averykc13

Mystery Moisture in Slab Ruined Engineered Wood Floor. Now What?

averykc13
February 26, 2009

I am stumped and need a little help. Here's the background: I purchased this home 2.5 years ago & remodeled before moving in. It is on a slight grade, so as recommended by my foundation guy, I added drains along the higher side of my house to divert water that would have been going under my house out to the street instead. I also installed 3/8" thick Mohawk engineered wood floors with urethane glue on top of the slab. The contractor said he did a moisture test of the slab 1st and it was fine, but I didn't personally see this happen. He also said no moisture barrier was needed.

Within about 2 months of moving in, I noticed the ends of the planks were peaking in a particular strip in my living room. I blew it off. A few more months went by & I noticed a hump forming in my living room where the glue was failing. Within a year, I had a bump like a pitcher's mound in my living room, and next to it was a 3' diameter area of blistering & bubbling on the wood's surface, and in other areas the wood was turning nearly black.

Here's where I am now: A sewer line at the other, down-hill side of the house was replaced 2 months ago. Now 3 different plumbers have tested and say there is no leak in or above my slab. The wood floors were ripped out last week and I have tested the slab with a moisture meter. I have a definite path of high moisture through the middle of my living room. Moisture readings around the perimeter of the house are acceptable.

Here are my assumptions:

1. I have to find the source of the water and have a consistently lower moisture reading in the problem area before I put in any new wood floors.

2. The source of the water is not my plumbing, nor is it poor drainage around the house because the slab is dry around the exterior walls.

Here are my questions:

1. Where on earth is this water coming from?

2. What type of professional should I contact for help now?

3. Is it possible the moisture was coming from the cracked sewer line in a different - and more downhill - part of the house? If so, how long would it take for the slab to dry out now that the leak has been fixed?

4. How long does the slab need to be dry before I put in new floors?

5. Someone recommended drilling -or jackhammering!- a hole in the slab in the moist area to see what's below it. I know water follows the path of least resistance & so may not be coming from the same spot that's wet. Is this a worthwhile idea?

Thanks a ton for your input.

Comments (104)

  • Chris Carden

    The representative from the flooring showroom said the installer would be in touch to do a calcium chloride test on the concrete so we know how to proceed.

    Any thoughts on this?

  • PRO
    Cancork Floor Inc.

    Calcium Chloride testing is one of 4 "slab moisture tests" available. It is "OK" but certainly not the 'best of the best' for moisture content in a slab. In fact, the Europeans don't even use this test...mostly N. Americans use it because it is cheap and one of the first methods available on the market (very old test format).

    There is the "indwelling" probe = the most accurate = most expensive.

    Surface probe = cheap = easily mucked up because it feels like "anyone" can do it.

    The pH test = accurate for PAST moisture issues = won't show the whole story but will tell you how much "ground salts" currently sit on the slab. This test can be skewed by "cleaning" the slab.

    Titebond 771-Step clearly indicates: "no moisture limits" when used properly and that Calcium Chloride testing nor in-slab tests are NECESSARY when used properly.

    The statement says it all, "...the evidence of moisture at the subfloor surface and the lack of 100%
    complete coverage is the cause of the problems associated with this
    floor."

    Done and dusted. Application of the adhesive was not done "properly". There it is. In black and white.

    Complete DO OVER. How about a floating floor this time? Skip the adhesive thing entirely and move to a more reliable form of install. It is something you may want to consider.

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  • Chris Carden

    What are they trying to gather from this calcium chloride test? It seems we have everything we need here to know that a complete redo is needed. He is coming at 5:30PM CST to do the test.


  • Chris Carden

    So the test has been placed and it will take 3 days to complete. After, he plans to do a PH test. I guess they are trying to gather how much moisture is in the slab to see how much we are responsible for??

  • Chris Carden

    Also, how does 12% moisture for example correlate to 15lb moisture barrier?

  • millworkman

    Me thinks they are grasping for straws and if they find one test they can manipulate the numbers to appear to be your sland and get them off the hook. Bam.

  • PRO
    Joseph Corlett, LLC

    Classic "straw grasping", but don't fight it. They are posturing for negotiation. If you can get the floor replaced without a lawsuit, you're ahead of the game.

  • PRO
    Cancork Floor Inc.

    There is no way to "manipulate" the numbers. A wet slab is wet. A high pH slab has high pH. Lots of moisture under the slab (hydrostatic pressure) is still sitting under the slab. Each test measures something SLIGHTLY different. And therefore a bunch of them put TOGETHER give the best overview. The fact that they are using two tests isn't "bad". It is good.

    Sadly, it should have been done BEFORE the install. Like Joseph says, don't fight it. The numbers they gather will help you, not hinder you. The failure to test = part of the improper installation. Think of them as nails in a coffin.

    Good luck. Sit back. Wait it out. They are probably going to offer something...just give them time to figure out what.

  • Chris Carden

    Thank you! Also, can you help me with my previous question about the correlation of pounds of moisture to % of moisture?

  • PRO
    Cancork Floor Inc.

    Yep...they are two units of measure. There really is no way to translate them or correlate one to another . They are two different units of measure (how do you measure the difference between % of the tip to the amount of food on your plate? You don't). The Moisture Content (MC) is measured using the in-dwelling probe and is in a percentage. It says what is in there RIGHT NOW.

    The pounds of pressure is how much WATER pushes through something (it indicates force like "pounds per square inch" indicates pressure over a small area). This is measured using the Calcium Chloride test and is how much water is moving up through the slab from the ground underneath.

    The 15 lbs is actually a shortening of the full statement: 15 lbs/1000sf over 24 hours. That's the FULL unit of measure. Ghastly I know.

    I have an adhesive that only allows 3lbs/1000sf over 24 hours. That's "dry as the Sahara". Which is why it isn't allowed anywhere NEAR a basement...and an old slab with some issues = don't even try.

    There are many adhesives that allow 5 lbs. Some with moderate moisture resistance allow 8 lbs. If 15 lbs/1000sf over 24 hours has been recorded on a slab, that thing is sopping wet. Like freshly bathed wet dog. There are many adhesives that would have huge problems handling this amount of pressure/water.

  • millworkman

    Like I meant with my earlier post by grasping at straws (manipulate tests was a poor choice in words). I believe they knew they screwed the pooch and were trying every test they could until one came back that showed they were not at fault and that was going to be the holy grail that they blamed for the delaminating.

  • PRO
    Cancork Floor Inc.

    Sigh. This is going to lead to plenty of finger pointing. The "slab" is in your possession. The "electronic" test (whatever the HECK that is) was "reading" OK (or what they told you was OK verbally). So now what?

    The floor was glued down over a slab that they "thought" was OK...but once the slab was 'capped' (water-blocking-stuff put on top) it started to gain more and more moisture (the concrete kept soaking up water...but it had no where to go = SOAKING WET slab = total failure of the adhesive used).

    Now, the question becomes, what type of "electronic" test did they use? Ask for the PRINT OUT of the numbers (ahem...with a written statement of what TYPE of test procedure was done and make/model number of the meter) prior to install. If you are in LUCK, they will NOT have them. If they do not have a print out, then you have a huge advantage. Without documentation, they have no way to prove they had done a test.

    If they have a test print out, you will need to know what type of test was done and with what type of recorder. There is a surface probe test that uses some pins that sit on top of the concrete and they measure the amount of moisture at the SURFACE of the slab. I mean the TOP of the slab (less than 1" deep). Which is why this type of measurement does NOT tell us the whole story. It is one of the least accurate. It gives some information...but not all. It doesn't tell us about all that WATER sitting in the lower part of the slab just waiting to evaporate up and out.

    Ask for the print out of the pre-install numbers and what type of test it was and with what type of meter. There are several meters that are allowed with this test and then there are other cheap knock-offs that show erroneous results.

    Your best hope (for full compensation) will be the LACK of test results for this install. If they produce the results and they are valid, then I'm afraid to say this isn't going to end well for you. As I said, the slab belongs to you - the homeowner.

  • Chris Carden

    He said he didn't take a picture of the reading because it was fine and didn't need additional moisture membrane at the time

  • Chris Carden

    Here's a few pictures of a board we just pulled up. The concrete was very moist.

  • PRO
    Johnson Flooring Co Inc

    Looks grim. It does appear to have decent adhesive coverage on these shots though. This adhesive should adhere quite tenaciously to the concrete. In addition to proper spread on the adhesive, they may not have roughed up the slab enough for it to get a grip. Were it not for the high moisture it probably would have not been an issue.

    From reading professional journals, generally the floor contractor is assumed to accept the conditions of the slab once they cover it up. Considering your current issue, it's hard to believe your slab would have measured under 3 on something like a Tramex Concrete Moisture Encounter meter.

  • Chris Carden

    They seem to believe it's some sort of leak after the installation. After speaking with titebond, it looks like even the 771 alone can serve as an unlimited moisture barrier if applied with 100% coverage. Meaning no trowel marks at all. Where we pulled up the wood, the planks with trowel marks underneath showed water damage on the surface of the plank

  • PRO
    Johnson Flooring Co Inc

    A leak from underneath or on top? Your report synopsis pointed to "the lack of 100% complete coverage is the cause of the problems associated with this floor", which is what I suspected.

  • Chris Carden

    So we had the flooring removed by the same installer. W were given a deal on the replacement flooring by the flooring showroom and the installer removed the old flooring for free and gave us a break on the new installation. He went with the same glue but used the titebond epoxy to guarantee "100% unlimited moisture protection." They are almost done. The flooring is down in all of the bedrooms and the epoxy was put down in the living room today. I noticed some spots around the house where the flooring is already installed that sound hollow when you tap this. Could this be a problem? Also, I took some pictures of the living room to use as reference after the installation tomorrow to see if the chunks missing in the subfloor correlate to the hollow sound upon tapping. Any thoughts on this? I want to make sure we don't encounter the same problem later after going through all of this.

  • PRO
    Cancork Floor Inc.

    Ouch! Nasty slab! Nasty! No biscuit for you! Nasty Slab! Ahem...these HOLES should be dealt with BEFORE installing new flooring!

    Sigh. Stop the work. Ask them about what they did to correct the slab. Check your contract for "leveling" costs to see how much you paid (original contract). This thing should be smooth and level. Those photos indicate they needed to do PLENTY of prep (and didn't). No amount of GLUE is going to fill a void like that. It needs cementatious material.

    And yes. The hollow sounds probably correlate to the holes in your slab. It could also indicate lack of complete coverage of the adhesive (which is the problem you ran into the FIRST time these people worked on your floor!!!!). Either way, I recommend STOPPING the work and asking a whole bunch of questions. Don't budge until you have answers.

    In the industry we have a saying - "A floor laid is a floor paid." If you accept the LACK of subfloor prep, then you accept the outcome because of the lack of prep. Don't accept it. Don't let them continue. Stop the work and bring in their boss.

  • s K

    Chris can you share whom did you call to correct the problem. I have some dark spots in my engineered wood floor in my family room. I also feel that a slight area is bumping up. Rest of the house has carpet and tile and I do not see any of these areas to be wet or having moisture. I am not sure whom to call for this issue. Also, does home insurance pay for it? I have lived for 5 yrs in the house.

  • Chris Carden

    Hi, I actually worked something out with the contractor that installed the flooring and he took it all up and redid it. The flooring wholesaler gave us a deal on the replacement flooring. We did have them put an epoxy down first, but I could tell during the installation process that there would be issues again. None of the craters in the cement were filled and there was still glue remaining from the previous flooring. Now over 6 months later and we are having issues again. It's taking much longer than before, but the problem spots are showing signs (the surface of the floor has a crinkled look and a rough feel to it).

  • floorguy

    All concrete has moisture vapor emissions to some extent. Some more than others and some way more during times of heavy prolonged rainfall.

    It is the reason it is a STANDARD to place or apply a moisture barrier over the surface of the concrete, before proceeding with adhering to the concrete.

    The 2-n-1 adhesives, that just gob a lot of glue on the floor, are a false sense of security. I refuse to use them, unless I can finish the entire job in one continuous day. There is no room to wiggle either with those. 100% coverage and 100% transfer.

  • s K

    I have engineered wood flooring in family room only. I see some areas having black spots as shared in the picture. Rest of the house has carpet and tiles and they seems to be fine. I am in Florida . I moved in this house 5 yrs back. The house is 20yr old. Not sure when exactly I noticed this. But maybe around 2 yrs back. Sine there was a couch in this area I could not see that it’s that big. I was thinking should I remove the wood and get tiles instead? Would that solve the problem?

  • s K

    How about if we remove the engineered wood flooring and install tile flooring. Would it sole our problem?


  • Teng

    Hi, we seem to have a similar problem where a small part of the engineered wood floor seems damp. This part of the floor is in the kitchen, close to the sink, so I’m not sure if there is a leak somehow underneath the floor? We live in Melbourne VIC, who should we get in touch with to check it out? Thanks!

  • PRO
    G & S Floor Service

    Start with a plumber.

  • jkugel
    I am so glad to have stumbled upon this thread! We are having the same issues as Chris Carden - in fact his pictures look exactly like our floors. I have been searching for answers and have talked with the installer, 3 flooring companies and the insurance company. We are now scheduling a consult with an expert from the NWFA. Chris, was the culprit finally determined to be insufficient adhesive?
  • Chris Carden

    The flooring company just said we had too much moisture and suggested we have someone do an infrared test to see where the source was. They agreed to sell us new floors at cost and the installer agreed to take the old floors up and install the new ones at half the cost (he never invoices us upon completion). We used the same titebond glue and bought the extra moisture barrier application that goes on the concrete first. It states that the concrete must be prepped with cracks and holes filled with proper compound. I took a video after the first application was put on and dried before they put the flooring down and saw where they just left the holes in the concrete and even some little pieces of the old glue attached to the concrete. That was around last September and sure enough we are having the same issues even with the additional moisture barrier that is supposed to guarantee 100% moisture control. I’d say it had something to do with high moisture in the house but the same floors were there for 4 years while the house was vacant before we bought it and they showed no sign of moisture damage, just had a lot of scratches from a large dog. It ultimately comes down to proper application I believe. When the installer did the first job, he was running his own business. The second time he was working on behalf of the flooring company. So we took the chance and let him do it again since they had us convinced it was due to not using the additional moisture barrier. I say in about 4 months the floors will be as bad as they were when we had them replaced the first time

  • Chris Carden

    @G&S Floor Services, my father in law is a master plumber and found no signs of a water leak in my home. He’s just as convinced that it was due to improper prep and application

  • PRO
    G & S Floor Service

    The floor is staining. Is it cupping?


    If, it is just staining, it is most likely caused by the adhesive. You will need to check if, it is an approved type of adhesive by the flooring manufacturer.


    Other than that, the high spots should have been ground down to avoid moisture trap and ensure 95-100% adhesive contact. Cracks should have been patched with a Portland based compound to block any possible vapors.


    Which vapor barrier product was used?


    Which Titebond adhesive was used?

  • Chris Carden

    Titebond 771-Step only the first time. Titebond 771-Step and Titebond 531 Plus the second time.

  • Chris Carden

    I have a video showing what it looked like after the 531 plus was applied and dried, but not sure how to share that with y’all. I think I’m out of luck.

  • Chris Carden

    Here is a screenshot from when I asked him about the cracks after the epoxy was applied.


  • PRO
    G & S Floor Service

    531 moisture control - epoxy


    The wrong coverage may have been applied. 400 square feet will give 75% moisture protection. Whereas 250 square feet coverage would be rated for 90% protection.


    • Gallon size covers 400 square feet for gold warranty or 250 square feet for platinum warranty



    Was the cure time exceeded? The chemical properties diminish, when exceeded Which requires additional prep work - abrading epoxy finish.


    cuRing tiMe

    Flooring may be installed over Titebond 531 after the product is tack free or about 4-6 hours at 70 ̊F. Be aware that temperatures below 65 ̊F may increasecuring time. Do not attempt to install flooring over Titebond 531 after 72 hours. If installation is delayed beyond 72 hours, the subfloor must be lightly abraded using a buffer. Clean the floor thoroughly before applying adhesive.



    What was the intentions of the installer with the adhesive? Adhesive only or moisture and sound control?


    ADHESIVE, MOISTURE & SOUND CONTROL INSTALLATION

    All engineered plank flooring ......................................................................................................

    Solid flooring & bamboo up to 5/8” .....................................


    TROWEL SIZE COVERAGE

    1/4” x 3/16” V-notch (saw tooth) ...........................35 sq. ft. per gallon


    1/4” x 1/4” V-notch (saw tooth) ..............................30 sq. ft. per gallon





  • Chris Carden

    I can’t remember what the curing time was. I want to say a day. The flooring showroom initially recommended the 771 for moisture and sound control. They said it should provide unlimited moisture protection. At the time they tested intially using an electronic reader and it showed very little moisture so we thought this was sufficient. After having them remove some planks and doing a calcium chloride moisture test they found very high moisture in some areas and said titebond has unlimited up to a certain amount and that they recommend the 531 for truly unlimited so that’s what we went with the second time they even sent some planks off for titebond to test and their results are below as well. So we spend over $3k to have it all done a second time just to have the same issues.


  • SJ McCarthy

    Oh dear. Just as G & S points out...the LACK of 100% coverage (glue sticking to the wood) is the problem. That issue is 100% the installer's fault. The glue is working where it has PROPER coverage. The high moisture content in the slab is pushing through where the glue is IMPROPERLY applied.


    The only way to get "improperly applied" is through installer error. This is a redo at the cost of the installer/company that used him to install the product. At this point, you will need to work with another professional.


    I would HIGHLY recommend using a floating floor at this point. A floating floor can allow a vapour barrier (I would go to a 10mil vapour barrier instead of the standard 6mil...just to be safe), lay down a lovely cork underlay and then FLOAT an engineered hardwood.


    The other option: HEAVY DUTY moisture mitigation. And I mean $$$$$ worth of mitigation BEFORE the floor is even purchased. A concrete moisture specialist (someone who specializes in "damp basements") comes in a SHOT BLASTS the concrete slab. Then they lay down 2 layers (spray-on or roll-on) moisture barrier. Then a primer is laid down and a micro-topping of concrete is applied. Now you are ready to lay down any type of glue down floor you want.


    And to be clear, that type of preparation is $5-$7/sf. The cost of the flooring and the install of it (which should be free at this point) is then added to the preparation costs.


    Personally I would simply float a hardwood with a sheet plastic vapour barrier underneath. I would spend some money on 6mm cork underpad and then install the wood. It is the simplest option at this point. But whatever you do, do NOT let the same human being glue down your floor. He didn't understand the concept the first two times. There is nothing to indicate he's going to get it right the third time.

  • PRO
    G & S Floor Service

    Based on the quantity purchased, it is the correct amount for the platinum warranty, which is 90-100 % mitigation. Hopefully all of it was used.


    I did notice in one of the image with the 531 coating. There was some gray paint that was coated over. Paint needs to be ground off. It can lose adhesion at any point. The epoxy and adhesive can pull it loose, allowing moisture into the floor.


    If, you were to do this again. You need to grind off all the epoxy, paint and high spots. Patch the cracks and apply a fresh coat of epoxy sealer, before installing the floor.


    What was the result of the calcium test?

  • Chris Carden








    These are the results and text conversations before we had the same installer remove the flooring and reinstall new floors using the epoxy as well. We were hesitant but thought that would be best considering the deal the flooring showroom was giving us and his offer to remove the old fooors for free. We were convinced this would work. Here are some pics I took after the epoxy was applied.






  • Chris Carden

    Oh and we could have put it on our homeowners insurance, but our deductible is $8,500. The installer did not have his own insurance...

  • SJ McCarthy

    There is a phenomena that happens when concrete is "capped" with a product. Like laying hardwood flooring over top of the slab. This "capping" effect occurs because the moisture that is moving through the raw slab is allowed to move up and out without stopping. This continuous movement means the slab, at any given time, shows rather dry. But as soon as the slab is capped, the moisture builds up to the point of becoming "soaking wet".


    This is one reason why the slab "looked" OK but now tests at horribly high levels once flooring has been applied. How old is the home/slab? What are the plans to deal with the cracks in the slab? The leveling? Excess adhesive?


    I'm sorry to say but a slab that has issued once it has been capped is always going to have problems until it has had extensive remediation (the type I referred to in my last post). Until then, carpet is an excellent option. Especially if it has a breathable pad.

  • PRO
    G & S Floor Service

    With a reading that high, further investigation is needed. The epoxy and the glue can only handle 15 - 18 psi max @ 85-95% RH.


    Inspect the house further. Infrared meters can pick up temperature change, which can help lead you to the problem. Check the exterior walls and foundations, any cracks can cause moisture problems. Check sump pump wells, interior perimeter drain systems and waste pipes for damages. It's possible something was damaged during the demo of the original install. This would be a slow leak, so it would not be pressurized.

  • jwalters74

    This is incredible. I am happy (and sad) I found someone who had the exact same problem as me. I am still trying to figure out the issue as I don't believe the glue was improperly put down as they paid special attention to this due to my previous issue. They also used the highest moisture barrier glue you can buy. Brief history if anyone is willing to listen and help!:


    1 and half years ago we lifted up our Flor rug and found mold (black substance) and decaying wood underneath the entire rug area. We also found some soft and damaged wood behind the couch in the same room. We attributed this to surface water getting in from the patio deck. We ripped up the wood and the slab was wet in the living room.


    I did a moisture test on the slab and it was very high. I had three plumbers come out, no leaks anywhere. We redid the siding around the house and made sure everything was completely sealed from the outside. We also installed additional french drains on the side of the house that collected water and took all the gutters to the street.


    After a few weeks the slab showed a much lower moisture reading (likely due to the amount of time with nothing trapping it). At this point we laid the new floor down. Its been one year and now we have 9 planks in our living room in the same area, bubbling up and chipping easily (no warping though). It cost us a ton of money the first time around and I am sick to my stomach this is happening again. Any ideas?? Is it possible there is a pin hole leak under my house that can't be detected my a plumber test? I am seriously debating having a company tunnel underneath the house and see what's wrong. Appreciate any insight or assistance!

  • PRO
    G & S Floor Service

    If, you were not able to find any leaks from the sides or underneath. Check what is above you, particularly your roof.


    We just recently had a client living in a top level condo with the same issue. The cupped floor issue was along a peninsula in the kitchen. Checked all appliances and plumbing for leaks. None could be found. Ten feet away was a mechanical room, that contained a HVAC unit. Found out water was working it's way in through the roof along the walls of the mechanical room. We had high readings with a moisture meter in this area.

  • Chris Carden

    @jwalters74 I'm interested to know what happens if you do have someone tunnel underneath your house. That was also recommended to us when they said that it must be a tear in the visqueen, but we never did. We also had drainage installed around the house and even used the moisture blocking epoxy before having them glued down a second time using the moisture blocking glue. We are no having the same issues throughout the hours after spending thousands to have the old flooring replaced throughout the house. I did video and take pictures of the floor after they applied the epoxy to show some of the areas that they obviously did not patch at all or left old glue residue and just epoxied over it.

  • nanew nanew

    So is the solution to sand everything down and then reapply epoxy plus whatever flooring, or to just sand it down and apply a regular carpet pad plus carpet, and keep a dehumidifier in the room? Or neither?

  • SJ McCarthy

    When it comes to a wet slab, the way to get a wood floor in is to float it. A glue down product is simply going to be overwhelmed almost every time. Sadly, glue down hardwood (engineered or solid) have massive issues with wet/old concrete and is the sole reason for the evolution of floating hardwood flooring.

  • Chris Carden

    What I don't get is how the house we bought was vacant for 4 years with a glued down floor. No signs of moisture when we took it up to be replaced with new glued down flooring due to the previous owners having a large dog that scratched the old floors. We were told the solution would be to have someone come out with some sort of machine that could detect where the source is at and tunnel under the home to fix if needed.

  • nanew nanew

    Yes that is strange. What part of the US are you in? Pac Nthwest? Also, what do the grades around your house look like? Towards or away from you?

    Have you tested the floor moisture content in all parts of your house. It would be very strange if it was just one room, I would think.

    If the house was vacant for 4 years then the irrigation was probably not running. Have you checked valves or had the valves moved away from the house?

    Actually, same would be true for all indoor water, right? You might not have a slab leak but there might be a weird plumbing issue.

  • Chris Carden

    We have not and the floors are only getting worse. The 531 didn't do much to help and I really believe that is due to another faulty application. There were still huge chunks missing from the slab that the installer said would be okay to fill with epoxy (i read that they are to be patched using a special compound). We are going to eventually have to remove these floors and just float something or put tile down. Definitely won't be gluing down hardwood or engineered wood floors

  • Khar Samson

    sorry to hear that. i hope you get to a solution soon. do you recall what was the filler to use under 531? i called titebond they just said it has to e cementations and not polyurethane.

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