10 Questions to Ask Your Hardwood Flooring Supplier

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.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring – How to Select It For Your Needs

Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Engineered hardwood flooring is a product made of a core of hardwood, plywood, or high density fiber and a top layer of hardwood veneer that is glued on the top surface of the core. It is available in almost any hardwood species. The product has the natural characteristics of the selected wood species as opposed to a photographic layer. The “engineered” product has been designed to provide greater stability, particularly where moisture or heat pose problems for hardwood floors.

Wood floors come in two basic types:

o Solid wood flooring
o Engineered wood flooring

Solid Wood Fl is fabricated from 3/4″ thick solid wood and tongue and groove sides to join the boards. Some manufacturers make a thinner version that is 5/16″ thick. The main advantage of solid wood flooring is its ability to be re-sanded and refinished over many years. It is not uncommon for solid wood floors to last 50 years or more. Solid wood floors come unfinished or prefinished in almost any wood species.

The main issue to consider with solid wood floors is its susceptibility to expansion and contraction due to humidity changes in the home. To accommodate for movement, these floors are typically installed with a 5/8″ to 3/4″ gap around the perimeter of the floor along the wall. This gap is covered by shoe molding and baseboards.

The 3/4″ thick floors should not be installed in a below grade condition, such as a basement. However, the thinner 5/16″ wood floors may be used in that application. When installing a solid wood floor over new or existing concrete, be sure the manufacturer’s recommendations on limits of moisture in the concrete are followed.

Solid wood flooring is available in three main types:

o Strip flooring is denoted by the thickness and width of the wood planks. Strip flooring has a set width, but the thickness can vary. Strip flooring ranges in thickness from 5/16″ to ¾” wide. It is available only in widths of 1 1/2″, 2″, and 2 1/4″.

o Plank flooring comes in two thicknesses, but unlike strip flooring, the widths can vary. It is available only in thicknesses of 1/2″ or 3/4″ and a range of widths from 3″ to 8″.

o Parquet flooring has a very different look from typical hardwoods. They are made up of geometrical patterns composed of individual wood patterns composed of individual wood slats held in place by mechanical fastening or an adhesive.

Laminate flooring is not real wood, at least not in the way that hardwood and engineered wood are. It is comprised of a thin top layer of resin-infused paper, all on top of a wood chip composite. Technically, it is wood. It is an amazing simulation of wood. The resin layer is essentially a photograph of wood. Laminate flooring is an alternative to wood flooring. It is scratch resistant and it works well in topically moist environments like bathrooms and kitchens, unlike hardwood flooring. Additionally, laminate flooring is very easy to install.

Engineered wood flooring solves a lot of the problems hardwood and laminate flooring have:

o Solid Hardwood does not tolerate moisture well.
o Solid Hardwood can have uneven quality
o Laminate Flooring does not tolerate moisture well
o Laminate Flooring is fake wood and can not be sanded.

Basics of Engineered Wood Floors

Engineered hardwood floors are constructed similar to that of basic plywood with the top surface being actual hardwood. Products come in two to ten ply construction depending on the manufacturer. Many manufacturers have increased the surface (also known as veneer or wear layer) layer that will result in some engineered floors lasting as long as the traditional ¾” solid flooring. One of the most important factors contributing to the longevity of any hardwood floor is the amount of refinishable material.

Solid 3/4″ hardwoods have approximately 1/4 of an inch above the tongue and groove construction. Once it is sanded to that level, nails or staples begin to appear and should be replaced. The better and thicker engineered hardwood floors have 1/8″ to 3/16″ above the tongue and groove. Since the veneer is real wood, it can be sanded up to two to three times.

Engineered floors are the ideal solution for hardwood flooring on concrete. The dimensional stability of the way they are constructed. Each ply layer is pressure glued and set in the opposite direction. Engineered hardwood floors expand and contract with high humidity, as opposed to hardwood flooring. The more plies the greater stability.

Installation of most engineered hardwood floors are done by the glue down or floating floor method. It is very important to note that not all engineered products have the same type of installation specifications. Some floors may be floating, glue direct, or staple only. Maunufacturers specifications should be followed explicitly. The majority of prefinished engineered hardwoods have limits on lengths at 42 to 48 inches, opposed to most solid hardwoods at 72 to 84 inches. Typically, lower end flooring will have shorter pieces. Typically, longer lengths are preferred as they offer a more appealing look on completion.

What is a floating floor? It is a method of installing a floor rather than a specific type of flooring material. In this method, the individual planks or boards attach to each other – either by means of gluing or snapping together, but do not attach to the sub floor on which it is being installed. This is in contrast to a solid wood floor which requires nailing down to the sub floor. A jigsaw puzzle is one great comparison. With a jigsaw puzzle, pieces connect to each other, but not to the table. A floating floor is like a jigsaw puzzle. An advantage of the floating floor method of installation is it allows for the floor to move and expand in response to changes in the room’s humidity.

Wood Flooring Hardness Rating

The hardness of wood flooring is measured by something called the Janka Test. A.444 inch steel ball is driven into the wood to half the ball’s diameter. The test measures the force needed to embed a steel ballot half of its diameter in the piece of wood being tested, with rating measured in pounds of force per square inch. So with this rating, the higher the number the harder the wood.

Wood hardness is important since one of the key considerations in selecting the species of wood floor, you should be aware how much resistance the wood has to scratches and indentations. For example, if you have a dog with long nails then scratching the floor is a consideration and you should select a species with a higher rating such as hickory, maple, oak, or ash.

While it may seem logical to pick the hardest wood, certain factors should be considered:

o Soft wood can be hardened to some degree by the application of polyurethane finishes

o Hard wood is nearly always much more expensive than the softer and medium grade woods.

o Hard wood is more difficult to saw, drill, and nail than other woods, requiring more time and labor, therefore more money.

Hardwood Floor Appearances Can Differ

Hardwood veneers have the same surface appearances as solid hardwood flooring because they are both natural hardwoods. Different appearances result from the different ways the hardwood is sawn. The different sawing methods are:

o Flat Sawn (also referred to as plain sawn) – can be flat grain, which has a cathedral or gothic effect or vertical grain which has a radial or edge grain effect.

o Rotary Cut – method of cutting wood in which the hardwood layer is peeled off the log using large wood lathes. This peeling method shows dramatic, wilder graining.

o Off-Set Rotary Cut – method of cutting wood which gives a sliced appearance and grain pattern with the added cross grain stability of sliced, without the sliced cost. Hardwoods are more dimensionally stable across the grain, and off-set rotary cutting takes advantage of this property. The yield is lower than a regular rotary cut creating a slight price increase vs. standard rotary.

o Sliced Cut – method of cutting wood in which the hardwood layer is sawn like regular lumber. This shows finer graining.

Exotic Hardwood Floors

With an impressive durability and unique appearances, exotic hardwoods are an excellent choice for the homeowner who wants the durability of hardwood but wants something a little different at the same time. Exotic hardwoods offer a variety of colorations and patterns that are not commonly seen in domestic hardwood flooring. Learn more about what makes a wood floor exotic, the durability they offer, and how to care for your exotic wood flooring.

What Are Exotic Hardwoods?

An exotic hardwood is defined as any type of wood found outside of the United States that is imported into the country. Brazil, Australia, Africa and countries in the Far East offer a large variety of woods not native to the U.S. There are over 100 species of trees that are considered exotic to North America and offer a distinctive and visually striking appearance that differs from standard American hardwood floors.

Exotic hardwood floors, like standard hardwood floors, are manufactured in both solid hardwood and engineered assortments. Solid hardwood is a single slat of wood; engineered wood is a sandwich of laminated wood with real hardwood veneer on the top layer.

Hardness Rating

All wood is subject to the Janka Hardness Rating scale to detect its strength. This hardness test measures the force required to embed a.444 inch steel ball to half its diameter into the wood. The Janka Rating is the industry standard for assessing the ability of various wood species to endure pressure and determine the energy needed to nail and/or saw the wood.

Tests performed by the U.S. Forestry Lab indicate that most exotic woods are frequently more durable than other types of hardwoods. Brazilian Teak, for example, has a rating of 3,540, which makes it perfect to handle the abuse of large families with indoor pets. African Mahogany has a rating of 830, and is more likely to be damaged by heavy traffic and scuffed by your pet’s nails.

Care and Maintenance

Exotic hardwood floors, like domestic hardwood floors, require little maintenance to uphold their luster. Wipe spills immediately and limit any exposure to water. Regularly dust and sweep to reduce the risk of dirt buildup. Only use mild solvents specifically designed for hardwood floors, making sure to avoid harsh abrasives and scouring pads. A natural cleaner of equal parts white vinegar and water usually works best, but you must be sure to dry the floor completely when finished cleaning..

Always use caution when moving large pieces of furniture or heavy equipment across the floor. Although exotic hardwoods are durable and tough, they still have limits and will scratch and dent when too much weight is scraped the wrong way across the floor. Furniture coasters and lifting straps can help protect the life of your floor.

Many varieties of exotic wood floors are photosensitive, so avoid leaving them unprotected in direct sunlight as they may change color over time. Close curtains and blinds when possible and use rugs in areas that could be affected.