Flooring from Lumber Liquidators
February 13, 2013 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Will we regret buying engineered hardwood or bamboo flooring from Lumber Liquidators?

My partner and I want to replace the wall-to-wall carpet in our one-bedroom condo (about 780 sq ft) with hardwood or bamboo flooring. Our budget is about $5k. We were thinking of buying floating or click engineered hardwood or bamboo from Lumber Liquidators and installing it ourselves to save some money. My partner is very handy and has all sorts of experience doing projects around the house, and he's very careful and deliberate, so I'm not worried about the installation (much), but I'm not sure about the quality of the products at Lumber Liquidators. I know that one should take online reviews with a grain of salt, but some of the reviews that I've read have been scary, and one suggested that they deleted negative reviews of products from their website, so now I don't trust the product ratings. Also, a couple of them mentioned that the bamboo was processed with formaldehyde, and that it could cause health problems, and I wasn't sure if we should be worried about that.

Bonus question: Is bamboo still a bad idea with cats, or has it improved with new processing techniques?
posted by amarynth to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, you will. Floating a floor is a terrible terrible no good bad idea. The theory is sound, but the reality is poor.

1) Your floor will never be perfectly level. Ever. Therefore every spot that humps or sags a tiny bit will have give. That give will bounce and creek and sound hollow. You can glue it down, but it will still sound hollow.

2) They talk about how durable it is -- but that is all hog wash. When you inadvertently chip a bevel or scratch it with a couch leg, you have no recourse to fix it.

I have done all types of flooring. Floating and engineering floors are the worst thing. LL is in it for the quick buck; they will tell you want you want to hear. The least expensive nailed down pre-stained hardwood is better than the most expensive floated engineered floor.

Your man is very handy. He can lay down a subfloor and nail down the real wood. The cost difference will be worth it immediately when you move all your furniture back in and start enjoying your normal life.
posted by LeanGreen at 12:52 PM on February 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have bamboo flooring and many of the pet-friendly buildings I looked at offered it. I also own a cat and have never heard of bamboo flooring being a safety problem with cats. But it can scratch easily--I have heard from dog owners that dogs will leave scratch marks on the floor, and, in fact, when our floor is in direct sunlight, you can see many many scratch marks on it from previous residents (the most recent previous resident was a dog-owner).
posted by phoenixy at 12:57 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

So there are issues with floating floors. Having said that I bought floating engineered bamboo laminate from Lumber Liquidators for a basement room and installed it myself. It turned out fine. It's not a high-traffic area, but it gets some wear and tear. It still look nearly new a year later. The only things that look bad about it are places where I messed up the installation.

My only issue with LL was that they didn't have enough stock near my house and I ended up going to a store near Oakland to get enough material to do the room.
posted by GuyZero at 12:57 PM on February 13, 2013

A very handy friend of mine put down some bottom of the barrel lumber liquidators laminate in a rental I had (maybe 800 sq feet and I think we paid about $600 for the material) and it was indeed weirdly saggy or humped in places. It also showed some serious wear and tear two years later when we moved out of the place, including several quarter-sized chunks taken out of the floor from...who knows? We entertained a fair amount, but nothing crazier than a dance party ever went on.

So, fine for a rental, probably not great for a place you own unless you're planning on replacing in a couple years.
posted by justjess at 12:58 PM on February 13, 2013

I have experience with Lumber Liquidators but not with those products. We bought pre-finished hardwood and had them install it in a space about half the size you are talking about and it cost us about $2000 to $2500 (this was in 2009). If you are concerned about the engineered stuff, you may want to price it out. It was a lot cheaper than we thought when we bought things on sale.
posted by hrj at 1:07 PM on February 13, 2013

No floor will ever be perfectly level. Well, unless you already have a good quality concrete slab and put down some self leveling cement to fill in the low spots. Carpet hides the irregularities much better than hard flooring.

That said, if your existing floor is close to level, a floating engineered wood floor will work fine. A friend of mine has one in his house (installed by the previous owners directly on top of the existing linoleum) and it's fine. Being the sort to never sweep it and track grit everywhere there are some spots where the finish is worn off nearly a decade on, but there's supposedly enough material to give it at least one sand/seal repair.

I've read that you can lay the flooring on top of a felt pad to help keep it from feeling spongy over low spots.
posted by wierdo at 1:29 PM on February 13, 2013

I bought and had installed around 1500 sqft of hardwood laminate flooring from LL 2 years ago.

Make sure that the floor is completely level. You may need to use leveling compound. Even if it costs you money, it will be worth it in the long run.

I had to fight with the installer for him to come back, level, and relay portions of my floor....for a fee.

Even now, there are some dips in spots.

I admit, I should have known, but I also thought that the installer would have spoken up if he noticed an issue instead of just going forward.

Also, the flooring has scratched very easily. You must put bumpers or felt pads on the bottom or chairs and furniture.
posted by mockjovial at 1:32 PM on February 13, 2013

I will tell you about my site-finished oak hardwood floors.

When we bought our 50 year old house, the original hardwoods were laid throughout the entire first floor. The only exceptions were the kitchen and the bathroom. The entry way was hideous parquet.

We went to a flooring store and they recommended that they put in raw oak hardwoods and finish them to match our existing hardwoods. The project was inexpensive (compared to other options) fast and eco-friendly.

We've had these floors an additional 6 years and let me tell you, they are the BEST!

The match is inperceptible. They stand up against our kitties and when we reconfigured the closet in the guest room, we took a page and did it ourselves.

You won't be sad about putting real hardwoods in your house. They last for decades, can be refinished and are pretty great looking.

A real flooring place has an investment in your happiness. Lumber Liquidators will sub out an installation or try to tell you you can do it yourself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:32 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

One item since you mentioned being in a condo -- you should check the condo agreements to make sure you're permitted to switch flooring materials (sometimes you're not) since switching to a hard-surface floor may increase sound transmission to the unit below yours, if there is one.
posted by aramaic at 1:39 PM on February 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

To the "doing it yourself" voice, I'd add that my parents bought a super-duper expensive Porter-Cable flooring nailer, and it broke just as they were close to finishing. They rented one, then realized what they rented was the Harbor Freight cheap-o one, and just bought that. They've since put flooring in another house with the cheap HF nail gun.

So to add to the "buy real wood and do it yourself" chorus, apparently you can also buy the flooring nailer for less than two hundred bucks.
posted by straw at 1:39 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've had a floating oak-laminate floor in my studio for over 20 years and it's been great. No problems at all.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:03 PM on February 13, 2013

we bought this stranded carbonized bamboo from lumber liquidators four years ago. It still looks amazing and it has been very scratch and dent resistant. We did have it professionally installed, so I can't speak to that. We chose which product we wanted by going to the store and surreptitiously trying to scratch the lumber samples with our keys - this one was the hardest to scratch. It has been a good quality product and it looks really good.
posted by bq at 2:32 PM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I used LL solid oak flooring across my upstairs. I am happy with it. I know the online reviews you are referring to and I think they are a little overwrought; I did not have more than a couple poorly milled boards, and the durability is impressive 2 years in.

I used the cheapest HD bamboo in my downstairs. It looks great, but is not as durable as the oak. They make more expensive bamboo if durability is a big concern. Nicked-up wood/bamboo flooring is not that big of a deal to me.

If you have a wood subfloor, I would consider renting a flooring nailer, finishing nailer, and compressor from HD and nailing it down. It's not that difficult, and the floor will feel a lot more solid than if you float it. If you can do the work in one day, the rental cost will only be about $125. I used tar paper as an underlayment on mine, if you're especially concerned about noises getting down to your neighbors below you could try something more expensive.

If you have a concrete subfloor, I think floating is a reasonable compromise. It will not always feel solid, and this will annoy you. But, installing a plywood subfloor is not trivial, not cheap, and might even screw up your front door. I glued my downstairs flooring to concrete, and while it wasn't that bad, it was a PITA, and I'm very glad I had the experience of doing the upstairs before I got to the more technically difficult glue-down portion. Potential for screw-ups are high.

I have two cats and a dog. The oak has almost no visible marks from them, even after two years. The bamboo does have some marks from kitties launching themselves in various directions. I have my more active cat in Soft Claws now, which I recommend.

I myself would look for a solid product over a veneered product, but a cheaper veneered product would be a reasonable compromise. That said, my bamboo was less than $2/ft^2. Frankly, if price is similar between HD and LL, I would use HD. Their return policy is much friendlier, and I find them easier to deal with. But LL is ok too.
posted by deadweightloss at 2:34 PM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I also have strand bamboo floors -- this kind, I think -- and it's held up well so far. The guy who installed it didn't mention anything about health problems from bamboo, and he's a trustworthy person who would care about such things. We didn't have to leave the house empty to air out after it was installed, which we would have had to do with some other flooring.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:44 PM on February 13, 2013

The trick with a floating floor is to have a very flat (not necessarily level) subfloor. Installed one at home and had to use concrete to even the subfloor (which was actually more work than putting on the floor). That was over 5 years ago and the floor still looks great.
posted by bluefrog at 3:55 PM on February 13, 2013

We installed carbonized strand bamboo flooring from lumber liquidators, and it is a big disappointment. It dents so easily that you have to be very mindful of what you do or put on it. One of our friends put a nice set of dents in it by wearing high heels. The floor looks great, but I can't imagine it will hold up for more than 10 years at the most, and this is not a high traffic spot.

Definitely make sure you level the sub floor really well, that is going to make or break the final result. I put a lot of time into getting our cement slab flat, and even with the fancy underlayment we still have soft spots in the floor.

If you have a wooden subfloor, do not do a floating floor. Installing a nail down floor will be a million times better in every way.
posted by markblasco at 6:11 PM on February 13, 2013

Go with real hardwood floors. I have lived in places with floating floors and they were simply not sturdy enough. You will be amazed at the pricing that flooring contractors will give. Be firm about the price per sq. ft. With labor cost you are willing to do so that the flooring firm can negotiate with the mill. We went to a flooring sub contractor recommended by our general contractor and the pricing was within the budget; to my surprise for what we got (Brazilian cherry with tung oil finish). The floor will last decades.
posted by jadepearl at 7:14 PM on February 13, 2013

Thanks, everyone!

Some additional info, in case anyone has more advice: The floor will be going over concrete, and we've already started the process to get approval for the project through our condo board (but I'm sure that it won't be a problem, as wood floors were an option when the units were built, and we live directly above a bank).
posted by amarynth at 8:58 AM on February 14, 2013

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