Flooring Forensics: Which wood look is right for your customer? - Feb 2019

By Lew Migliore

Wood-look flooring, which research tells us is one of the most desired looks, can be achieved with solid or engineered hardwood, rigid or flexible LVT, laminate, porcelain tile and even sheet vinyl. Let’s take a look at these products and provide some insight concerning the pros and cons.

Q: How should a retail sales associate (RSA) position these many and varied wood-look flooring options to the homeowner?
A:
Be sure to make it clear to the consumer that the products are available in various price points, allowing them to shop your selection. Too many products can overwhelm the consumer and confuse the sale, so go with manufacturers you know and trust. You may think that a large selection of wood-look products provides your customers with more to choose from, but this is only important as it relates to color and price, which are the customer’s primary concerns-not, for instance, relating to format or country of origin. Because it is difficult to see or feel a difference in hard surface like consumers can with carpet, they don’t know how to determine if a hard surface product is high quality, leaving color and price to dictate the sale.

Successful sales of hard surface flooring are as much about understanding people as they are about product knowledge. RSAs must know these products inside and out and convey both why a consumer should select a product that they offer and why she should buy from you specifically.

Q: When is traditional solid hardwood the best option?
A:
Traditional solid hardwood flooring is the best option when you’re selling high end. My firm, LGM and Associates, is consulting on a large luxury condo project in Atlanta where the units sell for upwards of $2 million. The flooring being used is hardwood from a local manufacturer that makes, finishes and oversees the installation. When you buy this type of home, you don’t skimp on quality anywhere. Hardwood flooring will perform, and it makes a statement.

You do have to make sure that hardwood flooring is used in an environment that is suitable for keeping it stable. As we at LGM say, wood flooring is a tree in a different form and is subject to what trees in the forest are subject to.

Q: Where did the notion of waterproof floors come from? Which product comes closest to being truly waterproof?
A:
Welcome to the flooring industry, where words defy logic and the laws of science.

My background is in marketing. In a nutshell, marketing is the business of promoting and selling products or services or, in other words, to find a need and fill it. As long as there have been floors, water has been damaging them, and that will never change.

Vinyl flooring manufacturers have offered a product that-due to its plastic nature-lends itself to being touted as waterproof, which can be misleading. When water gets under a floating floor, regardless of what the product is made of, there are going to be issues. “Water resistant” is a more accurate description when setting expectations with the home owner.

Consider, for comparison, finishes on carpet, which are presented as stain- or soil-resistant products, not stain- and soil-proof products. Nothing in the flooring industry is “proof” anything, and words don’t make it so. Having said that, ceramic tile, when installed properly, comes the closest to offering the homeowner trouble-free performance in a wet environment.

Q: Which wood-look products are the easiest to maintain?
A:
Maintenance is preserving something, ultimately so that the product performs as expected. The ease of maintenance is the level of care something requires to fulfill the concept of maintenance. Hard surface flooring will show everything that falls or is tracked on it, and floors that show dirt are the easiest to maintain. If a customer can see it, hopefully they’ll be motivated to clean it. That said, if they don’t clean and maintain floors, regardless of what they are, the surfaces are going to look dull, dingy, dirty and ugly out, and their life will be minimized. Like anything else, including us, if you don’t take care of it, it won’t last.

The Chinese discovered a long time ago that leaving your shoes at the front door keeps outdoor grime outside. But the reality today, here with American households, is a less disciplined approach with meals and snacks consumed in every room and domestic animals not only tracking in and out but also slurping their meals off the floor.

When it comes to wood-look flooring and maintenance, usually a damp mop on a routine basis can keep the floors clean. For a deeper cleaning, many producers have a floor care routine that they recommend.

Q: What is the best recommendation for a home with big dogs and why?
A:
A flooring that has a wearlayer or surface layer that will withstand the most amount of abrasive action is best for big dogs. Again, no floors are scratch-proof, but some are more scratch-resistant than others. It is best to maintain the dog by keeping their nails trimmed and filed and be less concerned about the flooring. I had four dogs on beautiful, high-quality, hand-scraped engineered wood floors in my last house. The little ones, who were all seven pounds or less, did not damage the floor. The 55-pound Dalmatian left random scratch marks in the floor. The color and the texture hid them well. So, in addition to getting a floor that has the most inherent scratch resistance, a color, texture or pattern will minimize the visibility of a scratch.

If you qualify the customer when you’re working with them on selecting a floor, you’ll be able to sell them something that will work. Your competition will probably not think to qualify the customer and will therefore have more complaints and claims than you will. It goes without saying that harder products with a matte finish are less susceptible to premature wear. Naturally, tile is the hardest, followed by laminate, certain species of hardwood (see Janka test) followed by resilient flooring-with rigid LVT performing better than flexible or felt backed sheet.

Q: Which products contribute the most to resale value?
A:
Products with greater inherent value such as higher quality solid hardwood, porcelain or engineered wood flooring contribute to resale value. High-quality wood flooring is timeless and desirable. All you have to do is watch the shows on HGTV to see what’s being used in renovations, what’s being retained and what’s being installed in new homes. The higher the quality of the product, the more value it adds. Cheaper flooring is expendable and decreases the value of a home. When a buyer walks into a home, the flooring is the first thing they see. If it looks good and exudes quality, they’ll know they can keep it in place and avoid the high cost of replacement.

Flooring is one of the top three expenditures in a home. If a buyer sees a floor they can keep and that they like, they’d be more likely to consider buying a house that saves them the expense of replacing the flooring.

Q: Which products provide the most comfort and sound deadening qualities?
A:
Well, the true answer to this question is carpet, but since we’re talking about hard surface flooring, I would have to say the flooring with the highest IIC (Impact Isolation Class) and STC (Sound Transmission Class). All hard flooring is loud. Increasing the control, transmission, reception and effects of sound is achieved by using an underlayment that will actually deaden sound. You have no way of knowing whether or not the specs on a product are legitimate relative to noise reduction.

Hard surface flooring provides no comfort underfoot. It’s hard. Hard things aren’t comfortable. An underlayment or acoustical cushion can add some comfort and higher levels of sound deadening capability, but remember, it is still hard flooring. In spite of that, if I had to choose any floor to live on, hardwood would be the winner.

Q: Which products float, and which are permanently installed? Should that matter to the homeowner?
A:
Luxury vinyl plank and tile, laminate flooring, some porcelain or ceramic flooring and some wood flooring products can be installed with engaging systems-floating installations. Sheet vinyl most often has to be glued down, but it too can be loose laid if the space is small. Otherwise, it’s best to glue sheet vinyl down. Floating floors are easy to install and require no adhesive. They still have to be installed over a substrate that is flat, which most likely requires some floor preparation, and there has to be space along the perimeter or at specific distances so the flooring is allowed to expand or contract. Gluing the flooring down on a properly prepared substrate assures the floor will be stable and less likely to move, causing squeaks, creaks and popping sounds. You can also install an acoustical underlayment under both floating and glue-down flooring. If these materials are installed properly, it really shouldn’t matter to the homeowner if they float or are permanent. How the floor looks is more important.

Q: Are some of these products more susceptible to sunlight damage than others?
A:
Everything is susceptible to sunlight and UV damage if it is exposed to those light sources. The sun can fade or change the color of the flooring or, if it is intense enough, cause damage at the point of exposure.

There are limitations placed on some flooring products today, stating that they cannot be installed in direct sunlight, which, in my opinion, limits their use since you can’t completely stop the sun from shining into an uncovered window. Vinyl flooring, since it is a thermal based material, is especially susceptible to heat; the sun can actually destroy the vinyl flooring and discolor it. Hardwood can dry out and fade. Sheet vinyl can also be damaged by repeated exposure to sunlight, such as in front of an unprotected sliding glass door. The only flooring not affected is porcelain or ceramic.

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