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Why the end-user needs to get that missing link

Sid Bourne returns to express his frustration at the problems that arise when customers aren’t properly informed at the point-of-sale about the flooring they’re about to buy.

THIS is a subject I’ve spoken about many times, so forgive me for repeating myself: it’s amazing how many times I get called out by a consumer complaining about knots, colour variation, maintenance, floating floors, and issues related to underfloor heating (UFH) with wood flooring – all because nothing’s been explained to the consumer, either at the point-of-sale (where it should be explained) and/or during or after the installation.

Most suppliers have excellent information on their website when it comes to grade of wood and what it can contain, so it would be simple to just download the technical data sheet or grading explanation and give this to the consumer, who then can read and decide which grade is suitable for them.

I often get called out to what we know as rustic grade, which is open to abuse by some suppliers, (thank God not many, though). However, I’ll get the consumer saying: ‘I don’t like the knots or filler, but the retailer won’t do anything.’

At that point, I ask if during the point-of-sale was anything explained and, in most cases, nothing has been explained. The problem is that samples supplied to you by your supplier or manufacturer won’t always be the same, as each is cut is from different boards so retailer A will get a cleaner face – even though it’s rustic – and retailer B gets the large knot sample.

You can guarantee that if retailer A hasn’t explained absolutely everything about a rustic grade, hell will be let loose.

Then there’s the other problem when the consumer has chosen a rustic grade and the installer turns up to install the flooring, finding the consumer has picked all the clean boards with minimal knots and filler.

The installer then has to contact the shop to order more, as the consumer has rejected 50% of the flooring all because nobody explained exactly what you get with rustic grade flooring and walked straight into the consumer from hell, who is demanding the wood flooring has no large knots (which is impossible with most rustic grades).

The thing you have to seriously consider is that if the consumer takes you to court, they’ll likely win the case, because you never explained during the exchange of information that they’d be getting large, filled knots.

The nice, clean sample you showed the consumer will in reality have large, filled knots and sapwood and many other natural defects within it when the actual flooring is delivered, leading directly to a confrontation with the consumer who has yet to pay.

A simple discussion with the consumer would’ve resolved this trouble.

Take maintenance: often I get to a site where they’ve been using a steam cleaner or pouring water all over the floor. When you ask: ‘Didn’t you buy the correct maintenance products?’, the answer will inevitably be: ‘No, I didn’t know there was such a thing.’ And if the consumer returns to the retailer threatening court action, you’ll lose.

UFH is another big complaint sector. You could argue: why is the flooring company blamed and not the UFH company?

I’ve contacted many UFH companies for advice and most often the answer is: ask the flooring company, as we can’t guarantee the flooring with UFH.

I reply: ‘But you state you can install any flooring on your product.’

‘Well,’ says the heating company, ‘you can. But it’s up to the wood flooring manufacturer or the LVT manufacturer to say if their product is suitable.’

I continue the argument with them: ‘You don’t trust your UFH with flooring, that’s the problem.’

To which they respond: ‘Sorry, it’s the flooring manufacturer’s responsibility.’

The main problem is excessive surface temperatures, as people think the thermostat controls the surface of the flooring, when it actually doesn’t. It merely heats the room to that desired temperature, so the surface of the floor may be getting much hotter than you think.

I’d insist that floor sensors were installed or at the very least an infrared thermometer, which would help the consumer determine the maximum surface temperature when the thermostat is used. As a guide it could say that you can only turn it up to 20deg C so that 27deg C surface temperature isn’t exceeded. However in my professional opinion, I wouldn’t let it get this high; I’d cut it off at 24deg C.

As for floating floors… what a nightmare! I’m always being called out to deal with creaking and deflection, among other issues. I get so many complaints it’s unbelievable, and I usually find most floating floors aren’t correctly installed in the first place.

Usually no vapour check has been conducted on the surface of the screed and only underlay has been used, which won’t prevent low sources of moisture. I frequently find the underlay is cut short around the perimeter joints, not taped at the joints etc. The floor gets moisture ingress, the boards bow and bingo, and there’s deflection and creaking.

If you’re going to float a floor, for goodness sake, follow industry standards!

As mentioned, a common complaint with floating flooring is deflection, which may well be within industry acceptable standards, but no-one explained exactly what a floating floor is in the first place, and that it will deflect slightly. Now the consumer is rejecting the floor – and again if it goes to court you’ll lose.

So the moral of the story is: always explain to your consumer what they’re getting, how it works and how they should maintain it. If this is all in writing with a signed copy of handover, then I’ll be out of a job.

Or – ignore my advice and keep me in work if you like. Come to think of it, I do need a shiny new car. 
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