|Is beauty just skin deep?|
As an architect and a Certified Construction Specifier, I have spent most of my professional career trying to write clear and enforceable specifications. And as a consultant to building product manufacturers, I teach classes on how to avoid becoming the victim of substitution abuse – providing sales and engineering support to a designer only to see a competitor take the work with a product of inferior quality. Surely, with so much insight into the problem of substitutions, you might think I would be immune from them.
I am writing this while sitting on my new bedroom floor. It is not the floor I specified, but it is the floor I have now bought.
Listen to my tale, and perhaps we can learn some lessons from it.
There is a stereotype that architects live in pristine homes that reflect good taste and a high sense of culture. But I count myself among members of my profession that have, shall we say, “different” standards. Perhaps it's because we can live vicariously through the award-winning projects we design for others. Or perhaps it's a profession that attracts individuals that are, shall we say, “different.” I really could be quite content to live in a cave. So long as the roof doesn’t leak and there are no immediate threats to life or property, my wife’s pleas to redecorate the house keep moving to the bottom of the list of how I want to spend my non-working hours and limited discretionary funds.
But she was insistent about this project. She was trying to refinance the house to get a lower interest rate, and after months of paperwork and negotiations, the lender finally sent an appraiser. The appraiser apparently did not notice that we still haven’t fixed the cracks from an earthquake fifteen years ago, or that the hillside on which we reside is rapidly succumbing to gravity. But we did get red tagged for not having flooring in the bedroom.
The caveman does not understand this because he thinks the douglas fir plywood and slab on grade – exposed seven years ago when we finally got rid of the cat-stained shag carpet from the 1960’s – is beautiful. My wife, the psychologist, suggests this has something to do with the unfinished starter home that was all my parents could afford when I was six years old, but to me cold pavement and splinters are some of the simple joys of life.
My wife got the name of someone that works cheap. He showed up with samples of a laminate floor that he said was Pergo, and gave us a great price “if you pay cash.” I know the Pergo
brand and submitted to my wife’s insistence that the work proceed the very next day to meet the mortgage company deadline.
When Mr. Low Bid arrives, the boxes he carries in are labeled “Castle Material,” not Pergo. It took more than a little explaining before he understood that “Pergo” is a brand, not a generic term of laminate flooring. But he insists that it is “even better” than Pergo.
Pretending I know something about construction contract administration, I call Castle to ask for their performance data, which most emphatically is not on their website
. The gentleman I spoke with at Castle agreed with Mr. Bid, “Oh yes, it's better than Pergo. It is class AC3.” To my continued prodding, he says the material is made somewhere in China, that he has no test data, and he doesn’t know who publishes the AC3 criteria or what they are. But he reassures me we should be able to get a 30 year warranty from the distributor.
I noted that the cartons have the logo of the National Hardwood Floor Association (NHFA
), and decide to call them. I was not surprised to learn that Castle Flooring’s membership had lapsed, and that the NHFA only publishes standards for solid hardwood flooring, not for laminate flooring.
So I call the distributor. He concurs, “Oh yes, Castle is even better than Pergo,” but he does not have any test data or know what the criteria are for AC3. When asked about installation instructions, he says they are included inside each carton. (They weren't.) But he did fax a copy of the warranty to me – a NHFA form that has nothing to do with laminate flooring.
A bit of research online identifies that AC3 might refer to a standard published by the Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF
). But their classification that best match the performance claimed by Castle, the distributor, and Mr. Bid is “23”, not “AC3”. I would feel comfortable with rating 23, which covers abrasion resistance, impact resistance, resistance to staining, resistance to cigarette burns, effect of a chair caster, and the thickness swelling of the flooring. But no one in the supply chain can tell me anything about these criteria.
Mr. Bid offers to take exchange the Castle Material for real Pergo at no upcharge. But I doubted this since I had already priced Pergo and knew that the wholesale price for materials is several times greater than the installed price he quoted. Delaying the project while he gets new materials also means we would lose his window of availability and we would miss the deadline for the appraiser’s return visit and jeopardize months of negotiation with the lender.
So like a good caveman, I grunt that I have to go to work, and capitulate to Mr. Bid. And I leave home without thinking to review how he was going to handle details at the steps in the room. (Big mistake on my part.)
So now I have a floor of questionable quality that emits odors that irritate my eyes. But my wife thinks it looks great and it is installed in time for the appraiser’s return visit.
As for me, I’ll just go back to my cave and wait for the hillside to collapse.
Have a written contract that includes things like cleaning up after the work.
Write a specification or use a data sheet that clearly establishes acceptable products and quality.
If you do not know the contractor’s craftsmanship, look at projects the firm has done or work out the details in advance.
Verify that the installer has a license and insurance.
Listen to your wife when she first says it is time to decorate.