Did you ever say to yourself when you’re about to make a large purchase: “Wow…I only wish I had knowledge of what I am buying like these people who are trying to sell me this stuff.” After reading this report, you will have that knowledge when it comes to hardwood or laminate flooring. I am going to explain to you how to correctly purchase hardwood and/or laminate flooring. I have been in different businesses for over 30 years, and I have been in the flooring business for over 15 years. I find many people approach their flooring purchases incorrectly, therefore costing them lots of money; and at times, customers will buy inferior products from inferior merchants. This report will list 10 Topics that you need to read and understand. After doing so, you will be prepared to make that perfect hard surface flooring purchase and have the peace of mind that you approached your purchase just like an expert.
1. Use the internet for research. Whether hardwood or laminate flooring, I like to browse the internet for styles that appeal to me. I also use the gardenweb.com flooring forum or other forums to ask others what products they seem to be having success or difficulties with. You can also go to my3cents.com to see if there are many major complaints with the products you are considering. Check out the reviews of the box stores on my3cents.com while you’re at it. I do not recommend purchasing flooring products via the internet. One reason for this is that many of the manufacturers will not warrant products from internet purchases. Also, should you have a problem with your floor, it will be difficult to get any type of representation to solve your issue. Another major issue is damage caused from third-party shippers. There’s nothing worse than making a purchase, only to find damage and have to remedy it through the internet store. Finally, it normally does not save you money to purchase through the internet. When you factor shipping into the cost, many times a better buy can be made from a local independent retailer that has great buying power. I will explain later in the report the right things to mention when buying at a local retail store to bring your cost down.
2. Take samples home. I strongly recommend visiting a good local retail store to ask their opinions on products. Those that are of interest to you and seem to be in your budget need to be signed out and taken home to be viewed in both natural and artificial light and in the surroundings where the product will be installed. Independent stores will show the products under the actual true manufacturer label making it much easier to comparison shop. Buying groups such as Carpet One, Flooring America, Abbey, Floors to Go, and the big box stores have most of their products privately labeled, making it nearly impossible to comparison shop. This is done for obvious reasons.
3. Ask for a bottom line price. The best thing you can do is mention that you will not be making a decision that day and that you are checking prices. Mention that you are not the type of person to bounce back and forth and that you would like their bottom line price right from the start. The worst thing that you can do as a consumer is state that you will only buy from that store. That will cost you money as it assures the store you are not shopping, and flooring is a competitive business.
4. Cash and carry vs. installed purchase. This is always a tough one because a flooring product is only as good as the installation. I have seen a lot of want to-be independent installers out there that can ruin a laminate or hardwood job. Most carpet installers are not carpenters, but many do pretend to be. It is rare to find an installer that can do it all. As a matter of fact, I have yet to find one. Many are top notch at some types of flooring, but not others. So when you hire a friend of a friend, or someone working under their own shingle, are you guaranteed the type of installation you expect? Also, when using a moonlighting installer, you should be paying no more than 50-60% of the prevailing rate of the independent retailer installation rate. I have seen moonlighting installers charge half again as much for an installation than the customer could have gotten from a flooring store. When you have the flooring store install the product, there will be no finger-pointing should there ever be an issue. There are so many different complications that can happen after an installation, and if you are dealing with a rock solid independent retail store, you have protection. In my opinion, there needs to be significant savings for you when you cash and carry a product. If you have the ability to install on your own, then there is normally a substantial savings realized and I say go for it. If not, let the experts do it.
5. How to determine if the store knows its stuff. Just how do you know if a store knows what it’s doing? There are a few things that you need to look for. First of all, if you are looking for the independent retailer to install the product for you, they must come to the job site and measure for you. Diagrams just don’t cut it and a good store knows that a 3-D viewing of the job is the only way to finalize a price. Notice how much attention the store pays to transitions between rooms in your home. Are they going to undercut door casings? It is a must. Are they going to pull baseboards or use rounds? Baseboard pulling makes the floor look like the house was built on top of the floor and that is what you want. Depending on the type of baseboard you have, rounds are sometimes necessary, but it should always be discussed. Notice the amount of perimeter detail the measuring technician is noting. If it is just a diagram drawn with no discussion, that’s not good enough. Look for another store. You’ll immediately notice the difference between stores just by watching the approach taken by the measurer. An expert will be in total control and will ask you all the right questions and discuss the project with you. Is the store going to document who is doing what and who isn’t? There will also be certain job preparation issues that will need to be discussed, such as moving appliances, toilets, furnishings, tearing out of existing flooring, etc. These items need to be decided and should be listed and signed by both parties so that there is no confusion. Moonlight installers tend to put all the little detailed preparation directly on the consumer or they charge you extra for it. Alternately, many times the prep will be included in the retailer installation package.
6. What to look for in a laminate floor. I believe this can be answered pretty simply. Make sure the product has the styling that you like and falls in your budget. All laminates today perform extremely well regardless of price. Retail stores do carry many laminate products and I believe each one will perform as well as any. High- or low-priced, they will perform about the same. The technology today is superior to the laminates of even 5 years ago. Most of the old chip board core laminates from 10 years ago or longer look like the day they were installed. Gone are the old glue-together products, and now with the drop and lock technologies, joint separation is pretty much nonexistent. The biggest difference I see in pricing of products is that manufacturers extend the warranties and make more realistic looks in the higher-priced products. Performance will be very similar between all the products. The number one enemy of a laminate floor is water. If the laminate is going to get wet, pick another floor. I also get concerned with some of these high shine laminate floors. My company has seen some issues in that they will (not surprisingly) show abrasions to the finish much quicker than a lower luster finish. If it were my home, I would only use a high shine product in an area that gets minimal wear. I have seen some pretty flimsy laminates at big box stores and buying clubs. These laminates are not really any less expensive and are really flimsy when holding them. I believe they are products made especially for these stores, and really are no less costly. One trick of these stores is to put a low amount of square footage in each box, which makes the cost appear less. Always do your math and compare apples to apples.
7. What to look for in hardwood flooring. The popular product today is hardwood flooring. It is making a gigantic comeback and everyone wants to jump on the hardwood band wagon. In our region, it seems everyone wants solid hardwood flooring. Let’s talk about solid wood. Solid wood is great as long as you have a fairly constant humidity level in your home and the wood is going to be installed above grade. If your home has large fluctuations in humidity levels, then you may want to consider an engineered hardwood floor. An engineered hardwood is a hardwood floor that has plies or turned layers of material in-between a top and bottom layer of the species that you are selecting. This gives the product more stability to changing climate conditions. This type of floor is normally required for on or below grade applications. Engineered flooring is generally a little more price-friendly as the tree specie requirement is less to make the product. A concern with an engineered floor is what the inner core plies are made of. Be sure to ask and make sure a hardwood or hard material is used to create the inner ply as a soft material can make the top layer easier to dent. Solid floor hardness can be determined by researching or asking the Janka rating. Janka ratings are a scale used to determine the hardness by comparison of wood species. I believe that all finishes of hardwood today are good as long as it is a quality brand of flooring that can be found at your independent retailer. There are some new products on the market today that give 50-year finish warranties for what it is worth. I have always had concerns with lifetime warranties or other huge warranties, although I suppose it is something you can hang your hat on should there ever be a problem. Pre-finished vs. unfinished hardwood is always a debate and you will get differing opinions. Personally, I prefer pre-finished. You get more layers of finish and furniture-like quality without the mess. No sanding, better warranties, and a quicker finished product just make up my mind. Yet, we have top-quality intelligent builders who prefer unfinished. So who am I to argue? This product simply has two schools of thought.
8. Laminate vs. Hardwood. Tough decision, but it’s ultimately up to you. First, let me say that I always tell potential buyers that it doesn’t matter what your neighbor thinks or what your bridge partner thinks — it is what you want. Do not let anyone influence your decision based on their likes or dislikes. There are 100 different flavors of ice cream for a reason. I am shocked by how many people actually fall in love with a color or style. Then they say, “Let me keep it a couple of extra days so I can show my kids.” They then return the sample and either buy nothing or completely change the product from the one they initially chose. It is you who will be looking at the product every day and it should be you who makes the ultimate choice of what you want to see. Now we move to the discussion of laminate vs. hardwood flooring. I always say to people that hardwood will actually increase the value of your home. Laminate flooring normally does not. With that said, let’s discuss what makes sense. If I install hardwood and laminate into an average active American household with 3 children, there’s a fair chance that in 5 years my hardwood may look worn, but the laminate should basically still look good. Now which home really held its value? Yet, I can refinish the hardwood and immediately replace the value. But remember, that refinish will cost money. So we are kind of going around in circles. Laminate flooring is much more difficult to scratch, will not fade from sunlight, and is more water resistant than hardwood. Water is not a friend to laminate flooring by any means, but water can ruin hardwood flooring also. Laminate flooring is a snap to repair; and when you repair the board, you will never know it was repaired as it does not change appearance over time. Hardwood is more of a tedious repair and you may notice the repair was made until it blends in with wear. Pet urine can hurt both products. Your pet’s claws will be much more disturbing to the hardwood finish. It takes a lot to scratch laminate flooring, but it can be scratched and it is not bulletproof. No matter what the finish on a hardwood floor has, abrasions will be noticed. The scratches normally do not get to the wood, but will disturb the finish coat layer. I have hardwood flooring and my big boxer dog does occasionally put a mark into the wear finish. Another option of hardwood is a distressed or rustic look. Hand scraped or rustic products will not show these abrasions and actually add to the character. If you have a major scratch in the finish, you simply rub some Old English into the scratch and it will basically vanish. The results will not be the same with a smooth or more formal finish. Laminate flooring will take a lot of abuse, but it is an image of a hardwood and tries its best to imitate a hardwood or tile floor. It will not sound, look, or smell like a real hardwood. Hardwood is genuine and can be harvested from different parts of the world. Exotic woods are now controlled by what is called the Lacey Act. Manufacturers today must comply with the act assuring that hardwood foresting is done with a prioritized concern for the environment. This has eliminated illegal foresting in other parts of the world which has translated into higher exotic wood prices. Hardwoods come from real trees giving the product unmatched beauty and elegance. Laminate flooring on average is less expensive than hardwood flooring. A good solid local retail flooring store should be able to show you the differences between laminate and hardwood flooring which should allow a much better decision on what is best for you and your family. But remember, it is ultimately up to you.
9. Understanding the manufacturer warranties. Many people wonder what the manufacturers’ warranties really mean. From someone who is in the flooring business and takes this topic very seriously, my answer is pretty simple: “Not Much”. After the first 3 months, I would say the warranty becomes about as good as what your independent retail store will do for you. Normally, if there is a malfunction with a product, it will happen in the first 30 days. Many times, when there is a problem, it is due to installation. This is why it’s important, in my opinion, to have the independent retailer arrange for the installation and have that store on the hook. There are occasional issues of manufacturing after the first 30 days, but it is rare. I can count on about one finger how many manufacturer claims we have had after 30 days on laminate and hardwood, and we operate 4 flooring stores. So all of these 30-, 50-, even 25-year finish or wear-through warranties just don’t mean a lot in my mind. These manufacturers know that the finish may wear through, but it will be abuse that causes it. Does this mean that I do not ask what the warranty is? No, I still would want a product with a minimum 15-year warranty. Fifteen years would be my dividing line. There are some hardwoods with real low purchase prices that only carry a 1- or 5-year finish warranty. I would run from those, but at the 15-year or greater warranty mark, I would not think twice. One other point is that buying groups and box stores increase the warranties on their own. What I mean by this is that they contract the manufacturer to raise the warranty for them. I do not like the fact that a product with a normal 5-year warranty gets increased to 25 years simply because a box store is selling it. This does not make the product better and is no extra protection for you. Remember what I said about abuse. A true 15-year warranty will take a lot more abuse than a 30-year inflated box store warranty. This is why I would prefer to purchase through a strong independent retail store. Your independent retail store can give you good opinions on what is a good product and what is not. The warranty displayed is what the manufacturer truly specified for the product.
10.Costs and buying methods of these products. Flooring is one of the largest purchases a family makes, second only to their automobiles. With this said, it can be very affordable. Just like anything else, there are great valued products. These do not have to be entry level products. They can be excellent products with excellent warranties. A strong independent retail flooring store can give you great advice on these types of products. If you walk in to an independent retail store and ask for a great value product in either a laminate or hardwood, the experienced salesperson will be able to show you many. Remember that a strong local independent retailer does not normally sell toilets, rose bushes, or light bulbs — just flooring. I think that’s important. You may need to explain to the salesperson that by “value”, you don’t necessarily mean the cheapest, but you mean a good product that really does demonstrate value. Most independent retailers know which of their products has an unusually high value for the cost. One thing to remember is that the installation, the underlayment for your laminate or hardwood, the floor prep and anything else that needs done will be a constant. You may want to ask for the price that will be a constant for your purchase. At that point you will know that any additional dollar that you spend will go directly into the flooring product you choose. In other words on a 500 sq ft purchase, an extra 30 cents a square foot may give you the four sided bevel that you are looking for. So for an extra $150, you will have the beveled product in your living room, dining room, and hallway. If a job of $4600 is a little more than you hoped, but you are going to purchase it anyway, don’t you think for the increase to $4750, which can get you exactly what you want, is a smart extra $150? Your constant cost will not change, so the little extra money you’re spending will give you the look you’ll enjoy for the rest of your life. There are many ways to pay for your flooring: cash, check, credit card, in-house financing plans, or companion financing plans. Most stores, offer 12 months same as cash for their customers and do not factor any of the cost of offering that particular program into the cost of the product. What I mean by that is when you see 36 months interest-free or even up to 5 years interest-free financing, it may be interest-free, but it isn’t free at all. The retailer pays a percentage to the finance factoring company for that length of free interest for their customer. These fees are expensive and that cost is factored into the product that you are purchasing. Twelve months interest-free is an affordable fee normally for the retailer and it will not usually affect the price of the product. Credit cards and interest-free financing do cost the retailer money. A buyer that plans on writing a check should tell the retailer this when asking for the best deal. When management of a store knows this, they understand they will experience no fees with this payment style and that should translate into a little better deal for you. Cash vs. check should have no bearing on your price. In the economic climate of today, flooring is actually less expensive than 4 or 5 years ago. This is a fact, even though there have been many flooring price increases from the manufacturer. In order to stay extremely competitive, the smart independent retail flooring centers have curbed and cut costs so that they can actually offer flooring to the consumer for a lower price than in years past. It could be a smart time right now to make that purchase.