Hardwood Floor Installers - State of The Industry
Searching for a professional hardwood floor installer or finisher contractor can be a frustrating experience for many. I've seen my share of jobs over the years that lacked the skill one expects when a "professional" is called in. Unfortunately, many unsuspecting people without the knowledge of what a professional job should look like find themselves taking the word of a neighbor, relative or friend.
Big Box Stores
Now that we have our Home Depot, Lowes, Home Centers, and Mennards to mention some of the very large players in the home improvement business, the consumer has the option of buying elsewhere. However, with the explosion in the big box stores and internet sales over the last 20 years, one item has not been addressed as it should; the hardwood flooring installer.
Big Box Store Problems?
Why? The leader in the home improvement field always seems to be going though unpleasant problems associated with installation and the installers themselves. Some of the more cut throat installation companies (contracted though these stores) have moved in and expect many of these installers to actually take a pay cut in their hard earned labors. Unfortunately these companies don't seem to grasp the importance of quality over money and the better installers are going elsewhere.
If we cannot trust these services where can we turn? You could try some local mom and pop retailers in your area. However, you'll find many are not willing to get involved if the product has been purchased elsewhere. There are two reasons for this. One would be the warranty involved as they cannot guarantee a product they are unfamiliar with. Another would be the loss of profit from the sale of the product which accounts for a part of the margin in their overall business.
Yellow Pages Or Internet?
Where do we turn now? We could search through the online yellow pages as you will find some independent installers listed. That's usually one method in finding someone to do the work. There are many floor covering organizations, but many do not offer a formal crediting procedure or submit applicants to actual field testing. Or you could try Angie's List on the internet. The latter does a fine job of keeping tabs on contractor work history with an effective rating system.
Update 2015 - Since this story was originally written, review sites across the internet have become extremely popular. In their early days I considered them fair. But as time marches forward I feel quite the opposite. Now some have become profit driven and I question the system.
I'm sure many of us hear these kind of commercials often: "Free this and free that....we use only certified installers..." While this may be true, one has no idea if they will get one of the better installers, or one that will show up on time when you expect them, not when they feel like making an appearance. Additionally, some of these installers may have the proper knowledge and expertise for installing carpet, but not hardwood flooring.
Carpet Installers Know Hardwood?
The surge in hardwood flooring popularity has some inexperienced carpet installers calling themselves hardwood flooring installers. If you're searching for an installer I'll provide one little secret that sets the good aside from the wanna bees. Ask them what type of moisture meter they use. If they stumble or admit they don't own one, I would strongly suggest running in the opposite direction.
The first picture below (left) is an example of a failed $40,000 installation that was the result of no attention to moisture testing. The other is a $20,000 wide plank installation failure that was installed two times before the cause was determined.
Okay, what happened in the two jobs above? The one on the left was a solid 3/4" installation over plywood and concrete. The installers followed many of the proper procedures such as acclimation to the jobsite and material, but failed to think about the plywood underlayment on the concrete slab. It was taken from a humid garage during the installation. High moisture content in the plywood caused the finished floor to cup.
In the second example the home was situated at the bottom of a hill. No attention to drainage or water runoff was considered, causing the floor to buckle. Anybody can install hardwood floors or so it seems nowadays, but there is more to it than nailing or gluing it into place. Folks, please, when looking for an installer don't let price be the determining factor in choice.
The National Wood Flooring Association
The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) has made long strides over the last ten years in formulating an accredited program for installers and finishers. This also includes hands on work at multiple training facilities across the US. Today I find this the best resource for finding qualified hardwood pros.
Find a certified professional through the NWFA.