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 4: How to Avoid Problems When Installing ESD Flooring Over Existing Surfaces 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 #4): Avoiding Problems When Installing ESD flooring Over Existing Surfaces

New floors are typically installed over the following pre-existing surfaces: VCT (vinyl composition tile), VAT (vinyl asbestos tile), or coatings over concrete. While it is possible and sometimes preferable to install a new floor directly over an old surface, a number of steps should be taken to ensure that the new floor does not fail. The steps including destructive testing to determine whether the bond between the existing surface and subfloor (or existing surfaces) is intact and exactly what lies below the current surface – subfloor? Old tile or coating? Layers of tiles? – as well as testing for asbestos and other regulated chemicals.

Dave Long discusses situations in which companies have run into trouble, installing new flooring over old, and explain the steps necessary to avoid similar problems.

Episode Highlights: Avoiding Problems When Installing ESD flooring Over Existing Surfaces

  • To avoid problems, do your due diligence:

    1. Do a fair amount of “destructive testing”
      • conduct pull tests (try to pull up old tile to check bond and see what’s underneath)
    2. Strip old wax from existing surface
      • layers of wax can keep tiles in place, even if the adhesive bond is broken; floors installed over poorly bonded tiles will fail
    3. Check when old floors were installed
      • were floors in all areas installed at the same time?
    4. Check to be sure there is no asbestos or other dangerous chemicals/materials
      • asbestos requires removal per EPA standards/guidelines

    Before installing a new floor:

    1. Confirm adhesive is intact and bond between existing floor and subfloor is strong
    2. Send old tiles to an independent lab for testing, so you know what you’re looking at
    3. Skim coat to flatten surface and fill in any gaps or seams – if the subfloor is imperfect, the new floor will telegraph those imperfections

We’ve made it easy to subscribe on your favorite platform!  

Subscribe

Installing ESD Floors Over Existing Surfaces

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.

One of the questions that comes up periodically is “Can we install static control flooring over the flooring that’s already in our building?” Usually when they ask that question, the client is asking us if they can cover old VCT – which stands for Vinyl Composition Tile – or they’re asking if they can cover a painted floor. That may or may not be an epoxy floor but some kind of a coating on the concrete. The simple answer is, it’s possible. However, it’s a scenario that needs a fair amount of analysis.

So a couple of quick examples of why you need to analyze whether it’s a good idea or not. The first thing is, what’s already on the floor and how well is it bonded? What is a good bond? So everyone assumes that if the floor looks flat and it looks like there aren’t any gaps between it, it must be installed very well and still secure in place.

You still want to do a little bit of pull testing. That might be using a suction cup, that might mean taking a putty knife, finding your way into a seam between two tiles and just seeing if you can lift them. But assuming that that’s been done – let’s call that the due diligence – the next thing to consider is how perfect is that surface that those old tiles present? So first order of business, make sure there’s no wax on the tiles. That means stripping off any kind of sealers, waxes, floor finishes and now you’ve got bare tile.

So that covers getting the surface to a point where there’s no coating on it that might contaminate an adhesive material that you would put on top of it, because let’s think about this for a second: we want to bond to the strongest surface available, we want to bond to the old tile, not to a wax coating that’s on top of it.

Rick: Okay, so after confirming that the adhesive bond under the existing floor is intact and the wax has been stripped from the surface, is it then ready to install over? What is skim coating and when is that necessary?

Dave: Essentially skim coating is applying a cementitious type material over a surface in order to create flatness but also to fill in gaps and seams. Depending upon the condition of the old floor you may want to do that, because even if the old floor is perfectly flat but there’s gaps, those gaps will show up over a period of a year or two, as telegraphed seams in the surface of the new tile. It won’t expose itself right away but because the void between two tiles is different than the surface on the old tile itself, eventually just due to time and traffic that will actually look like a grid at some point. So you’re going to have the natural seams in the new floor between the new tiles and you’re going to see the telegraphing of the old tile. It’s going to look a little funky if you don’t do it right.

Rick: Can you share with us an experience when the adhesive bond of the existing floor had failed?

Dave: Many years ago, I was called to a company in Woburn, Massachusetts. This company had leased space on the second story of a building. So, being on the second story of the building, they were not concerned about moisture vapor problems in their concrete; because it was old concrete and it wasn’t on grid, it had another acclimatized space underneath it. So they had found someone on the internet, who told them that they could install their flooring on top of the existing VCT and everything would be fine.

Fortunately, they did not pull the trigger on the project. They found out we were local, asked us to come in and take a look. When we walked into the building the old VCT looked like it was in great shape. Since they were up in the air about whether or not they were going to leave that VCT in place, I got permission to basically do a little bit of destructive testing. My destructive testing started out by just kicking one of the tiles on the floor with the sole of my shoe fairly hard. When I did the tile moved and after it moved I was able to get my fingernail in-between the seams and pull that tile off the floor. I was literally able to take my work boot, turn it on its side, place it in the void that tile was previously occupying, and drag tiles right off the floor.

Turned out that these old VCT tiles had been down for so long that they were basically gridlocked because it had about six coats of wax on top of it. So what was really going on is that the adhesive was no longer doing what it was supposed to do, because the VCT had shrunk and when it shrunk it broke the bond and the only thing keeping it in place was actually floor wax. Had they installed the floor on top of that, it probably would have been a miserable mess when they moved their machines in because there was literally no bond to the old concrete. The irony was that they wanted to leave that floor in place because they were afraid of how much it would cost to remove it and essentially, they had somebody come in with a Bobcat and put what looked like a plow on the front of it, just drive around for a couple of hours and all the VCT was in the dumpster.

When you’re going to be going over old flooring the first thing you want to do is be aware how good is the bond? Is it actually stuck in place? Because no flooring manufacturer and no flooring installer will ever tell you that they will warrant the bond on the floor that’s already there. Why would they? I mean, they don’t know anything about what’s going on underneath that old floor, until they try to lift it. So the only tile they can tell you they can warrant will be a tile that they couldn’t pull off the floor. So if you’ve got 20,000, square feet, they’d literally have to try to pull up 20,000 tiles in order to see how well they were bonded.

Rick: Do you recall an instance when removing the old floor was not so easy?

Dave: Maybe 15 years ago, we were working on a project in New Jersey, and the client had already made the decision that they wanted to remove the tile in their building, and this tile they said was only a few years old, and the building was actually an unusual structure. It was a section of buildings that had been built at different times. That’s going to be important for you to keep in mind if you’re doing due diligence on a building that you might be renting or purchasing. So they decided that they would shut down their operation for two weeks because they were going to shut down for a week-long Fourth of July shutdown, so they just added a couple days on each end of that, and they were going to move all their equipment out of the building and put it in trailers.

Well, when they started to remove the old floor they discovered that different areas of the building had more flooring underneath the old floor. So because this building had grown over the years and was actually probably three different builds over a 20 or 30 year period, the elevation looked the same between all the floors, but in one area they actually had three layers of old VCT and one of those layers of VCT – the bottom one – instead of the tiles being 12 inches by 12 inches they were 9 inches by 9 inches. If you know anything about the history of VCT, in the 1960s and the early 1970s, one of the ingredients in VCT was asbestos.

So, a very simple tile removal turned into an asbestos abatement project. It cost them thousands and thousands of dollars to get the asbestos out of the building and because they were committed to removing it at that point, and they had actually already fractured tiles, they were in violation of handling asbestos, so they had to bring in people who were wearing masks and special suits, had to put up plastic, they had to pay for the disposal of the tile after it was done, and it actually ended up adding a week to their schedule, which meant that their manufacturing, instead of being shut down for, I think, 11 or 12 days, it was shut down for almost three weeks.

One of the little things that people don’t think about when they start pondering the idea of putting in flooring is, “What am I going to do to make the space ready?” And I guess, you know, in line with that is the first thing you want to do is pull up sections of the old floor in multiple areas. I mean, if you’re listening to this and you’re involved in engineering or space planning, you already know that one of the things you need to do with certain types of tests is a little bit of, I guess you might call it statistical analysis. One sample doesn’t tell you anything. So I always suggest to people that they do a fair amount of disruptive testing. If you’re thinking about pulling up the old floor anyway, worst case scenario is you discover it’s really intact and you replace a few tiles when you’re done. That’s a lot better than discovering that you’re going to lose another week of manufacturing and on top of it be in violation of asbestos abatement.

Rick: After discovering the presence of asbestos in the existing floor, is it possible to apply a coating to encapsulate the asbestos or is it always necessary to go the costly route of removing it altogether?

So VAT is kind of a catch 22. I’m not going to claim that I understand the legalities involved with asbestos in every state in the country. That said, when you’re dealing with VAT, the first thing is, you should always test both adhesive traces and old tile before you get involved in any removal project or any project where you’re going to cover the old floor. When I say test what I’m talking about is, take samples, and you might want to make sure that the floor is slightly wet when you take the samples. Put the sample material in plastic bag and send it to a lab that has the ability to test for asbestos. That’s a simple Google search; you can find labs in every place in the country that will help you find out whether there’s an asbestos content in an old tile. So once you determine that, then you obviously know if you’re in this business, what your regulations are for that state – and if you don’t, you know where to go to find them – but let’s assume that it’s most states right now where it’s not a requirement that you actually remove it, but you choose instead to go over it because you don’t want to deal with the cost of the abatement. So if there’s any need to do any kind of sanding or leveling to the floor, one of your options obviously is to potentially sand the tiles, but because asbestos can’t become airborne. If you do any kind of work like that, you’re going to have to do that while the floor is wet, and that might not sit comfortably with some people. But if you think about it, every floor tile, at some point – and I’m talking about VCT and by inclusion VAT – those kinds of floors get waxed, and they get buffed for regular maintenance. So they’re exposed to wet abrasion anyway, so anything I’m talking about here would be no different than treating those floors from a friction perspective, the way they’re treated for regular maintenance. So, when you decide “Okay, I’m going to cover up this VAT, the first thing you’re going to want to do, like I said earlier, you need to remove any waxes and polishes from the surface.

The next thing you have to look at is do I have tiles that are curled or uneven or is there some kind of a discrepancy in the flatness of the surface. If there is, you’re going to want to encapsulate that floor with some kind of a skim coat, and there’s a number of companies that make cementitious skim coats, but whatever you do when you cover any surface -including bare concrete – you need to keep in mind that the new surface you’re putting on that floor, can’t look any better than the irregularities of the surface it’s sitting on top of. So if an old VAT floor has some irregularities in it and then you put new ESD tile on top of it, eventually those irregularities are going to show their way through. So you have to make a business decision: Do I care about that? Is my property going to be so crowded with machinery and tables, chairs and people, that I’m not going to notice those things anyway? Or am I going to have wide open aisles where I might have a 15 foot wide span, that goes 200 feet, where I’m looking to make a good impression on the client that I’m walking through my facility? So, VAT, just like concrete, just like VCT can be covered with a skim coat.

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.

Installing ESD Floors Over Existing Surfaces

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.

One of the questions that comes up periodically is “Can we install static control flooring over the flooring that’s already in our building?” Usually when they ask that question, the client is asking us if they can cover old VCT – which stands for Vinyl Composition Tile – or they’re asking if they can cover a painted floor. That may or may not be an epoxy floor but some kind of a coating on the concrete. The simple answer is, it’s possible. However, it’s a scenario that needs a fair amount of analysis.

So a couple of quick examples of why you need to analyze whether it’s a good idea or not. The first thing is, what’s already on the floor and how well is it bonded? What is a good bond? So everyone assumes that if the floor looks flat and it looks like there aren’t any gaps between it, it must be installed very well and still secure in place.

You still want to do a little bit of pull testing. That might be using a suction cup, that might mean taking a putty knife, finding your way into a seam between two tiles and just seeing if you can lift them. But assuming that that’s been done – let’s call that the due diligence – the next thing to consider is how perfect is that surface that those old tiles present? So first order of business, make sure there’s no wax on the tiles. That means stripping off any kind of sealers, waxes, floor finishes and now you’ve got bare tile.

So that covers getting the surface to a point where there’s no coating on it that might contaminate an adhesive material that you would put on top of it, because let’s think about this for a second: we want to bond to the strongest surface available, we want to bond to the old tile, not to a wax coating that’s on top of it.

Rick: Okay, so after confirming that the adhesive bond under the existing floor is intact and the wax has been stripped from the surface, is it then ready to install over? What is skim coating and when is that necessary?

Dave: Essentially skim coating is applying a cementitious type material over a surface in order to create flatness but also to fill in gaps and seams. Depending upon the condition of the old floor you may want to do that, because even if the old floor is perfectly flat but there’s gaps, those gaps will show up over a period of a year or two, as telegraphed seams in the surface of the new tile. It won’t expose itself right away but because the void between two tiles is different than the surface on the old tile itself, eventually just due to time and traffic that will actually look like a grid at some point. So you’re going to have the natural seams in the new floor between the new tiles and you’re going to see the telegraphing of the old tile. It’s going to look a little funky if you don’t do it right.

Rick: Can you share with us an experience when the adhesive bond of the existing floor had failed?

Dave: Many years ago, I was called to a company in Woburn, Massachusetts. This company had leased space on the second story of a building. So, being on the second story of the building, they were not concerned about moisture vapor problems in their concrete; because it was old concrete and it wasn’t on grid, it had another acclimatized space underneath it. So they had found someone on the internet, who told them that they could install their flooring on top of the existing VCT and everything would be fine.

Fortunately, they did not pull the trigger on the project. They found out we were local, asked us to come in and take a look. When we walked into the building the old VCT looked like it was in great shape. Since they were up in the air about whether or not they were going to leave that VCT in place, I got permission to basically do a little bit of destructive testing. My destructive testing started out by just kicking one of the tiles on the floor with the sole of my shoe fairly hard. When I did the tile moved and after it moved I was able to get my fingernail in-between the seams and pull that tile off the floor. I was literally able to take my work boot, turn it on its side, place it in the void that tile was previously occupying, and drag tiles right off the floor.

Turned out that these old VCT tiles had been down for so long that they were basically gridlocked because it had about six coats of wax on top of it. So what was really going on is that the adhesive was no longer doing what it was supposed to do, because the VCT had shrunk and when it shrunk it broke the bond and the only thing keeping it in place was actually floor wax. Had they installed the floor on top of that, it probably would have been a miserable mess when they moved their machines in because there was literally no bond to the old concrete. The irony was that they wanted to leave that floor in place because they were afraid of how much it would cost to remove it and essentially, they had somebody come in with a Bobcat and put what looked like a plow on the front of it, just drive around for a couple of hours and all the VCT was in the dumpster.

When you’re going to be going over old flooring the first thing you want to do is be aware how good is the bond? Is it actually stuck in place? Because no flooring manufacturer and no flooring installer will ever tell you that they will warrant the bond on the floor that’s already there. Why would they? I mean, they don’t know anything about what’s going on underneath that old floor, until they try to lift it. So the only tile they can tell you they can warrant will be a tile that they couldn’t pull off the floor. So if you’ve got 20,000, square feet, they’d literally have to try to pull up 20,000 tiles in order to see how well they were bonded.

Rick: Do you recall an instance when removing the old floor was not so easy?

Dave: Maybe 15 years ago, we were working on a project in New Jersey, and the client had already made the decision that they wanted to remove the tile in their building, and this tile they said was only a few years old, and the building was actually an unusual structure. It was a section of buildings that had been built at different times. That’s going to be important for you to keep in mind if you’re doing due diligence on a building that you might be renting or purchasing. So they decided that they would shut down their operation for two weeks because they were going to shut down for a week-long Fourth of July shutdown, so they just added a couple days on each end of that, and they were going to move all their equipment out of the building and put it in trailers.

Well, when they started to remove the old floor they discovered that different areas of the building had more flooring underneath the old floor. So because this building had grown over the years and was actually probably three different builds over a 20 or 30 year period, the elevation looked the same between all the floors, but in one area they actually had three layers of old VCT and one of those layers of VCT – the bottom one – instead of the tiles being 12 inches by 12 inches they were 9 inches by 9 inches. If you know anything about the history of VCT, in the 1960s and the early 1970s, one of the ingredients in VCT was asbestos.

So, a very simple tile removal turned into an asbestos abatement project. It cost them thousands and thousands of dollars to get the asbestos out of the building and because they were committed to removing it at that point, and they had actually already fractured tiles, they were in violation of handling asbestos, so they had to bring in people who were wearing masks and special suits, had to put up plastic, they had to pay for the disposal of the tile after it was done, and it actually ended up adding a week to their schedule, which meant that their manufacturing, instead of being shut down for, I think, 11 or 12 days, it was shut down for almost three weeks.

One of the little things that people don’t think about when they start pondering the idea of putting in flooring is, “What am I going to do to make the space ready?” And I guess, you know, in line with that is the first thing you want to do is pull up sections of the old floor in multiple areas. I mean, if you’re listening to this and you’re involved in engineering or space planning, you already know that one of the things you need to do with certain types of tests is a little bit of, I guess you might call it statistical analysis. One sample doesn’t tell you anything. So I always suggest to people that they do a fair amount of disruptive testing. If you’re thinking about pulling up the old floor anyway, worst case scenario is you discover it’s really intact and you replace a few tiles when you’re done. That’s a lot better than discovering that you’re going to lose another week of manufacturing and on top of it be in violation of asbestos abatement.

Rick: After discovering the presence of asbestos in the existing floor, is it possible to apply a coating to encapsulate the asbestos or is it always necessary to go the costly route of removing it altogether?

So VAT is kind of a catch 22. I’m not going to claim that I understand the legalities involved with asbestos in every state in the country. That said, when you’re dealing with VAT, the first thing is, you should always test both adhesive traces and old tile before you get involved in any removal project or any project where you’re going to cover the old floor. When I say test what I’m talking about is, take samples, and you might want to make sure that the floor is slightly wet when you take the samples. Put the sample material in plastic bag and send it to a lab that has the ability to test for asbestos. That’s a simple Google search; you can find labs in every place in the country that will help you find out whether there’s an asbestos content in an old tile. So once you determine that, then you obviously know if you’re in this business, what your regulations are for that state – and if you don’t, you know where to go to find them – but let’s assume that it’s most states right now where it’s not a requirement that you actually remove it, but you choose instead to go over it because you don’t want to deal with the cost of the abatement. So if there’s any need to do any kind of sanding or leveling to the floor, one of your options obviously is to potentially sand the tiles, but because asbestos can’t become airborne. If you do any kind of work like that, you’re going to have to do that while the floor is wet, and that might not sit comfortably with some people. But if you think about it, every floor tile, at some point – and I’m talking about VCT and by inclusion VAT – those kinds of floors get waxed, and they get buffed for regular maintenance. So they’re exposed to wet abrasion anyway, so anything I’m talking about here would be no different than treating those floors from a friction perspective, the way they’re treated for regular maintenance. So, when you decide “Okay, I’m going to cover up this VAT, the first thing you’re going to want to do, like I said earlier, you need to remove any waxes and polishes from the surface.

The next thing you have to look at is do I have tiles that are curled or uneven or is there some kind of a discrepancy in the flatness of the surface. If there is, you’re going to want to encapsulate that floor with some kind of a skim coat, and there’s a number of companies that make cementitious skim coats, but whatever you do when you cover any surface -including bare concrete – you need to keep in mind that the new surface you’re putting on that floor, can’t look any better than the irregularities of the surface it’s sitting on top of. So if an old VAT floor has some irregularities in it and then you put new ESD tile on top of it, eventually those irregularities are going to show their way through. So you have to make a business decision: Do I care about that? Is my property going to be so crowded with machinery and tables, chairs and people, that I’m not going to notice those things anyway? Or am I going to have wide open aisles where I might have a 15 foot wide span, that goes 200 feet, where I’m looking to make a good impression on the client that I’m walking through my facility? So, VAT, just like concrete, just like VCT can be covered with a skim coat.

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.

Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on reddit
Reddit
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on email
Email

Other Podcast Episodes

Learning Center Articles

Play Video

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.

Play Video

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.