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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Shifting Ground

A hard problem to crack. One of the most challenging and unusual projects that we’ve ever done was at the Manhattan Place condominium on First Avenue in Murray Hill. It has an extremely large lobby that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. They pumped out the water, but the marble floor was never the same. There was a consistent crack along the wall running north and south that wasn’t random, which led us to believe that there was an expansion joint in that area that was failing. An expansion joint typically is an area that’s left between large expanses of concrete. If the building moves or shifts, whether there’s a subway under it or it just happens over time — and there may be some expansion and contraction — the joint picks up the slack. They had replaced some of the marble tiles but clearly didn’t address the underlying problem because the cracks kept coming back.

We tried to determine if, in fact, they did have an expansion joint and whether it was either not working, not large enough or not in the right location. Whenever you’ve got a floor problem, you worry that it might be structural and you hold your breath. In this case, it wasn’t structural. But this building is located by the East River, and with Hurricane Sandy the shifting was a little bit different, and it affected the flooring and the ceiling. 

Room to move. So the solution was to give the floor more flexibility. We wanted to install a very large-format tile to give a dramatic, elegant look to this very large lobby. And the manufacturer, who we regularly work with, had recommended adding silicone to the grout of every second panel as a kind of insurance policy so that if there is any movement, it will be absorbed by the grout.

The manufacturer recommended a contractor who had a lot of experience installing large-format tiles in other buildings with high-traffic public areas. He felt the silicone was a great idea, but also recommended putting in an anti-fracture membrane known as Mapeguard as an underlay for the entire floor. It’s a three-in-one product — it gives the tiles the opportunity to move, it does waterproofing and it does sound reduction. So along with the silicone grout, the membrane helps augment the expansion joint. Afterward, the condo hired an independent engineer to inspect the installation, since we’re interior designers and aren’t licensed to do that. He gave his blessing, and the problem was solved. My rule of thumb is if things don’t deteriorate in six months, you’ve solved the problem. We’re well past that point.

The takeaway. In this case, I think the extreme conditions from Hurricane Sandy certainly exacerbated the problem. Sandy was unusual, but going forward it may not be so unusual anymore. For boards that are putting in new floor tiles, whether they are marble or porcelain or some other hard-surface material, I would definitely recommend that this underlay be standard operating procedure.

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