Transitions and Changes of Direction
December 10, 2008
Finishing the job with a proper transition piece can get you paid-- in full! I have seen situations where the contractor left $300, $500, even $1,000 at the job because they didn’t finish up with the proper transition. I have gone to the jobs where the threshold to the laundry room, bath, or a similar item has not been completed or installed properly. It was either absent, not finished, and or not fastened. Even if the intent is to install it later, the delay allows for the possibility of damage to the edge of the exposed flooring, not to mention the cost of travel and time for another trip to the job site. This just adds more cost plus the money held by the consumer for an incomplete job.
In my experience many transitions are made at the jobsite to custom fit to the different flooring materials. You should figure for all the transitions and have the material available during installation to finish the job.
The following are some items to address with transitions and site finished solid wood. Transitions occur mostly in the high traffic areas, so the flooring in these areas should be the best pieces of the product. A bad board located where people walk, immediately demands attention and gives the customer a reason to be critical of any irregularity, no matter how small. In the area surrounding the transition, don’t install a prominently different looking board, select boards that blend with the overall look of the flooring.
Another option is to select a different species to actually highlight the transition. Applications that require a 1 ½-inch-thick threshold, such as those associated with carpet to hardwood transition on a slab, are situations where this can be used. The different look can help the consumer and their guests identify a change in height. The different species can also be used in a doorway to facilitate a change of flooring direction or to transition to a different floor.
Hiding an irregular measurement across the doorway is another function of a transition. Using a wider piece of the same species cut to fit the irregularity can effectively camouflage the cut. Or using multiple species strips to distribute the irregularity over more than one board can also mediate the cut. It also identifies the contractor as the craftsman offering more than one option.
For the application where the ends of flooring abut a feature, fitting the transition piece perpendicular to the boards properly finishes the exposed edges. This most often occurs in a doorway, cased opening, or framed hearth. The location of the change of direction can also be important. Typically, with a cased opening the flooring boards end along the center line of the jambs. And the perpendicular transition is on the side of the jamb away from the primary flooring.
Another situation often occurs at an outside doorway. As we have noted before, when approaching the exterior door, we want to protect the flooring from the elements by back-sealing the nearby pieces. Where the ends approach the doorway, installing a board perpendicular to the exposed ends also helps protect by isolating the end grain from the elements.
Most importantly, always provide for an interlocking tongue and groove fit. Use a factory edge and or groove the exposed edge/end and insert a slip tongue or spline. Without the interlock, movement and associated gapping and noises are a likely occurrence.
What about a factory finished product? Most name brand factory finished manufacturers offer transition materials with the same finish and color of the flooring for the standard transmission. The same basic ideas and rules apply. Select uniform looking boards and maintain tongue and groove engagement. The local wood flooring distributor will likely stock standard items for transition.
You may still have to modify a transition to fit the application. For the thicker materials like the 1 ½-inch-thick transition mentioned with slab situations, if a full thickness piece is not available, you may have to stack and off-set two standard thicknesses to match the proper height. For other situations you may also have to plane down the thickness of different parts to match unusual heights. A good table saw and a power planer come in handy for these modifications. When stacking pieces be sure to fasten the two pieces together.
I have addressed changes of direction in some of the examples above. The primary directive is to provide a tongue and groove engagement at these locations. Without this interlock the flooring connection is weakened and some objectionable movement is likely to occur. The fastening of these areas without the T&G engagement is generally with face nails, which can draw attention as an objectionable visual feature.
Flooring reversals fall into this category and absolutely require a T&G engagement. Flooring reversals also help to decrease the total width of a run. In a large home for instance, starting along the center-line and reversing, allows the flooring’s potential directional movement to be split in the two directions.
The consumer often has questions about changes of direction. They may want all the flooring to go in the same direction. With a flooring installation over a slab this is not an issue. However, over a wood frame system, the flooring direction should be perpendicular to the joist direction. In this case, if the consumer insists on flooring running parallel to joist, solid blocking should be added between joists under the subflooring every two feet. The consumer should be informed that flooring changes of direction are considered acceptable and normal. The best direction is generally along the long dimension of the room.
I can’t say it often enough–a tongue -and-groove engagement at transitions and changes of direction is a requirement. Also, finish the job before you leave with ALL the appropriate transitions. Return trips and dissatisfied customers cost too much money.