Talk To The Experts First

June 25, 2017

In 2015 I was asked to inspect and report on a leather floor that had been installed just a few short weeks before, my client reported multiple issues including shrinkage, tiles were lifting all over the place, the surface was a mess with scratches, he had paid out over £5,000 and was desperate for a solution.

Our first task was to determine the background circumstances from the initial specification right through to the present day, as the story unfolded it simply went from bad to worse:

The end-user was a private residential client who had searched for new flooring ideas and was drawn to the idea of installing a luxury leather floor.
I enquired about where the floor was installed and was told it was laid in a large lounge/family room, further enquiries revealed that the family consisted of mum, dad and three children ranging from nearly two-and-a-half, five and eight years old.
Any pets? yes, a small dog and a cat.
Underfloor heating? no. What type of leather did you have installed? we bought 30cm x 30m real leather tiles. Who fitted the leather floor? we used a local fitter who laid all our carpets and kitchen floor.

I arranged a visit to the property and had suggested that it would be helpful if the floor layer could also be there as well. On arrival it was immediately apparent that there were indeed multiple problems with the whole installation, the floor layer was also in attendance, as we were introduced he immediately went into a tirade about the leather being completely faulty, the shrinkage was proof that it wasn’t right, it was obviously that the shrinkage had caused the tiles to uplift, the leather supplier he said didn’t want to know and was blaming him, it was grossly unfair and he was being fed to the wolves.

When I finally managed to get a word in we set about determining the facts surrounding the installation:

The subfloor beneath the leather was tongue and groove board visible through the curled up tiles. Was any moisture checks carried out prior to laying? No. I asked about the need for a plywood overlay? “Not necessary as Floorboards were in good condition”. What adhesive was used? Why was there were no visible adhesive Trowel marks showing under the raised tile corners?
The answer… when it eventually came was the tiles had been laid with a spray adhesive used for carpet and vinyl’s. Did the leather supplier offer installation instructions? No. Was the leather acclimatised? What do you mean came the reply.

By that point I had heard enough and set about obtaining readings for my report; checking moisture content in both the floor and the leather tiles, ambient temperature relative humidity and during the general conversation that ensued discovered that the room had been re-plastered and re-decorated. It had also been wet-scrubbed to clean it shortly before the new leather floor was fitted.

My report highlighted the following:
The very first point I made was that the leather used was a vegetable tanned dyed-through leather with a wax finish, produced from what we call case shoulders and primarily only recommended for Light to medium Luxury Use -therefore deemed unsuitable for installation in a heavy domestic situation. There had been no moisture or humidity tests undertaken before installation, I confirmed my readings: a. Various points around the subfloor showed a range of 10.6 – 16.8 % moisture content, the higher readings were close to the walls in corners and furthest away from radiators. b. Subfloor temperature was between 18.5 and 20c c. The leather showed very compatible and similar readings varying from 10.3 – 15.2% d. Relative Humidity read 68.9 % e. Ambient temperature read 22.4c
Movement and some small raised areas was clearly evident in the floor boards and was becoming visible in the leather surface. The subfloor had clearly not been allowed to dry out sufficiently after the refurbishment, wet trades including plastering, redecoration and cleaning works before installing the new flooring. The subfloor should have been lined with a flooring grade plywood, screwed and countersunk, with screw heads and joints sealed with a flexible flooring compound.
The leather being a hygroscopic material (like a hardwood floor) had not been allowed to acclimatise properly before installation. Adhesive used was totally wrong and besides, clearly not enough adhesive had been applied, there was just basic traces of it in places showing it was very much a hit-and-miss application. Relative Humidity in the room read 68.9% which was a few percentage points above the recommended range of between 40-60% that should be maintained before, during and after installation works.
Installation of floorcoverings should be in accordance with the requirements of the relevant British Standard Code of Practice i.e. BS 8203 (Installation of resilient floorcoverings) and any supplementary specifications. Clearly the installation fell woefully short of the standards required. My recommendation was that whilst it might be possible as suggested, to uplift the existing leather tiles and re-install again from scratch the surface damage and shrinkage would mean that it would be impossible to guarantee a professional finish and due to the fact that the leather used was in my opinion, unsuited for use in such a heavy wear situation it would be a pointless exercise.

To conclude: the 5 most important points to remember when considering purchasing a leather floor are:

  1. Consult an experienced leather expert before you purchase leather for your project.
  2. Make certain they will provide a comprehensive consultation service that can guide you from the initial concept – right through product choice, design, colour options, floor preparation, installation and future maintenance.
  3. Seek advice about suitable leather types and whether it would be recommended for the use it is intended for, there are different types of tanned leathers that will withstand extremely heavy wear – think of the soles on your favourite leather shoes.
  4. Will your leather supplier provide detailed floor preparation guidelines, design and installation advice, detailed laying instructions and recommend suitable adhesives.
  5. Care and Maintenance, can they provide written detailed advice and instructions to enable you to look after your new leather floor.

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