What you need to know before buying a Wood Floor

Hardwood flooring not only adds value to your home, it’s environmentally friendly, hypo-allergenic and it’s a floor that should last for decades to come.

We all know that hardwood flooring comes at a price- typically higher than carpet, vinyl and laminate flooring. Why- because of the costs involved to harvest, transport, dry, cut and finish, and transport again. With proper installation, care and maintenance wood flooring could be the last flooring purchase in your lifetime.

So the question is- what warrants hiring a Certified Flooring Inspector before, during or after installation of a wood floor.

Before buying a new Wood Floor:

A Wood Flooring Inspector can be of service before you purchase your floor. A flooring retailer’s job is to sell you a floor but most won’t dissuade you from purchasing a particular species or style that isn’t right for your home because they either don’t know, or they fear loosing your sale if they direct you to a more appropriate product.

For example; you want a Brazilian Cherry floor, your friend has it, you love the look, you’ve done research on Janka ratings, the product fits your budget and you’re convinced this is the floor for you. Without doubt, Brazilian Cherry flooring is durable, rich in color and a magnificent choice of flooring for most homes, but it’s not the perfect choice for every location. For example, if your home has large windows with a lot of light exposure, Brazilian Cherry may not be the best choice because it will darken in the exposed areas and leave outlines of your furniture and area rugs. Can this be fixed? Of course, just move the furniture to expose the previously covered areas and the color will eventually even out. If you have a lot of full-sun exposure and you can’t, or don’t want to rotate your furniture and area rugs, Brazilian Cherry may not be your best choice.

Since flooring inspectors are called in to look at these type of complaints they usually know what floors work best in specific locations, and they can be hired to guide you in product selection before your shopping journey begins.

Similar to a home inspector, a Flooring Inspector can be hired to evaluate potential problems that could not only save you thousands of dollars should your wood floor fail, but give you peace of mind that your house is ready for installation.

The inspector will inspect and test concrete slabs, crawlspaces and basements, sub-floors and floor joists, and they will identify problems below or outside of your house that could later affect your wood flooring. Your flooring inspector will test various areas in your home to identify possible moisture problems. The importance of a post-installation inspection cannot be stressed enough because problems identified by your inspector can literally save your floor from failing after installation.

During Installation:

A wood-flooring inspector can be hired to oversee your flooring installation. They will know if the proper tools and equipment is being used and they can determine if the flooring is being installed according to standards. Installation errors can be immediately identified, the installation will be stopped and the problems can be corrected before the errors become a major issue.

If Problems arise with Wood Flooring:

Most consumers don’t know there are flooring inspectors available to help them. When a problem arises they usually turn to the most logical source for assistance; their builder, retailer or installer. The problem is most builders, retailers and installers don’t have the expertise needed to investigate the cause of a flooring failure. We’re not saying they aren’t qualified to do what they do- because they certainly are, but the fact is- one or all of these parties may be related to the failure and they may not want to admit it. That’s when a third-party is needed and why a Certified Wood Flooring Inspector should be commissioned.

When a Wood Flooring Problem arises:

When a consumer tells us there’s something wrong with their floor they’re usually right. They may not know how to explain it, or they try describing the problem in technical terms that don’t quite fit, but they do know there’s a problem.

The fact is-if wood flooring is properly manufactured and installed you should never experience a problem. But if one, or more of the involved parties fails to follow standards or reasonable care, your floor may be at risk.

The following describes common problems with solid and engineered wood flooring with some differences between the two.

Noisy Floor: Solid or Engineered Wood:
The cause should be investigated if your wood floor makes any kind of noise; squeaking, crackling or popping, or hollow sounds in the case of glue down wood floors. Keep in mind, an occasional squeak or minor sound can be expected, but if the sound is throughout the installation or getting worse, an investigation is warranted. A few of the reasons for noisy floors include improper nailing, improperly configured tongue and groove, and sub-floor deficiencies.

Solid Wood Cupping:

Cupping is perhaps the most common cause of wood flooring complaints, and it is always related to moisture.

Many professionals believe the cause of cupping is one of the easiest to diagnose, but in reality that isn’t the case. Cupping caused by moisture in a basement, crawlspace or in a concrete sub-floor is easy to identify because measurements taken with a precision moisture meter will be higher at the bottom of the boards. But when moisture readings are equal from top-to-bottom of the board a more thorough investigation is needed by a qualified certified inspector.

Engineered Wood Cupping:

Engineered Wood flooring is manufactured with a decorative solid wood veneer on top that is bonded to a core similar to plywood or a solid fiberboard.

If the top layer and the backing have the same shrinking tendencies, engineered wood will move (shrink/expand) similar to solid wood and there will be little or no cupping or distortion. If the top layer and the backing shrink differently then the board will be more moisture sensitive and more cupping, shrinking, warping can be expected.

Solid Wood Buckling:

Cupping typically precedes buckling; it is a warning sign that something is wrong and this condition should be immediately investigated. Cupping indicates the floor is gaining moisture and it’s at risk of buckling. Buckling is the worst-case scenario because the flooring detaches from the sub-floor and in most instances, has to be replaced.

Engineered Wood Buckling:

There are different installation methods for engineered wood flooring; floated, nailed or glued. Because engineered wood flooring is dimensionally stable, they will contract and expand less than solid wood-but changes do occur and care should be taken to minimize extreme moisture changes. Moisture changes occur with high moisture in crawlspaces and basements, plumbing or appliance leaks, and with normal seasonal changes in relative humidity such as hot humid summer months.

Floating Engineered Floors:

Floating floors are locked together at the tongue and grove. These floors are installed over a thin pad and are not nailed or attached to the sub-floor. This type of wood floor can buckle when humidity rises or the flooring gets wet. Elevated moisture in the wood flooring causes it to expand and when it reaches an area (s) that prevents it from moving, the floor rises and buckles.

Nail down Engineered Floors:

Some wood-flooring manufacturers specify the type of staples or cleats for their products and the schedule these fasteners should be installed. When manufacturer specifications are not available, industry standards apply. Similar to floating floors, proper expansion is required to allow for expansion. If the force of expansion, and/or the floor meets an area (s) that prevents it from expanding it can release from the sub-floor and buckle. Buckling in these instances usually occurs in the path of least resistance such as the center of a room.

Splits-Checks in Solid and Engineered Wood:

Splits, or cracks in boards develop in the drying stage of wood and usually appear after the floor is cut, sanded and finished. A split, or crack is through the piece of solid wood, or in the case of engineered, it is through the face veneer.

Checks also develop in the drying stages and like splits, they appear after the flooring is cut, sanded and finished. Checks will look like hairline splits that don’t go through a solid board, or the face veneer.

Flooring inspector averages out the amount of flooring affected by splits and/or checks and investigates their cause.

A flooring inspector may also suggest lab testing of engineered wood flooring to determine if the product was manufactured up to standard.

Delamination of Engineered Wood Flooring:

Delamination occurs when one or more of the plies (wood layers) separate resulting in blister-like bubbles on the boards, lifting corners or edges, and in extreme cases total separation of one or more of the layers.

Delamination is perhaps the most debated issue related to engineered wood floors because flooring manufacturers and industry standards now require year-round relative humidity (RH) levels between 35-55%, some manufacturer require 40-60%, or greater.

These requirements pose a huge problem for homes and buildings located in most areas of the country because humidity levels cannot be maintained over 35% once the outdoor temperature drops below 20F without causing moisture damage to the building. Air-conditioned buildings in high humidity regions are at risk because air-conditioners may not sufficiently remove excess moisture during periods of high humidity.

If your engineered wood floor is delaminating a thorough inspection and lab tests are recommended.

Buyers Beware:

There are many wood flooring importers claiming to be the manufacturer of the wood flooring they sell. To determine if the company imports wood from China and other areas, you can do an internet search using this term; “Company Name Bill of Lading”. The results will show you what manufacturer the wood flooring is actually being supplied by.

Read Installation and Warranty’s Carefully:

Some manufacturers and importers void warranties based on installation; even when the installation error has nothing to do with the problem. Or, in this case, this importer (who claims to be a manufacturer), holds the installer responsible for informing the building owner of the relative humidity and temperature requirements. The following information is not printed in the Warranty for the end-user, it’s only listed in the Installation Instructions:

“Informing the Homeowner: Homeowner(s) MUST be made aware of color variations, graining ranges, the
effect that moisture has on wood flooring; the importance of maintaining a controlled environment (60 to 80f
and 35 to 50rh respectively) before, during and after the installation for the life of the floor.”

” The homeowner MUST be made aware of the effect that moisture has on wood flooring e.g. moisture gain can result in cupping, buckling, cracking, splitting, checking, warping, ware-layer delam/shear, and/or cross-ply separation from the sub floor and possible damage to surrounding walls, tile/stone floors and cabinetry etc. 

Moisture loss can also result in splitting/separation of the segments, gapping, surface and or end checking and
everything else mentioned with moisture gain. The importance of maintaining a controlled environment (60 to
80f and 35 to 50rh respectively) before, during and after the installation for the life of the floor should be
understood.”