As hardwood flooring continues to evolve, installers who want a seat at the table need to digest every bit of info they can. Pictured here is Mullican’s new Austin Springs, an engineered product that is also the company’s first entry designed specifically to be a floating floor.

Often, the most rewarding experience for a “modern” contractor comes when he successfully confronts problems many consider “ancient.” Granted, there are always new challenges popping up, but that’s because you just can’t advance an industry without hitting a few bumps along the way. But whether the problem is old or new, the worst approach to any problem is discouragement. If you have been doing this for a while it can be tempting to simply say “Well, if I can’t find a solution, show me someone who can.” We are, after all, considered experts. And customers may be quick to remind you of that “illustrious” status as you ponder a question while staring into space.  But shrugging your shoulders won’t cut it. Finger pointing was invented for giving directions, not to assure safe passage away from a problem.

Personally, I love a challenge. You know, the type of head-scratcher you seldom see addressed in an industry publication. In some cases, there are a number of conditions that contribute to the problem. And of course, one problem may lead to another or worst yet an attempted solution may simultaneously create a whole new headache. Case in point: I have seen jobs where there is a large separation between planks and cupping. How can that be possible, you may ask?

Over the 13 years I have been writing this column forNFT,I always respond to readers who have a specific question or comment. I do not get additional compensation for that but I will say the interaction with readers has been among the most rewarding aspects of my 33 years in the flooring industry. I recognize, as many of you do, that there are situations where the technical know-how cannot be found in any printed literature. The “cure” may still be “remedial” vs. “replacement.”

The following are excerpts from e-mails I have received from individuals seeking advice. In some cases they describe unique problems with no readily available solutions. I hope you find these questions and responses informative and possibly applicable.

I’ve grown up in the hardwood flooring business. I was always taught that engineered “real” wood (not laminate) flooring doesn’t give you the gain in resale value year after year like a solid hardwood floor. Is that true? I’ve been told so many different things and I don’t want to give my customers false information. Thanks.

Value is a big word in our industry. All hardwood has value. There are several engineered hardwoods that can be sanded and refinished. Solid hardwood, though 3/4” thick, only promotes a 1/4” maximum sanding capacity before revealing the fasteners and tongue. Care and maintenance are the determining factors for assuring longevity. Recoats, if and when needed, protect the floor and extend that longevity. Engineered hardwood offers flexibility for application. Comparing solid to engineered is apples to oranges. It can’t be justified. Each and every hardwood product has its own individual merits.

I’m an interior designer. I wondered if you could advise me on a wood floor question.  The customer has a bleached solid (not engineered) maple floor and it needs to be sanded and refinished due to discoloration under the area rugs. She would like to go to a darker color, like caramel or cinnamon on the maple, rather than just natural. Is this possible on maple?

The problem caused by area rugs is referred to as a “patina” in our industry. The discoloration results from unequal levels of sunlight and air exposure. Often, rugs removed for an indefinite period of time will allow the area to “catch up” in appearance. This is a very common problem with Brazilian cherry which darkens “naturally” over a period of time. If your customer wants to sand and darken the maple floor, you will probably encounter some “blotching” and/or unevenness in coloration from the stain. Also, I might add, you said the floor had been bleached. Bleaching softens the grain allowing for deeper stain penetration. This was commonly done years ago when “white washing” was popular. Frankly, I am glad those days are behind us now. Water popping can achieve the same goal without changing the integrity of hardness. This process is  not permanent. If your customer insists on staining and she understands the potential outcome, my advice is to keep it on the “light” side.

I contract hardwood flooring installations in Sarasota, Fla. I installed a wood floor several months ago. It was recently uncovered after being protected from construction for an extended period of time. The floor was cupped and in some areas popping was also noticed. Originally, I prepped the subfloor for acceptable smoothness, allowed 30 days for curing, and then took moisture measurements which indicted 3# per cubic foot. My understanding is that this is an acceptable level, so I proceeded with the installation. What went wrong? The general contractor, homeowner and I are looking for an answer. Can you help us? Thanks for your time.

I presume that the flooring was an engineered product. I have seen cupping on floors when the floor is covered and or protected for an “extended” period of time. You also indicated in a later e-mail that the contractor had not controlled the environment during the period in question with the HVAC.

That’s okay, if the conditions are consistent and it is not a new installation. The covering may have protected the installation from potential damage during the remaining construction period but there is a potential downside. When paper and or cardboard are used, the flooring can’t “breathe.” This in turn means that any moisture present over an extended period of time will be at a disadvantage for evaporation.

The general contractor’s failure to adequately control the environment was critical as well. You also indicated in your follow-up e-mail that you are willing to waive the expense of tearing out and removing the existing installation and seek compensation only applicable to the new installation. I commend you for your ability to work with the homeowner and the general contractor to collectively come together with a resolution. Hopefully everyone involved has learned something from their mistakes.

In closing, please keep in mind that Wood Or Wood Knot remains dedicated to you, our readers. Your continued success in the wood flooring industry will always be one of our top concerns. The nature of our business is that we are going to run into complications that can sometimes seem daunting. But let me assure you that no problem you encounter on the job is too big to tackle and no contractor who cares about his work and is committed to furthering his craft is too “small” to do the tackling. Remember what “David” did to “Goliath?” So grab your “wood” slingshot and head out to conquer.