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Visual Inspections on VFT and Associated Mastic Abatement

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I wanted to share some protocols and "tips" I've learned and followed during my years with Ellis performing inspections on vinyl floor tile (VFT) and mastic abatement. Though these jobs are often viewed as fairly straight forward, challenges and obstacles can arise quickly, and owners can often land themselves in some fairly sticky situations as a result. 

Here's how Ellis approaches these inherently complex jobs:

  1. What is the substrate material?

This is critical to the abatement and inspection process for VFT & mastic, and it's something that must be learned long before abatement begins --during bulk sampling. Inspectors and consultants performing building surveys should always make a note and include substrate material in their sampling reports. Because:

Wood Substrate

  • VFT will be removed with hand methods (tile bars or similar), and full containment with a ceiling is not required. Waste is non-friable.
  • Associated underlying mastic will be removed with hand methods (razor scrapers or similar) to a NON-DIMENSIONAL finish. This means that mastic will be scraped "flat",  but will still be present in the porous surface of the wood. Damaging/gouging/splintering the wood substrate to get this residual mastic is not encouraged, rather, following a non-dimensional scrape and passing visual inspection, the contractor will apply a white encapsulant to the surface of the wood.

Concrete Substrate 

  • VFT will likely be removed utilizing tile bars, but mechanical removal methods such as a Terminator may also be used in larger areas. For any SCAQMD notified job ( >100 s.f.), Ellis always encourages mechanical removal methods of mastic with the client and abatement contractor. By doing this, our containments switch to Class 1 (full containment with ceiling), and waste becomes friable, but mechanical methods are best at removing mastic completely.
  • Concrete often contains divots, cracks, "pock" marks in its surface. These areas tend to catch and pool with mastic. Good consultants pay special attention to them during visual inspections. 
  • Clear encapsulant is appropriate following VFT & mastic abatement on concrete substrate.

During bid-walks and pre-starts, substrate material and contractor expectations are ALWAYS discussed and documented in Ellis' bid notes.

  1.  Will Walls Be Demolished Following Flooring Abatement?

Again, this is something that needs to be discussed with a client and a contractor during bid-walks and pre-start meetings. Here is why it's critical:

  1. There's always a chance that a building has been remodeled. Floors may test hot, but newer walls don't, and our clients often choose to have general contractors demo them after flooring abatement takes place. During this demolition, residual flooring left under the bottom plates of walls and not accessed during abatement is often uncovered -- and it's usually uncovered by non-protected personnel who become concerned. That ultimately causes abatement remobilizations, project delays and increased costs for the client, who are often left frustrated.
  2. If walls WILL remain, and it's clear tile extends under the bottom plates of the walls, utility knives or similar blades MUST be used to create a flush and straight line with the bottom of the wall. No exceptions. Jagged edges and "bits" of tile are all grounds for a failed Ellis visual inspection
  1. Using Information Gained In Steps 1 & 2 to Complete a Visual Inspection

If a consultant knows the substrate, and knows if walls will remain or be removed, they are better informed to perform their visual inspections. It can't be overstated how CRITICAL these inspections are. They are the professional stamp of approval on the completeness of the work. With that stamp a consultant represents themselves, their coworkers, and their company. Inspections should be held to a high standard, and consultants performing them should be prideful (regardless of the eye rolls or push backs they may receive from the abatement foreman). Good consultants understand that if a contractor thinks they can get away with doing less, they will. 

On wood: get to a non-dimension finish that is as uniformly flat as possible without destroying the substrate. 

On concrete: make sure all the mastic is GONE. No black should remain (with the sole exception of cracks or tight divots; these areas can still be cleaned with wire brushes to an acceptable finish, but black staining invariably will remain). 

  1. Performing a Post Teardown Inspection Following Passing Air Clearance

Tape used during abatement (especially on criticals: doorways/door sills/etc.) can hide small areas of mastic. Good consultants stay with the contractor during tear down and perform a final walk through. If any mastic remains (quantities should be EXTREMELY minimal, and cleanable with a rag and a small quantity of mastic remover) a consultant will show the foreman and have them address it before exiting the site.

Finally, the relationship between an abatement contractor and a consultant is tricky. It's as symbiotic as any professional working relationship I've ever encountered. Without each other, they are both sunk. Work doesn't get performed without abatement contractors, and work doesn't get approved without consultants. What this means (from the consultant side) is that to be a successful relationship, expectations must be set early. Containments and work areas should be visited by the consultant several times during work, and feedback should be provided to the foreman -- bad AND good feedback. What the consultant is looking for should be established long before the project gets close to completion. Simple things like asking the foreman to show small locations after the worker and foreman have looked at it and consider it "abated". This establishes a finish the contractor can come back to when abating the remainder of the containment and helps move the project along smoothly. 

Just a glimpse into what Ellis puts into every job, even these "simple straight forward" ones.

Ryan C Davidson 
Industrial Hygienist