In our line of work, it can be difficult to convince some homeowners that cheap is not always better. The decline of American manufacturing has contributed to myths and misconceptions about solid hardwoods, and recently we came across a review on a big box store website that really illuminated the issues surrounding cheap hardwood floors.
Interestingly, the review didn’t just have the customer’s complaints, but it also had a response from the manufacturer. This case gives us a rare opportunity to see how low quality is excused in hardwood floors as “natural” or “unique.” These excuses are unacceptable.
To start, it is important to say that we do feel for the manufacturer in this case. Literally, no one wants to make a product for a big box store. These stores bully manufacturers into making a ton of the lowest quality product that customers will accept for the lowest possible price–and they are required to make it quickly. The margins for this manufacturer are impossibly low and will inevitably strip the company of working capital that would improve equipment and retain employees. So, remember that the response below comes from a company on the ropes.
That being said, we also feel terrible for the customer who is being blamed for the failures of their product, and who will be responsible for years of disappointments and repairs. Warped planks that vary in width and thickness, and aren’t square on the ends are not “natural” or acceptable. This customer should have returned the flooring immediately. You should never nail down a warped or twisted board, ever.
To take a closer look, we want to address three components of this manufacturer’s response: (1) the things the manufacturer says that are correct, (2) the myths they perpetuate, and (3) the overall context that forces responsibility back on the customer and leads to customer disappointment. Finally, we’ll wrap up by discussing why this doesn’t fly at Steller Floors.
(1) What’s true: when you buy a solid hardwood floor, there is some responsibility borne by the customer to take care of your flooring. You should have a flat subfloor and you should have a consistent climate in your home before your flooring is installed. However, this shouldn’t be surprising. If you buy nice things, you need to take care of them. Wood products including flooring, cabinets, furniture, and fine instruments require the care of a consistent environment. If you cannot afford or can’t be bothered to get $200-$800 worth of humidity control to keep your interior space in the human comfort zone (if you need it; 35-55% RH around 70 degrees F), do not buy a solid hardwood floor.
(2) Myths: Manufacturing defects and the uniqueness of solid wood planks are not the same thing. When the flooring is manufactured, it should be done in a climate-controlled environment with equipment in good repair to ensure consistency among planks. Moreover, warp and twist are not acceptable. In traditional operations, these planks are passed to the customer, because it costs money (employee time and waste management) to remove them. You should never put these planks on your floor. Have you ever been in the woods, picked up a stick, and tried to bend it straight? What happens when you let go? The stick goes back to being bent. Your flooring is no different, and nails only temporarily solve the problem.
(3) The context: The flooring industry has spent a lot of time and money working to convince solid wood flooring customers that cheaper materials and lower quality are actually desirable. Character grade flooring materials with knots and heavy imperfections are rated near pallet grade lumber and are quite cheap. They make your hardwood floor vulnerable to damage; not beautiful. These harmful myths are so prevalent that many flooring companies have come to truly believe them, and so customers should exercise care when navigating these complex waters.
When you buy a Steller solid hardwood floor, we guarantee craftsmanship within thousandths of an inch so that when you hold a plank up to the light you should be able to see a flat surface along each and every plank on each and every side: width, thickness, and at the butt ends. This flooring manufacturer allows variation up to 1/16″ and there are 62.5 thousandths in 1/16″. For this reason alone, you could say we care 60 times more about your floor than the usual hardwood flooring manufacturer. Further, you should never need to use putty during a Steller flooring install. You should only buy enough overage for complex cuts, 2-3% versus 10% on average, because we will replace planks that do not meet our guidelines, not force you to buy them and subsequently throw them away. Moreover, we’ll ask you to send the bad planks back so that we can find the source of the problem, and remove the problem from our process.
Big box stores have their place in the world, but part of the problem is that solid hardwood floors should not be sold in big box stores. It requires time, effort, and quality materials to make a solid hardwood floor that will last a lifetime, and that is simply not in line with the mission of a big box store. When you buy a Steller Hardwood Floor, the quality of our manufacturing and the care of our employees speaks for itself when the flooring arrives. We carefully guard our process by taking care of our materials and employees to ensure a long and stable life for our company and for your floor. Want to learn more? See video installer reviews, photos from DIY installs, and more information about our quality! You truly do get what you pay for.