Seasonal Failures and Reasonable Expectations

Seasonal failures quite often are failures that occur at the point of sale. As industry professionals, we have a tendency to take our knowledge for granted. We assume that consumers already realize how wood flooring will react to seasonal changes. Consumers these days usually do a fair amount of research on the products they purchase, especially products that are going to be costly (like wood flooring). More often than not, the typical wood flooring consumer is far more interested in the aesthetic appeal than performance. It is up to the industry professional to educate the consumer about how the product will perform post-installation in order to establish a reasonable expectation.

In order to set a reasonable expectation, the sellers have to ask a lot of questions so that they understand the intended use, maintenance, and environmental controls that the consumer has in the home. Quite often what consumers desire is not compatible with how they expect the product to perform, given their lifestyle. That’s not to say that their lifestyle doesn’t suit a hardwood floor; it just may have to be a compromise so that the consumers have the look they want and the performance they expect.

Too often consumers will enter a store, choose a sample from the rack that appeals to them, and the only question that they ask is “How much does it cost?” and the only question the seller asks is “How much are you buying?” The rest of the conversation is centered around how good the sample looks. If the price fits within the consumer’s budget, the seller is happy because the sale was made. The consumer is happy because they got the look they want at a price they are willing to pay. Since there have been no conversations about performance, the consumer may expect that the way the sample looks today, is how their oor will look in the future. If they have purchased a floor that’s not suitable to their lifestyle, they will be disappointed and the seller may get a call to fix what the homeowner perceives to be a problem.

Some common complaints include gapping, cupping, splits/checks, and splinters. As industry professionals, we understand that these issues can happen and we’re not shocked when they do. Consumers often think they are dealing with a defective product and they want a new floor. Waiting for a complaint to come along is the wrong time to educate the customer about product performance. Educating the customer after something has become an issue may seem as though the seller is making excuses to avoid having to replace what is an obvious defect to the homeowner. If a reasonable expectation was established at the point of sale, the consumer wouldn’t be shocked and the seller wouldn’t have to deal with an annoying call-back.

Simple ways to address these issues include the following:

Cupping/Gapping – Give a brief explanation that wood is a hygroscopic material, meaning that it will expand with absorption of moisture and its dimensions become smaller with a loss of moisture. Many homeowners are shocked if their floor starts to gap or cup, even if they have had wood flooring in the past. They don’t understand that their previous floor may also have gapped/cupped, but their previous floor may have been narrower or it may have been a more dimensionally stable species or a different cut, so the gapping/cupping was less noticeable. If a consumer is interested in choosing a wide plank, it is important to explain that gapping/cupping should be expected depending on how well the environment can be controlled. Gapping and cupping can be minimized with an HVAC system that can maintain a stable environment throughout the year. This may require a humidification/dehumidification system.

Checks – Checks are acceptable in all grades of flooring at the time of manufacture, to a certain extent. Unless consumers are aware of what is considered to be acceptable, they can be caught by surprise when checks with the misconception that the flooring is faulty, again wanting a new floor as a result. Checks are a result of stresses from the drying process of the wood. Checks are not always visible during the manufacturing or installation process.

Sometimes boards with checks are installed and the checks are never seen until the relative humidity in the home drops. They may really stand out with factory-finished material that is coated with less elastic finishes that can fracture over top of the check, turning white. Every wood floor will have some amount of checking, so it’s important that the homeowner is aware of this at the time of purchase, in order to curb their expectations.

Splinters – Wire brushed, hand scraped, and distressed-look flooring have become very sought after in recent history. Designers have become enamored with the tactile feel and textured look of this type of flooring. It seems to suit almost any decor. As the name implies, distressing a floor is to purposefully damage and sometimes weaken the wood floor. These weakened or damaged areas are prone to develop splinters over time from general wear and tear and fluctuations in humidity from season to season. Although the looks of these types of floors are desirable to many consumers, they don’t always suit everyone’s lifestyle. If the consumer has small children that like to run around barefoot, they might not choose this type of flooring if there is a chance that a child might get a splinter in his/her foot, even if they really like the style.

A wood floor may experience some changes through its lifetime due to seasonal fluctuations in relative humidity, maintenance, and general wear and tear. It is important to educate consumers on the type of floor that will best suit their needs and what they should expect overtime during seasonal changes, so they are not disappointed if they see changes in their floors that they weren’t expecting.

3 thoughts

  1. Great article Kjell. Simple, informative, and to the point ! I will be sure to refer to this in future inspection reports this winter. Thanks for saying it.

  2. I’m thinking about forwarding this article to the salesmen and project managers I sub contract for. I believe it is our responsibility as wood flooring professionals to help educate a client on the floor covering going into their home particularly solid wood flooring. This is a great article. Well done.

  3. The responsibility of the seller in education cannot be underestimated however. This would make the entire “chain” from sales to owner so much more efficient, and certainly easier on all involved. The fear of lost sales is the _only_ block to this happening, as I see it.

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