Selecting the Right Wood Floor Adhesive for a Job

By Jeff B. Johnson

Wood flooring is a great way to add value to a residential property. It never goes out of style and when properly installed, it can provide quality that lasts decades.

Selecting the right wood flooring adhesive for a given job is a big part of a successful installation. Of course, there is more to it than just getting a good bond. There are many types of adhesives, formulated with distinct attributes, for different types of wood flooring.

Other factors require consideration, too. There are times when a sound reduction specification needs to be met or a fast-track product must be used to meet a tight deadline. And no matter the type of wood flooring, it will need to be protected from substrate moisture. Ensuring products are third-party certified for low volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, not just low VOC content, is also a growing concern in the industry.

It may sound overly complicated but in truth, installing wood flooring is just about following a few best practices and selecting the right combination of products for each job’s particular needs. Here’s what every wood flooring installer needs to know to achieve a high-quality installation without adding undue time and cost.

Keeping Moisture Out
One of the first considerations is inherent in wood flooring itself: how easily it is affected by moisture. It’s important to protect wood flooring from subfloor moisture emissions since it is a natural product and, as such, will warp and cup if that moisture is not controlled.

Thankfully, there are all sorts of solutions for that. Moisture-control properties are often a feature of modern wood adhesives. But that doesn’t do the trick all by itself since it demands the installation of a 100 per cent homogeneous layer of adhesive over the floor and a 100 per cent transfer to the back of the wood flooring for complete moisture control — a challenge for even the most meticulous installer.

So, coupling that adhesive with a primary coating of a polyurethane moisture barrier is the best option for protection, not only against moisture but also moisture vapour emissions. This is especially ideal when dealing with substrates like concrete, which may be damp. A single-component product can go on quickly and evenly without much trouble, and can also serve as a bonding agent.

Meeting Specs and Timelines
Modern specs call for products that can reduce the transmission of impact sound, such as footsteps and dropped objects, and airborne sound like voices and television audio through floors.

There are some great solutions for that, such as easy-to-install tapes and membranes that can work in tandem with sound-reducing wood flooring adhesives to meet strict industry standards.

Nothing is easier than applying a double-sided, foam-core, dry-film tape, which not only eliminates the need for a primer but also adheres the wood floor covering without any curing time.

It’s worth noting that sound test data is not only dependent on the products used but the wood flooring utilized for the test and other environmental factors that might come into play. For example, pine flooring is a soft, porous wood that will provide better sound test data compared to a harder wood like walnut or wenge. Also, each project has its own distinct parameters, so it’s not realistic to simply rely on perfect replication of testing results reported on a product data sheet for a given installation.

Before selecting a sound-mitigating product or system, it’s necessary to know the city’s building code requirements and the minimum impact insulation class (IIC) and sound transmission class (STC) ratings that a product must meet. Some building owners or homeowner associations may require higher sound numbers than what codes require, so look into this as well.

Because of this, be sure to first make mockups in the field to verify sound data. There are ASTM test methods for both criteria, specifically E492-09/E989-06 for impact sound and E90-04/E413-10 for airborne sound.

Installation Tips
Getting sheet-style sound control membranes to fit perfectly into an odd-shaped room can sometimes be a challenge. Always measure twice and cut once before applying adhesive or removing the paper covering. Although cutting the membrane into smaller sections may make the installation easier, it could reduce the overall sound performance properties if there are too many gaps due to an excessive number of seams.

Be sure to carefully follow the manufacturer’s written instructions regarding seam transitions. There may be mandatory gap requirements around perimeter walls and interior columns.

When using a peel-and-stick sheet-style membrane, it’s critical to have a perfectly smooth, spotlessly clean substrate. Otherwise, the membrane will not stick properly. Always prime if it’s required by the membrane manufacturer and be sure to use the correct primer.

No two wood flooring applications are exactly alike, so it’s good to know the options as an installer. Whatever the spec or time constraint, there is always an adhesive solution that can meet the challenge and achieve long-standing quality.

Jeff B. Johnson is the business manager for Mapei’s Floor Covering Installation Systems line. Jeff brings to the industry more than 30 years’ experience in the development and marketing of floor covering installation products.

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