What New Moisture-Resistant Flooring Adhesives Mean for Your Next Job
Flooring adhesive manufacturers have been chasing the moisture-resistance levels that were possible with black cut-back adhesives for north of 35 years. This was a solvent-based adhesive that was extremely durable and water-resistant – but it contained asbestos.
Of course, as the dangers of asbestos were discovered – and lawsuits emerged – black cut-back adhesives were quickly phased out of production. Then adhesive manufacturers started moving away from solvent-based adhesives altogether, as they can emit dangerous levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). High VOC levels can negatively impact a building’s indoor air quality and its occupants’ health.
Safer water-based adhesives took their place. But the old solvent-based technology was proven to withstand moisture and stand the test of time, while the new, water-based technology was still in its infancy.
The rise of safe and highly moisture-resistant flooring adhesive technology
Fast forward to today. We now have water-based adhesive technologies coming out that are meeting the level of moisture resistance, adhesion and quality comparable to the old black cut-back adhesives.
Within the last five or ten years, adhesive manufacturers have unveiled products which allow you to install flooring in higher relative humidity (RH) conditions – as high as 90, 95 and even 99% RH provided no visible moisture is present. RH is a measure of the moisture present in a concrete substrate.
Every manufacturer seems to be coming out with their own line of adhesives they claim is bigger, better, stronger. And the market is only going to get more saturated – the North American flooring adhesive market is expected to grow to $1.1 billion within the next five years, according to Stratview Research. Much of this growth can be attributed to the boom of low-VOC, water-based products.
How to select a moisture-resistant adhesive in today’s crowded market
Despite the growing saturation of the market, choosing your adhesive is relatively easy. The process is much the same regardless of which material you choose.
First, you choose your flooring material based on application, aesthetics and long-term value. From there, you should follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. The manufacturer has done their testing and due diligence and knows which adhesives and moisture levels will work for their product – and which won’t.
By and large, we tend to use the adhesives recommended by the manufacturer of the flooring system you choose. Following the manufacturer’s specifications will also ensure your flooring installation will be covered by the warranty.
Despite higher moisture resistance, moisture mitigation remains vital
Flooring systems, including adhesives, are designed to be installed at certain moisture levels and no higher. If your slab exceeds this threshold, your adhesive will release and your flooring will fail – no matter what type of flooring you choose or how moisture-resistant your adhesive is.
This is a huge deal: Moisture-related failure of flooring installations accounts for 90% of commercial flooring litigation. And yet a meager 1.5% of budgets are put toward moisture management, according to a Resilient Floor Covering Institute article.
The cost of moisture failure is just too high to leave it to chance. This is why your flooring contractor tests your substrate for moisture prior to installation. Moisture-related failure of your flooring system is almost always preventable through moisture testing and the installation of a mitigation product.
Your contractor will test the slab in controlled conditions to determine if the RH in your slab exceeds manufacturer’s recommendations. For example, a flooring product and its adhesive might be certified for installation up to 90% RH. If your slab tests at 95% RH, you’ll need to install a moisture mitigation product over the slab, usually a roll-on or full-spread vapor barrier product.
For lower cost applications, sometimes a premium adhesive – if it exceeds the manufacturer’s specifications for moisture – will work. In some high-stakes, high-cost applications, however, you should consider installing a mitigation product even if the RH level doesn’t exceed manufacturer specifications.
For instance, once we did a unitary flooring installation for a clean room where they filled prescriptions for radioactive materials used in heart cauterizations. We ran the moisture tests and the RH was well within recommended levels. As a precaution, we still recommended moisture mitigation because the cost of replacement would be so steep if a moisture problem were to crop up in the future.
Even if the tests don’t indicate a moisture problem, unforeseen moisture problems can arise. And moisture mitigation serves as extra protection against failure especially where cost of replacement is too high to risk it.
The bottom line is this: You can’t afford not to do moisture mitigation if you need it. The benefits of the latest adhesive technologies are wide and far-reaching, from better indoor air quality to less risk of moisture-related flooring failure. But even though they’re better at resisting high levels of moisture, they do not serve as a substitute for moisture mitigation. In many applications, the cost of moisture mitigation pales in comparison to the cost of replacement.