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 May 2005 Feature
Christopher Capobianco is a fourth-generation floor covering specialist, and has worked in a number of different fields within the industry. He has served on ASTM Committee F06 since 1993. He owns Flooring Answers, a consulting agency, and writes for several industry publications.

How ASTM Standards Help the Floor Covering Industry

Formed in 1968, ASTM International Committee F06 on Resilient Floor Coverings currently has 155 members consisting of producers, such as floor covering manufacturers; users, such as architects and dealers; and general interest members, such as concrete specialists, inspectors and consultants. Usage of F06 standards, which has grown steadily over time, has helped clarify a number of confusing issues by creating consistency in resilient flooring specifications and recommendations. Although the scope of this committee is specific to resilient flooring, the use of F06 standards extends to carpet, wood, and laminate flooring as well.

Terminology, floor preparation and concrete testing are three areas in which F06 standards are making a difference in the resilient floor industry. Each of these areas is highlighted here, with actual language from F06 standards shown in italics.


Subcommittee F06.10 on Terminology has established a number of definitions for resilient floor coverings and other related products that are included in ASTM standard F 141, Terminology Relating to Resilient Floor Coverings. This standard is, in effect, the dictionary for the resilient flooring industry. Having this document available has clarified definitions for the following terms that are often misused in the floor covering industry and by consumers.

Above left and above: ASTM F 2170 is a European test method that Committee F06 adopted. This method tests for moisture deep inside the concrete slab, and is thought to be a better predictor of future moisture movement upward. Left: Three of the various types of domes used in F 1869 calcium chloride testing.  The calcium chloride dish is in the center of the photograph.

Resilient Flooring — It would be helpful to start with the definition of this category of flooring products, because this term is becoming more commonly used. According to F 141, resilient flooring is an organic floor surfacing material made in sheet or tile form or formed in place as a seamless material of which the wearing surface is non-textile. The resilient floor covering classification by common usage includes, but is not limited to asphalt, cork, linoleum, rubber, vinyl, vinyl composition and polymeric poured seamless floors. Resilient in this sense is used as a commonly accepted term, but does not necessarily define a physical property.

Linoleum — Linoleum was invented in England in 1863 by Frederick Walton, who coined the word from the Latin terms, linum, which means flax, and oleum, which means oil. It incorporates linseed oil, cork powder, wood powder, organic pigments, limestone and jute in roll or sheet goods.

With the growth in popularity of vinyl floor coverings after World War II, linoleum became less popular, but the term continued to be used. Many resilient flooring products installed in roll or sheet form, and even some tile products, are known inaccurately by consumers and floor covering professionals as “linoleum,” and it is not uncommon to see advertisements and signage using the word. However, very few floor covering dealers and virtually no home centers now sell “real” linoleum, so they are actually referring to vinyl flooring when they use this term.

Linoleum is defined as a surfacing material composed of a solidified mixture of linseed oil, pine rosin, fossil or other resins or rosins, or an equivalent oleoresinous binder, ground cork, wood flour, mineral fillers, and pigments, bonded to a fibrous or other suitable backing.

There is no vinyl in linoleum. It’s a natural product based on linseed oil. Sheet vinyl (with backing or without backing) is a completely different material, with poly(vinyl chloride) as the primary ingredient.

Subfloor, Underlayment, Substrate — The term “subfloor” is widely misused. Floor covering salespeople and installers often tell customers they will need a new subfloor before a new resilient floor covering can be installed, when they mean underlayment. Manufacturers refer to subfloor preparation when they actually mean substrate.

A subfloor is part of the structure of a building – the base layer of the flooring system that can be wood or concrete, which sometimes is suitable for a flooring installation. When a subfloor is not suitable, underlayment is used to provide a smooth substrate. The substrate is the surface on which the floor is installed, which can be a subfloor, an underlayment, or an existing floor covering. This is a confusing set of terms that the ASTM definitions help clarify:

Subfloor — that structural layer intended to provide support for design loadings which may receive resilient floor coverings directly if the surface is appropriate or indirectly via an underlayment if the surface is not suitable.
Underlayment — a material placed under resilient flooring, or other finished flooring, to provide a suitable installation surface
Substrate — the underlying support surface upon which the flooring is installed.
Cement/Concrete — It’s amazing how often people refer to a cement floor, sidewalk, or patio, when the correct term is “concrete.” Cement is one of the ingredients in concrete, which is defined as a hard, strong material made by mixing a cementing material (commonly portland cement) and a mineral aggregate (as washed sand and gravel or broken rock) with sufficient water to cause the cement to set and bind the entire mass.

In other words, cement + sand + rocks + water = concrete. Cement is the gray powder that goes into concrete along with water, sand, rocks, and sometimes various admixtures.

Above left and above: ASTM F 2170 is a European test method that Committee F06 adopted. This method tests for moisture deep inside the concrete slab, and is thought to be a better predictor of future moisture movement upward. Left: Three of the various types of domes used in F 1869 calcium chloride testing.  The calcium chloride dish is in the center of the photograph.

Floor Preparation

Ask anyone in the floor covering industry what the key is to a successful installation and they will usually talk about the importance of proper substrate preparation. “The new floor is only as good as the one you cover” is a common adage.

ASTM standard F 710, Practice for Preparing Concrete Floors to Receive Resilient Flooring, has become “the book” for everything from how and when to test for moisture, to what type of patching compound to use and how long concrete should dry. In addition to being quoted by architects and engineers on a regular basis, Practice F 710 is referenced or quoted in several manufacturers’ installation guides, as well as in articles in a variety of publications.

Since the majority of all floors are installed over concrete, Practice F 710 is an important standard that provides specific answers to some of the most common questions that an installer, a dealer, an owner or an architect may have prior to installing a floor. Some of the key questions addressed in Practice F 710 are the following:

Q: What condition does the concrete need to be in before installing a floor?
A: Concrete floors to receive resilient flooring shall be permanently dry, clean, smooth, and structurally sound. They shall be free of dust, solvent, paint, wax, oil, grease, residual adhesive, adhesive removers, curing, sealing, hardening, or parting compounds, alkaline salts, excessive carbonation or laitence, mold, mildew, and other foreign materials that might prevent adhesive bond.

Q: If the floor is not smooth enough or is cracked or damaged, how should it be repaired?
A: Surface cracks, grooves, depressions, control joints or other non-moving joints, and other irregularities shall be filled or smoothed with latex patching or underlayment compound recommended by the resilient flooring manufacturer for filling or smoothing, or both. Patching or underlayment compound shall be moisture-, mildew-, and alkali-resistant, and, for commercial installations, shall provide a minimum of 3000 psi compressive strength after 28 days in accordance with test method C 109 or test method C 472, whichever is appropriate.

Q: How should expansion joints be treated?
A: Joints such as expansion joints, isolation joints, or other moving joints in concrete slabs shall not be filled with patching compound or covered with resilient flooring. Consult the resilient flooring manufacturer regarding the use of an expansion joint covering system.

Q: Is there a specification for how smooth and flat a floor needs to be?
A: Concrete floors shall be smooth to prevent irregularities, roughness, or other defects from telegraphing through the new resilient flooring. The surface of concrete floors shall be flat to within the equivalent of 3/16 in. (3.9 mm) in 10 ft.

Q: When is a new concrete floor slab ready to have floor covering installed?
A:  New concrete slabs shall be properly cured and dried before installation of resilient flooring. Drying time before slabs are ready for moisture testing will vary depending on atmospheric conditions and mix design. A 4 in. (100 mm) thick slab, allowed to dry from only one side, batched at a water-cement ratio of 0.45, typically requires approximately 90 to 120 days to achieve a moisture vapor emission rate (MVER) of 3 lb/1000 ft2 (170 µg/m2) per 24 h (the resilient flooring industry standard MVER).

Q: Is a radiant heated slab suitable for resilient flooring?
A: Most resilient flooring can be installed on radiant heated slabs providing the maximum temperature of the surface of the slab does not exceed 85°F (29°C) under any condition of use. Consult the resilient flooring manufacturer for specific recommendations.

Q: On renovation projects, can adhesive removers be used to clean the existing concrete?
A: There are a number of commercial adhesive removers that will properly remove adhesive residue from a subfloor, however, there are concerns that these products may adversely affect the new adhesive and new floor covering. The Resilient Floor Covering Institute’s (RFCI’s) recommended work practices for removal of existing resilient floor coverings and the resilient flooring manufacturer’s written instructions should be consulted for a defined set of instructions which should be followed if existing adhesives must be removed.

Concrete Testing

Moisture-related failures involving concrete have reached near-epidemic levels, which places great importance on proper testing prior to floor covering installation. The use of moisture meters or a sheet of plastic as testing methods should not be relied upon to make a conclusive decision as to whether the concrete is suitable for a floor covering installation. Two quantitative methods for measuring moisture in concrete that have been created by Committee F06 are F 1869 and F 2170, each of which is profiled here. Both test methods are specified in Practice F 710.

ASTM F 1869 clarified the old calcium chloride moisture test method by explaining the importance of cleaning the concrete slab before placing the test kit. Here an inspector gives the surface a light grinding to be sure there are no contaminants on the surface.

F 1869, Test Method for Measuring Moisture Vapor Emission Rate of Concrete Subfloor Using Anhydrous Calcium Chloride — The test used in the United States since the 1950s is the calcium chloride test, formerly called the Rubber Manufacturers of America (RMA) test. Although other methods exist, the calcium chloride test has been the standard for testing concrete to determine its suitability for installing floor coverings, and is included in most flooring and adhesive manufacturer’s guidelines. The F06 committee brought this standard up to date and published it as F 1869.

This test works on the same principle that causes salt grains to clump together on a humid day. A dish of calcium chloride crystals is placed on the slab and sealed under a plastic dome for 60 to 72 hours. The crystals, which are slightly larger than kosher salt, absorb water vapor emitting from the concrete and gain weight. Using a specific formula, this weight gain is expressed as pounds of water vapor per 1,000 square feet (mg/m2) per 24 hours, or just “pounds.” Although this is a simple test to run, many experts feel that the majority of tests are not done correctly, so test method F 1869 is an important tool to use for proper testing.

F 2170, Test Method for Determining Relative Humidity in Concrete Floor Slabs Using In Situ Probes — This test has been used in Europe for more than 20 years and was published by the Committee F06 in 2002. Test Method F 2170 involves drilling a hole of approximately 15 mm in diameter to a depth of 40 percent of the slab thickness. After vacuuming the hole to remove all debris, a special plastic sleeve with openings at specific locations is placed into the hole and capped at the top. After three days an electronic probe is used to measure the relative humidity.

The F 1869 test measures vapor emission from the top surface of the concrete slab, so the F 2170 method is more likely to find moisture that is deep in the slab. Since most concrete slabs dry from the top down, this information can be very valuable for predicting future vapor movement. F 2170 also has the advantage of being easily repeated, because the three-day waiting period is only necessary on the first test, and the sleeve can be capped and re-used. Having the two test methods is invaluable for preventing the installation of floor covering products over concrete that is not fully dried.


Like all ASTM committees, F06 on Resilient Floor Coverings has made great progress in developing industry standards that are making a difference for the people who manufacture, specify, and use these products. Because of the hard work of the volunteers who give their time, and the companies who support these volunteers, F06 is making a difference. //

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