Install Confidence: Consumers Need Skilled Professionals

When consumers think about tackling renovations to their home, they are most likely a little torn about if, how much, and where to use carpet, hardwood floors, or rugs (or even a combination of them all). The first decisions they need to make are how much of the legwork are they willing to do, and whether or not they want to bring in the help of a professional. As wood flooring professionals, we already know that it is money well-spent to tap into the expertise and guidance from someone who does this type of thing regularly and knows the potential pitfalls, not to mention the latest trends from which to choose.

But what compels a consumer to call a professional and who exactly do they consider a professional?

Recent research released from HOUZZ and the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) states that out of 260,000 survey respondents, 84 percent hired a professional or specialist to assist them with their home renovation project. Half of those responding to the survey hired an actual interior designer, and the other half was divided between hiring kitchen and bath designers and design-build firms. Overall, most homeowners find themselves challenged by things like determining their budget; working out the scheduling of work to be done; selecting products, finishes, and materials; identifying their style; and coordinating the professionals within their schedules.

During the past two years, as I worked to launch a line of premium hardwood floors to the trade, I’ve been surprised by one revelation that has to do with hiring skilled installers of flooring, specifically hardwood flooring. Having grown up in my family business of industrial and commercial construction, I’ve taken for granted having the resources of skilled tradesmen like electricians, brick and stone masons, finish carpenters, and flooring installers. While talking with designers and specifiers, it came to my attention that not everyone feels they have the resources or the competency to handle the hardwood flooring portion of their design projects as they might manage other parts of their design projects.

“Why?” I asked. The responses varied from concern about not having a tight enough control over the succession and timeline of jobs to the variations in all of the hardwood flooring types (leaving that part to the contractor), all the while, perhaps being limited to the flooring choices that their “go-to-guy” had to show them. As with everything, there are exceptions, and there are always scenarios where I’d find designers who held in their resource rooms beautiful flooring options, many of which had obscure labeling with elegant and European sounding brand names.

Why is this information relevant? I’d like to think we have an opportunity to bring our professional groups together to better connect designers to a higher level of skilled installers, a better variety of hardwood products, and more importantly, a more in-depth knowledge of what to look for in quality and premium hardwood flooring.

Today’s flooring options, especially hardwood flooring, are durable beyond what one would expect if they based their judgment on flooring of 20 years ago. We have technology built into each layer of hardwood from the face, to the core, to the back. Advanced aluminum oxide finishes not only resist surface scratches and daily wear, but also popular hardwood species like white oak have become even harder and more stable when pressed and cross-plied with similarly hard species. Many imported hardwood products are often imposters to European oaks, having genteel sounding names romanced with rich storylines. But when the rubber hits the road, or the can of soup hits the floor, the truth comes out, and the shortcuts can be seen and felt, leaving many homeowners disappointed in their flooring choice, perhaps disillusioned in hardwood unnecessarily. When a consumer hires a professional designer and/or a professional installer, their chances of loving the outcome are much greater. Most professionals have typically worked with their tried and true products and brands, knowing that their reputation and livelihood is at stake with word-of-mouth and social media being one of the primary platforms on which they showcase their work.

Knowing the right type of flooring for the right areas in the home is so critical, once again proving the value of working with a professional designer and installer. There are some necessary things consumers should consider when choosing hardwood flooring for their home. For example, I’d suggest sticking with porcelain tile or vinyl flooring for the full bathrooms where showers and bathtubs create a constantly moist environment. Powder room type bathrooms, on the other hand, are beautiful when hardwood flooring is used and especially so if there’s a harmonious and continuous flow of the same hardwood flooring going throughout an open floor plan. Many times, I am asked if hardwood flooring is okay for kitchens to which I always answer, “Yes, absolutely.” In fact, hardwood flooring is my favorite option for kitchens as it adds so much warmth, character, and personality to the kitchen which has become the No. 1 area of the home where families and friends gather and generally is the largest part of a home’s budget. Hardwood flooring and kitchen cabinet styles have both evolved over the years to provide homeowners extensive options of colors, stains, and finishes giving a high-end, luxurious first impression for the rest of the home.

So how can designers and homeowners better connect with skilled installers? NWFA has several resources including the “Find a Professional” feature at woodfloors.org, the NWFA Industry Guide at hardwoodfloorsmag.com, as well as a team of experts that designers and consumers can tap into to locate credible, certified installers that they can rely on to bring their vision to life. If you are an installer who has not joined NWFA or gone through certification with the NWFA, I encourage you to consider the importance and value of the program. Certification sets you apart from the rest of the pack and allows you to force the competition to step it up in their credibility. I encourage my fellow designers to start with this impressive pool of skilled professionals.

Similarly, I encourage installation professionals to reach out to local designers, introduce yourself and share the value of working with a professional for wood flooring projects. The ASID “Find a Pro” feature at asid.org puts you in contact with North America’s most talented professional designers. In addition, the NWFA has a set of presentations that can be used to provide education and CEUs to designers. Forging these relationships will help improve the overall quality of any flooring project.

Emily Morrow Finkell is CEO of EF Floors & Design in Dalton, Georgia. She can be reached at emily@emilymorrowhome.com.

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