Problems solved; Problems created

New, green coating and adhesive technology

Homeowners are lining up at the big-box stores to take advantage of the latest cabinetry, fixture and component sales. In a few weeks, some percentage of those once-enthusiastic redecorators will be lining up again this time to abashedly ask a professional to help them recover. Bad materials, amateur installation, and no accountability add up to losses in the thousands of dollars, and they want you to fix it. So is the technology that brought us the big-box stores a boom or a bust?

The word “amateur” may be the key. How far back do you go? Have you ever heard of a Buck knife? Back in the day, the Buck knives came with a lifetime guarantee. No matter how you broke it, it got replaced.

That was then. If you go to www.buckknives.com today, here’s what you’ll find:

As my father Chuck Buck would say, if this is your first Buck knife, “welcome aboard.” You are now part of a very large family. We think of each one of our users as a member of the Buck Knives family, and we take care of our own. Now that you are family, you might want to know a little more about us. Dad said it best when he said, “The fantastic growth of Buck Knives, Inc,. was no accident. From the beginning, we determined to make God the Senior Partner. In a crisis, the problem was turned over to Him, and He hasn’t failed to help us with the answer. Each knife must reflect the integrity of management. If some-times we fail on our end, because we are human, we find it imperative to do our utmost to make it right. If any of you are troubled or perplexed and looking for answers, may we invite you to look to Him, for God loves you.”

This is followed by “Buck’s Forever Warranty.” Sounds like a manufacturer with convictions. Have you browsed the aisles of Ikea for a lifetime guarantee? That kind of technology is a gadget with a limited lifetime and a trip to the landfill — good luck on a guarantee. “Smart” phones, televisions and an array of consumer products fit that bill.

Back in the ’80s, the newest technology included the PC — the personal computer, with designs being presented by Microsoft and Apple, among others. Those modern wonders had a whopping 64k removable drive and could deliver date over a telephone line at 300 baud.

It was not long before Apple introduced its Macintosh, along with a suite of programs, along with QuarkXpress, it called “desktop publishing,” and amateur night in media was born. Anybody could be a publisher, including illiterates, juveniles, deviants and poseurs. The First Amendment and the then-newly formed Charter of Rights and Freedoms saw to it that nobody needed any sense to publish.

The digital world of desktop publishing soon provided eager markets for digital imaging, and the first digital cameras came along, as did “processing” programs for images, soon to be dominated by Photoshop and Adobe’s own subsequent suite of DTP programs to include Illustrator, InDesign, and so on… Soon, the professionals had to step aside, along with their sets of protocols, and let the kids drive.

Photo was followed by video, and print was supplanted by “digital.” Print, after all, costs more than most Facebook pros’ allowance. Clearly, the world of the professional is under fire, and good enough is the enemy of best.

According to Chris Maskell, c.e.o. of the National Floor Covering Association, a columnist for Wood Industry’s sister publication, construction projects across Canada are booming, yet the general contractors are using old scheduling protocols while the demand for new technologies has extended the time necessary for proper installation. The same can be said of renovations. According to Maskell, adhesives are the unsung heroes of installation. In flooring, they connect the slab to the floor in a critical and irreplaceable marriage. In millwork, cabinetry, and, importantly, finishing, a common problem has evolved, and new, non-VOC (volatile organic compound) adhesives and finishes cannot combat moisture the way the “old” products did, and improper application can result in a moisture-related breakdown of the products into a slippery goop.

Essentially, says Maskell , “green” technology leads to product breakdown because of moisture. Maskell points out that VOCs are chemicals in products formerly made from bitumen, petroleum and resins. Federal regulations demanded the replacement of VOCs with non-VOC products in order for builders to win contracts under the LEED system, and the consumer press led the consumer to jump on the bandwagon and the green revolution was born. According to Maskell, the LEED system, for all its good intentions, demanded actions that led to unintended consequences.

For example, compliant products needed to be produced within 500 miles of the job site on the one hand, while points were also scored for using bamboo or some other fibre instead of wood because bamboo is more “renewable.” Clearly, bamboo is rare in industrial quantities growing in Canada, so specifiers find themselves in a quandary of making up lost proximity points, sometimes at the expense of function.

An unintended benefit of the old products was that some adhesives and finishes had a moisture barrier builtin. People didn’t notice that as a quality, Maskell says, until the industry ran into adhesion problems with products designed to be used at a specific moisture content or less, and the general contractors were demanding that flooring be installed over concrete that was cured, but not dried. The distinction was not obvious to the contractors, but it is obvious to flooring professionals.

The fact is, Maskell says, that which once was provided by the contents of one can now requires three or four different products. The general contractors, Maskell says, really don’t know very much of what is going on. The same is true of specifiers. The products being specified are much more complex, yet much less strong. This has led to a paradigm shift in which project owners are demanding that schedules accelerate, so they demand shorter lead times in an environment where adhesives or finishes may take extra steps and times to get “up to spec.” Add to that an increasingly litigious environment and the cost of time and money, and the general contractors and builders started demanding that installers bear the entire responsibility both for installation on schedule, on the one hand, and accountability for material failure on the other.

Essentially, green products cost more, do not work as quickly and are not as strong, leading to the obvious conclusion that professionals will be pressured by fly-by-night amateurs that can “get the job done more quickly,” by consumers that want to move in before the specified products can be properly applied.

Are there any options? Sure, and they are evolving, as well. As far as specs and applications, continue to watch Wood Industry magazine, as we provide that data as it becomes available. Maskell and the NFCA are creating a Canadian association with teeth, and specs you can use to educate your customers and use as standards that can illuminate the legal and fiscal pinch-points before they bite. As Maskell notes, transparency kills corruption.

As far as the future of occupied-space construction, Maskell says don’t expect costs to go down. For better or worse, green is here to stay. We do, however, need to adjust to accommodate it.