Expensive floors are a problem

There’s two ways to install a floor: the cheap way and the expensive way. This isn’t about right and wrong — though important, for once this hasn’t been the sole guiding factor. And when the difference between them is orders of magnitude … well, “right and wrong” and “cheap and expensive” aren’t really that different for comparison.
The biggest question is: what will be the deciding factor?
Initially, we set no budget, preferring to get the “right” answer first. So we went to Kensington One, one of the best flooring companies in town. They sent out an estimator, and we were quoted for 630 sq. ft. of engineered hardwood (for the rec room and office) and 250 sq. ft. of tile for the laundry and bathroom. We’re leaving the bedroom unfinished for now, until we’re ready to finish it off properly.
I expected a high quote. This is what you expect from one of the best companies in town, using quality materials. This is normal.
But about $13,000 is enough for you to pause for a moment, swallow the bile that unexpectedly ran into your mouth, and wonder if you’re actually doing the right thing.
I’m not suggesting in any way that Kensington One is wrong, or attempting to gouge us. The reality is that we hadn’t figured on that high a cost for what is effectively a simple floor. And let’s also make one thing understood — the floor itself isn’t that expensive. It’s all the labour that goes along with it.
So I took a trip to Home Depot on the weekend to see if there were any alternatives to blowing through the equivalent of our heating system budget on a new floor. Home Depot is the home of the DIY. In theory, yes, I could have also gone to Rona, but the nearest one to me is seriously lacking in options because it’s so darned small.
Kensington One’s prices came out to over $14/sq. ft. At Home Depot, I could get a rather nice-looking engineered floor for about $4/sq. ft. If I went really cheap, I could get a laminate floor (“a picture of wood”) for less than a buck. Basically, put in my rec floor for about $630. That’s versus the about $8,000 I was quoted.
When does “right” mean “cheap”? I dunno, but at less than 1/10th the cost, it’s not a stretch.
So we’re in debate mode. As much as Alex really wants someone to come in and do the job right, I’m keen on keeping the budget in check — and $13,000 is way out of check. Sadly, even if we go to a cheaper material, the cost will only go down maybe a couple thousand at most — it’s the labour, and that don’t come cheaply.
The other pressure is to get any floor down at this point, so we can move stuff around upstairs. We’ve got no space, and after a fairly serious baby shower, we’re left with a lot less room than we had before. And we’re getting hand-offs from Cathy. Soon we’ll need mountaineering equipment just to get around.
Space is at a premium, and we need that basement back in order, quickly.

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  1. Have you thought about Home Depots installation services? You can still get a nice wood floor (engineered hardwood). Failing that – remember that Craig and I installed out hardwood – if you can hang on a couple of weeks Craig can show you how easy it is to install.

  2. Yeah, we looked at that. Cost was $3.75/sq. ft., so almost doubling the cost of engineered floor. Not even worth it for the laminate stuff. And the laminate stuff is so ludicrously easy that we don’t really need the pros — an afternoon with a couple of people, hammers, and a laser line to ensure something is straight, it should be fine.

  3. I did the full basement in laminate and it works for the application. Cheap: 600 sq ft cost us about $1,000 and that was with the underpadding (you need to get). Installed it myself (with Jenn’s assistance). It really is a 2 person install job unless you have 8 – 10 ft armspan to adjust the laminate strips properly. And you have to deal with the mess from cutting the laminate themselves – make sure you wear a mask when cutting – they usually coat the top part of the laminate with Aluminum Oxide (known to enhance any pre-exisiting Alzheimers…); you also don’t want to inhale the fine particulate material from the laminate paper cuttings. It stands-up fine – we have a 70lbs dog running around and there are no scratch marks.
    BUT I would not use laminate anywhere else around the house – personal preference. Laminate is cheap and that is exactly how it looks like. Unless you go very high end in which case you compete with engineered products or hard wood for price. We had hardwood (Ash) installed in the living room / dinning room at ~$10 sq.ft, including reinforcement of the floors (they added 3/4″ ply-wood across the whole floor and leveled it off) and clean-up. We used Giant Carpet and are satisfied with the end product (it has a 50 year surface finish guarantee).
    That’s my $0.02.

  4. Well keep shopping around…but please, please don’t go laminate! What about Rona, or Sears for that matter? Giant Carpet?

  5. Alright, I’ll bite — why not laminate? We’ve not made any decisions yet, mind you, so it’s not that big a deal yet. Let’s remember that this is a basement…

  6. A friend of mine did her whole bottom floor with a company in the
    ne. Their first quote was like 24,000 – I think he did it for
    almost half that – they have a huge bottom floor though
    Would you like me to find out the name of the company – they did
    both tile and wood – looks beautiful
    Also – while I’m at it – need pics

  7. For basements (and I am assuming yours is below ground – otherwise it would be a misnomer) you don’t have too many choices in terms of flooring.
    1. Carpet – Pro: warm on the feet – pads the baby’s falls Con: dust collector and great mildew magnet… great if you want to grow your own mushrooms on the side…
    2. Tiles / ceramics – Pro: it works for basements. You have radiant ground heating so it would work well. Con: can be cold feeling, can crack as your underfloor shifts and cracks – depending on how the cement/floor underneath the tiles are cured, the acidity of the concrete may negatively affect performance of the tiles
    3. Hardwood – Pro: a thing of beauty. Con: in the basement??? not done or suggested due to humidity changes (hardwood doesn’t like temperature and humidity changes and especially high levels of humidity will run it down in no time)
    4. Engineered products – Pro: similar to hardwood but slightly cheaper. Con: Not really recommended in basement – some of the newer more expensive products may be viable but I wouldn’t risk it
    5. Laminate – Pro: Cheap, with the right underpadding (specific to basements) works great in basements, easy to install – a DIY’s dream, durable and hard to destroy. Con: you will own a photo of real wood duplicated nth times on your floor, can be cold feeling on the feet since the top layer is Aluminum Oxide (metal – yup you are actually standing on a ultra thin layer of metal). If you buy the higher end quality the wood photo looks more realistic, they add surface texture to enhance the experience and the boards are a bit thicker (adding to life span and durability)… but it just ain’t wood.
    6. Concrete – Pro: you’re half way there, unless you want to add a layer of fine concrete and level and smooth everything over and run area rugs (lots of new condos do that these days) Con: it give a modern / industrial / cold feel to the basement, it can crack
    That’s my $0.05 (I reserve the right to increase my fees)

  8. Not that I’m retorting to Ed’s points, but chucking in a couple of my own. I reserve that right, as it’s my blog. 😛
    1. Carpet isn’t recommended over radiant head — tends to insulate. Also has nasty off-gassing. And as Ed so rightly noted — mold city. Alex’s dad has convinced us that it’s “not a good idea”, even with the “eco” underlays and organic wool carpet.
    2. Tile is ideal on concrete floors (especially Gypcrete) where radiant heat (aka constant temperature) is involved. But if a kid falls on a tile floor, they will make a loud sound. And unless your tile is ultra-hard, it will crack under repeated poundings with whatever your kids happen to get their hands on.
    3. Hardwood’s definitely a no-no. As nice as it is…
    4. Some engineered products are very good for basements, but you need to do your research. One caveat is that even engineered floors require a certain amount of humidity to ensure they retain their shape. So you get some flexibility in what you can do with it, but you can’t escape the limitations of hardwood entirely.
    5. Laminate is cheap. Period. As Ed said, it’s pseudo-wood. And you’ll always know.
    6. Concrete was what we were originally aiming for! Then we found out that we were actually getting Gypcrete, which doesn’t hold up nearly as well. At least with concrete you can use decorative rugs, dyes in the concrete, go for patterns, bla bla bla to make it look more interesting. Note to self for the next house… 😉
    7. Cork (not previously mentioned, but should be noted). Very nice, but only if you use the full cork (as opposed to cork laminate, or “engineered” cork). Full cork will feel nicer, feel warmer, and springy to walk on — but it’s a good insulator, which prevents the heat from radiating through.

  9. Add-on to the add-on:
    7. Cork good but can be damaged (especially by a 70 lbs black labrador retriever – think chew toy!)
    8. Bamboo can be installed in basement. However I have heard a few people complain that the bamboo fibers can rise on the floor – wouldn’t make for a comfortable floor to walk around on but on the plus side Chris Angel might drop over to tape a ‘floor of death’ magic show…
    9. Vinyl flooring. There really isn’t much more you can say about this. It’s like laminate… without the photo. And it smells.
    10. Linoleum flooring. For that fresh 60s look. See vinyl above.
    11. Seagrass or other natural fiber carpets. Better than synthetic but still a carpet. On the plus side and depending on the fiber you select, you might be able to roll it and smoke it… but I’m getting ahead of myself on this one…
    12. Think Chia pet… the entire floor – a giant Chia pet in your basement. Could be very interesting depending on what you grow. See item 11 above.

  10. 7. True. Big dogs would shred cork. If you don’t have dogs, then perhaps not an issue. And cork does glue back together pretty well if large chunks come out. Smaller ones tend not to be noticed at all.
    8. Bamboo apparently sucks up water like crazy and will go to pot in a very short period of time. I had one guy nearly go off the deep end when I uttered only the syllable “bam…” and tell me about a dozen horror stories. Bad for basements. Only good for dry rooms.
    9 and 10. Marmoleum. Like lino, but made with natural materials. Doesn’t smell as bad. But doesn’t look much better, though you can get solid colours in addition to the standard swirly stuff.
    11. See previous comment about organic wool. 😉

  11. Ed, Roger, Brian and I lived together. There were no stones unturned, unpunned, unthrown, ungased, unscared, unknocked-down, unneutral-zoned, or unfreezeed.

  12. So what was the outcome…the final decision? The baby!!! What did she have? This blog was very interesting to read…glad I stumbled upon it!!

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