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Static Bursts (Ep #5): Hidden Costs of Flooring Installations (Part I) – Vapor in the Concrete

Moisture or vapor in the concrete subfloor can cause your floor to fail, resulting in serious costs down the line – in some cases, vacating the premises and installing a new floor.

People often assume, falsely, that in arid climates, moisture is non-existent. In this episode, Dave and Rick discuss what happens when people fail to do their due diligence (perform moisture tests or ignore readings), and offers advice on how to avoid costly problems.

Episode Highlights: Hidden Costs of Flooring Installations (Part I) – Vapor in the Concrete

  • Underground vapor emissions can cause moisture in a concrete subfloor. Environmental moisture can be visible and may exist even in dry desert climates.

  • When existing floor or tiles are lifted, the moisture will evaporate and appear to be gone. But the subfloor may still contain unacceptable levels of moisture/humidity.

  • If you build over a wet area (e.g., an aquifer), differences in the interior and exterior climates can cause moisture to come up from the ground into the concrete subfloor.

    Moisture causes concrete to become alkaline and the alkaline will “eat” – or disintegrate – the new flooring material.

  • Vapor barriers cost approximately $4 sq/foot – on top of flooring costs.

  • To avoid and protect yourself against costly mistakes:

    1. Do your due diligence before signing a lease.
      • Examine existing floor/subfloor
      • Conduct moisture/vapor tests to be sure they meet vapor standards

    2. Ask lessor or seller to provide a clause covering the floor, protecting against existing problems.

“…if you’ve got a problem [with moisture], put a bunch of machines in the building, start building circuit boards or running a bunch of servers in a server farm, and all of a sudden the floor starts to lift, you might have to move out of that building in order to keep your operation running.”

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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 podcasts will discuss the threat static electricity poses to your business and how to address those risks.

So Rick, let’s talk about hidden costs when you’re installing static-control flooring, and this might be one of those topics where we could probably be talking about regular flooring also.

So when people bring up questions about vapor, and vapor testing, and who’s going to do the vapor testing, I’ve got in the habit of asking them if they’ve actually leased the building yet. And the reason I ask them that is when a facilities group goes in and does due diligence on a site that they’re thinking about maybe renting 50-100 thousand square feet, there’s a strong tendency to worry about mechanical operation of the building, so like the HVAC equipment, the lights, they’ll look at the parking lot and drainage, they’ll look at energy costs, they’ll spend a lot of time being concerned about the roof. But what’s funny is they don’t ever seem to think about the condition of the concrete, and what might be going on with issues like vapor emissions when they’re looking at the building.

I get a kick out of it because if you move into a building, and you’ve got a problem with one section of the roof, you can deal with it, you can fix it, and if you’re running a manufacturing operation, it probably wouldn’t even interrupt the operation. But if you’ve got a major problem where you put a floor in, put a bunch of machines in the building and start building circuit boards or running a bunch of servers in a server farm, and all of a sudden the floor starts to lift, you might have to move out of that building in order to keep your operation running.

Rick: So one of the most important features of a rented space, the sub-floor, might be overlooked when choosing a facility, which could lead to major unexpected costs down the line. How can this mistake be avoided?

Dave: So there’s a few things that I’ve seen over the years that I just want to share with our listeners and take it for what it’s worth, it may not happen to you, but it might be something to be aware of.

So the first thing I tell people, when they tell me that they’re looking at a couple of sites, I tell them not to sign a lease until they’ve actually done their due diligence on the floor.

A couple years ago, one of my clients called me in Arizona, and they said that they were getting ready to lease a building for a cleanroom electronics manufacturer, and I visited with them because they were actually looking at two different sites and they weren’t sure which one they were going to be going with but they wanted us to help them determine the suitability of this flooring and whether or not they could use it in both buildings, or just one of the buildings, or neither building.

So the first thing we did when we walked into the building is we noticed a bunch of old carpet tiles and what was an office area that they were going to be converting into a manufacturing area. So I just started picking up carpet tiles, and it was funny because when I picked them up – and bear in mind, we’re in Arizona, which we always think of as a dry, arid desert environment – there was water underneath the carpet tiles, and the reason there was water under them is because the environmental conditions in the building, with the HVAC system running, were completely different than the exterior of the building, and it was this that was actually creating a moisture condensation issue, right underneath the carpet tiles.

So I suggested to these people that they don’t use that building because it was going to cost them more money to get rid of that moisture problem in the concrete than the flooring itself would cost. Now in this particular case, the lease cost was so low that they chose that building anyway. So after they started to do the renovation in the building, they picked up all the carpet tiles, and as I know, and most people in my business would expect, all of a sudden the water disappeared. Doesn’t mean that the problem went away, but the water disappeared because when you pick up the materials that are covering the concrete, it [the water] can now evaporate freely into the room.

So when it came time to put the floor in, they wanted to just put it down, and I said to them, you know before you do that, you really want to drill some holes in the concrete per this ASTM moisture test standard and put some probes into the floor, so they reluctantly did that. It’s good thing they did because when they put the probes in the floor, they discovered that the concrete relative humidity was 99.9%.

Rick: What was causing the high level of relative humidity in the concrete?

Dave: In this particular area, there is an aquifer. I mean, if you fly over Phoenix, Arizona, you’re flying over very arid, desert climate and all of a sudden you see this oasis, and then it disappears again before you get to California, so there is an aquifer, so when they pour concrete on top of the earth, but don’t put what they call a vapor barrier under the concrete, and then you enclose the building and turn air conditioning on, you create an environment inside the building that’s different than what’s underneath the building. If there’s vapor, that vapor is going to permeate the concrete, and if you encapsulate the concrete with something like an epoxy floor, or rubber floor, or vinyl floor, that moisture has nowhere to go, and because concrete is alkaline, the moisture that’s in the concrete becomes alkaline and it basically eats the floor that you just got done paying who knows how much money for?

Rick: Are there ways to remediate such high levels of relative humidity?

Dave: Absolutely, but I’d suggest to people before they go out and start worrying about vapor barriers, they do their due diligence ahead of time, so they know what they’re getting into.

Rick: I’m sure it’s not cheap.

Dave: No, it’s probably $4 a square foot. So what you’ve done is you’ve bought a building or leased a building that in order to put a floor down before you can even look at the costs of the floor, you’re going to put in the building, you’ve already sitting at $4 a square foot.

So if you do any research on vapor barriers to get rid of that kind of a problem, it’s off the charts in terms of what warranties would cover for vapor problems.

Rick: Was that new concrete?

Dave: This was a building that was about 20 years old. Oddly enough, I had actually done some flooring work for a previous tenant of this building, at least 15 years before the story I’m telling you now, and I remember this building as having serious vapor problems. In effect, anyone in the Phoenix area would know that there’s a lot of this kind of problem in that locale.

Rick: How can people protect themselves from having to pay for dealing with existing site conditions?

Dave: In this particular case, they had already signed the lease, they had taken ownership of any problems that were already in the building, so they were stuck with the problem. I think in this particular case, this company probably got a good enough deal on the lease that they were covered. But if you want to talk about hidden costs, my suggestion is anyone who’s going to lease a building is obviously going to be getting some kind of representations and warranties from a landlord about things like the heating system, cooling, electrical power grid, and any operational aspects of the building; they should add the floor into it. And that may mean just having some kind of a clause where you are protected from pre-existing conditions, because in some cases you’re not going to be able to even know by doing certain tests whether you have a problem until you move in, because some of these buildings, they don’t have operational HVAC. If you don’t have operational HVAC, technically the ASTM test for testing for moisture is invalid because you’re supposed to do the test at what they call operational conditions.

You might get lucky that day, and if it’s Phoenix maybe it’s an unusual time of year where the temperature is going to be the same as what you’re going to be operating the building at, but you’ve got to do these tests. You’ve got to set these tests up for a minimum of 24 hours. Some of them you have to run for 72 hours. So during that time period, just from swinging back and forth day-to-night, you’re not going to have the ideal conditions to do the test. I consider that to be a mandatory piece of due diligence, and I would guess that only one out of every 25 companies actually do that. I would say it’s probably because they don’t know the difference, and they don’t know what’s going to happen later on if they have the problem.

We hope you learned something today. If you have questions about the podcast, give us a call at 617-923-2000. Even though we specialize in solving problems with flooring, if you have a question about static discharge, how to install a floor, how to test the floor, we’ll 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.

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“I’m so glad we were able to find an attractive solution that didn’t leave us with some run-of-the-mill ugly disaster.”

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Get in Touch

East Coast: 617-923-2000
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We accept these major credit cards.

The FAA has updated its standard for facilities and electronic equipment. StaticWorx meets all requirements for ESD flooring.

Flooring Products

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Sign up for our newsletter and occasional updates.

Flooring Products

We accept these major credit cards.

The FAA has updated its standard for facilities and electronic equipment. StaticWorx meets all requirements for ESD flooring.

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Get in Touch

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Email: [email protected]

“I’m so glad we were able to find an attractive solution that didn’t leave us with some run-of-the-mill ugly disaster.”

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