10 Questions to Ask Your Hardwood Flooring Supplier Before Purchasing
1. If there are any problems, who do I call?
Most flooring stores will be buying the flooring they are selling to you from a distributor who purchases the flooring from the manufacturer. Sometime, especially with products coming from overseas there is more than one distributor involved. In many cases if you have an issue with your flooring and complain to the retailer they will call the distributor and let them know there is a complaint, the distributor will tell the manufacturer there has been a complaint. In most cases the manufacturer will deny the complaint and if you are lucky they will even send a representative to deny your claim in person. Most retailers would correct a manufacturing problem to make their customers happy because they are the ones dealing with the customers face to face but in reality they do not have the final say unless they want to replace the flooring out of their own pocket. The manufacturer is so far removed from the actual client that they know it is better for their bottom line to deny the claims and assume they will never have to deal with the issue because they are so protected by their warranties. Picture a person at a desk with a pile of hardwood flooring claims on their desk with a big stamp that says “denied”.
2. How durable is the finish?
Durability is probably the most important things to consider when purchasing a prefinished hardwood floor. The finish is what you are actually walking on and must be very durable to have a beautiful lasting floor for years to come. Many imported prefinished floors have very little durability and the finish can be taken off with a few swipes of 150 grit sandpaper. When buying hardwood there are a few ways to test the finish: one would be to take 150 grit sandpaper and rub the finish to see if the finish will come off and two would be to firmly press the edge of a coin against the finish, a quality finish will dent but not come off. Quality manufacturers will have aluminum oxide or better yet titanium oxide hardeners in the finish. Many offshore manufactured products will say they have aluminum oxide in them but actually do not. To test if a hardwood floor has aluminum oxide in the finish simply put the sample in your microwave and if it sparks, it does indeed have aluminum oxide in the finish. I know that may seem a little strange but it’s something worth checking because hardwood flooring is a big investment and you want to know the durability of the finish.
3. What is the structural and surface warranty?
This is a very important part of choosing a hardwood floor. Anyone can put a 25, 30, or 40 year warranty on the finish of their product but the real question is; will they stand behind their warranty. Many large hardwood flooring manufacturers have warranties that are up to ten pages. When you read through the entire warranty and all of the exclusions it really gives the client the impression that there is actually no warranty at all. The problem is most consumers don’t take the time to read the warranty and are shocked when they find out the issue they are having with the flooring is one of the “exclusions”. Most warranties will say that there is an industry standard of 5% margin for error which means that when your entire floor is complete the manufacturer is allowed to have 5% of the boards defective. That means a finished floor of 1000 square feet would be allowed roughly 100 boards with any kind of defect.
4. What is the waste factor of the flooring?
The waste factor of the flooring is an important issue as well. If 10-15% waste is what is suggested by the manufacturer than that means you will have to buy that much more to get enough to install your entire floor. The higher the recommended waste factor the lower quality the product. You may find when comparing products for price on may be more than the other but you must factor in the difference in waste to the price. A floor for $6 with 3% waste would cost you $6.18 which would be the same cost as a floor with 10% waste that is $5.62 and the product with 3% waste would definitely be a higher quality product. The bottom line is you shouldn’t have to sort the waste out of the boxes; the manufacturers should be taking the waste out at the plant so you are only getting good quality pieces you can install in your floor.
5. What is the average length of the flooring boards?
The question of the average board lengths is one that is not commonly asked when it comes to hardwood flooring. It is something not a lot of people think about until it is brought up. The longer the average length of the floor the better the floor looks especially in large rooms. One foot and two foot lengths produce a very choppy and unattractive floor. The box size is not the only way to tell what the average length is; you can have an 8′ box with all short pieces in it. Many offshore manufactured products are in four foot boxes with will definitely ensure you are getting a floor with very short lengths. It is not only offshore products that have short lengths but many North American made products as well. One very high end Canadian manufacturer has an average length of 27-29″ in their 3-1/4″ Select and Better Red Oak.
6. What is the moisture content of the flooring?
Moisture content is a very important factor when installing hardwood flooring. You need the flooring to be at a proper moisture level for your home/interior climate which is typically between 6-9% moisture content. Installing hardwood flooring with a moisture content that is too high will cause spaces in the floor when the flooring dries out, and installing a hardwood floor that is too dry will result in cupping when the flooring picks up moisture. If the retailer selling you flooring does not have a moisture meter and can check the moisture for you then I would suggest you run. The majority of people selling hardwood flooring know very little about wood and moisture, if they don’t even have a moisture meter, that is a sign that they are not professional and know nothing or very little about hardwood flooring and shouldn’t be selling it.
7. What does the supplier recommend for acclimation?
I know you must have heard someone say “the flooring must sit in your home for two weeks prior to installation”. This is a very general statement and in most cases will do more harm than good for your hardwood floor. If you did this in a new home and it sat in the home while they were drywalling, painting, the wood would be so damp by the time you installed it that you would just be asking for trouble. The fact is a new home will have 1000 to 2000 gallons of water that will be oozing out of the home the first two years. If your flooring is sitting in the home before it is installed it will absorb all of that moisture. If you are having the flooring sit in your home you will want to make sure it is stored in normal living conditions to avoid it from drying out too much or picking up too much moisture. In some cases, a seasonal dwelling, you may want to have the hardwood flooring absorb the moisture before it is installed. If the home is always a high humidity environment then you want the wood to pick up moisture so it can be normal living conditions for that particular environment. You want to have a hygrometer to measure the humidity in your home before the installation and monitor your humidity after to ensure your home is in the proper humidity range to avoid issues with your flooring.
8. What does the stain/finish look like?
Many large manufactures will finish all different woods at the same time without making adjustments for each wood because each time they make adjustments it effects the production. The fact is, each wood needs to be finished differently to achieve the nicest stain/finish. Oak requires more finish to “fill in” the grain or else it will appear very pitted which is not something desirable in an oak floor. You want to be able to hold a piece up to the light and see a perfect smooth finish. Maple requires more brushing than oak so the stain can penetrate into the wood and not appear “blotchy”. Maple is a beautiful wood and with the proper staining you can really bring out features such as Birdseye and tiger tail. If not stained properly these features are hidden.
9. Does the supplier warrant the work done by their installers?
If you are purchasing flooring from a company and having your own contractor install the flooring you want to make sure your installer is a professional. In many cases if you use your own contractor and there is an issue you will have the installer blaming the issue on the hardwood and the manufacturer blaming the issue on the installer. When nobody takes the blame you won’t have very good luck getting your issue resolved. If you are buying flooring on a supply and install basis you want to make sure the company warrants their installers work and the installers are qualified. Many stores will sub out their installations to contractors so they really don’t have the ability to monitor their work unless they visit every jobsite. You can see a list of certified hardwood installers in your area by going to http://www.nwfa.org.
10. What grade is the flooring?
Comparing flooring by grades can be very confusing and misleading. Many large manufacturers have five or six different grades of flooring so just because brand A has a less expensive product than brand B they may not be the same or even a similar grade. There is really no standard grading system for prefinished flooring so just because the product is labelled “select and better” may not mean it is the best quality flooring.