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I recently reviewed a newly installed site-finished floor where the customer’s concern was excessive scratching and denting of the flooring and finish. Of course, as with any situation, other events and factors played a part in the situation. The finisher had trouble matching stain color with other floors that had been finished in the home; there was trash in the finish; and there were sanding imperfections that were noted by the customer. After an attempted repair that proved unacceptable, the finisher refinished these floors completely. The outcome was accepted and all parties were satisfied, the customer seemed pleased and the finisher was paid.

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Six weeks later a catered party was held in the home. As reported, the homeowners entertain frequently. After the party the owners noted that scratches were present in the main traffic areas and in one area a number of very noticeable dents and scratches were present. (Photos 1, 2 and 3)  The owners accepted the fact that these issues were a result of the party. The owners pointed out the scratches in the window glare. Most were not noticeable when viewed without the glare.

The questions were asked: Is the finish a quality finish? Did the finisher dilute or thin the finish? How much of the softer species of wood (red oak vs white oak) is mixed in the floor? Since the finishing process was not originally acceptable, confidence in the quality of the finish and even the wood flooring itself is now questioned.

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How do we avoid these types of issues? We must do quality work. Don’t present a job for acceptance with fingers crossed hoping the customer won’t see issues like: trash in finish; streaks in finish; splotchy stain; sander scratches, dips, and chatter; etc.

Qualify the site. A $1.5 million+ home will likely require much attention to detail. The original bid must take this into consideration and the money should be there for this extra time.

Qualify the expected use. Wood flooring and finishes are not bulletproof.  Interview the customer and determine the use expected on the floor. A retired couple that travels extensively will not exert the same wear as young socialites with three or four children and pets. The finish quality should also reflect the use.

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Set customer expectations. Advise that debris and foot traffic will result in scratching no matter how good the finish. In this case, the flooring direction (diagonal) also highlighted the scratching since from most any angle you looked across the flooring boards. When looking along the flooring, scratches were not noticeable.  The dents were prominent from any angle. Also advise, “Inspection should be done from a standing position with normal lighting. Glare particularly from large windows, magnifies any irregularity in the floors and should not determine acceptance.”

In all, the flooring finisher did not cause the scratches and dents but a reputation has suffered. The general contractor will not likely recommend or hire this company for future work.

What about the factory-finished floor? Many factory-finished flooring products come with a warranty of 25 years, 15 years and even 50 years.  With the extended warranties the perception is that this finish is much more resistant to wear than any site-finished flooring and is “bulletproof.”  The warranties refer to “normal wear” as limited to the contact of shoe traffic without any debris, grit, or foreign substance on the floor to abrade and scratch the finish. Even a site-finished floor can perform under this condition. The finish is warranted not to wear through for the period stated. But in the real world, normal traffic and resulting wear will result in scratches and abrasion over time. Recoating or refinishing will likely be needed well before the warranty ends even though the finish has not worn through. 

A factory-finished floor is subject to the same issues as the site-finished floor. Most of the factory-finished flooring products have the ceramic particles in the finish that does enhance resistance to abrasion of very fine debris. But, this additive will not prevent the scratch from the sand particles underfoot, the imbedded gravel in the shoe sole, or the nail that is exposed in the shoe heel.

Advise the customer of the same rules apply for factory finish as with site-finished flooring. Proper preventative actions and maintenance are the keys to maintaining the look of the flooring. Catch the debris before it gets to the floor with proper placement of entry mats and rugs. Advise the customer to keep them clean. Advise the customer to place rugs and mats in areas where there are changes of direction. This can include runners in the entry and halls, and likely two or three mats in the kitchen around typical work stations. They should regularly vacuum and sweep or dust mop the floors. Apply cleaners recommended by the flooring or finishing manufacturer only when the flooring is soiled and there is a need for cleaning. Note that most warranties state they can be voided if other than the recommended cleaner is used. 

Again set realistic expectations. The factory floor will scratch when “sand” gets underfoot. It will dent if enough force from point loading is applied. For instance a 1/8” by 1/8” area with 20 pounds of force will generate 1,280 pounds per square inch of pressure on that small area of the floor. This can dent many wood species, and a force of 30 pounds or 1,960 psi will dent most any domestic species. Even barrel type chair rollers (the type most often recommended) can mar the flooring when debris is imbedded in them. (Photo 4) Also, with factory finishes, dulling and discoloration can occur in the traffic lanes when the ceramic particles become dislodged and the small crater left fills with dirt. A thorough cleaning can many times renew the dulled area.

Can a finish actually show premature wear? Though factory quality control is always vigilant, occasionally mistakes are made. With factory finishes an improper cure can leave the finish fragile and soft so it scratches and mars easily, or may even peel. (Photo 5) What can happen is a UV light malfunction occurs, some lights go out or their intensity decreases and the cure is not completed. Even a site-applied finish can show premature wear and scratching. This normally happens when there is a lack of ventilation during the drying process. The home is closed tightly after finishing is completed and the solvents are not evacuated from the area. In this case air movement is the key. When the finish is dust free, generally within 20 to 40 minutes after application, air circulation with appropriate air changes needs to be provided. This can be accomplished by opening a window away from the finish rooms, turning the air handler on manual, or placing a box fan nearby, not blowing over the floor but exhausting air away from the floor.  An example occurred when finish was applied to a portable floor that was then covered with plastic to keep debris and other trades from marring it. When the plastic was removed even sweeping the floor with a straw broom scratched the finish. 

Again, do quality work.  Don’t give the consumer a reason to question competence.

Qualify the job and the intended use so enough time and the selected materials will result in a satisfied customer.

Set realistic customer expectations on the final inspection and performance of the flooring. It is not bulletproof, some marring will eventually occur. When the marring becomes unsightly recoating is an accepted operation.

Educate the customer on proper use and maintenance.  Additional advice can be given on the use of walk off rugs and soft glides for furniture, even to the extent of supplying the proper glides to the furniture and demonstrating proper attachment. For the frequent entertainer, advice on temporary rug runners in the primary traffic lanes can prevent abuse. Leaving a recommended maintenance product and appropriate applicator reinforces proper maintenance.

A satisfied customer is an asset; they create good referrals and become a repeat customer when a pad and recoat is needed or for even a complete refinish.