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Incompetent Installers Lead to 'Crackling' Wood Floor

photo of wood flooring that crackles when walked upon

The Problem

We were called out to do an inspection on a floor that we had sold but had been installed by a third party. The complaint was "the wood is cracking and crackles when you walk on it."

The Procedure

The clients had been sold 2,000 square feet of 41/4-inch factory-finished solid maple with a cappuccino stain. The flooring had been installed by a contractor over a plywood subfloor throughout the main level of a two-story home.

The Cause

I arrived at the home and, upon reaching the top of the stairs, I immediately noticed the floor was cupping significantly in the hallway. I listened to the client explain why she felt she had been sold poor-quality wood. She pointed out a few different areas where there were cracked boards, as well as the cupped hallway, but the worst was the dining room. There, the floor crackled with every step, and it even moved underfoot as I walked. She then showed me the living room and how good it was. After listening, I proceeded to do an overall inspection.

I started back in the cupped hallway. I did some moisture checks, finding that the wood was within a normal range for this area-8 to 12% MC, and the relative humidity was slightly low, at 38%. While doing those checks I noticed what appeared to be glue residue. Although I have seen guys use glue on their last rows, I was confused as to why they would glue the ends of the boards as they ran into the wall. I pulled out my magnets and, to my surprise, I could not find a single nail in the 3-by-15-foot hallway! I moved to the living room (which, remember, she said was good). Again, I found no nails in my random test area. The dining room was more of the same. 

Although I was shocked, I calmly asked if she knew if the floor had been nailed, stapled or glued down. She quickly replied, "It was glued". I asked if she happened to have any of the glue remaining. She went downstairs, and upon her return, I was stunned. In her hand she was holding a caulking gun with a partially used tube of subfloor adhesive. During the installation, the installer had sent her to a big box store to get more glue, and she bought 12 cases of this subfloor glue on his request.

At this point I had found cupping in the hallway, various boards that were splitting and a dining room in which the floor was crackling. As it turns out, the contractor installed the dining room last and was running out of glue-there was little adhesive, and most of the flooring in that room wasn't even glued to the subfloor, explaining the movement and noise. In other areas, gluing the floor with a subfloor adhesive prevented it from being able to expand or contract, and therefore the stress on the wood caused it to split. There was no immediately apparent source of the cupping in the hallway.

How to Fix the Floor

The client elected to fix only the dining room. To help ease the cost, we sold her more flooring at a discounted rate.

In the Future

Upon my return I had an immediate staff meeting with our retail sales team and asked them to always look at what our clients are buying: If the product or quantity seems a strange match for the client making the purchase, then ask what they are working on and help guide them to the right product. Unfortunately, this homeowner hired an unqualified installer, and the big-box store employees didn't see anything strange about a 50-year-old lady buying 12 cases of subfloor adhesive.

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