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By John T. McGrath Jr.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) operates the nation’s largest integrated health care system. The sprawling organization includes 1,700 hospitals, clinics, community living centers, domiciliaries, readjustment counseling centers and other facilities throughout the US.
With more than 300 Master Construction Specifications for new projects, it is also one of the largest sources of construction spending and job creation in the country. Total major and minor project spending reached $1.855 Billion in 2016, according to the 2017 VA Budget in Brief, and there were more than 1,930 jobs available for bid as of spring 2016.
With so much at stake, the VA actively strives for the highest level of construction and installation standards across its thousands of facilities. From the foundation to the roof, its facility managers, employees and patients can’t afford costly mistakes – but that doesn’t mean issues haven’t surfaced in the past.
“Like any other industry that owns and operates institutional buildings, we have a long history of flooring failure,” said Orest Burdiak, principle interior designer at the VA. “From poor floor prep to improper testing for moisture to inadequate moisture mitigation, there has been a laundry list of issues across hundreds of facilities.” While some of these issues were a result of faulty products, the vast majority of failures were the direct result of improper or substandard installation. Some of this is also a direct result of cost saving measures. As a government entity, the VA has a fiduciary duty to the American public when it comes to spending.
“The VA was often stuck working with a contractor that satisfied the product and materials specification standards but wasn’t able to do the job right,” said Andy Silins, co-chairman of INSTALL, the International Standards and Training Alliance of floorcovering professionals and a US Marine.
“One way the VA has changed this is through a strategic partnership with INSTALL,” said Silins. “This beneficial partnership has changed the way floorcovering products are specified and installed at many facilities around the country.”
As an association that includes major flooring manufacturers, contractors and professional installers across the U.S. and Canada, INSTALL’s curriculum consists of a comprehensive training and certification program for floorcovering installers. It also provides the only additional, extended, free, non-proprietary and third party installation warranty on labor in the industry.
The quality of INSTALL’s programming and warranty are such that the Department of Veteran Affairs adopted INSTALL certification standards into its Section 09 68 00 Carpeting, Section 09 65 19 Resilient Tile Flooring and Section 09 68 21 Athletic Carpeting. This effectively directs that every VA carpet, resilient tile and athletic carpeting job specified must be completed by a flooring installer that meets/exceeds the INSTALL specifications.
“We might be a non-proprietary organization that doesn’t endorse specific products or manufacturers, but what we do support is specification and performance,” said Burdiak. “From our first meeting with INSTALL at NeoCon to now, we are extremely impressed with the guarantee, training and requirements that members of INSTALL have to meet. This directly impacted our certification standards and specification language.”
The revised VA Master Specifications language regarding flooring installation underscores the organization’s determination that only a flooring contractor who employs an INSTALL certified workforce is qualified enough to perform work for the VA.
“The fact that INSTALL contractors can show proof of training and certification and in some cases, offer the INSTALL Warranty on Labor proves up front that they are working with dependable and professional contractors,” said Silins.
The adopted language for carpet, resilient tile, and athletic carpeting requires floorcovering contractors to specialize in installation, have a minimum of three years experience, and employ flooring installers who have retained, and currently hold an INSTALL Certification, or a certification from a comparable certification program.
Additionally, installers working on the project must have completed a Department of Labor approved four-year apprenticeship program and have career-long training, manufacturer endorsed training, and a fundamental journeyman skills certification.
INSTALL contractors are already acting on the new partnership with the VA. INSTALL Warranty Contractor Master Craft Flooring, for example, has completed multiple projects over the course of several years. The company was recently awarded a bid through a local contractor joint venture to handle a sizable flooring installation in the Veterans Rehabilitation Clinic in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“At the end of the day, we want to get what we pay for,” said Burdiak. “I haven’t heard of any flooring failures on large projects since our relationship started, and while it’s tough to oversee and monitor small projects across thousands of facilities, the benefit to our employees, patients and bottom line has been immediate and profound.”
John T. McGrath, Jr. is the Executive Director of INSTALL – the International Standards and Training Alliance, which is the construction industry’s best industry-endorsed floor covering installation training and certification program.
McGrath has helped to increase installation standards and expectations in the flooring industry by playing a leading role in facilitating communication and cooperation among mills, manufacturers, specifiers, contractors and installers. All of these groups regularly come together to review and revise the INSTALL curriculum and certification standards. He was a significant contributor in creating the ANSI S600 Carpet Installation Standards and has served as a returning judge in the Starnet Awards, Canadian Apprenticeship Contest and the Schonox Worst Subfloor in North America Contest.
A three-decade flooring installation professional and accomplished speaker, McGrath conducts seminars regularly for architects, interior designers, building owners and facility managers to increase their knowledge of flooring installation issues. He has been a featured presenter for AIA, IIDA, IFMA and CSI professionals to help increase their knowledge and awareness of many floorcovering concerns. These annual exhibitions bring together decision-makers for the flooring industry from around the world. Learn more about INSTALL at installfloors.org.