Keeping Substrate Simple

Author: Corbin Mintz, published: November 23rd, 2021

Keeping Substrate Simple: 3 Red Flags to Avoid For Successful Floor Installations


As a general contractor, you know the consequences of a flooring installation failure, the cost to fix it, and the loss of time that occurs when it has to mitigated. When it comes to keeping your substrate simple, it’s important to understand the red flags associated with the substrate, and how to avoid a problematic installation. Keeping your installation team educated about the red flags when it comes to the substrate will help keep you on schedule and without error.

Keeping Substrate SimpleDCO’s Sr. Project Manager Corbin Mintz has been working on large complex job sites for years, and through his experience is going to keep substrate simple: and show you how to have a successful substrate installation every time.

Concrete and Moisture:

In the commercial flooring world, concrete substrates are considered the norm. However, it is important to remember that concrete is always n a state of change, and should be considered a living material because of this factor.

There are three basic ingredients in the concrete mix:

  • Portland Cement
  • Water
  • Aggregates (rock and sand)

Because concrete is never truly dry, it is subject to a form of hydration constantly. This should be remembered when it comes to the process of flooring installation and keeping your substrate simple; because depending on the age, chemicals in new concrete can cause the flooring to fail. This is because new concrete has a number of chemicals that can cause bond-breaking and adhesive failure, or bond-breaking over time because of improper adhesive installation.

Because the concrete adhesive is designed to help dry out the concrete’s surface, it is important to consider the timeline of the project. Accordingly, most concrete sealings CAN cause installation failure. Installing flooring too quickly after the adhesive is administered can also cause problems, and any timeline that must be completed in a short time frame will likely lead to stressed individuals who want to install ASAP.

The Importance of Moisture Testing:

Keeping Substrate Simple

Moisture testing results should be shared with the Contractor to advise of the conditions, and the flooring subcontractor should provide remedies if needed. Also, verify with the Flooring Subcontractor that the space does not require climate control per the product specifications to allow for adequate acclimation of products to avoid installation failure.

Moisture testing beforehand is vital for success with your flooring project because if too much moisture is present it can wreak havoc and deplete the lifetime of the flooring.

Too much moisture can cause the growth and presence of mold and mildew, and cause bamboo, cork, or hardwood to rot. It can also cause warping, bubbling, and bowing, which can be time-consuming and costly to fix.

Keeping your Substrate Clean

1) Clean – It’s important to keep your substrate clean from oils, greases, dirt, and materials that could cause the flooring installation to fail. If the surface is not completely clean of contaminants then there can be adhesive or bond failure with the installation. Not only is this time-consuming, but it can be quite a problem with tight project schedules.

 2) Flat – Is the surface completely flat, according to Industry standards? This is vital so that there is no warping of the flooring or too much unleveled floor that causes birdbaths.

3) Dry – Is the surface completely dry, and free from standing water? Are there any dips that will cause the failure of flooring later? Has pH/ and moisture testing been completed to ensure a successful installation? Have problems surfaced that have been addressed?

4) Secure- Making sure the substrate is secure is vital to the success of the flooring and adhesive. Any places where the substrate is not secure must be addressed before installation of the flooring begins, or it will be a costly fix after the fact.

3 Red Flags with your Substrate

1) Standing water or “birdbaths” 

this is an easy way to determine floor flatness defects. Birdbaths are low spots in the surface of the concrete that can trap water, and therefore cause future problems with the flooring substrate. In order to mitigate the amount of standing water on the flooring, high spots can be ground down, and also a leveler or topping can be applied. While it is impossible to achieve perfect flatness, by following these guidelines and The American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC) standards birdbaths can be minimized.

Keeping Substrate Simple

2) High ridges and/or unsmooth finish of substrate 

In order to fix this issue with the substrate, grinding is required. Depending on the project, it may be an extra cost from the Flooring Subcontractor that should be remedied by the substrate subcontractor as included in their quality control/punch. This is important in keeping the floor from failing, because with human error and humidity and moisture getting into the project environment, these problems can happen. By recognizing the problem early on, the costs can be minimized later, and the flooring installation can go smoothly. 

3) “Bows and Bellies” 

This will occur in the drywall or tile substrate specifically around in-wall plumbing and blocking. This will require additional preparation to apply a skim coat to smooth the wall to a required flatness per TCNA standard to receive the tile. It’s important to make sure that the environment the flooring is being installed in, is ready to receive the tile. Most tiles have a slight bend in them, and this only increases if the environment receives a lot of humidity or heat, which places pressure on the tiles and causes them to buckle up.  By making sure the base is applied correctly, and to the standard of the area, the tile will be less likely to buckle, and the floor will be successful. 


To keep your substrate simple, recognizing these red flags allows you to avoid problematic installations, and keep your floor scheduling from veering off track. General Contractors are able to establish clear-cut regulations for their teams to follow, to create the most efficient installation and scheduling process.

Projects that are scheduled properly by using these techniques will ultimately contribute to the efficiency of the project, the satisfaction of the customer, and the durability of the flooring as a whole.

Check out Corbin’s latest post here: 3 Techniques to Improve Floor Scheduling as a General Contractor


About the author: Corbin has been in the construction industry for 11 years with 6 years of experience as a General Contractor, 2 years of experience in Commercial Millwork Sales/Estimating, and 3+ Years of experience as a Flooring Contractor. Corbin has managed projects ranging from $50K-$7MM in multiple market segments from Multi-family, Healthcare, Hospitality, Corporate Interiors, Education, and Industrial. Proper Floor preparation has been critical to providing a quality installation on all the projects Corbin has managed and has experience in all facets of subfloor preparation including skim coating, patching/filling, grinding/scarifying, self-leveling, moisture mitigation, mud bed installation, and concrete installation. Feel free to reach out to Corbin Mintz for more information on what to look for before you schedule your next flooring installation. Email:

About the firm: DCO Commercial Floors is a nationwide flooring dealer that is committed to being a flooring solutions leader for all finishes, bridging the gap between traditional floor covering and modern access flooring solutions. We provide comprehensive project management so that your project is smooth from the estimating stages to breaking down the bid, and procurement, from install to closeout. DCO will provide and deliver on all facets to become the partner of choice for your project.