By Crystal Hosking, Hosking Hardwood Flooring
Hardwood Flooring Warranties: What to Expect
When it comes to understanding just what is included in a warranty and what is not, fine print can get really confusing. A hardwood flooring warranty can be a great selling point for a particular product. However, all too often consumers get caught in the middle if a problem occurs down the road and these warranties weren’t properly explained at time of purchase. Hopefully, we can clarify some of the basics of hardwood flooring warranties here.
There are a few different types of warranties when it comes to hardwood flooring. Perhaps the most important one is the Structural Warranty. With reputable hardwood flooring manufacturers, you’re apt to find that most hardwood flooring products will carry a Limited Lifetime Structural Warranty, which applies to both unfinished and factory finished flooring. Structural Warranties guarantee that the hardwood flooring planks are stably sound and won’t crack, split or warp when installed properly.
It’s always important to follow the specific manufacturer’s prep and installation instructions, as installing hardwood flooring improperly could possibly void the warranty. Grade level (1st floor vs. ground level vs. basement), subfloor type and radiant heating systems can also be problematic for certain products, so you need to make sure the flooring you choose is approved for your particular room conditions. It’s not unusual for some manufacturers to demand the installer use their specific installation accessories (tools, underlayments, etc.) during installation to avoid voiding a warranty. It’s important to follow instructions for subfloor prep as well, as one of the major and most common situations where the Lifetime Structural Warranty is no longer valid is in a setting where there is a higher moisture content than recommended for that specific manufacturer’s hardwood floor. Moisture is the number one reason for hardwood flooring to start performing badly (warping, buckling, cracking, etc.). Manufacturers know this and will quickly dismiss a claim where excessive moisture had a chance to get at the boards. It’s better (and cheaper) to be safe than sorry and have to replace your entire floor just because proper precautions weren’t taken prior to installation.
Residential Finish Warranty
Finish Warranties are a little bit different than Structural Warranties, as most of the time there is a specific number of years time limit on how long the Finish Warranty is valid for. The standard in the hardwood flooring industry for a Residential Finish Warranty right now is about 25 years. Although, with improving technologies, many hardwood flooring manufacturers are upping their Finish Warranty periods to 35 Years (Lauzon Designer Collection), 50 Years (Somerset Floors) and even Lifetime Finish Warranties (Award Floors). A Finish Warranty can be a bit confusing for some consumers, as it implies a lot more coverage than it actually has. A Finish Warranty won’t cover scratches, dents, gouges or damage to the finish caused by moisture. The basic principle of a Finish Warranty is that it guarantees the factory applied finish will not wear off in the time period stated when used in areas with standard residential traffic.
It’s kind of obvious, but still needs to be said: if you sand and refinish your hardwood flooring at any point, you’re automatically voiding the Finish Warranty. Why? You’re taking off the finish and that’s what the Finish Warranty is covering. To avoid scratches and the urge to refinish your hardwood flooring too soon, just make sure to keep it clean and use chair glides on all furniture legs. The major cause of hardwood flooring surface damage is when heavy things are dragged across the surface of the floor. As mentioned previously, scratches aren’t covered by the Finish Warranty, but shallow surface scratches can be somewhat fixed with the use of a touch up kit.
Commercial Finish Warranty
A Commercial Finish Warranty covers just what its name suggests: use in a commercial setting. The guarantees are the same as with a Residential Finish Warranty, but usually Commercial Finish Warranties cover fewer years because commercial settings (offices, restaurants, etc.) experience heavier traffic.
Hardwood Flooring Warranty Claims
Although top manufacturers invest a huge amount of money in Research & Development, making sure that the flooring stamped with their brand name is stably sound and a quality product, it’s not a perfect world and sometimes hardwood flooring has legitimate structural or finish issues that do fall within the limitations of the Structural or Finish Warranty. If you’re experiencing an issue with your hardwood flooring and decide to file a claim, in most cases, the manufacturer will tell you to contact the retailer from whom you purchased the hardwood flooring from. The retailer will act as a liaison between you and the manufacturer, relaying information about the problem you’re experiencing. It varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but usually if a claim is accepted, the manufacturer will reimburse the end user for material and labor costs. All in all, if there is a problem with your hardwood flooring, the manufacturer probably already knows about it because, chances are, other similar claims have been filed, investigated and approved.
Not all claims, however, are verified and accepted by manufacturers. As mentioned previously, moisture issues are the leading cause of damage to hardwood flooring and are not covered by the warranty. If a manufacturer needs more in depth evidence that the problem was caused by the actual flooring itself and not improper installation of their product, they will insist that you have an independent inspector come out and determine cause of failure.
To the left is a photo of an installation that was inspected for a homeowner in the area. You can see that the boards are cupping and bowing up, creating a sort of wave effect throughout the room. An inspection determined that there was an existing moisture problem with the subfloor that should have been addressed prior to installation of the hardwood. The report was submitted and the warranty claim was dismissed because the manufacturer’s installation instructions, which included a required subfloor moisture content check, were not followed properly. There was nothing wrong with the actual flooring, all the damage was moisture related.
Purchasing Based on Warranty Offers
A Structural and Finish Warranty can be a good gauge as to whether the manufacturer of the hardwood flooring you’re interested in stands by their product. This somewhat attests to the quality of the product. But, should the warranty time period cause you to choose one product over another with a warranty period of fewer years? It’s hard to say for sure, but there are a lot of other aspects of hardwood flooring that should more importantly drive the decision to purchase: wood species (different hardnesses mean different durability levels), color (does it match the aesthetic you’re going for?), construction (solid vs. engineered), etc.
Ultimately, the warranty offered with a hardwood flooring product should be considered when making a purchase, but make sure you understand what’s included in the warranty and what is not before you let an attractive flooring warranty confuse you.