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Installing The Wood Flooring


Part 13 Of Our Real Life Remodeling Journey

Publisher's Comments

The following story is part of a series of articles about my family's experience with our home's remodel. Links to the other stories are found at the bottom of the page.

Wood flooring was an easy choice for us to make for our remodeled kitchen. We had it in our old kitchen and it was also in the living room, foyer and hallway. All of these spaces tied into each other and that characteristic wouldn't change with the remodeled space.

The only problem was that the living room floor, original to the house, was 1.5" wide oak strip whereas the floor in the hallway and old kitchen used a wider 2.25" strip. The transition between the two styles of flooring was a not-very-elegant strip perpendicular to the rest of the floor.

Our plan was to match the original 1.5" wood flooring and seamlessly tie it into the new wood being installed in the hallway and new kitchen.

Our choice of wood was dictated by the existing living room floor and in our case that meant red oak. It's a great wood for a floor, not too expensive and durable enough to last for a generation.

The Fun Begins

Because we'd chosen a site-finished floor that meant we'd have to be out of the house for a few days while the floor was stained and finished. The reason for choosing unfinished hardwood flooring was because the new floor in the kitchen and hallway had to match the existing wood floor in an adjacent living room. Once the new flooring was installed the entire floor (new and existing) would be sanded and refinished.

We were told to be out of the house for two days. That was assuming no hiccups with the process however. It didn't really work out that way though.

hardwood flooring

Old Meets New

hardwood flooring

Threading In New Wood To Meet Existing Flooring

As it turned out, the floor stain that was used wasn't a penetrating stain. When the polyurethane finish was applied on top of it, the stain color just wiped off. What ensued from that point on was a dash to get the right type of color-matched stain and finish the job without drastically impacting the schedule.

The entire floor was re-sanded and the the new stain applied. Fortunately the new stain worked perfectly and was just the right color. However to avoid extending the amount of time we'd be out of the house the decision was made to use a faster curing water-borne finish coat instead of oil-based polyurethane. Regardless, the stain issue added another day to the hiatus from our home.

The finish was applied but upon drying, was too rough and our general contractor called the floor guys back to scuff and reapply another top coat. That meant another day out of the house.

Before it was all said and done we were out of our home for four days.

It Just Gets Better

Thinking that this experience was behind us was simply being too optimistic on our part. Upon arriving back home we noticed several flaws including a large divot and a sunken board in the hallway, and a skewed transition to the tile floor in the mudroom.

wood floor damage wood floor damage

A Divot And A Low Board

The first attempt at fixing the problems in the hallway involved trying to locally build up the top finish. We listened to the floor guys.....with some skepticism.....but gave them the benefit of the doubt.

What we ended up with was a patchwork sheen on the topcoat (some areas more shiny than others) and still no real fix for the low spots.

Our suggestion, backed by our general contractor, was to tear out the bad boards and locally sand, stain and finish the area (but what do we know...we're just the homeowners). That wouldn't work according to these subs. They kept telling us it would never look the same as the surrounding floor.

Ultimately it took another wood flooring contractor to tear out the bad area, re-sand and stain the repaired boards. Then, the entire floor, all of the hardwood, was scuffed and finished with a final topcoat to fix the variable sheen problem.

hardwood flooring repair hardwood flooring repair

The Bad Stuff Is Taken Out . . . And Replaced

We now have a nice wood floor, albeit after a lot more time and inconvenience than it should have taken.

hardwood floorAll Fixed - And It Matches Seamlessly

Lessons Learned

Anyone reading this might be convinced that installing a pre-finished wood floor is the way to go. However I still think there are advantages to installing an unfinished wood floor and in the end I'd do it again. In our case we wanted to match and tie into the existing living room floor which was best accomplished with a site finished job. Regardless of the choice, the key point is to use competent installers.

It became clear to me that the first floor subcontractor was sub-par, not only from the results of the initial work but the efforts employed in the supposed "corrective action". Getting quality results means having experienced and competent installers do the job. That might seem obvious but when you experience it firsthand, it becomes crystal clear.

Throughout this hiccup our general contractor was a complete advocate for us, unwilling to compromise with the flooring subcontractor. He did what was necessary to get the job done right. Ultimately, that's his job and our expectation. But it was refreshing nonetheless, when others might have tried to settle by living with the flaws. It cost us some time and inconvenience but we ultimately ended up with a nice looking floor.

finished wood floor

How does one avoid such a situation? Seeing examples of previous work done by the subcontractor would certainly help although that might not always be practical if you're working primarily with a general contractor or design/build firm.

Obviously a contractor's reputation and recommendations from happy clients is another assurance.

In our case, this was the first time our general contractor had used this particular flooring outfit. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing but understanding the kind of relationship your general contractor has with the subs he/she uses is a key question to ask before the project begins. If they have established relationships with their sub-contractors and know their work there's a better chance of avoiding these kinds of problems.

In the end we felt that our wood flooring issue validated our choice of general contractor because in the end, he pushed to ensure the job was done correctly. It's probably safe to say that problems come up in every project. It's how those problems get resolved that determine a project's overall success and your ultimate satisfaction with it.



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