Our own Bill Luallen sits down with industry veteran Bob Blochinger, Division Chair for The IICRC Inspection Division, to learn more about his path to becoming a flooring inspector. In our first XLN audio interview, listen as they discuss training and certification, a few of Bob’s unique experiences as an inspector, and what Bob would change industry-wide if he had a magic wand. You can also read the full transcript of the interview below.
– [Bill] Without further ado, ’cause I know your time is valuable, buddy, I’m gonna start if that’s okay.
– [Bob] Absolutely.
– [Bill] So Bob, tell us about you. It sounds like you’ve got a long past in flooring. You don’t have to go into great detail, but maybe how you started and where you are now.
– I started my life in the family construction business in New York City. And part of that was pouring concrete, finishing concrete, laying walkways with pavers and flagstones and that sort of thing. And when I moved to Florida, I continued in the construction business again with the concrete and whatnot. And I was on a job site where they were installing carpet and I saw the guys who worked in air conditioning, and that’s how I moved from the outside exterior into the interior by laying floors. And then I moved into maintenance of the floors, ’cause I liked to be cross-trained. And then I moved into the water and prior damage remediation, repair, and cleaning. And then I started my own installation company ’cause I felt it was a better fit for me. And I had my own company for 35 years signing in front of the paycheck, installing any floor covering product that’s made, from the cheapest to the most expensive and continued such for 35 years wixth a decent reputation of being an expert in the woven goods.
– [Bill] Oh wow.
– [Bob] And then in the mid nineties, I decided to become a certified flooring inspector as a addition to my installation company and giving me a better credential than the next guy. And in 2012, I closed the company ’cause it was very difficult to sell basically a Rolodex, which is what a service company is, consumer loyalty. And I became a full-time flooring inspector. So I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I worked with the before, during and after. And unfortunately there’s not enough training out there to ensure a good floor covering installation that will hold up to use and maintenance. And that’s about me.
– [Bill] Well, you brought up one thing that I find really interesting and I’ve never quite figured out why more people don’t do it. But you said that, as an owner of a flooring installation company, you decided to get educated in inspections. And that’s really interesting. And why don’t we see that more? that whether it’s an owner or an ops manager or a project manager, there’s dying there, right?
– [Bob] Absolutely. Because the person who is already in the flooring business or industry for cleaning, maintenance, installation, specification, usage, whatnot, when they go through an inspection course, they get a totally different perspective of what the floor covering is, how it works, specifications and maintenance and installation rules. So you get a whole different perspective. And in my mind, you get another feather in your cap because you’re one step ahead of the other guy who doesn’t know about the good, the bad and the ugly in floor covering. And when I did my commercial work on the bids and whatnot, I included a free maintenance instruction by a certified IICRC cleaner. And that was me. The other installation companies I run against, could not do that. So therefore I won some of the better bids because especially in the hospitality business where you’re doing a ballroom and the hotel maintenance department really wants to keep up the to the flooring, and to do that, they need to do the cleaning accordingly. And it was much easier to hire or to have the installer give you the class as long as he’s got that piece of paper, say, yes, I know what I’m talking about, I am certified. So it’s again a leg up. I see no reason why in any industry that you can’t be vertically educated to the next step.
– [Bill] So, when you looked at it, you looked at it from a perspective of the knowledge, not necessarily of having somebody on your staff that is a certified flooring inspector to maybe combat issues or… And I guess actually you could then go out and provide those services as well. But, it was more for an education.
– [Bob] Yes, in my first inspection class, the first one I went to, there were two representatives of a pattern company and I asked them, well, why are you here? They said, well, we’re not here to become flowing inspectors. We’re here to understand the process of inspection for our company. So that’s a pure educational point, another point to make money or to blame somebody.
– [Bill] That’s really great. And now you had sold your business, you are a full-time inspection and education, is that correct?
– [Bob] Correct.
– [Bill] And sounds like you probably travel for the inspection side at least?
– [Bob] Well, I’ve been to the Marine Barracks in Norfolk, Virginia, to a boutique hotel in Minneapolis, to a assisted living complex in Alabama, to various facilities throughout Florida and The Bahamas. So yes, I do travel.
– [Bill] Fantastic. And it sounds like it’s a wide range from clientele, but probably also materials as well, whether it’s soft or hard or substrate.
– [Bob] Yes, my clients are the gambit of any industry, of any construction related industry in America. And I have a little motto at the bottom of my email saying, “You walk on it, I service it.” Because over the years that you either cleaned it, was assisted in manufacturing it, or maintained it and installed it and sold it.
– [Bill] Nice.
– [Bob] I run the gander.
– [Bill] So on the inspectors side, and I know that this is Pandora’s box when I ask this question, but what does a flooring inspector, what’s the general outline of what a flooring inspector can do or does?
– [Bob] Well, after you’ve taken the course and received your credentials, you are expected to go to a job site to evaluate a negative of some kind and whatever that negative might be, whether it’s buckling and carpet seams, opening up gaps in LVT, swollen laminates, discoloration in marble, tenting of ceramic floors, whatever the negative might be, you are commissioned to find the cause and make a conclusion as to why this is happening. Basically, you point the finger where after you’ve thoroughly investigated visually and physically, perform measurements, use various impedance meters or destructive testing, and you actually come up with a conclusion where you can point and figure, yes, this is strictly manufacturing related, it’s construction related, it’s the builder’s fault, it’s the homeowner’s maintenance style, it’s the installation workmanship, and then to write a concise report that is readable and understandable. And when I write my reports, ’cause I do a bid of legal work, I write in the past the first reading of an attorney.
– [Bill] Interesting, that’s great to know. You mentioned taking IICRC inspection courses, I guess I’m gonna jump in and tell us about the different inspection courses or certifications that are available from the IICRC.
– [Bob] Well, from the inspection division, which I’m the chair, we have the substrate, which is the ISSA, and that is where you get educated in the various substrates available floor covering that could be concrete, it could be wood, metal, and you get taught about concrete stability, the concrete construction, any moisture content in the concrete that would damage a moisture sensitive floor covering. In the wood, you learn about the spacing of the choice. Whether it’s 12 inch 16, 18, 20, 24 inch on center, which gives a , the reason for deflection in the flooring, because there’s too big of a span between the choice for the plywood to continue to being straight and flat. You learn about the various construction systems and the products used to make these substrates. And you actually learn a definition between a substrate and the subfloor. Many people get that confused. Then we have the stone ceramic course where you learn how to inspect stone and ceramic materials, and also installation and maintenance within that course, then you have the luxury vinyl tile, wood, and laminate, which you learn about how to inspect those items and also learn about the products, how they’re made, how they’re used, what they’re made of. So there’s four courses available in the inspection division to become a certified inspector of which the ISSA is the first and foremost one to take because without a good foundation, a building can’t stand up. Then on the cleaning side, we have maintenance of all floor coverings, hard and soft, which assist in determining causations when you do an inspection. So for me personally, I have the hard and soft certifications for maintenance and cleaning, then I have the ISSA in carpet, the others I took in other schools because they will not offer that at the time, but these are all encompassing. And as far as the IICRC is concerned with the two schools I mentioned laminates and wood, and the stone, interviewing with two schools to start these two programs up again, so that we can get certifications. And that would as I say, the inspection division is live and well today and it’s being improved. And I’m just coming out with my newsletter which I come out with quarterly on inspections, articles on various inspection topics.
– [Bill] Oh, that’s great. We’ll make sure we get some information so that people can sign up for that newsletter and the article.
– [Bob] I just put you on the email list today this morning.
– [Bill] Fantastic, you just brought up something and my background is, I started out on the manufacturing side, moved to the contractor side, and then traversed into the maintenance side of things with the contractors and subsequently with XL North. Bu you talked about the initial inspection course, the ISSA, I-I-S-A, is that right?
– [Bob] ISSA.
– [Bill] ISSA, sorry. When you spoke about that, boy, that description sounded like it fit a segment that at least one person from every flooring installation house should go through. I mean, whether it’s a project manager or operations manager or lead installer or salesperson, boy, that really sounds like everybody should know at least that.
– [Bob] Very true, because as a building has its foundation, this is the foundation floor for all, not just flooring inspections, but for flooring installations. It’s a direct alignment with the ASTM 710 which is the ASTM for preparation of substrates for moisture sensitive floor covering with moisture testing and stability and integrity and whatnot. So it is a good foundation space that anybody and everybody really should know.
– [Bill] Yeah, that really so… I mean, the other courses, certainly sound fascinating to me and well-needed, but boy, just off the cuff, that one sounds like that’s a must for everybody.
– [Bob] Yeah, as far as I’m concerned, it is because it helps you get it, you understand.
– [Bill] Yeah, so during inspections and flooring certainly has changed, you mentioned woven and you probably are an expert in sewing seams and wovens and whatnot, but flooring has changed so much in the last 30 years, and from an inspection, what are some of the more common issues you see in flooring that require your services?
– I’m gonna include that in the moment on a current job I’m working on, okay. I’ve been working on as a consultant. First, I went out as an inspector then I became a consultant for the past two years. It is a city owned project of low income housing and assisted living housing for Medicaid and Medicare patients. It is 40 buildings in this town. Of the 40, and they are duplexes, so that is 80 units, 80 2-bedroom units. And the general contractor hired a flooring installation contractor to remove existing flooring and install new flooring. Well, one of the things they didn’t do was the ASTMs 710, because they had a VCT floor on the floor and they were putting a VCT back down. However, these buildings were built in the 50’s so therefore they used cutback, the asphalt tar-based black adhesive. And part of the ASTM is to remove the cutback to a point where it’s just a residual. In other words, you gotta be able to see the true color of concrete. That was not performed. The new flooring failed within six months by the black losing through because of the moisture content of the concrete, and the alkalinity coming up, this is a prime example of having a ISSI course, so that you understand about concrete moisture, old esters and whatnot. Well, we’re looking at a seven figure failure and lawsuit that’s coming about because the installer did not read, and he did not perform. And this is where the installer should have had this education, and I wouldn’t be talking about the job. In the meantime, two other flooring contractors were hired and walked off because they saw the immensity of the work, and there was a budget constraint to start with. So this is why you need to know and read the directions of course.
– [Bill] And yes, and read those directions. So that’s certainly one of the ones that you get called out. Do you see a lot of… or do you get asked about a lot of maintenance issues with your inspection company or with your inspection knowledge?
– [Bob] Yes, on the hospitality jobs I go on on, which would be hotels, banquet rooms, and such, would be medical offices, I get to be called into for maintenance issues such as, and maybe in a hospital, and they’re performing at the wrong maintenance on the vinyl sheet goods, sort of rubber sheet goods. And most specifically, when I get called by an attorney for a slip, trip and fall, and I get hired to examine the maintenance procedures and find the flaws, which created the atmosphere for slip, trip and fall, and somebody gets severely injured. So these all come into play, all the items I’ve been talking about, they come into play during an inspection commissioning.
– [Bill] So probably another good segment of flooring would be that maintenance contractors should get in some education from the inspection site as well.
– [Bob] Yes, when we’re talking about the LVT floors, or the wood laminate floor or a wood plank with the floating or click system, and they say maintenance via damp mop. Well, as far as I’m concerned, everybody has a different definition of the word damp.
– [Bill] Just as I do.
– [Bob] Dry damp, dripping damp, ring, it’s all different. And it’s a judgment call as to, did they use too much water? Was it mopped too damp? But as an inspector, you’re called in to find out the definition of damp that was used compared to the definition of damp that is required.
– [Bill] Well, that makes a whole lot of sense there. It’s always the question, when should a professional be called or when should an inspector be called?
– [Bob] Excuse me. Well, one of my opinions is the before, during and after. If you have, let’s say you have a commercial project, you call an inspector who’s also a consultant on the before. Now, the words, condominium corridors. I’ve been called in, hired by the condominium board to evaluate the existing and to do a bid packet for new flooring. So I’m on the before side, I do the request for pricing. I identify the manufacturers, identify the installation company, and identify a maintenance company, three which they turn in their bids. Oh, I forgot, I do a specification sheet of the product that is wanted. Then we open the bid. They choose the bid based, because they’re all vilified by me and verified, so they’re all credentialed as they’re supposed to be. They have a reputation that’s positive. Then we have the opening the bids, and then the person is selected. At that point, I perform oversight because I’m available for the oversight of the removal, installation and cross cleaning of that project. Now, if there’s a failure, then I come back in as the inspector to find out why it failed, did they install it wrong, did they clean it wrong, was it miss specified? Well, since I did all the specifications, I am on the hook, but at the same time, I have proven documentation that is the correct product, the installation guidelines were not followed. But then if I was doing the oversight, which is the doing, I wouldn’t be called in for an inspection ’cause it was performed accordingly. And when I have this doing oversight project, I always demand that I have the authority to stop the job. Because when you hit people and workers in the pocketbook, they tend to just perk up and listen to what you got to say to do it correctly.
– [Bill] They do, don’t they?
– [Bob] Yes, they do. And as a previous flooring contractor where I had about a dozen guys working, there were times I did Monday morning paychecks ’cause I wanted Saturday’s job to be done. So all this comes from many years of personal experience and everything I discuss, or stories I tell, are the true stories of my own installations or inspections. And quite frankly, I got a million of them. But the inspector who decides to, let me put it this way. For a career path, if you’re a floor covering person, whether you’re a standup cleaning guy, or on your knees installer, it comes to the point your body says you can’t do this anymore. Typically, it’s in your mid forties. Well, what do you do then? You can go to inspection school and you have the credentials in the background to be a very good inspector. Basically, all you need to do is fine tune your opinions and learn how to write a readable report that’s correct in grammar and English.
– [Bill] So that’s brilliant. That’s a nice career path through the flooring world.
– [Bob] Yes, it is.
– [Bill] And that’s something that we, the people within the flooring world, we need to do a better job at keeping the pipeline of opportunity going. And so that’s another great… You just don’t have to move from installer to maybe a project manager, to maybe a sales manager. Maybe that’s the depth, that’s certainly a different route that people can look forward to.
– [Bob] It is, because if you go from a flooring installer to let’s say project manager, job site supervisor, well, you’re still within the hands-on, but if you go into the inspections and make yourself a educated consultant, you’re working with the different project managers, owners, builders and GCs, and you’re still in the business, but you’re not hands-on on a daily basis and you basically get paid for what you know, not necessarily what you can do.
– [Bill] Nice, that’s great. That’s another great opportunity.
– [Bob] Yes, it is. I’m an example of that.
– [Bill] Well.
– [Bob] And you can do it for a long time.
– [Bill] Yeah, and make a decent living and support your family with it. So that’s awesome. Bob, I always ask this, and it’s a goofy question, but I’m gonna ask it to you as well, the magic wand question and it’s sometimes a two-parter. But if you have the opportunity, if you have that magic wand to make the industry better and you can ponder this, so you don’t have to answer this right now, but what things would you change in the industry or processes that would make it a better place?
– [Bob] I’m gonna have to give you a story of an example. And I talked about this for probably a good 20 years. In the construction trades, of course, we have the structural workers, you just can’t get a guy off the street, give them the knowledge safety course, and here, go license block, because the building does have to stand up. In plumbing and electrical, you go through a apprentice program and you become a journeyman after you proved yourself efficient in the trade, you pass the test, you go to promo classes and whatnot, just like the carpenters union, UBC to me, is a prime example of training. As far I’m concerned they got one of the best in the world and that’s in the flooring division as well. So you come out four years later and you know what you’re doing, and you can command a decent salary to start as a young man to start a family. Well in carpeting or in all flooring coverage, that does not exist. There’s no formal training available on that level. The CFI does try, they have a five-week program and a two-day update and whatnot. There are a couple of other organizations trying to work with that. So to me, the magic wand is training, have a organized training school for floor covering so that these kids know why they’re doing it. To me, I’ve always used the two words, training and education. Training as the how to, education is the why. And as a slight blurb, I am involved with a nonprofit organization for training on a national level, to the Job Corps Center in the Department of Labor. I happen to be on that board. I happen to be on that board and I think we have a school established in San Francisco. There’s gonna be one someplace in Texas, and then we’re gonna have one in Miami, and we are already approved on a national level by the department of labor to do so. So to me, the magic wand the way it is, let’s get some training out there, so the inspectors are not necessarily there to point the finger and we have a better floor covering that’s safer to use.
– [Bill] Bob, that’s really cool. Actually, I’ve got a job Corps, not far more than a mile and a quarter away from my house, actually.
– [Bob] Okay, what counts is that anyway.
– [Bill] It’s in Menifee County in Eastern Kentucky. It’s actually, the job Corps sits on the edge of Daniel Boone National Forest where I live.
– [Bob] Well, then one of the things that goes with what I just said is the job Corps is not necessarily for the underprivileged, it’s for anybody that gets in the program, and as an employer, we have a program when the kid graduates from the apprentice which is, I believe the minimum is three-year program. He knows more than how to use a ruler. And the monetary benefits as an employer are very good. The kid makes a decent wage right off the get go. And it’s a win-win for many, many people.
– [Bill] It really is.
– [Bob] But mostly for the floor covering. I don’t know how soon it’s gonna be in Kentucky, but I know Appalachia, I’m thinking the Apalachicola here in Florida. The Appalachian Mountains, they’re part of the targets we have. As I mentioned, those three cities, also the New York, New England area, and the Appalachian area.
– [Bill] That’s what we really need, buddy. I’m not gonna lie. Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?
– [Bob] Well, I don’t have enough time left in my life. No, I think I pretty well opened up the door to a lot of conversation today.