Sunday, January 8, 2012

Post # 60: My (Failed) Quest For A Sustainable Floor

I'm deep into the process of converting an upstairs bedroom in our home to an office.  Actually, the job is almost complete.  I'm just waiting for the new furniture to arrive.  But I thought I would share some of my experience here...including my failed quest for a "sustainable floor".  I must confess I did not fully appreciate the adventure before me as I contemplated the job a couple of months ago.

The subject bedroom was that of our daughter, who's now grown and on her own.  The legacy of my daughter's habitation of the room included over 100 phosphorescent stars that had been attached to the ceiling with permanent glue, a similar number of flattened glass marbles and soda can "pull-tabs" that had been hot-glued to the wind facings, and (probably) 10,000 thumbtack holes in the sheetrock walls.  Luckily, we had never papered the walls.  So it was (simply, I thought) a matter of removing the stars, marbles, and pull-tabs, spackling the thumbtack holes, and repainting everything.  Several trips to the Sherwin-Williams paint store, three gallons of paint (had to try a couple of different trim colors), and over two weeks later, this part of the job was complete.

Next came the removal of the bottom wall trim and carpet (I'm on a quest to remove every square inch of carpet from our home).  No problem.  The removal went well.  The next step was installing over 200 screws to secure the sub-flooring to the floor joists to assure the floor would not squeak once it was installed. Wallah!  No squeaks.  Now I was ready for the new flooring.

Time to tour the local flooring sources to survey my options.  This is when the trouble began.  First, because my home was built in 1981, it has sub-flooring that is not compatible with either nailed or glued hardwood floors.  So my only choice was so-called "floating floor" systems.  No problem – there's lots of them on the market.  But I love South American and African hardwood floors.  The problem is I deplore what is being done to the South American and African forests to obtain the wood.  So I decided months ago that those beautiful floors where not in my future.  I wanted (you guessed it) a "sustainable floor".

Right now, it seems the king of sustainable floors is bamboo.  If the marketing hype is to be believed, bamboo grows to harvestable size in only 8-10 years – rather than the many decades required for American, South American, or African hardwoods.  Shazam!  I'd found my solution.

I next located a "solid click woven bamboo" product my wife and I loved, at a local supplier.  The stuff was beautiful, 3/4-inch thick, 55-year guarantee, hardness rating of "5" (as hard as they come).  Perfect!  So... we order the flooring – about $5 per square foot.

Three weeks later the flooring is delivered.  Two weeks after that, the installer appears – a really nice husband and wife team who clearly knew their business  (I know this because they were suitably impressed with those 200 screws I had put in the floor.)  They began to work as I sat downstairs finishing my breakfast, sipping my morning tea, and reading the newspaper.

Forty-five minutes pass.  The phone rings.  It's the supplier telling me there's a problem with my floor.  What?  The installer is just upstairs and I've head nothing of this.  I go up stairs.  The installer meets me coming down the stairs.  "Mr. Greene, I think you should look at this before we go any further. Our protocol required me to call the office before I spoke with you."  Not promising.

I peek in the room.  Approximately 1/3 of the flooring is installed.  It's absolutely beautiful.  Then the installer says, "walk on it".  I took a step.  "Snap!".  Another step.  "Crackle!".  A third step.  "Pop".  I thought I was listening to a vintage 1960's breakfast cereal commercial.  It was awful.  Every step was followed with a chorus of sounds that only a depraved, acid-dropping percussionist would enjoy.  "What's the problem," I asked.  "We don't know.  Some of the flooring is warped, but it's all within the manufacture's specification.  We could probably stop the squeaking by gluing it down, but we called the manufacturer and they said don't do it.  That would void the warranty."

"So what do we do," I asked.  "The manufacture says to go ahead an install it. It should stop squeaking after about six weeks.  If not, they'll come out and inspect it.  Then they may choose to replace it."  "No way," says I.  "Rip it up and take it back to the store."  Then, with a sheepish grin, the installer says, "That's what I thought you would say.  After I saw those 200 screws and the trouble you went to to eliminate all of the squeaks in the sub flooring, I knew this wouldn't be acceptable."  They spent the next hour or so ripping it out, carrying it out to the truck, and cleaning up the job site.

I spent that afternoon researching that specific flooring product and similar floating bamboo flooring systems, focusing on the squeaking issue.  The consensus seems to be that current products are indeed beautiful.  And they are rugged, long-lived systems.  But... practically all of the floating bamboo floor system squeak.  Though disappointed with this state of affairs, I prefer to think the real truth is that all these systems were engineered for installation in Japan, where the famous "talking floors" were used for centuries to alert sleeping nobility of a ninja attack...

The bottom line:  I failed in my quest for a sustainable floor.  It seems the technology (at least for floating floor systems) simply isn't there yet.  I now have a high-end laminate flooring product installed.  It's beautiful, has a lifetime warranty.  And NO SQUEAKS!

But I still dream of that beautiful bamboo floor...

It's tough to be sustainable...

Just Thinking,



  1. Hi Sherrell, maybe check out cork flooring; it's soft, renewable and flexible which may absorb some of the lateral movement better. Howard

  2. Thanks Howard. I'll give it look...