Mistakes That Bad Contractors Make When Installing Hardwood Floors
Ah, hardwood. The simple, natural beauty of a beaming hardwood floor can inspire lust in almost any homeowner. It lasts forever, wears impeccably, cleans up easily, and requires the lower end of maintenance after installation. We can’t say many bad things about it.
However, we can say a few bad things about contractors who cut corners while installing hardwood floors. This is an art and a science, but some contractors don’t even know which direction to lay wooden flooring or anything about wood floor layout patterns. We wish more of our customers were more informed about the importance of quality, care, and attention during this crucial step in the process of a floor renovation.
In this post, we provide an overview of a few mortal sins committed by bad contractors. When choosing a contractor for your flooring, always make sure to ask for references and ask those references detailed questions. These tips may help you to narrow down your search! (And remember—we know a simply excellent contractor right in the Wallingford area if you’re in the market for someone who does CT whole house remodeling and your hardwood floors!)
Not Accurately Handling Moisture Issues
This is a big one, and bigger than you might ever expect. It isn’t hard to believe that moisture is the enemy of hardwood. Serious problems can result from a moisture issue, whether you’re talking about too much or too little. But it might surprise you to hear that this issue is so important that it is the No. 1 cause of flooring problems.
Two terms are important to remember with moisture: moisture content, or MC, and relative humidity, or RH. Both of these dictate almost everything about whether your flooring will remain intact over time after installation. The fact is that if the contractor does not regulate for both of these before installing, your floor could contract or expand when the weather gets colder, hotter, or more or less humid—creating an ugly situation at best and a disaster at worst. Remember that hot things expand, while cold things contract. During the winter, wood needs to be stored and treated differently than in the summer, and results from humidity are going to be different for each season. Make sure your contractor knows all of the ramifications of moisture, and ask pointed questions about how the wood is stored, transported, and kept at the job site before installing it.
If doubts exist about moisture, you may consider going the route of engineered wood. Because it’s more stable, it will be less prone to the expansion and shrinkage that can cause these types of problems. Remember that minor changes are normal with age and the nature of the wood. But if you can drop a small child between the gaps in your flooring, you have a moisture problem.
Not Paying Attention To Layout And Design
Despite all the measuring and double-checking that a team does while building a house, the simple fact is that it’s often impossible to create a room that is precisely square or has exact measurements down to the tenth of an inch. However, this is the very thing that could mess up the flooring team when installing a new hardwood floor. A good team will plan for this and make sure that everything is precise and measured, but a less-than-excellent contractor will not take the time upfront to do this. They might just start installation before completing all of the measurements, which results in crooked flooring lines leading down hallways and awkward angles when finishing the last amount of the square footage. Not to mention—this method may also end up taking more time since the end stage of fixing all those problems takes hours.
A good contractor knows better and will assess the situation carefully before beginning any work at all. A plan will be constructed to account for strange areas that go around corners or back into oddly shaped areas of the home. When a good contractor finally gets started on the installation, the first parts of the flooring to be installed are the longest-running areas of the home, to make sure that the lines through these areas stay clean and straight. Oddly shaped areas will be worked around the main parts to create a seamless look that doesn’t take more time than necessary.
Ignoring the Importance Of Proper Racking
Racking can encompass a range of things but is most simply known as the seamlessness of the installation. No one spot on the floor should catch your (or anyone else’s) eye; everything should be tied together, from the color of the wood (and even type of wood, since sometimes different species of wood, can be mixed together inadvertently) to the way the pieces are arranged in an unusual space or at the end of a room.
Bad racking means that a contractor simply wasn’t paying attention and planning for the end result and overall look. Joints are uneven, mismatched, or unevenly spaced. Important main parts of a room, like in front of the fireplace, may have strange arrangements of boards that look clumsy and chaotic. Long rows in hallways with lighter-colored boards may have one dark board stuck in there without care, making the entire hallway look strange. Nothing makes us twitch more than seeing these things in flooring installation, and it happens all too often, in homes and businesses across America.
Ask your contractor how he plans his racking and listen to his answer. A good contractor will have a detailed plan and be able to cite examples and even photos of his previous work. This is also a good thing to ask his references before you even hire him.
Failing To Get the Subfloor Ready
The subfloor is the material underneath the hardwood that may be made of a range of materials like particleboard, plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), or hardboard. It’s there to provide support for your hardwood and hide any imperfections or roughness that exists on the underside of your flooring. It’s similar to a rug pad for a rug in this way. It’s what protects your flooring from the inside out, so it’s absolutely crucial. A good contractor has three magic words for the subfloor: clean, flat, and dry. Dry refers to our first post on this topic, where we discussed the issue of moisture and the problems it can cause. Clean refers to exactly this—the subfloor has to be cleaned and scraped of any debris or matter that may come between itself and the flooring, and cause adhesive issues. Flat is also self-explanatory to a certain degree—the area should not slant up or down one way or the other past a certain amount of deviance, or the flooring won’t be able to compensate and whoever is walking on the floor will be able to feel the slant.
These are all things that a good contractor will pay attention to. However, with one who isn’t so great, you will experience flooring that squeaks, shakes with movement on other parts of the floor, or just simply feels loose when you walk on it. All of these problems originate from the contractor’s laziness when installing and failing to flatten, clean, or check the area before putting the flooring on top. This is a good way to make your flooring feel cheap and temporary—no matter how much you spent on the hardwood itself.
Not Fastening Floorboards Securely
Installation can be tedious—nailing board after board. Even if the installer is using a nail gun, it’s still back-breaking work. That’s why a lot of installers start to get lazy after a room or two—and some even start out that way. The fact is that an installer who doesn’t use enough nails (or fasteners in general) is causing a host of problems down the road. For example, flooring is much more likely to become loose, make noise, move around, and even develop gaps between boards as a result of the movement and instability. Of course, using too many fasteners is not the solution, since this can have the opposite effect of keeping the flooring too rigid. The flooring might crack in this scenario and end up moving around just as much as the unsecured boards. This is truly one of those issues that go back to a quality contractor which has taken the time to train its staff thoroughly on installation basics and details.
The Bottom Line
If you’re contacting references about your contractor, contact someone who had the work done more than a few years ago. Ask them how their flooring is holding up and whether there have been any issues like the ones mentioned above. With all of the hassle and particulars of installing new flooring—not even to mention cost!—it’s something you want to have done right the first time.