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Time to get on top of flooring terms and technical details

Time to get on top of flooring terms and technical details
Steve Thornton

Published by Steve Thornton - Technical Manager - Wall and Floor

Steve Thornton has almost 30 years of experience in the flooring industry. Starting out as an apprentice floor-layer, Steve acquired a wide range of installation expertise over two decades. He moved on to project management, followed by several years as a National Technical Manager before joining Bostik as a Technical Consultant.

In the flooring industry, we come across various words that have specific meanings in our field. These include terms like airing time, drying or curing time and late placement to name but a few. However, what do they actually mean and how do you make use of them? The sheer number of different words and phrases in the flooring sector can be difficult to understand, especially for people who are relatively new to the industry. Product manufacturers use these terms on packaging and in technical documents, so it’s useful to fully understand them, as well as to be able to explain them simply to project partners from other sectors.

There are a few common terms that pop up more frequently, which I will explain, along with some of the potential problems that may occur if the terms aren’t understood properly.

Walk-on time generally refers to smoothing compounds and is the time it takes the applied product to become sufficiently dry enough to accept foot traffic. Walking on the product prior to this can result in indentations, which will spoil the finish of the product, or mirror through any subsequently installed flooring.

Airing time is usually used when discussing adhesives. It is the length of time you must wait once the product has been applied before you can place any floor finishes. Airing time allows moisture within the product to dissipate into the air in a vaporised form, reducing the amount of moisture contained within the adhesive when bonding to the floor finish. If you don’t allow a sufficient airing time you may experience issues such as ‘bubbling’ in the finished flooring as the moisture vapour, which should have been allowed to escape, subsequently builds up under the flooring to form bubbles.

Once an adhesive is applied and the necessary airing time has been observed we come to open time. This is the duration in which a product is receptive to receiving the chosen floor finish. Working within the stated open time will provide the optimum bond strength. Once the open time expires, the adhesive will become rapidly less receptive. Subsequently, the bond strength that can be achieved will deteriorate until such a point where bonding is no longer possible. Installing finishes after the recommended open time may lead to issues like late placement.

Late placement is the term used to describe a scenario where adhesive has been left for too long, thus reducing the performance, yet the flooring has still been installed. As the bond is greatly reduced or not present at all, the flooring (particularly in the case of resilient flooring) will expand and contract with the conditions of the installation environment. This can result in gaps between the flooring or a growth of the material, forcing it away from the substrate or adjacent flooring material.

“The sheer number of different words and phrases in the flooring sector can be difficult to understand, especially for people who are relatively new to the industry.”

Both drying time and curing time relate to when a product has sufficiently moved from a liquid state into a solid state and, if necessary, the point at which a subsequent application can be undertaken. But what is the difference between drying and curing?

In simple terms, drying is the loss of all liquid components from the applied product. This can occur by evaporation and by absorption into the base on which the product has been applied. Generally, a smoothing compound or an acrylic adhesive will dry. This is because it requires the loss of the liquid component to bring about the final desired state of the product.

“The sheer number of different words and phrases in the flooring sector can be difficult to understand, especially for people who are relatively new to the industry.”

Curing refers to a chemical reaction that occurs within the product to bring about the change from liquid to solid. Epoxy and polyurethane products will cure and these products come with two components (usually labelled part A and part B). When they are combined together, a chemical reaction takes place and this converts the liquid into a solid state.

All the above terms relate to information the manufacturer has gathered on their products from extensive testing. However, the testing that has been carried out is undertaken in standardised conditions – typically 200C and 65% Relative Humidity (%RH). This means that if an installation environment differs to the one in which the testing has been undertaken then the product’s performance may also differ from that stated.

If the installation environment is colder and/or damper than that of the testing conditions, then the durations stated will usually need to be increased. For instance, in the case of an adhesive airing time, if the airing time is stated as 10 minutes, then the likelihood is that in a cold or damp environment this could increase to 20, 30, 60 minutes or more. The colder and damper the environment, the more the duration is extended.

For very warm and dry environments though, it is the reverse. An airing time of 10 minutes may well reduce to five minutes, but more importantly, the open time can be vastly reduced. An open time of 60 minutes can drop to as little as 10 or 20 minutes and potentially even less, vastly increasing the possibility of late placement.

The above terms and timings can be found in a Technical Data Sheet (TDS) and Safety Data Sheet (SDS). Most manufacturers will produce a TDS for each of their products, while legally all products with a potentially hazardous or chemical component must have an SDS. These documents can be extremely useful in helping you get the best out of a product.

A TDS describes in detail the performance and characteristics of the product or material to allow the user to understand what it can do and where it should be used. The TDS may also provide information on how the product should be applied, what limitations it has and where it fits into a system of products that are used in conjunction with each other. Usually, the TDS will go hand-in-hand with an SDS.

An SDS states the chemical components of a product and any special requirements that may be necessary for safe handling. It will provide information on procedures for handling or working with that product in a safe manner, and will include information such as: physical data, toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, transfer, storage, disposal, protective equipment and spill-handling procedures.

Both TDS and SDS documents may be found on a manufacturer’s website. Bostik has a searchable database and the documents can also be found on individual product pages, as well as in the Bostik Pro Floor app. If a manufacturer has not made a TDS or SDS available online, you should contact them to request a copy. Although a TDS may not always exist, in the case of SDS documents manufacturers should provide these to customers upon request.

We really could go on and on with different flooring terms, but I hope that I have been able to provide a brief and concise overview for some of the more commonly used ones. The ultimate key to understanding any industry terms really is very simple: ask. Some of us have been in the industry for many years, and I can honestly say that one of the most rewarding aspects of my role is being able to pass on information, helping someone understand what something actually means – it is usually a much more simple explanation than they think it is going to be.