Photo 1:  This is an obvious problem area around a slab-on-grade home.  Water is still standing in the area after 5 days of dry weather. You can also see where the water was previously up to the first brick course.

Photo 2: Flooring installation began before drywall was installed. In this case the front door had not been hung and an upstairs special order corner window was not in place during installation.

All those along the chain of custody from the manufacturer, distributor, contractor, and even to the consumer, are responsible for proper handling and inspection of the wood flooring products. 

What are some of the responsibilities of each of these stakeholders?

Photo 3: This is the aftermath of Photo 2. The flooring has been subjected to continuing abuse, particularly from sheetrock taping, and painting has not been started.  This floor was very tight, noisy, and had uneven edges, though not necessarily cupped. Since it was installed under such adverse conditions, the main fault lies with the flooring contractor.

The manufacturer inspection and handling responsibilities:

Product is inspected to maintain the standard of appearance and manufacture as specified.

Product is handled in a way to assure it maintains the manufactured condition when it leaves their custody.

The standard may be the NOFMA standard, which establishes grading guidelines, moisture content allowance, and configuration allowances. A manufacturer may also have a proprietary standard, particularly for grade, such as a factory finished product. The inspection process assures these standards are met. The industry’s traditional acceptance of a 5% allowance for the occasional mistake is also a part of the standard of inspection. Many of these pieces that are mistakes are not totally wasted, as most often only a part of the particular board is cut away and not used. 

During the manufacturing process, the product is packaged and handled in a way to assure it leaves their custody in its original condition. This also means the product is stored under conditions that maintain the moisture content of manufacture.  In addition, when the product is shipped, manufacturers require shippers to properly cover and protect the product.

Photo 4: The flooring has been placed in the home for acclimation. Note the spacing between the bundles in both directions and the plastic billowing from a fan circulating air around the flooring. Moisture readings as they were taken were written on the back of the exposed boards. They flooring was acclimated for 6 weeks before the normal moisture content was reached.

The distributor inspection and handling responsibilities:

·Product is handled in a way to continue to maintain the condition of manufacture.

·The ordered product is sent to the job site.

·Product as shipped to the jobsite is protected from adverse elements.

·The distributor inspects the product as necessary when product issues are reported.

The distributor protects the flooring similarly to the manufacturer. However, in certain cases the local environment may dictate that the distributor can aid in proper acclimation. Coastal areas will cause flooring to increase in moisture from manufacture. Dry climates such as the southwest and mountain states will cause a loss of moisture from manufactured condition. So, for standard products sufficient inventory is on hand to allow acclimation at their facility. The distributor is responsible for shipping the correct product to the jobsite. Also, the product should be properly protected during transit.

Many distributors today also inspect the product by taking some cursory moisture readings of the delivery to help confirm the delivered moisture content. These readings are often placed on the delivery ticket. They may also inspect the site and record subfloor readings to help their customer avoid obvious adverse environmental conditions. As knowledgeable wood flooring persons, the distributor that delivers product to obvious improper conditions can be a party to product failure.

The distributor is typically the communicator between the factory and their customer, the contractor. When problems with the product are reported, the responsibility of inspection to determine cause and responsibility initially falls on the distributor.  This means the distributor is only as good as their inspection ability. The distributor is often the negotiator first between the manufacturer and contractor, and later with the consumer.  The best distributors conduct a proper inspection which includes the necessary data. They are candid with the primary parties and often advise the best way to resolve issues so that no one party bears the total cost of the “fix.”

Photo 5: The bit ends of this flooring are obvious and should not have been installed even though they are a manufacturing-related condition. 

The flooring contractor's inspection and handling responsibilities:

·The job site must be inspected to determine if conditions are proper for installation.

·Flooring should be inspected/checked  to determine proper acclimation.

·Flooring is handled in a way that promotes acclimation as necessary.

·During installation flooring is inspected for obvious conditions that may affect performance or be objectionable to the consumer.

The contractor is responsible to inspect the job site and determine when conditions are acceptable for flooring delivery and installation. This requires a site walk through and testing with a moisture meter. A check list keeps track of what to look for and is a place to record the data. The site inspection should include the address, date, 20 or more moisture readings of subfloor and any flooring related wood framing members, observations related to adverse moisture conditions, and whether the site is closed to the elements. For crawl space and basement homes, these areas should be observed for evidence of wet conditions and proper vapor retarders. The moisture readings taken off the subfloor should confirm the observed conditions. These readings determine what to tell the builder/homeowner if conditions are present that can adversely affect the flooring performance. (Photos 1, 2 and 3)

After flooring delivery, check the moisture content of the flooring to determine acclimation. This requires 20 or more readings to be recorded and averaged. This is not a check to determine if the flooring was manufactured at the proper moisture content. The manufacturer has already assured with their inspection process that the product was at the proper moisture content. When readings show more than 2 or 3 boards with an unusually wide range, say over 4% from wettest to driest, the distributor should be advised so they can further check the product. If the product is within the average expected moisture content for the area it is already acclimated and installation should proceed. Where site acclimation is necessary, boxed product should be opened and stacked with space between and around boxes. Bundled flooring can be cross stacked and spaced between bundled to allow air flow facilitating acclimation. As acclimation progresses take additional readings of the same boards previously recorded to determine if acclimation is complete. When conditions will not allow acclimation, such as winter dryness, field spacing can accommodate the expected expansion of the wetter season. (Photo 4)

Finally, during installation flooring should be continually inspected for performance issues. This does not mean closely examining every board end to end, face and back. Again, the manufacturer’s inspection procedures assure that the close examination has already occurred. We are not on the payroll as a manufacturer quality control division.  What we are looking for is the obvious condition that affects performance or final acceptance. Some conditions to watch for: splits such as the split board that rattles when hit into place; the obvious mis-colored/excessively character marked board very different from the surrounding boards; and any item of similar appearance that is obviously different from the general look of the other boards. If the board stands out from the general look, then it likely shouldn’t be placed in the floor; closets and under cabinet areas are alternative placements. 

In addition any condition that is noticed as different from the performance of other floors should be reported to the distributor. Items such as: an excessive number of varying width boards that create gaps during installation, loose flooring after being fastened where ends and or edges move up and down excessively; an excessive amount of discarded boards; an excessive number of unsquare ends; and other similar conditions. These conditions can be considered obvious, so if they are ignored and installed any way, we leave ourselves at risk to bear responsibility of performance issues even though they may have been caused by manufacturing or others handling the flooring. (Photo 5)

All parties are responsible for proper handling and inspection of the flooring; the manufacturer creates a product that has been correctly made; the distributor makes sure the correct product is delivered and is unaltered as necessary while supporting vendor, manufacturer and contractor customer; the contractor determines suitability for installation and checks the product as installed to have the flooring accepted by the consumer as the ultimate goal. And finally, the consumer is advised how to maintain and care for the flooring to assure continued performance.