The Greater New York Floor Coverers Promotional Fund, affiliated with INSTALL NYC through our Labor-Management Partnership, recently held a roundtable discussion on issues related to concrete moisture, which has been cited as the number one cause for floor covering failures in New York City. The educational panel brought together architects, designers and contractors to discuss solutions to the issue of concrete moisture. 

The well-attended seminar filled its scheduled two-hour time slot but could have gone much longer as the meeting was full of information regarding multiple aspects of concrete moisture, including terminology, industry standards and third-party testing. Questions such as, “Where does moisture come from?” and “Moisture Testing: Why, How and Who?” were also covered during a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation given by panelist and concrete moisture expert Christopher Capobianco, sales and technical specialist for Spartan Surfaces.

The event’s esteemed participants also included Al Baer, president of Baer’s Rug & Linoleum; Lee Eliseian, president of Independent Floor Testing and Inspection (IFTI), and industry concrete moisture guru Larry Press, director of Flooring for Helmitin Adhesives, all of whom answered questions posed by various sources through Capobianco and attendees during a Q&A session, as no stone or concrete slab was left unturned.

When it came to the subject of terminology, a main point brought forth was the confusion between cement and concrete, as well as the differences in curing and drying. “This is arguably one of the key areas where things go wrong on new construction sites with regard to concrete,” Capobianco said, “because an assumption is made that when concrete is cured it’s ready for a floor.”

Curing and drying are two completely different things, he explained. “Curing is a chemical reaction that binds all of the ingredients together, while drying is what happens after that. They don’t happen at the same time. The standard we all hear about—28-day curing time—doesn’t mean you’re putting a floor down on day 30.”

Methods of curing as well as the differences of on-grade and below-grade were brought up on how concrete moisture relates to each. In discussing where moisture comes from, factors such as liquid water in the mix, water vapor from the ground and external sources like drainage problems, slab coming into contact with wet soil from sprinklers and landscaping being too close to the building were also covered.

In how best to prevent the problems from concrete moisture, one of the main points Capobianco made in his presentation noted a guideline from ASTM F710: “All concrete slabs shall be tested for moisture regardless of age or grade level.” Afterwards, he reiterated that point, stressing “the importance of testing absolutely every concrete slab there is. That one line from ASTM F710 says it all.”

IFTI’s Eliseian discussed, among other things, the differences between the calcium chloride and relative humidity tests, noting one of the ways the seminar was effective for contractors was showing how “they can position themselves out of the liability loop when it comes to concrete slab moisture issues. If they can get away from that where they are just doing the installation, I believe it would make for a much healthier environment.”

As Press noted, concrete moisture is not a new phenomenon. “This has been going on since the ’30s, but the construction habits introduced regarding speed, money, HVAC not being on, etc., and with all the pressure on the general contractor to get it done under any circumstances, no one wants to pay for it. And then after the fact, it costs more. If they would set aside money in the front and say, ‘OK, we’re going to open up the slabs, we’re going to provide heating and ventilation [as well as other preventative measures],’ there would be no issues.”

Martin Murdoch, executive vice president of contractor M.E. Sabosik Associates, said, “The ability to talk with the A&D community to explain the problems on our side” was key for him. “There is a lot of disconnect between the two. And by bringing the A&D community in to understand those differences gives us the ability to work some of these problems out.”

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Source: Louis Iannaco, Floor Covering News, November 2012.