Friday, July 6, 2012

General Contractors and Flooring

General contractors and home builders, in my experience, do not do a good job with specialty trades.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a flooring contractor, so I probably carry around a small chip on my shoulder.  That said, I believe consumers of remolding services should hire a reputable flooring contractor even if they already have a GC.  In my 20+ years of experience in the remodeling industry at many different levels, I witness more flaws in flooring than in all the other trades combined when inspecting new or remodel construction.

Why?  Well, I can see a couple of reasons.  For starters, builders and GCs are not willing to pay even decent rates for flooring work.  Thus, if they sub out the floor work, the tend to hire from the bottom of the barrel.  Additionally, the floor work is also usually the highest margin work, which means the temptation to do the work themselves (or hiring bottom feeders) becomes even more tempting.

This then leads to 2 problems.  The 1st and most obvious is the work is sub-par.  The 2nd problem is that the GC and/or builder know enough about flooring to be dangerous and not nearly enough to be proficient.  In the flooring industry, there is so much to know about all the different types of flooring, that only someone who spends all of their time in the industry can be helpful.  I cannot count the number of times I see mid-grade and often cheap pre-finished flooring installed in nice homes.  I also, (gasp) see a ton of t-molding, quarter round, door jambs that aren't undercut, etc...  Because an average carpenter can probably do an o.k. job installing pre-finished flooring, they insist that pre-finished flooring is the only option.  I suppose this is better than a jack-of-all trades trying to sand and finish a floor, but again, you - the person paying big bucks for a remodel - shouldn't have the most visible and used portion of the project done by hackers and amateurs.

My advice is simple.  Find out who the contractor uses to do the flooring work.  If they don't use someone who has an excellent reputation you can verify on Angie's List or similar site, I would find the flooring company on your own.  Not only will you get better floors, you will probably pay less; avoiding the proverbial double whammy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Maple Flooring...what do you think?





I love maple flooring. It is a very hard species (see basketball courts and bowling alleys) and I think it also a very beautiful species. In my years in the flooring business, I have seen, worked on, and installed many maple floors. The critics of maple flooring typically say that it is too light in color, or that the floor shows too many gaps. I'll speak to both of those points specifically...and then let you decide if maple is good fit for your home or business.
The natural color of maple flooring is something you are either going to like or dislike; so this is a matter of preference. I do meet people that think they are stuck with whatever color it is, and don't like it; in which case I advise them that there are options. First, a natural maple floor finished with water-based finish is going to look a lot different than a maple floor that is finished with an oil-based finish (see pics below). Secondly, a maple floor, if properly sanded and conditioned, can take a stain and look absolutley stunning (picture top left and another stained maple floor below). That said, many flooring contractors will say they can stain maple and then proceed to do a horrible job. There are also contractors that will say that you just simply can't stain maple floors.
Choosing a compitent flooring contractor is a whole different topic, but trust me, there are floor sanders in every market that can and do stain maple correctly. If you are outside of the Denver Metro area and ProWorks Flooring is not an option, I would definately have any contractor who says he/she can stain maple, provide references and pictures.
The reason why staining maple is so hard is because the wood is very dense, thus making it difficult for the wood to absorb stain. We use special techniques to sand and then condition a maple floor that is different than when we stain oak.
With regard to gaps in the floor, this is typical of any hardwood, but often more noticeable with maple. Maple, being a very hard wood, is less stable than oak; meaning that it will expand and contract more than oak with changes in relative humidity...not much, but enough to notice. Also, especially when it is finished naturally with water-based finish, maple is very light in color; almost white. Thus the gaps, which appear black, will contrast more than they would on a darker floor and appear more obvious.
If the thought of gaps is bothersome, I would recommend staining the floor a darker color. Or, you may try installing and running a humidifier (and or de-humidifier depending on where you live) to keep humidity levels in the home as close to 40% as possible. If you can maintain close to 40% humidity year round, the wood will be remain stable, greatly reducing its tendency to expand and contract.
The basketball court shows maple with oil-based finish. The kitchen shows maple with a water-based finish. The last picture (and the one up top) show maple with different stains.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How Hard is Hard?

Another question that comes up often is what hardwoods are the hardest. The answer to that question is fairly easy, but probably not the right question. So as not to dissapoint, let's start with the answer to the question.



The Janka hardness test measures the force required to embed a .444-inch steel ball to half its diameter in wood. It is one of the best measures of the ability of wood species to withstand denting. By the same token, it also is a good indicator of how hard or easy a species is to saw or nail.



The hardest species that we work with regulary is Brazilian Walnut with a rating of 3680

The most common hardwood flooring in the US is Northern Red Oak with a rating of 1290

Other popular species:




  • Brazilian Cherry 2820

  • Santos Mahogany 2200

  • Hickory 1820

  • Maple 1450

  • Ash 1320

  • Beech 1300

  • Birch 1260

  • Heart Pine 1225

  • White Oak 1210

  • Douglas Fir 660

Now, for the truth that surprises most people. A Douglas Fir floor that is properly finished and maintained will perform better over time than a Brazilian Walnut floor that is poorly finished and/or poorly maintained. As a consumer, what this means is that your floors long-term success has more to do to with who installs and finishes it, how they do it, what finish products get used, how many coats get put down, how thick/thin the coats get applied, etc.



To summerize, my advice is simple. Do not make wood species hardness a huge factor in your decision making process when choosing a floor. Pick a species that you really like and make sure you hire a contractor with a great local reputation.



ProWorks Flooring, in Denver, CO has established a repution over a decade of doing solid quality work. What sets us apart, however, is our commitment to our clients flooring's long-term sucess through regular inspections and preventive maintainance every 2-3 years. If you live outside of the Denver Metro area, you should look for a flooring contractor that will provide the ongoing inspections and maintainence as part of their normal service.



If you are shopping for prefinished flooring, look at the type of finish (aluminum vs. titanium oxide), and number of coats as a far better indicator of durability than the species relative hardness. Furthermore, make sure you are taking care of the floors properly and having them coated at regular intervals.



Read through my other postings to learn about proper care and maintainence.



Questions? Email me at matt@proworksflooring.com

Friday, February 18, 2011

Oil poly versus Water-based finish...Which is better?

This is probably the question I get the most often in my profession. What type of finish is better. My answer usually isn't what people expect, because it isn't a simple answer. There are many differences and we will explore them in this posting. Ultimately, your circumstances will determine which finish is better for you.

Durability - this is probably at the heart of the question "which one is better." If you were to ask 100 flooring contractors this question, you would probably have 50 of them say that oil poly is better. 49 would say that the water-base is better. And me, always the outlier and the nonconformist, would say that they are too similar to differentiate with respect to durability. I'm sure that their are plenty of old schoolers and chemists that could make a solid arguement for one or the other, but what they can't do is ensure that everybody applying the finishes are using good brands, not thinning them down, and making sure that they are applied properly, both in terms of number of coats AND thickness of each coat.

What I have found over 10 years in the industry is that if each product is applied properly using quality products, the difference in durability is indiscernable.

So, why do I think that 99 contractors out of 100 will swear on one finish or the other? I suspect that what they are telling you is what type of finish they like working with the best.

That said, I would not be discouraged if you meet with several flooring contractors and they don't agree on which type of finish is better. If you feel like you have met someone you can trust and they come well recommended, you are best to allow them to work with the finish they like to work with. They will do a better job with that type of finish.

In my practice, I have crews that specialize in water-based finish and crews that specialize in oil-based finish. Therefore my clients decision to use a particular type finish will not be related to what I like better, rather it will be a decision that we come to based on the following factors.

Price - This one is simple. Water-based finish costs more than oil-based finish. Usually by a square footage factor of 50 cents to dollar more.

Convenience - Dry times and smells - water based finishes dry in 2-3 hours per coat and have very little odor (smells like a very mild cleaning product). Each coat of oil-based finish takes 10-20 hours to dry and has very high levels of VOC. Typically, you should plan to be out of the house for 2-3 days if working with oil-based poly.

Look - Oil poly will typically give the floor a little color and richness, while the water-based products tend to be clear. If you will be staining the floor, this is mostly a non-factor as the stain will be determining the color and not the finish.

Over time, the oil poly will darken and amber while water-based finish will hold it's color better. This can be a significant factor in 5 years and may or may not be a good look for your house.

Feel - oil poly conditions the wood better than water-based products and therefore you can expect that the oil poly floor will feel smoother upon completion. This difference is especially noticeable if you hire someone who strongly prefers working with oil and you hire them to do water anyways. If you hire someone who prefers water, they should know the "tricks of the trade" to make the floor smooth. Further, both floors will smooth out (the grain will settle down) over the first couple of weeks as the spirits or water fully evaporate. And finally, as you live on your floors, your foot traffic will further polish the floor.

All that said, if your floor feels like sand paper, your contractor should lightly sand and put down another coat of finish (assuming the floor looks good and is just rough).

To conclude, I hope that I have given you enough to think about to make a solid decision. For most of my clients, we usually make the decision around color and the convenience factor.

As always, feel free to email me matt@proworksflooring.com with more questions on this topic or ANY topic related to hardwood, laminate and tile flooring.

Until next time,

Matt

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How to Fix a Squeeky Floor

Does you floor squeak, or creak under normal foot traffic? This is very common, and not just in old homes. I've seen homes that are only 6 months old with squeaky floors. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, the squeaks are a result of the sub floor pulling loose from a joist that has settled slightly lower than the joists on either side of it. Unfortunately, builders nail instead of screw the sub floor to the joists, hence the nail easily pulls free from the joist if there is any settling at all.



The are a couple of ways to cure a squeaky floor. If you plan to install new flooring, the easiest fix is to secure the sub floor to the joists using wood screws every 8-10 inches. If you don't have plans to change out your floors, then you'll have to get a little bit more creative.



Assuming you have access to a basement or a crawl space below the creaky floor and that space is unfinished, you can fix the floor from underneath. If you aren't sure exactly where the squeak is when you are under it, have someone dance around on the squeaky part of the floor while you are underneath it. By looking at the joists and the sub floor, it should be pretty easy to tell which joist has settled because there will be a slightly visible gap. From here, the fix is simple...just jam shims into the void until it is tight and your done!



And for the bad news...if your basement is finished and you don't intend to replace your floors anytime soon, you are pretty much stuck with the creaks in your floor. I can't tell you how many times I have seen beautiful hardwood floors that someone has driven nails and screws through; and almost every time, with no luck at mitigating the squeak. Folks assume the squeaking is coming from the hardwood floor, which is almost never the case - it is the sub floor "bouncing" on a sunken joist. So, not only will you not succeed by driving fasteners into the hardwood floor, you will also permanently scar the floor, so that you every time you hear them squeak or see the damage, you will be reminded of what a ding dong you are.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wood Floor Acclimation

As a consumer of flooring, I wish you the best of luck getting a straight answer from anybody in my industry addressing the topic of acclimation. Not that my industry is full of dishonest people...we will just say that their is a lot of "riff raff" out there. Riff raff, of course is a broad term that describes folks that are lazy, uneducated, or both.

If you call 10 different flooring companies and ask them how long you need to acclimate your wood before installing it, you are likely to get 10 different answers...and each one will be WRONG. Wanna know why?

ACCLIMATING WOOD IS NOT A FUNCTION OF TIME. IT IS A FUNCTION OF HUMIDITY.

So there it is. It is that simple. Your wood is properly acclimated when the humidity levels in the wood are +/- 3% of the humidity in the subfloor. That could take 2 minutes, 2 hours, 2 days, or 2 weeks.

I suppose if you can't get your hands on a moisture meter, you should be safe waiting 2 weeks, but there is simply no guarantee. Just a few weeks ago, I met with a potential customer who had purchased prefinished bamboo flooring off the internet and had it shipped to her home. She rightly had the wood delivered into the home (not outside, not in the garage). After 4 weeks, she was certain that the wood was acclimated, and I suggested, just to be sure, that we test the wood. Well, the wood was tightly packed in boxes and sealed in plastic wrap, and, as I suspected, it was 6% more moist than the subfloor.

To speed up the acclimation process, we decided to strip off the plastic wrap, open up the boxes of wood, and spread the flooring across the subfloor, and, voila...2 days later the flooring was ready to roll.

So here is the deal: No matter what you have read or what you've been told, trust me, and please measure the moisture content of the wood and subfloor before you begin installing the floor.

If you interview a contractor who tells you the wood needs to acclimate for 2 weeks inside the home, here is what you should ask: "How are you going to be sure that the wood is going to be ready?" If he/she doesn't get it, then that is the riff raff I was talking about earlier. These guys are either too lazy or too stupid to get a moisture meter and properly test the wood.

If you are anxious to install your floors and you would like to speed up the acclimation process, here are a few tips from the example above:

1: Make sure the wood is delivered in the home, on the same level and in the room(s) you are going to be installing in.
2: Remove all plastic and cardboard containers and spread the wood out, face up, directly on the subfloor.
3: Don't mess with your humidifier or climate controls - leave them where they would normally be.

Finally, when the wood floor is within 3% of the subfloor, it is safe to install the new flooring. Definately make sure that you are using 15# felt paper underlayment. The reason this is critical is because the subfloor will naturally remain 2-3% drier than the flooring, and the felt paper will ensure that the drier subfloor doesn't "wick" moisture out the wood floor and cause it to shrink more than normal.

Hope this helps, and as always, feel free to email me if you have any more questions: matt@proworksflooring.com

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Product Review - Basic Coatings Emulsion Finish



For the typical homeowner, this review could bore you to tears. I'll try to stay on the surface and keep the content relevant to what matters to you. Basic Coatings, a manufacturer of wood floor finishes has a product called Emulsion, which I have wanted to try out for a while. They advertise Emulsion as a water-based polyurethane finish that has the "the warm, rich, amber tones of an oil-based finish." Their claim is in fact THE ANSWER (assuming it works!) to the one major complaint both contractors and homeowners alike still have against current water based finishes.





Water based finishes, as you may know, are designed to outperform oil-based products. They also dry very quickly: 2-3 hours, versus 8-12 hours for oil-based. VOC levels in water-based products are considerably lower, better for the environment and better for our respritory systems as well. Finally, water-based finishes don't turn orange after several years the way oil finishes do. So, if someone could please just manufacture a quality water based finish that had some color to it...enter Basic Coatings and their product Emulsion.





I used it first on my own floors that were originally finished with clear water-based finish. My complaint about my own floors is the same one we hear out in the field all the time..."I love the upsides to water-based finish, I just don't like the color (or lack of)." Instead of sanding my floors, i just coated them, hoping that using the Emulsion finish on top of previous clear coats would still add some color.





On a scale of 1-10, I give Emulsion a 7+. It is very easy to use and did give the floor a warm, rich look that it didn't previously have. Outside of resanding or using toxic oil finishes, I didn't believe it until I tried it, and like I said I was very happy with results.







I wish I had some before pictures so you could see the difference. I can tell you that floors that are not colored/stained inititally, and then finished with traditional water-based finishes, will be very light in color to start and will fade over time; often giving them a near white-wash look after 5 years or so. In most homes, this is not a nice look.




The reason I rated the product a 7.5 instead of a 9 was that is was not easy to apply (compared to other high water-based products). It bubbled and foamed up too easily, and wasn't quite as thick as I would have liked. That said, I'm sure after I use it several more times I'll feel better about it and perhaps rate it higher.




To conclude, I really do like this finish. I like to use it when re-coating (not sanding) floors that are in good shape, but need a little rich color. Now that I'm sold, I am able to provide a much better selection of options to my clients...and this is good for everybody!


Thanks for reading and hopefully this was helpful...


Matt Landauer - The Floor Guy