Unusable flooring?

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by Lew Migliore

A dealer who was obviously frustrated came to us seeking help, saying he had been told a certain percentage of prefinished wood in an average box is unusable or requires installer modification. Typically, and this is what he has been told by reps, “select” wood may have only 10% “scrap” and the percentage goes up with A, B and C grades until you have utility grade, which is all seconds.

“I’ve never heard of selling new product in this industry where some of it isn’t suitable,” he said. “What do you know about this? I need education.”

Then, he went on to say, a certain wood manufacturer, “as I understand it,” will not go on an inspection. It wants the dealer to hire only an NWFA-certified inspector and pay the fee. “Is this usual policy and is it Kosher?”

I consulted one of our wood experts for answers and his response was, “These are issues that have been widely misunderstood and unknown by the great majority of retailers.”

The following is his attempt to clear these up:

•Prefinished wood essentially has very little in the way of “industry standards.” Each manufacturer sets its own proprietary standards. These can vary from one product to the next, as would seem reasonable, based upon price.

They can also vary based upon who the customer is or if the wood is part of a special purchase. The same-labeled product sold to a big box can be made differently and have different standards than that product intended for specialty retailers. For in-stance, two coats of a lesser finish can be used in place of three coats of a quality finish to give the same finished film thickness but offer diminished performance.

•Manufacturers allow there to be up to 5% of product the installer may decide is not up to his final inspection standards. The boards can have structural or cosmetic issues that land them in the cull pile. Some of these may have the bad portion cut off and discarded. Some may get used in areas that will not cause an objection, such as under a fridge.

Wood is a natural product and will have variations, some of which the end user will find objectionable. If they are fussy, they should select a better product which has tighter grading rules.

This is one reason why some wood flooring sells for $7 a square foot and another is $3 a square foot; the grading, selection of the wood and finishing are simply better.

•Some manufacturers in both hard and soft surface have significantly reduced the number of claims they will inspect. They are cutting costs. For a wood inspection manufacturers require the dealer or end user to hire an NWFA-certified inspector before they will even consider a claim they did not look at first. The mills used to send out inspectors who were not NWFA certified and found the people did not understand the product nor could they determine intelligently the answers to concerns.

Some inspectors have certifications from other organizations but these certifications are not as respected as NWFA’s. Inspectors with NWFA certification are typically more expensive since they have been trained to know what they’re talking about.

The chances the wood is “defective” are slim since the proprietary standards are a moving target. Most people have no idea what the quality of a product is that they are buying.

•Manufacturers and others have determined it is easier to donate a box or two of wood and forego hiring an inspector. It is likely the mill did nothing wrong but it is a customer accommodation in an attempt to appease the dealer.

Hope these answers help; if you need more, let us know.

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