Gapping and Finish Issues

Q: We purchased a new home in August 2006. The builder installed pine flooring throughout out house. We realize that pine is quite soft and expected to have many scratches. Overall, we were satisfied with the way it came out, and it seems to be holding up quite well. However, we’ve been having a few issues with certain areas.
I’ve noticed that there are some areas where the wood appears to have shrunk–leaving gaps between the tongue and groove planks. It’s quite noticeable in one of the walk-in closets where there is a outlet for the AC/heat. Is there any way that I can fix the gaps? Some are as wide as 0.5 cm-1 cm.
The second issue is that there seems to be quite a bit of wear with the polyurethane in areas where chairs are. I realize this is from the constant rubbing of the legs on the floor. I have tried installing plastic caps on the chair legs and even felt under the couch legs, but this doesn’t seem to help. The builder claims that he put 3 coats on the floors, but we suspect that only two were put on. Is it because there weren’t enough coats of polyurethane, or is this something to expect from pine or just wood flooring in general?
Lastly, I have one area which makes a loud “crack” sound when walked across. The ceiling below the area is finished, so I cannot get under the floor to fix anything from that side. Is there anything that I can do to stop the crack noise?
Thank you in advance for your help! I look forward to hearing your suggestions!
Sincerely,
Deb

A: A very important thing to keep in mind is that wood is a natural product and movement (expansion and contraction) from heat/cold and moisture in a home is most common in solid products like your Pine flooring. The questions I would ask is what temperature is your house kept at throughout the year? Does it remain the same or does it change based on season? Also, you might want to look into having the relative humidity of the air in your home. If it is too dry this can cause gapping and the solution is to get a humidifier to bring the moisture level of your home up to around 35-40%. Normally wood floors are best in the same environment best for your average person, around 63-65 degrees Fahrenheit and around 40% moisture in the air.
With your second issue in regards to the finish, the most important things to keep in mind is to use furniture cups on all of your furniture. You should be able to find cups similar to your plastic one, but with felt pads for the chairs. Beyond that it could be that the site finished used is not as tough as some as the others available. The finish is the only thing to put in question here, as the hardness of the floor won’t help/hurt the durability of the finish. The number of coats can help here, but the actual finish used is very important. The rule of thumb for site finishing is to lay multiple thinner coats because this will allow for a stronger finish in the end.
What you might want to look into is getting your floor re-screened. This process involves buffing the top layer of the finish (roughing it up mildly) then applying new layers of finish. Should you choose to go this route, I would use either Bona’s Traffic finish or Glitsa’s Infinity II.
In regards to the cracking noise you are hearing, this is usually caused when the boards of your subfloor is not fully anchored to the joists below. This movement will cause creaks etc. Your only options to repair this would be to either remove the flooring then screw the subfloor area down to the joist, or to work from under the joist where the ceiling is finished. Either of these will be a pain because your removing finished areas.
You could try hiring a third party inspector to come out and view you floor to determine if there is anything that can be done or determine if your builder needs to fix things because they were done improperly.

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Portugal Cork photo round up

I am traveling for the next 10 days roughly so I am adding some pictures from Portugal just to keep things interesting.

portugal cork flooring

This is a quick photo a of a map that shows the cork growing regions which are mostly all in the Mediterranean. This is authentic cork which produces cork wine stoppers, cork flooring, cork underlayment and bulletin boards and basically anything cork.

cork flooring

One of my favorite cork patterns. Basically when the veneer is sliced it has an appearance almost like wine stoppers. Makes for a very interesting flooring choice especially for a wine cellar.

sunset floor

Not alot of cork insight in this photo, but it was a beautiful evening on the beach in Portugal and as a wise man once told me, “Enjoy the journey…”

cork flooring2

This is a pallet of virgin cork bark. This first harvest from the tree is not usable for cork stoppers therefore would otherwise be waste. This first harvest is completed about 25 years after the tree was planted. The next harvest following the virgin harvest is done about 9 years after that and STILL is not suitable for cork stoppers. Therefore another harvest that is basically waste. Of course both of these harvests are well suited to other uses beside cork stoppers most notably cork flooring! Yeah. An interesting side note is that when the cork bark is harvested from the cork oak tree the tree is carefully treated to make sure it will live on. And then nature steps in and the bark begins to regenerate. The tree actually steps up its intake of Carbon Dioxide to give it enough strength to regenerate. This renewal cycle is so positive in so many ways!

flooring warehouse

This is a cool automated line that moves some future cork flooring into place on the production line. It is really neat to watch these things work.

flooring warehouse2

At first glance you may think that I am giving some insights about the production of cork, or asking an really in depth question about the intricacies of formaldehyde emissions or finish application, but no. I was asking where the bathroom was.

Carpet on Stairs

This is a follow up comment that came for our article with Tim in Cambridge, NY.
Q: We are doing the opposite. Our steps are set for hardwood but the hardwood is not installed yet. Now we have changed our mind to do carpet as they are not as slick. How do we do this when the steps are “framed” for hardwood. What adjustments are necessary?
Valerie

A: As long as you have a solid tread and riser area to install the carpet and pad you should have little issue. The one problem you may have is lacking the nose to the tread area of the stairs. That small overhang is helpful when installing and anchoring the carpet in place smoothly. Beyond that you should be ok to install your carpet, though I would suggest contacting a local carpet installer to make sure you have everything ready and are not missing anything.

Flooring Expert – some things never change – Beware of builder flooring upgrades

While I was over reading the Flooring Expert Blog I read this story about a Mannington laminate floor issue.

I have seen this problem a number of times and I think the guidance provided by the crack staff over there was on the money. Bentley, Tad and Gene make a terrific combination.

The obvious part of the story about feeling let down because the flooring is not unsatisfactory is the main topic, but I think the situation is absolutely exacerbated by one of the things the customer said: $14.00 per foot to upgrade to this from carpet!!!!!

An average consumer 2.5 years ago could have purchased the exact same mannington laminate flooring including installation and all accessories for a price closer $7.00 per foot.

So why is the cost double that? Simple:

Builders in general hate to handle upgrades. They slow things down, they complicate the situation and they increase the likelihood of an error because it is outside the norm.

“Stick with the Spec” is the traditional mentality at most large builders and even commercial builders.

The part I don’t like is the solution to the problem. Customers demand the upgrades so builders are forced to work through the problem; but they solved it by making sure they get paid for it. By the way I totally get that and I understand the added complications and the need to be properly compensated, I just think it is excessive.

It has been very normal for a tract builder to basically double the price from the supplier they are using on the tract. That is a high price to pay for custom upgrades.

On top of the high price for the new flooring the credit allowance for the carpet, which was likely the original spec, is typically less than 50% of the original cost. Therefore they are making money on both sides. I am not positive that is a good deal for the homeowner. The flooring supplier doesn’t get a dime of the original allowance typically.

The other part of the equation is that the flooring supplier is almost always doing the spec part of the project at a low margin and they WANT the upgrades because that is the only place they make a margin. So the price they are charging the builder for that upgrade is already a “full retail” price which means when the builder doubles it the punitive nature of the process is really running at full steam.

And of course the homeowner can not shop it around – the only person that can do the work as part of the construction process is the builders supplier for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is the builder is reasonsible for the jobsite and can’t have just anyone show up there to work. Furthermore the builder is typically in a position to “roll in” the upgrade fees to the mortgage so the $14.00 per foot only feets like $30.00 per month x 30 years. (In other words in addition to getting a bad deal on the floors to begin with and getting virtually no credit for the original spec, you get to pay interest for 30 years on it too.)

btw – the price from iFLOOR on the same stuff that was a $14.00 upgrade with installation would have been closer to $5-$6 about 2 years ago. (so on a 1000 foot job the homeowner paid more than $14,000 – rather than $5000-$6000.)

One of these days I will make a worksheet that illustrates the total economics here, but let me say that it is not alot of value add for alot of extra money.

I would point out that remodeling contractors and custom builders have much more of a normal profit add-on because their building process is custom to begin with.

In closing it is important to understand that some homeowners actually go through the entire building process having the carpet or original flooring put in and take possession of the home AND THEN put in new floors. There is alot of material that goes to waste in that situation, but it is significantly less expensive if the builder won’t be flexible.

I have seen in the past 12 months that builders like Pulte, Centex, Shea, Orleans and others have started allowing customers to use companies like iFLOOR for materials and sometimes installation too. Given the state of the housing market I think it is good for everyone to think about delivering the highest value to the consumer.

The compounding effect of dissatisfaction in the performance of the floor due to the incredibly high upgrade cost is something that is tough to reconcile. Ok enough of my rant.

Pergo Flooring – Still a Leader

Recently Pergo was sold to a new company here in North America after a few years of difficult times. The Swedish based company had a series of challenges most of all massive competition after they created the category in North America back in 1996 starting with launching the line at Color Tile. (The old color tile was a nationwide group of stores that later went bankrupt – the new color tile is a buying group that licenses the name to dealers. We have been a color tile dealer in the past, but dropped it when they failed to pay us our rebates.)

Pergo’s high end products have always remained very strong and I think still represent great values even today. This strength is in contrast to some of the other challenges Pergo faced both internally and externally.

Pergo Select and Pergo World Traveler are both examples of very fashionable floors that are still very tough for demanding households. Flooring is meant to be lived on so toughness counts.

Kudos to Pergo for creating a market so prolific that their dominance remains viable to this day in laminate.

Mannington Floor Issue

Q: We have a Mannington m-lock 8mm Canterbury oak floor installed 2-1/2 years ago in Venice, FL (not by you). The panels are raising at the seams (not buckling) randomly across the floor. Underlayment is a plastic-backed foam on concrete slab. I lifted a section, and there is no evidence of water under the floor. We have maintained the floor using composite floor cleaner per instructions. It appears the proper space is provided at the wall edges. What can cause failure at the seams in this fashion? Could it be expansion pressure? Mfg defect? The home builder, installer and manufacturer are all claiming no-fault. Our upgrade cost above carpet was $14.00 per square foot, and we feel we should have a durable floor at $150 to $200 per square yard. Any info you could provide would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks
Sanford Y.

A: A majority of the time when issue like this occur it is due to some moisture issue. I spoke with Tad A., Director of iFLOOR.com’s Installation Program, and my good friend Gene D. who both mentioned that this is a common occurrence when too much liquid cleaner is being used without using a dry towel or dry mop afterward to make sure no liquid is left standing.
This is only one reason though, as other causes could be a pet leaving their mark, so to speak, or excessive moisture in the air within the home.
On some follow-up I got a great bit of information from San about his subfloor and the install along with some pictures. He also mentioned:
“We have the “tubes-in-the-walls” pest control from Home Team Pest Defense. Over the past 2-1/2 years they have injected approximately 24 gallons of nasty pest control chemicals into the walls of our house. The construction configuration is concrete block walls on a slab, with furring strips and dry wall. With the baseboard/quarter-round installation and a gap for the flooring, the chemicals can very easily migrate beneath the floor. My guess is that one or more of the chemicals is attacking the laminate where the fumigants seep up through the seams.
This could be the case, which would relate back to a moisture issue.
The best suggestion is to either 1) hire a licensed inspector to come out and examine the floor to determine the cause (iFLOOR.com uses a 3rd party service to help our customers) or 2) get a long pin tester and test the moisture at the seams of the floor since there was a good deal of testing done with the sub floor.
Here you will see the underlayment and moisture barrier installed. Neither of which appear to have moisture issues happening below the floor.

Vinyl on Stairs?

Q: We are looking to replace most of our carpet downstairs with laminate. While doing research I saw the Congoleum forum plank product. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to be a better choice when you have 2 kids and a dog.
The salesperson we spoke with said that if we choose to go with the forum plank we will not be able to do our stairs. My wife really wants to replace the carpet on the stairs with a laminate.
Is there a way to do stairs with Congoleum, or similar product, the same way you can with a laminate product?
Thanks,
Tony

A: Congoleum makes great products especially when considering kids and pets, but like the sales rep mentioned, you can not do stairs with the Congoleum (Kudos to the sales person for setting your expectations on this). The reason why is because Congoleum does not have a nosing built for stairs like other hard surface floors. The Congoleum Forum Plank product is a thinner vinyl plank with a self-adhesive backing.
There may be a way to use the Congoleum to make your own nosing over some plywood, but I wouldn’t suggest it.
One thing to keep in mind is that some of the better laminates can take some serious abuse (such as we mentioned in the case with Ryan W.’s dog Jin and his South American Walnut floor). I would suggest going with a laminate in this case so you can keep the stairs matching to your floor. Just ensure you find a floor that has coordinating nosings built for it it. Again, stick to AC4 and AC5 laminates like Westhollow, Pergo Select, Quick Step’s Perspective and similar products.
I would also suggest looking into a good underlayment to get a better feel under foot and remove some of the hollow sound when you walk on laminate. Look into using Cork or Sound 6 for a more solid sounding floor.
Follow-Up: Tony and I have had quite the conversation through email in regards to his flooring project. From everything to which laminates to look at, to the best locking mechanisms in laminate (Quick Step’s Uni-clic is arguably the best on the market). We even discussed his wife’s concerns about dust collecting in the bevels.
We also got into a bit of talk on Tony’s process of talking to various floor companies to get quotes for his floor with installation. Tony mentioned:
We are getting several bids. One from a local Carpet One, one from Empire Today, and some form independent contractors.
I’ve not yet determined what a good price is. Empire measured 912 sq ft for laminate. Their quotes were about $8,500 – $10,300 for the quickstep 15 year and 30 year warranty products. This quote includes everything from start to finish. Labor, materials, leveling, furniture moving, etc.
I’ve read many mixed posts about Empire. Some say they are great and others say they do bad work and are overpriced. I don’t want to cut corners on the quality of the product chosen, but $10,000 seemed high to me.

After finding out Tony was near one of our great installers in the Dallas area (Tony is in Arlington, TX), I shot him over a quick quote which included 3mm cork underlayment, Quick Step’s Perspective (the more expensive of the two lines we’ve been discussing) and the best install package we have, our Premium Install which came out to $7500 (that’s almost $3000 less than Empire!) After that Tony had this to say:
I kinda figured they were a bit overpriced, or at least I was hoping so.I was kinda surprised at a few things tho. He recommended NOT doing the stairs. He said this type of floor doesn’t work well on stairs. That’s fine by me, stairs are expensive anyway. Also, he didn’t apply much pressure when were done, meaning he didn’t repeatedly push to close the deal right then. BTW, we haven’t received any other quotes yet. The Carpet One guy doesn’t seem that motivated to make a 10k sale… go figure.
I mentioned there is some argument to the application of floating floors on stairs, but if done properly there should be no issues. I personally prefer solid treads when I can get them, which means no laminate. Tony is looking into carpet for his stairs as an alternative and a 160sf section of his home. His wife is looking at Frieze, which is very popular.
My Kudos to Tony as he has been doing some great research, using Laminate Brand Wars II by our very own Steve as a guide and then finding various other consumer reports on laminate to help narrow down his search. Also, polling various floor companies to get an idea of what a professional install would cost versus installing it himself.
I do encourage anyone who is working on their own flooring project to take time to research products and information that will help make your new floor last and install without issues, and of course, don’t be afraid to ask questions of experts like yours truly.