downtime and you’ve got employees working in the space at the same time as you’re installing the floor?

Dave: Another solution is a roll-on vapor barrier. So at the risk of dumbing down how these products work, picture a 5-foot wide roll, that looks like 80 grit sandpaper on one side and Tyvek on the other. There are a number of companies that make these; one of them is a product that we’ve used quite often that’s proven to be a true solution for people who need to roll out a vapor barrier, basically overnight. So back to our busy 24/7 kind of operations, the team could literally go on with lifts, move a console in a 9-1-1 call center, slide it over 6 or 8 feet, grab a roll of this material, put it down on the concrete, put flooring on top of that, put the console back on top of the flooring, and keep moving, all the while the operation continued to take phone calls and hopefully not compromise any of the public safety duties. That kind of solution would require no cure time, it would require no blasting of concrete, and it could be done without the use of chemicals, so it could be done in an occupied space. Maybe it’s a clean room, same thing in a clean room. Obviously, cleanroom facility managers are worried about dust and contamination. That’s why they call it a cleanroom. In a clean room, you would be able to put the vapor barrier down and install whatever type of flooring you want to on top of that roll-on barrier. So those are a couple of strategies – one a liquid version and the other a dry version. Hopefully, you’ll have the option to use either one and when you look at these vapor barriers, like I said, you want to look at warranty.

The other thing you want to look at is what are they rated for. If the test that was originally done is done correctly, you might find out that your relative humidity is 99% – that’s not an uncommon number. The reason I say it is not an uncommon number is I very seldom have ever seen a number under 70. So think of 70 as 0 and 100 as 100, that’s a much smaller range already and 99 would be what you would probably measure on a new concrete that is two to two-and-a-half months old. So when you see these numbers you want to look at the vapor barrier and see what it is rated for because I’ll tell you what will happen: you’re supposed to take one reading for every thousand square feet. Suppose you have a 10,000 ft² room and you decide you only need to take five readings and four of them are 85% and one of them is 99%, what reading would you rely on? I can tell you that when it comes to budgets, a lot of people are going to say “well, I’ll with the lower number because there were four of them” – and that answer would be incorrect. The reason it would be incorrect is if you install flooring, you have a problem with the flooring, the first thing the flooring vapor barrier manufacturer is going to do, is they’re going to ask you – or maybe even do it for themselves – they’re going to make a measurement in the exact location where the failure occurred and if that failure occurred where you’ve got an anomaly, and you’ve got a high number -call it 99% – but you bought their product that was only rated up to 95%, they’re going to tell you that you don’t have a warranty. If you bought the less expensive product because you decided to bet that your one measurement was high and erroneous and all the other numbers were the numbers you should rely on – because statistically they were all bunched together – you’re going to end up having to take care of that problem yourself.

We hope you learned something today. If you have questions about the podcast, give us a call on 617-923-2000. Even though we specialise in solving problems with flooring, if you have a question about static discharge, how to install a floor, how to test a floor, will be glad to help you. Thanks for listening.

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StaticWorx high-performance static-control floors protect electronic components, explosives, and high-speed computers from damage caused by static electricity. ESD flooring is part of a system. Choices should always be based on objective, researched evidence. When you partner with us, we look at all possible items that may need to integrate with the floor, and, focusing on your goals and objectives, help you find the right floor for your application.

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StaticWorx high-performance static-control floors protect electronic components, explosives, and high-speed computers from damage caused by static electricity. ESD flooring is part of a system. Choices should always be based on objective, researched evidence. When you partner with us, we look at all possible items that may need to integrate with the floor, and, focusing on your goals and objectives, help you find the right floor for your application.