A costly problem
Damage to flooring from concrete slab moisture costs U.S. companies upwards of $1 billion each year. When we interviewed flooring industry experts, more than 70% of them reported that they experience moisture issues “often,” with 100% of those surveyed in unanimous agreement that they had experienced some moisture issues.
Moisture issues show up as distorted flooring (such as curling and buckling), adhesive coming through the joints and alkalinity. They can also appear as the white streaks that appear, especially near seams.
Moisture issues have become common due to a number of changes over the past 10 to 15 years, from aggressive building schedules to sustainability trends.
FAST TRACK: Fast-track schedules mean that often the under-slab moisture barrier may be omitted or not installed correctly. And slabs can’t air dry because the slab is not in a conducive environment to dry, which might take an extra 45 to 180 days.
Also, there is moisture in the slab itself, as part of the mix. If the slab is not allowed to adequately dry, that moisture vapor often gets trapped and causes flooring problems as it migrates upward through the slab.
Many of the new mixes contain more water to begin with. A lightweight mix has about 11% more water. And mixes with more fly ash are denser and, therefore, take longer to dry.
Also, many new types of floor coverings are more susceptible to damage because of their composition. Once moisture damages the inner layers, it often causes the flooring to distort. Many new types of flooring become dimensionally unstable in the presence of moisture vapor, and many sound isolation materials absorb moisture and cause problems.
GREEN: Research estimates that more than seven in 10 new-build projects are pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification. In doing so, many experience flooring problems. For example, more fly ash creates denser concrete that takes longer to dry, and strict LEED air-quality requirements encourage architects to specify low-VOC adhesives.
These formulas contain water, which therefore makes them more susceptible to re-emulsifying in the presence of alkalis. Older adhesives tolerated moisture better.
TESTING: In every case where moisture-sensitive flooring will be placed over a concrete slab, moisture testing should be performed regardless of age or grade, and all warranties require testing. The most reliable and most widely recognized method is the Relative Humidity (RH) Probe test.
According to ASTM F2170, a probe is inserted into the concrete slab to measure the moisture. After 72 hours, a numerical read ing determines whether mitigation will be necessary.
Many flooring problems show up as damage from alkalinity, and pH testing can prevent them. The soluble salts migrate to the surface of the slab and degrade the water-based adhesive and, in extreme cases, the flooring itself. These problems often show up as oozing adhesive at the joints or seams of the flooring and as unsightly salt deposits on the slab.
MITIGATION: Choosing a mitigation method is an important decision. It’s important to consider not only the cost of materials and labor, but also the cost of downtime. A rolled moisture barrier is both time- and cost-efficient, and it can be installed in one night, so there is no downtime and no days of lost business.
Effective upfront planning is crucial to the process:
- Include a moisture mitigation contingency for both time and money.
- Conduct an RH in-situ probe test to determine the need for mitigation, per ASTM protocol.
- Choose the best mitigation method for the RH level, pH level, budget and schedule parameters.
- Install flooring with confidence.
On average, every five to seven years, most retail spaces get new flooring. The installation of a new floor can be time consuming and costly. In some cases, stores are closed for days and must take additional time to move fixtures and product out and then replace them. For all these reasons, it’s important to get it right from the start.
Jennifer Chambers is national accounts manager for VersaShield Rolled Moisture Barrier with Halex Corporation. Previously, she worked for IFTI (Independent Floor Testing and Inspection). She is a Certified Moisture Testing Technician.
Focus on demand response
Local public utilities charge different rates for electricity based on energy demand at any moment: A kilowatt hour of electricity, for example, will cost more in the middle of a hot day when HVAC units are running at full blast than it will cost later that same evening.
By making minor changes, however, retailers can significantly reduce their energy usage during those peak rate times, which, in turn, can have a dramatic effect on energy costs. The tool to make this happen is called demand response (DR) technology. While DR is not new, the technology for years was used only by public utilities to remotely reduce energy usage at big-box stores and other large commercial and industrial facilities to keep electricity demand from rising higher than electricity supply.
The good news is that DR technology is now available for small to medium-sized businesses as a tool to help them reduce energy usage during peak rate times, a process known as peak management. Indeed, peak management is emerging as the most efficient way to maximize energy management returns because the end result is that the retailer can make a small energy reduction when energy costs are at their highest. The end result: a very efficient energy management program that won’t negatively impact their retail customers.
With traditional DR, a public utility is given permission by its big electricity users to turn off systems such as lighting or HVAC when energy usage is so high that it threatens to overtake energy demand. Electricity usage can never be greater than supply, so the utility companies monitor both of these and uses DR to reduce energy demand when it gets too high.
Smaller facilities: The push to implement DR in small and medium-sized businesses started with the deployment of commercial OpenADR, which works by letting utilities and independent operators signal a demand response event through a demand response automation server. The server then relays the request to equipment at a retailer’s site that is managed by an energy management system, which at a minimum, is an Internet-connected HVAC controller with a cloud-based energy-monitoring portal. (The current version of the standard, OpenADR 2.0, includes a complete and expanded set of communication protocols and has become the benchmark in the industry.)
Another service for peak management customers is energy management as a service (EMaaS). EMaaS builds on the “software-as-a-service” business model that is a popular use of cloud computing and leverages the features and functionality of traditional EMS with a dedicated layer of 24/7 data support that proactively monitors all of a retailer’s facility data. It takes the burden off the facility managers of having to distill the fire-hose of data generated by traditional EMS. With EMaaS, facility managers need not be the energy experts.
For peak management, EMaaS provides a valuable resource to monitor energy usage at all times and to make intelligent decisions about which systems to shut down to reduce usage and save money. An EMaaS solution can also effectively track energy usage over time, so that retailers can best leverage peak demand data.
Retailers that want the benefits of a peak management system can configure their EMS/ EMaaS system to monitor their electricity rates and then set a threshold so that when the electricity cost goes higher than that point, the EMS automatically reduces energy usage.
The retailer can “stage” the way their systems turn on as well as cut back on air conditioning or heating, lighting or other selected loads. The cut backs can be done by time of day so that certain systems, such as lighting, aren’t turned off during certain hours, for example. Another option is to have the EMaaS data team monitor the rates and call the facilities team to get authorization before energy usage is reduced.
Whether automated or manually approved, the goal is to reduce energy load when energy demand is highest, without compromising the customer’s shopping experience. Retailers can expect up to 10 peak demand events per month. Multiply that by between five to 10 pieces of equipment that must be controlled during these demand events, and then multiply that by the total number of retail locations in the owner’s portfolio, to see just how much potential there is for energy savings.
When done correctly, managing peak demand allows retailers to significantly reduce energy consumption when rates are the highest, resulting in dramatic reductions in energy costs. Managing peak demand can be a great way for retailers to ensure efficient energy usage and maximum savings on their energy usage, so that retailers can focus their budgets elsewhere.
Ifty Hasan is chief technology officer of EnTouch Controls.
Slip & fall
Each year, slip, trip and fall losses cost the hospitality and retail industry millions. The mere fact that a customer falls on your premises does not necessarily create liability. Instead, the question is often whether your establishment had superior knowledge of a hazardous condition that exposed customers to an unreasonable risk of harm.
Even if your company did not have actual knowledge of a hazard, a customer may be able to recover if there was an employee in the immediate vicinity of the hazard that had an opportunity to correct the condition, or the hazard was present for a sufficient length of time that knowledge is imputed.
Consequently, it’s beneficial to be able to show that the establishment had in place — and followed — reasonable inspection procedures leading up to the customer’s incident. Understanding these legal elements of recovery underscores the importance of documenting on-premises incidents.
Proper investigation at the time of an incident is indispensable in assessing potential liability. It also helps refute liability if the establishment did nothing wrong but still gets sued. The following is a check list of preventative measures as well as tips for responding to incidents in order to avoid or mitigate litigation.
Reasonable Inspection Procedures: Establish procedures to ensure that floor surfaces don’t create hazards (e.g., securing rugs, mats and caution signs in rain). Also:
- Identify and warn of potential static hazards — steps, changes in levels.
- Evaluate lighting conditions (amount of lighting, flare, lack of color contrast) and correct or warn accordingly.
- Train on maintaining a lookout and ways to warn/remedy potential hazards such as spills, dropped napkins, and customer items such as purses or umbrellas.
- Establish routine inspections for hazardous conditions and procedures for documenting and correcting hazards.
- Designate by title the person(s) responsible for investigating incidents and train employees on investigative procedures and protocols for dealing with incidents.
- Post emergency telephone numbers for police, fire and ambulance.
- Provide a camera for photographing the scene at the time of an incident.
Staff Preparation: In preparing the staff and store for handling incidents, designate by title the person(s) responsible for investigating incidents. Also:
- Train employees on investigative procedures and protocols for dealing with incidents.
- Post emergency telephone numbers for police, fire and ambulance.
- Provide a camera to photograph the scene at the time of an incident.
- Designate by title the person responsible for reviewing incident reports for completion, accuracy and uniformity. If adequate, the signed form should be sent to corporate or the insurance company, keeping a copy for the store file. If inadequate, the designated individual should further investigate.
- Promptly take follow-up action as necessary (for example, if a hazard has not been corrected, to warn or correct as appropriate).
Response: In responding to an on-premises injury, provide immediate assistance, showing concern and calling for emergency medical assistance if appropriate. Employees should immediately report the incident to designated management. Also:
- Document the incident. Promptly complete an Incident Report Form and evaluate the cause of the incident. Observe the customer’s clothes for wetness and shoes for signs of wear, metal, long and untied laces and appropriateness for the weather. Document the scene — with photographs if possible — and the hazard (or lack of hazard), the bottom of the injured person’s shoes, and their clothes if they say they slipped on something wet.
- Identify photographs and video noting the location, name of the injured party, date and time of the incident, date and time of the photograph, the location in the establishment of the incident and the name of the person taking the photograph or video.
- Maintain an incident file. Establish a procedure for evaluating if a particular area is a recurring problem and correct or warn of identified problems.
- An incident should not be discussed with anyone outside of the company. Employees should notify management immediately if anyone is asking about the incident, and management shouldn’t speak with anyone about the incident without approval from the establishment’s legal counsel.
Michele L. Stumpe is a litigator at Atlanta-based Taylor English Duma, concentrating on premises liability, business litigation and hospitality.