Need some advice QUICK please...
I'm in the midst of having 3/4" Brazilian Koa (Tigerwood) installed in my new home... almost 2000 sq ft of it. I say "in the midst" because I'm having a dispute with my installer that resulted in my requesting yesterday (Saturday) that his workmen STOP work until the issues can be resolved. Since today is Easter Sunday, I have a tiny bit of breathing room to get as educated as I can...
First, as a general rule in the industry, whose responsibility is it to ensure that subfloors are level and properly screwed (nailed) down before flooring is installed? The flooring installer's or the framers?
Second, how much variation between riser heights is generally "acceptable" and safe on a staircase? (I'm in an unincorporated area so there are no "codes" that have to be followed - but I do NOT want people tripping when they go up and down my stairs.)
Third, is it normal for newly installed 3/4 inch solid nailed down hardwood to squeak, snap, and pop at every step?
Fourth, how long does it take for newly installed flooring to "fully acclimate". I'm not talking about the acclimation period before installation, I'm asking about the post-acclimation period before the flooring "fully settles"?
If you're interested, here is the story.
I fired my builder over a year ago due to issues too numerous to detail here and took over as GC myself.
When meeting with potential hardwood flooring installer - at the house so they could SEE exactly what the job entailed - I specifically informed each and every one that the house had been left partially open to the weather for several months after the subflooring had been laid so some of it might need to be replaced. I also pointed out that, as they could not doubt FEEL, the subflooring was not particularly level and might need extensive prepwork to get it level. I also pointed out where some nails had popped up on some sheets of subflooring. Most importantly, I pointed out that the risers on the rough staircase were NOT all the same height and that some of the tread boards on the rough staircase had become bowed in the center and would very likely need to be taken off and replaced... so I knew there would be extra work involved in getting the stair case done.
Not one potential installer told me, you need to get some framers back in here to fix these issues before we can lay your flooring. In every case, the potential installers said (orally) that they could sand or plane down any high spots and raise low spots with either felt, tar paper, or a self-leveling compound and that they would ensure that all subfloors were screwed down tight before installing the hardwood. They also indicated that they would make sure all the risers in the staircase were made the same height before installing wood over the stairs. (To save money, I had elected to use wood flooring strips on the staircase instead of purchasing premade treads and we discussed exactly how this would be done and what my expectations were regarding how the final staircase would look.)
If anyone had told me that subfloor preparation was not part of their bid, I would have gotten separate bids to do the necessary subfloor repairs - but no one did. Each indicated that they did not see anything so bad they couldn't take care of it. I assumed the necessary subfloor prep was built into each of the bid prices. Ultimately, the bids I received were all fairly close in price and I finally selected the installer that had been recommended to me by the company where I had decided to get my flooring (Lumber Liquidators). That installer then provided me with a material's list (which included a couple of buckets of leveling compound) and I purchased the materials at LL.
Well, I got my wood delivered and let it acclimate for 10 days as requested by him and as recommended by LL. (My HVAC was set to keep the temp between 70 and 80 degrees the entire time as requested.)
The installers (a crew of men, none of whom spoke good English) arrived and immediately began installing wood. (Mostly nail-down but they used liquid nails to glue down boards at the edges where they said their nailer would not reach even though I had said that I was okay with them face nailing the edge boards.) As far as I could see, they did no advance prep work on the subfloor. The "installer" that I had spoken with did not come with them and I've since learned that he is the owner of the company but apparently doesn't do any hands-on work himself. When I called him and asked whether they shouldn't be prepping the subfloors first, he said his crew does any necessary work on the sub-floor as they go along.
Now, midway through the installation, I notice that the wood in rooms that are finished SQUEAKS, SNAPS, and POPS when I walk on it. And not just a board or two here and there. It is pretty much everywhere but is most noticable where they glued the boards down.
Furthermore, there are ridges and valleys that are quite noticeable as one walks across the floor...kind of like the effect one often finds in hundred year old houses which have settled unevenly. And in some places there are individual boards that are noticable lower than the boards next to them. A couple of these low board have now cracked. I was told that these were boards that weren't properly milled - but I suspect they were laid over low spots and settled when stepped on.
But, what caused me to put a halt to the installation was when I noticed today that the installers were doing absolutely NOTHING to plane down or raise stair steps that were the wrong height. After they installed the wood on the first five steps of the staircase, one riser is HALF AN INCH taller than the one immediately below it. The crew did not even have a planer with them to plane down the high step!
The installer is NOW saying:
1) "It takes up to 18 months for hardwood floors to fully acclimate and that the noise will go away as they acclimate." But his labor warranty is only SIX MONTHS which obviously means that if the noise doesn't go away at the end of 18 months as promised, he won't come back and do anything to fix it!
2) When I pointed out that twenty years ago DH and I had personally installed oak hardwood floors in our current home and had NEVER had any problems with squeaking, the installer claimed that that was because OAK is more stable than Brazilian Koa therefore Koa is going to be noisier than oak. (???? - everything I read says Koa is about 20% more stable than red oak.)
3) He is also NOW saying that "Prepping the subfloors is not the installer's responsibility; it is the framers. You can't expect us to totally reframe your staircase." NO, I don't expect them to reframe the staircase, but I did expect that they could and would plane down steps that were too high and raise steps that were too low by adding a thin layer of plywood and that they would do something to take care of the bowed spots in the stair tread other than inserting pieces of wooden shim in the middle of the step (which they got from a stack I was using for another purpose!)
4) He is claiming that any problems could be the result of my having turned off the HVAC WHILE his crews were working. They were opening windows and leaving the doors open all the time and, the crewman that spoke the best English told me I should turn the HVAC off so that their saw dust would not get into my ducts. Besides, we have been having gorgeous weather in the low to mid 70's all week so the HVAC wouldn't have been cutting on and off anyway. And, I turned the HVAC back on each evening after they left. But, when I pointed all this out, he claimed that the fans would have been going during the day AND THAT would have made a difference. (??????)
Lumber Liquidators is supposedly going to send someone out to inspect the installation but - since they recommended this installer - I'm not so sure I trust them to be unbiased. I'm thinking I want to hire someone myself to inspect. But, in the meantime, I need to educate myself ASAP.
How much of what the installer is now telling me is pure baloney? What questions should I ask and what answers should I expect to hear before I allow the installation to continue? What would you do if you were in my shoes?
TIA - and Happy Easter.