Should You Be Concerned About Formaldehyde in Laminate Flooring?

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Linda

Subject: Concern about Laminate Floorting

I moved into a rental house a few months before my boyfriend relocated and moved here from Ohio. The house has no carpet only laminate and tile floors.The majority is the laminate with tile in the bathrooms. Neither one of us has allergies and are both in good health. The last several months I have noticed we both have a dry cough that we did not have prior to living in this house. Through my research I have found that this house was purchased in 2000 and I was also told the owner owns over 1,000 homes in Las vegas and probably has laminate tile in every single property. They are also very very slow about repairs. We have had a work order in for repairs for 6 months and the work is still not done. The lights int he ceiling fan stopped working because the pull chain is broken. Someone came to look at just that and took down half the fan left exposed wires and it has been that way for almost 6 weeks. Nothing else has been done on our list of repairs. I am keeping tabs and have written documentation of how awful they have been so we can move. I am also seeking legal advise. I truly believe the laminate floors are emitting fumes and are making us ill.

Dot Ransom

Subject: formaldehyde lam in my home

where can I buy a kit to test my floor as my daughter is getting very sick sever breething problems. house has new lam in it about 6 mo old. she lives in charlotte n.c..IT IS A RENTAL HOME. P LEASE HEALP. THANKS

Muriel Sabo

Subject: formaldehyde

The house my daughter and her family live in was "flipped" I'm sure on the cheap. Since we do not know who did the work, how can we determine whether there is a risk of exposure to formaldehyde? The children, 8, 6, and 2 spend a lot of time sitting on the floor and they have a gas stove and a gas fireplace.

CJ

Subject: How about pets?

Considering cats and dogs are right down on the floor, has there been a risk assessment done for their benefit?

Gillian

Subject: Illness

Is there a cure. As I'm now on inhaler and antibiotics and no sign of getting better.
Gill

Cindy

Subject: Breathing

Most health problems are caused by our environment. You can't possibly eliminate everything harmful in your life that you breath in or come in contact with. However there are some things you can do. Consider getting an Ozone and Ion machine. It will change the air quality in your home. And you could consider building you immune system, the stronger your system, the more defense you have.

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From the wall street journal online:

"Etiquette and tipping experts agree that tipping a contractor and his employees isn't expected because contractors offer to do a job for you at a specific price. Any extra money they would want would be built into their bid. Also, it's a business relationship rather than one where they are performing a personal service for you like a waiter or a maid. But if the employees do extra jobs around the house, then experts say it is appropriate to tip a cash amount equivalent to the task; "tip gifts" such as cookies and drinks can count. "The key to tipping is whether or not it was outside the scope of what was normally expected," says Mark Brenner, author of "Tipping for Success!"

My opinion is that a little bit of courtesy (snacks, drinks, expression of appreciation etc.) goes a long way and upon completion of their work you feel compelled by a job well done to offer a little extra in the form of a tip - go for it, but do not feel obligated. 
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I agree with Ben, as usual. First, test your slab - put a sheet of plastic over it, at least 3 feet square, taped down to the slab all around - leave for 3 days. If the slab darkens with moisture, or there is any condensation drops on the underside of the plastic, you have a damp slab. If you have visible moisture or moisture discoloration at any time during the course of the seasons with exposed concrete slab, then you have a wet slab. Even just a damp slab can put several quarts of moisture passingfrom the ground through the concrete into the air per day, and a wet basement slab in contact with wster at its base  can generate as much as 10 gallons a day of air moisture - which means that pretty much anything placed on it WILL get damp enough to mildew or mold.

 

For a wet slab, a polished concrete or epoxy/polyurea surface is your best bet. Any other surfacing you put over it is likely to mold. Ceramic tile with waterproofing additives in the mortar mix can work if the surface is properly prepared for good bonding, and you use "plastic" thinset and grout rather than cement based grout. Basically has to be done the same way as for a gymnasium shower floor or pool deck to work right.

 

For a damp slab, assuming it NEVER actually gets wet either from high water table under it in wet season, or from surface flooding from foundation leakage, then you have several options:

 

1) As Ben says, Pergo and others make totally plastic flooring material in a variety of surfaces that can be put down on a smooth slab over a vapor barrier and totally inorganic plastic padding - looks like bubble wrap commonly. Does not guarantee mold will not form between the vapor barrier and the concrete. IF you use a snap flooring version, can be taken up if it gets saturated and dried, then put back in. Not so with glued or nailed versions. Some people also use snap or interlock together rubber or foam flooring over a vapor barrier, particularly in rec rooms, which can be taken up easily in event of flood. 

 

2) A vapor barrier under an inorganic pad as above, overlain with an open-weave backing synthetic fiber (nylon, rayon) carpet with NO natural materials in it, which has lots of breathing space in the weave can work. I have used open-weave backing short-pile 100% nylon carpet from Armstrong in my basement for about 30 years, with vapor-barrier floor paint but no plastic sheet vapor barrier or padding and never a mildew problem, even though the plastic sheet test did show a minor amount of condensation. The key is a breathable carpet and decent airflow in the basement.

 

3) Any other type of flooring - laminate, vinyl, hardwood, etc will act to xxxx vapor evaporation, so risk mildew/mold under them. You can put down a sealer on the concrete and a vapor barrier and frequently get satisfactory service in a low moisture slab - generally only ones that are at or above surrounding ground level, but you always have the risk of mildew, and if ever flooded are pretty much trash. If you use a sheet product, use plastic, not organic - so vinyl, not linoleum, for instance. I have successfully done asphaltic based vinyl tiles and vinyl sheet using asphalt adhesive - the 1970's method - on damp flooring without trouble, but you have to make sure the concrete is VERY well sealed first with multiple penetrating coats of sealant placed on ground concrete surface so there is open voids for the sealant to penetrate, then let sit a week or more untouched and unwalked on before putting down the asphaltic-bonded tiles or sheet. The key is to make sure the concrete is less permeable to moisture than the overlying material. If you use a non-asphaltic adhesive (because of smell issues or allergies), then I would recommend full-adhesion waterproof mastic, not spot-adhered or glueless, so there are no air gaps under the sheet to accumualte moisture and mildew.

 

4) Of course, in new construction, if a full edge-bonded heavy duty plastic liner is put in the bedding sand layer UNDER the slab, that can turn a potentially wet or damp situation into a basically dry one, allowing almost any type of flooring to be used, though I NEVER recommend hardwood over below- or on-grade slabs. Of course, in a basement, one should probably assume that at some point it will get at least partially flooded from foundstion leak or pipe failure, so polished or stained or coated concrete, tile, or removeable flooring is the most likely to survive that.

 

5) Another option, in pretty much either case if your ventilation system removes the vapor as fast as the concrete can supply it, is padless thick open-weave area rug with a "Miller Weave", "Open Back", "Berber" or "Rag Rug" construction - which have lots of air holes in the rug and backing to let the moisture through. Then if getting damp or floods, just roll up and take out to garage and drape over some elevated 2x4's across sawhorses to dry out. Again, start with good concrete sealing first - preferably deep sealant with compatible epoxy surface coat to minimize water transmission.

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I agree with your choice - this is about the only product that can realistically, for a large room, be taken out and cleaned up after a flood and reused, thouhg carpet can be if you strip it into smaller pieces to carry wet, AND you have somewhere to wash and dry it - that is usually the problem. However, bear in mind it still has to be done within about 2 days or mildew/mold will grow on it, and may or may not be totally removeable. My personal preferences - mostly because their products are consistent, the joints stay snapped together, and they are not overly soft (a problem with cheap vinyls) are Pergo, Tarkett, Armstrong. Whatever you buy, be sure it can come back apart - some plank products are not made with a self-adhering contact glue in the joints that prevent you from taking it apart again, and some brands their snap design, while maybe better at preventing joint separation, cannot feasibly be unsnapped without tearing or breaking it off. Also, be sure whatever brandname and product line you choose it 100% vinyl (other than the urethane surface protective layer) - many vinyl floor products have paper or fiber cores or other water-absorbing components. Remember that, on concrete, since it wicks soil moisture through it, you till need a 6 mil vapor barrier under the flooring and positively sealed all around the edges to avoid the risk of mold growing on the underside of the vinyl.
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Agreed.  If you have existing cracking in porcelain you need to know the cause first.  I don't know of any reputable contractor that would dare install tile over existing tile.  Also, any manufacturer warranties for defects would be null due to improper installation.  Did the contractor offer this solution or did you ask for it?  The mear fact that he is agreeing to or offering it tells me you need to leave this guy for someone who knows what they are talking about before he does only half the job which will have to be redone in the near future, costing you more in the long run.

I get so many calls from customers that were talked into a "cheaper" way to do something only to find the work very sub-par.  The sad part is they are out the money they spent in the first place along with the additional amount I have to charge just to undo what the first contractor did before I can do it right.  This floor could end up costing you double what it should if it's not done right.

Todd Shell
Todd's Home Services