Top Eight “Must Knows” About Flooring

The Following is an Excerpt from The Homeseller’s Bible

Realtors, interior designers, and property owners looking to invest in their home. People think that if they renovate their home before selling, they can increase the asking price enough to cover the expenses, plus put a little extra in their pocket. Truth be told… they’re right! “Pre-sale renovations” is a large part of the “renovation” category, and who wouldn’t want to make a little extra cash when they sell their home? Invest $20,000.00 worth of renovations and up your asking price $30,000.00. Seems like easy money, right? Well, let’s just say many property owners and designers have made mistakes along the way and what they put in, they did not get out. Some of the biggest and most costly mistakes you can make during pre-sale renovations is with your choice of flooring. With so many different products, manufacturers and colors, it’s hard to know which choice is the right choice.

I’m going to try clear a few things up for you. These are my top eight most important flooring topics to be aware of when considering buying or selling a property:

1. Get a professional!

I know that today’s world loves to DIY, and you can take flooring installation courses at hardware stores or read the directions on the box and rent the tools they recommend, but ultimately you will not get the same results as someone who is trained in the industry and has skill with a saw. Also, there are a few “key tools” that the box instructions and courses don’t tell you about. Don’t be fooled by the dozens of hammer swingers that claim to be flooring installers. They will undercut the market drastically just to get jobs. Ensure the person or company you hire has liability insurance, professional grade tools, experience and testimonials. Anything less, and you may very well regret going with the lowest bidder.

2. Sand & refinish or rip out and replace.

Today’s hardwood market consists of two main types of hardwood floors. Site Finished or Pre-Finished. Site finished requires a solid hardwood plank, whereas pre-finished can be solid or engineered hardwood. With a site finish installation, the client will usually have to leave the premises for a few days or weeks (depending on the size of the job), so the installers / finishers can have room to work and the floor has time to cure after the final coat. The cost of a site finished floor is quite a bit more than having a prefinished floor installed. One, because of your added costs for finding accommodations while the renovation is taking place, and two, you’re paying for the installation of the hardwood as well as the sand and finish. Even if you have a site finished floor already and you want to only sand and refinish, the cost will often still be as high as replacing with a pre- finished floor. That is, provided you have hired a professional that knows what he is doing. Don’t forget the old saying, “Cheap work isn’t good and good work isn’t cheap”. That being said, a quality site finished floor will add more value to your home than any other type of floor. Pre- finished floors, however, have become very popular with their ease of installation, the ability to change boards if you scratch or damage any, and their endless colors, textures, widths and thicknesses that can fit any home renovation. Don’t get me wrong, there are still expensive prefinished floors out there, but for the masses, this is usually the more affordable option when trying to stay in the hardwood category.

The downfall to a pre-finished hardwood is that the quality of the floor depends more on the manufacturer than it does the company installing the product. Not by much, but if the wood is warped, it makes it hard to lay a straight floor and puts a lot of pressure on the boards because you’re flexing them into place. This causes pressure cracks in boards and can make your floor sound like bubble wrap when you walk on it. Also, you can have hairline gaps between boards from where the floor didn’t get sucked together tight enough (usually around closing walls and cabinets where you can’t fit the bigger nailers). If the stain is blotchy / streaky, the installers are required to remove these boards and you may end up having to pick up more product to make up for the ones they have removed, costing you even more money. If the tongue and grooves aren’t milled properly, you can get a lot of squeaking from having too much movement between the boards. As well, the floor may not look completely flat because boards will peak between joints when nailed. Quality products will be milled so the tongues fit tight and the boards are the same widths at both ends. These issues are not as common in site finished floors because gaps can be filled and sanded, and the finish quality is determined by the contractor’s skill level / products he chooses to work with. So, when buying pre-finished hardwood, always remember you get what you pay for, and expect to have a few of these issues when you find (what looks to be) a great deal.

3. Humidity control is a must!

If you do not have a working furnace humidifier in your home, I strongly suggest getting one and having it professionally installed and tested before thinking of hardwood for your choice of flooring. Humidity levels in the home determine how your floor is going to react during the changing seasons. When it’s cold outside, your furnace will run more often and can dry out a floor dramatically. This causes gapping, de-lamination and cracks in the finish of the product. If you have too much humidity in the home, solid hardwood will expand and create what we call “cupping or crowning”.

4. Cupping

Cupping will happen when moisture is introduced directly into the product, whether that be from the top of the product (spills or leaks from fridge lines, toilets, dog bowls, etc.) or from the bottom of the product through the subfloor (basement leaks, cracked foundations, etc.). Moisture gets trapped between the boards, and the edges will expand, pushing against the other boards and forcing it up.

5. Crowning

Crowning happens when moisture is introduced indirectly to the top side of the floor (steam from a shower in a bathroom without a fan or water leaks in another area of the home that raises the general relative humidity). The center of the board will expand rather than the edges. This can also happen when a floor has direct contact with water, the product cups on its edges, and you do not allow enough time for the product to dry out properly before re-sanding and finishing. If you sand the cupping flat then the floor has a chance to dry out, the edges will now be lower than the centers. Small indications of cupping and crowning should be considered normal for solid wood floors if you have dramatic changes in weather in a short period of time.

6. Engineered hardwood will also be affected by humidity levels.

With too little humidity, engineered products can “de-laminate” which is where the real hardwood top will separate from the wood core that it has been attached to. Generally, this happens in high traffic areas because the glue that bonds the two dries out and starts to crack with continual movement. This problem can only be fixed by removing and replacing the damaged boards. Do I need a moisture barrier underlay? The answer is YES! The only product you don’t necessarily need moisture protection for is Luxury Vinyl because the product itself is already waterproof. Not every manufacturer requires you to use an underlay with a moisture barrier, but my argument is, Why wouldn’t you? The cost difference between moisture protected and not moisture protected is usually insignificant when it comes to the total cost of the job. As well, there are many added benefits to having such things. An example would be if you have a leak on your engineered hardwood, laminate or cork flooring, a moisture protected underlay can help keep the moisture from reaching into the subfloor and creating an even bigger structural issue. If you purchase a vinyl plank product that is mounted on an HDF Core, even though the vinyl itself will not be affected by moisture, the High-Density Fiber Core will. I’ve seen many cases where a moisture barrier was not used, and a rise in temperature caused the vinyl on the top of the product to expand while the HDF Core shrunk because of the lack of moisture in the subfloor itself (caused by the rising temperature with no humidity control). The subfloor sucked the moisture right out of the product, causing it to pull apart from itself and essentially wrecking the locking mechanism of the product. This can happen to most products, including laminate, cork and engineered hardwood. Using an underlay with a moisture barrier will mitigate this type of transfer and allow it to happen at an acceptable rate. If gluing or nailing down a hardwood floor, the same rule applies. Make sure you are using a NWFA approved paper or adhesive with a moisture barrier. It will make for a long lasting, quiet floor that will fetch you “top dollar” when it comes time for re-sale.

7. Make sure you acclimate your product before installation.

The most common flooring issues can usually be linked back to a lack of Acclimation. Acclimation is when you let your product sit in the installation areas of the home so it can adjust to its surrounding climate. Standard acclimation timeframe is usually 48 hours. When dealing with hardwood products, I always recommend at least five days, but always follow what the manufacturer recommends for time and how to stack your product for proper air flow. The levels of humidity you acclimate to is also very important. If you acclimate and install a laminate floor in the springtime, your home’s humidity levels can be up in the 50% – 65% range due to rain, melting snow, etc. Once those humidity levels drop back to where your house usually sits, 30% – 40%, (maybe even 20% if you have no furnace at all or use electric baseboard heaters), your floor is going to shrink dramatically, causing a lot of movement and will probably start to separate. You want to install your flooring at a humidity level that is easiest to maintain all year round and try not to let it fluctuate more than 10% in either direction for extended periods of time.

8. Read and understand your warranty.

There is a reason that I talk about moisture issues / prevention and maintaining humidity levels in your home. Almost all issues with a floor caused by humidity or moisture will NOT be covered by your product’s manufacturing warranty. That’s right! And if you can’t prove that you have been doing everything necessary to maintain your floor, good luck getting a claim approved. This also goes for installing products in areas they shouldn’t be; for example laminate in a bathroom, solid hardwood in a basement, etc. Most manufacturing warranties are “limited warranties” and generally apply to finishes and discoloration.

Here is an example of a typical laminate warranty:
Laminated Flooring Warranty
• Check the dates on the boxes; if you have different lots, make sure they are from the same color and that they are compatible
• Make sure the product conforms to the sample, and that it matches the choice and the requirements of the consumer
• Boards with faults should not be installed
• An installed floor is considered accepted by the consumer
• You must test the floor moisture before installing it (must not exceed 9%)
• You must test the ambient humidity (must be stable between 35%-55%)
• To clean your laminate flooring, apply a floor cleaner directly to a cloth, never directly on the floor
• Install felts under the legs of the furniture to protect the floor

Our Guarantee
• Ensures that the color of the floor will not fade
• The warranty is applicable to the original owner and is not transferable

The warranty does not cover
• All problems due to improper installation
• Animal urine damage
• Discoloration due to excessive temperatures and/or sunlight
• Problems due to excessive humidity from household appliances, leaks, water damage or floods
• Damage caused during renovations and/or construction
• No labor is covered by this warranty

As you can see, the manufacturer’s warranty doesn’t really cover a whole lot. That’s why it’s up to you as the consumer to educate yourself and cover your own butt. It’s also good to remember that flooring warranties are non-transferable, meaning if you sink a bunch of money into a new floor before you sell your home, the warranty will be void for the person buying it, even if it’s brand-new! Which brings me to my next point…

8-2. Don’t spend a bunch of money redoing things that people are going to redo anyway.

If the laminate or cork floor in your home is in rough shape, don’t replace it with another laminate floor and expect it to raise the value of your house much. You’ll be lucky if it pays for the renovation and is worth the time and headache. Ever heard “go big or go home”? If you’re going to replace your floor only to turn around and sell it, make sure it’s going to be worth it, not just for you but for the consumer as well. Know your target market and make choices based around that knowledge. If you live by a school, a vinyl floor could be seen as “value” because it works great with kids and pets. If you live in a higher end of town, replacing your old tile floor with new laminate or vinyl might be seen as a downgrade. Maybe the buyer would like a tile floor and now sees an added expense that they may have to remove your floor to get back to what fits their vision. You’re also limiting your demographic to someone who likes the same things as you. Not everyone wants a dark floor, wood grain, or wide plank flooring. A key to a quick sale is for people to be able to see themselves in that home. Also, the smaller the market, the longer your house is going to sit there, which just adds costs for marketing and more of your time wasted.

9. If possible, always check the vent holes.

You can save yourself a lot of headache when planning for a renovation by simply looking in your floor vents. You’ll find out things like:

How thick the floor you are wanting to replace is. Many people shop for flooring products without ever looking at what thickness of floor they need to match the old one! If you buy too thin, you run into issues with baseboard heights / paint lines or faded stain lines around cabinets and gaps around undercut door-jams. If you buy too thick, your doors may need to be trimmed, your appliances won’t fit back in their holes, or floors you’re butting up to now need clunky moldings to cover the height difference. And don’t forget to calculate for the type and thickness of underlay you are going to use.

How many times has my site-finished floor been sanded, and is there enough left to do it again? A lot of people don’t realize that site-finished floors, though most start at 3⁄4” thickness, can only be sanded a handful of times before you will start to expose the heads of the nails / cleats securing the product. You could get stuck paying a company for a job they can’t finish, and end up removing and replacing anyways. If you’re buying a home, this is definitely something to look for because how can a hardwood floor have value when it’s pretty much useless? Keep in mind that there are other factors that will play into how much wood needs removed. For example, thickness of finish, how deep the stain goes, if you are transitioning from dark to light, etc. If you’re within 1/8” from top of board to top of the tongues, I would consult a professional before making any choices.

What type of substrate am I dealing with? If you’re wanting a full spread, glue-down product (vinyl or engineered hardwood), concrete substrates usually don’t require a ton of prep work. If you want it installed on a wood substrate, you now have additional costs of putting an extra sheathing layer down. You’re not allowed to full spread glue products to structural wood substrates because in the event of a leak, removing that product will ruin the structural integrity of your floor. If too much damage has occurred, you could end up replacing the original subfloor as well. Did you know that particle board is not a suitable substrate for a nail down hardwood? If the previous contractor used it to sheathe for a floating floor, you will have to rip it out and re-sheet with plywood before installing any type of nail down product.

Which way are the floor joists running in my home? For products like hardwood, direction of floor joists determines direction of the floor. Installing hardwood across the joists adds to durability and structural strength of the floor, as well as providing a flatter / less wavy look as foundations shift in the seasons. If you want to change the direction of your floor, a minimum 1⁄2” sheathe must be added to your original subfloor for support. Not completing this step will almost always void your manufacturer’s warranty.

How many layers of floor am I dealing with? You may be looking at buying a home and thinking, “I can renovate this, no problem; it’s just a click laminate or vinyl floor.” Well, if you don’t look in the vents, you could be in for a lot more than you bargained for. I’ve seen homes with laminate on top of hardwood on top of linoleum on top of more linoleum. You could cost yourself thousands of dollars in unforeseen issues. Also, you need to pray you don’t ever have a flood because the time and money it takes to rip all that out and make it workable again will drive your insurance premiums through the roof, as well as be a huge inconvenience for you and your family if you have to try and live there while the construction takes place.

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