While the roles and responsibilities of a flooring contractor are well documented, consumer accountability is not as clear and is therefore loosely defined, usually acknowledged by the contractor involved or during the composition of a timber flooring contract.
This unfortunate situation often results in placing the burden of educating and raising the consumer’s awareness of their responsibilities on the contractor at hand. This need not be an onerous task; the savvy contractor will do this by asking the consumer a series of questions pertinent to each stage in the project and highlighting each party’s responsibility as a matter of process.
So when does a consumer’s responsibility commence?
It does so even before they choose a product. In an ideal world they would go shopping knowing the composition of their sub-floor, whether there was underfloor or in-floor heating already, any plumbing or electrical cabling, what height restriction might apply with regard to the product depth, the wattage of their power supply, limitations to working hours and site access, and their occupational health and safety responsibilities.
Since this is not an ideal world, a site visit prior to providing an estimate is essential, and is also the perfect time to begin raising consumer awareness of their responsibilities. Very few consumers have the knowledge to check the substrate on their own. This is also a good opportunity for the contractor to check for access to adequate power supply and parking for delivery and tradesmen, as well as entry and lock up details, and if anyone has to be notified when the installer arrives or leaves the site – we shouldn’t assume that the site will be accessible at all times.
Prior to arranging for the delivery of the timber flooring to the site it’s a good idea to do another check, just to make sure that the building is able to be locked up, that power is available, heating and cooling systems are operational and all other trades have vacated the site.
The contractor should be present when the timber is delivered, to check they are receiving the right product. Being present also means that you can ensure that the material is stored and stacked appropriately for acclimatisation.
Before installation of the timber commences, the consumer has a duty of care to inform the installer of any circumstances that may impact them in the performance of their work or may cause bodily harm.
In short, the consumer must provide a work environment that meets occupational health and safety requirements and should carry appropriate indemnity insurance.
Chances are, most consumers – especially the domestic ones – will not be aware of their responsibilities to the contractor, so it’s quite alright for the installer to request from the homeowner information that is appropriate for the successful execution of his/her work.
A professional should be implementing the best work practises always, as well as manufacturer’s instructions and the relevant standards.
Evaluating and documenting site conditions and the installation environment is a good habit to get into; well documented procedures are invaluable when problems occur.
As a bare minimum, the following tests and measurements should be documented:
- Make sure to check the perimeter of the building to ensure water is directed away from the dwelling.
- Document the temperature and relative humidity readings in the service area and check the moisture content. Check the moisture content of the substrate and confirm that the substrate is level and sound.
- For installations over joist, check that there is adequate sub-floor ventilation and confirm the porosity of concrete subfloors (conduct a bead test).
- When it comes to sanding and finishing, the consumer is responsible for the disconnection of gas and electric appliances and the turning off of any pilot lights. They may also need to be made aware that residents with sensitive airways, pets (even goldfish!) should be relocated during and up to 72 hours after the final coating has been applied.
Food stored in cupboards and fridges can be contaminated by the gases contained in some coating materials.
You might think that having completed the project, the floor is the consumer’s responsibility from then on, but this may not be the case. An associate of mine discovered his client’s floor failed due to poor cleaning practises, and was held accountable for the problem because he failed to provide the customer with the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions. Standard after-care information would include drying time for the final coat, the importance of maintaining a stable environment, how to protect the floor from heavy furniture (felt pads) and additional maintenance and cleaning.
It is advisable to provide the client with a written check list of their responsibilities, have them sign to acknowledge receipt of the document and any relevant manufacturer’s recommendations.
Developing such a document can be a tedious job but it is cheap insurance, because when it comes down to ‘who’s responsible?’ the buck in most cases will stop with you.
Ray and Sharon Brice specialise in mediation training and project management. They have four decades of experience in the flooring industry.
Phone: 0407 591 697