Aug 29, 2012

Hardwood Floors - Part 1 - Choosing

Not my house!
A month ago, I knew nothing about hardwood floors except that I wanted them, and installing them would increase the resale value of our home. Period. Today, I am living in Day 3 of (hopefully) 5 days of hardwood floor installation in our house. I want to share what I have learned so far.

If you have been thinking about installing hardwood floors, I bet you, like me, have heard those TV ads that say "Just .39 cents a square foot!" or "Such and such hardwood flooring - just $1.39 a square foot!". I'm hear to tell you -- it's not true.

I shopped for hardwood floors. Jeff and I went to four different name-brand and discount flooring stores and comparison shopped. Those "Just .39 cents a square foot!" deals? You MIGHT be able to buy flooring at that price if you're doing ONE ROOM - and one TINY room, at that. Quantities are very limited.

As far as I can tell, there are three types of "hardwood" floors - The least expensive is Laminate, which is a multi-layer synthetic flooring product fused together with a lamination process. Laminate flooring simulates wood with a photographic applique layer under a clear protective layer. Kind of like plastic wood on a fiber board backing. One little bit of information I doubt the salesman will tell you is that laminate flooring is made of a plastic (melamine resin) derived from formaldehyde. For-mal-de-hyde. Ummm... no thanks. I have a grandson with asthma and allergies.. there's no way I could put that flooring down. And in normal residential conditions, the life of laminate flooring is about five years. However, they say if you are installing your flooring yourself and you're not a pro, laminate is the easiest to install.

In the middle price range we have Engineered Wood. Looks like hardwood, lasts as long as hardwood (25 to 50 year warranty), and maintainance requirements are about the same. So what's the difference? Engineered wood first has a thick pressed board backing for stability, than has two layers of (real) hardwood veneer - going cross-wise to each other. Why is that important? It has to do with the direction your wood floors are installed. I'll get to it in a minute.

The most expensive flooring is Solid Wood. Solid wood flooring is milled from a single piece of timber that is kiln or air dried before sawing. This is how they did it in the "old days". Cut down a tree, turn it into a plank and nail that bad boy down on the floor. It's come a ways since those days, but Solid Wood flooring is, obviously, solid wood -- and therefore has a "moisture content" which can cause warping or buckling in certain circumstances. Solid Wood MUST be nailed in the opposite direction that your flooring joists run. That's important! Also, solid wood flooring can NOT be installed on top of a cement floor. I don't have cement floors, but you may, so I thought I'd include that.

Now here's the stuff you need to know to decide which kind of flooring is right for you. First, don't get the laminate. It looks good in the package and in the showroom, but it's life expectancy and warranty in comparison to the other two are just not worth it and the price difference isn't THAT much. This is such a HUGE (dirty, nasty) job, and you don't want to do it again in five years!

I initially went into all this thinking we wanted solid hardwood floors. But I have this LOOOONNNGGGGG hallway from my front door down to the kitchen in the back of the house, and because of the direction the joists go, the solid flooring would have to be laid ACROSS the hallway, rather than down the length of it as I envisioned. Aesthetically not pleasing! The cost of the Engineered Hardwood was about $2 a square foot less than the Solid Hardwood. So with these two facts in hand, I decided we would go with the Engineered Hardwood.

We shopped originally for "per square foot" price. I hit the national chain liquidators that make you think no one could possibly have lower prices than they do. Guess what? I found two other stores in our area that do have the same quality, the same warranty, and lower prices.

But ... don't think you're going to put hardwood floors down for $1.39 square foot. I'm hesitant to tell you what the actual cost will be. But in addition to the flooring (and possibly a delivery charge on that), you have to pay for installers, you have to pay for moving appliances, you have to pay for removing and replacing baseboards, threshholds if necessary, and more. All in all, I received quotes from $3 to $8 per square foot ON TOP OF THE COST OF FLOORING. Yeah... I know.

The company I finally decided on had a personable salesman, had good reviews on the Internet, had prices lower than the national liquidator people, didn't charge a delivery fee, had a knowledgeable installer come out and measured my home immediately, had name brand flooring with an excellent warranty package at no additional cost.

So you know me and you know what I had to do next -- NEGOTIATE!

I received the final price from the salesman at the store, and... asked if he could do better. He gave me a little off here and a little off there... and I asked if he could do better. He said he'd talk to his boss and call me. He called me the next Monday, gave me a new, lower price, and told me that number was his bottom dollar. I asked for more off. He said he absolutely couldn't. I said "How about a senior citizen discount? I see on the Internet you offer that." He said he'd already given that to me (rolling eyes), and that the price he had was as low as he could go. Bottom Dollar. Zip. Zilch. No more off. I told him I'd think about it and call him back. He asked me what price I needed, and I told him. He whistled and said, "I know we can't do it for that." I said I'd think about it and call him back the next day.

And I didn't call him.

Two days later, he calls me... and son of a gun, he CAN meet my price!! Oh, he was going to take a beating and "blah blah blah blah blah". But we all know the economy stinks right now and I'm pretty sure hardwood flooring isn't at the top of the list of a lot of people. Companies like this are desperate to get enough work to keep their installers busy so they don't have to lay people off. And as I'm always telling my grandson, "Some is better than None." And that's the way companies that want to stay in business have to think.

All in all, I received about 27% off his original price. And that includes the delivery and the installation and all the little charges for this and that, and, of course, the flooring. Where other companies wanted up to $8 per square foot for just installation, I am paying $5.05 per square foot for flooring AND installation AND delivery AND all the nickle/dime charges.

Oh! One more thing... very very important! If you can only afford to do one room now, but eventually want to do an entire floor, or adjacent rooms - you MUST buy all your flooring at once! Anyone who works with yarn will understand that, like yarn, flooring is manufactured in LOTS, and Lot A might just be a shade lighter or darker than Lot B. Just as you have to purchase all your yarn for a sweater from the same lot, you must purchase all your hardwood flooring the same way - both engineered and solid. Good to know, right?!

I have no pictures because my husband is out of town and took my camera, and the camera on my phone isn't working! But trust me... my new floors, now about half installed, are GORGEOUS! In my next post, I'll discuss the actual process of getting the floors installed. I tell you the dirty little details they don't tell you ahead of time... so stay tuned!

Life is good --- but if it's not, NEGOTIATE!


Karen said...

Thanks for all the info Joan. Since we have wood flooring under the disgusting carpets in our house, when the time comes we'll be sanding and polyurethaning the original wood floors.

beebee said...

I need to bring you with me when we go to get our carpet prices. LOL
I bargain too but you are the queen! I gotta be more assertive!
thanks for sharing....