Monday, 18 June 2012

The Saga of the Bamboo Floor

Bamboo Floors

As part of our home extension project we were thinking of installing bamboo floors on the new parts of our house. There are three main reasons for going with bamboo, and price is not one of them:
  1. Being a wildly growing type of grass, it’s an easily renewable resource (unlike wood, and particularly hard wood).
  2. It’s processing is relatively environmentally friendly without too much toxin involvement.
  3. It’s the hardest type of a “wooden” floor available to commoners like us, so it should outlast us.
As usual, though, we found out that when one is after a relatively innovative product, particularly in the relatively conservative construction industry, one is looking for trouble. Choosing your bamboo flooring supplier is not easy:
  • There are many mavericks out there who sell themselves as bamboo flooring suppliers but lack the credentials.
  • Bamboo flooring suppliers pop in and out of the radar too quickly.
  • There is a lot of ignorance in the field. Most of it is caused by “normal” wooden flooring suppliers suddenly embracing bamboo without truly knowing their product.
  • There are two main techniques for laying bamboo floors. One is called tongue & groove, and it has the tiles glued down; the other is called click, and it has the tiles click-locked to one another and floating over the subfloor without gluing. We found suppliers of either installation type would tell us that the method they’re using is great while the other one is disastrous. Often they would use the exact same arguments their counters used against them. Confusion!
  • Potential issues with bamboo flooring can arise as a result of varying moisture levels, when the tiles expand and contract. The installer needs to take appropriate measures, but most of them will not open this matter up for discussion.
  • A bamboo floor installation can involve numerous stakeholders: the tile provider, the underlay provider, the layer himself, and the builder doing the rest of the building work. The problem with that is that if things go wrong you may have a problem getting the responsible party to come and fix them.
Our solution to the above was to go ahead and research the matter. As hinted, there are not that many reliable sources of information out there; one has to rely on the salespeople, and given they’re contradicting one another one is obviously hard pressed. This information booklet (warning: PDF) helped us learn more about the world of bamboo flooring, mostly in the sense that it made it clear the technology (tongue & groove vs. click) does not matter as much as the quality of the installation work.
In order to limit potential liabilities, we filtered our suppliers shortlist to those sourcing all the components and doing all the laying down themselves. We went further by preferring companies that have been there for a while, in the hope they’ll be there when (and if) trouble or a bamboo tile arises. That is, we looked for companies that might actually be able to honor their warranty policies.
Note the choice of underlay can further complicate matters. Being that our bamboo floor will go on our upper story, we were after an acoustic underlay that will dampen sound transfer the way the common carpet does (albeit not as well). We were also after an environmentally friendly underlay. The combination of the two requirements, sound absorption as well as environmentalism, drove us mental. All the suppliers we've engaged made exaggerated claims about the qualifications of their products; all of them repeatedly failed to demonstrate the certifications they claim to have.

Obviously, there is the people factor, too. The guy we’ve engaged at first, on account of him seeming to have the best product around, drove us crazy. He made claims that turned out to be false to the point of me suspecting him of being a pathological liar. (The difference between a salesperson and a liar? The liar makes claims that can be proven wrong.) During the entire few months we’ve been engaging him he failed to give us error free quotes. By far the worst were his communication habits: we would send him an email with questions, and regardless of the time we would receive his reply five minutes later: keyed on his Blackberry and failing to address any of our questions. It felt the guy was doing his best to further confuse us.
Yesterday’s round of questions was answered by him telling us he cannot waste his time answering us anymore. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back: are we to blame when he could not even give us a correct quote, while he was expecting us to pay him a deposit? We told him we’re fed up and cancelled our deposit's payment. He went berserk: any open doors we left him were shut by the manner of his reply (which, amongst others, was spiced up with some racial flavoring). I would say the guy has the streak of the psychopath about him.
The point of the story?
The human factor cannot be dismissed from a home extension/renovation project such as ours. The amount of relief we have been feeling since we got rid of the pest is quite significant. It pointed at how lucky we have been with the builder building our house: he’s running a project much more than an order of magnitude bigger, but he’s running it smoothly. Minor bumps are taken care of in a very down to earth manner, and communication is open and transparent. In contrast, Mr Bamboo Psycho had us worried and wasted much more of our time than our builder or the rest of our renovation did.
Doing your construction project? Be careful not just with what you choose to do but also with who you choose to do it.

Image by factoryjoe, Creative Commons license

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