There are a lot of details that do not get seen when a hardwood floor gets installed unless you watch your contractor every step of the way. Because this leads to tense relationships between a contractor and client in most cases, it is better that you learn to understand what requests to have before a project versus becoming an overbearing customer.
An often overlooked detail that requires minor extra effort and tools is to add spline or “slip-tongue” to areas of a project when needed. Spline is the hardwood flooring equivalent of a biscuit in woodworking that is cut to length and placed at the junction of two grooves between flooring materials.
Several areas where spline is extremely useful are the following scenarios:
- Steps – The junctions with stair nosings and wood flooring where you will have extra force exerted.
- Flush Vents – Though less critical for reasons of foot traffic, having a mechanical junction with flooring and vents helps prevent loose inserts during repeated heating a cooling cycles.
- Headers – Headers are boards that are laid perpendicular to flooring to terminate into a different area, such as a fireplace hearth or different flooring. Headers provide a nice look too, but become irritating if they become loose.
Typically these areas are fastened using a router, spline, and glue. Contractors often skip the router and spline and rely on glue because it lasts for a while and is much quicker. The problem with using only glue is that some glue crystallizes over time and can break. This may not always matter unless it is in a high traffic area where a broken glue bond could result in a lifted board edge or possibly even a nosing coming loose. This could possibly send you tumbling if things get really loose on the nosing at the top of your staircase.
Here is an example of a nosing I recently fixed because it was higher than the flooring and had become loose at my clients home in Auburn, CA.
The stair nosing had become a little loose with time and could become a trip hazard. These poor workmanship issues usually take a couple of years to surface, so by then your contractor is likely out of sight and out of mind.
Here is a shot of how we rebuilt the stair nosing. The spline and glue work to add two securing forces for this high traffic flooring part. The wood glue contains moisture, which expands the spline into the groove and provides and even better fit.
Following the nosing installation, we used narrow trim head screws to secure the nosing. Short of using a bomb or a sledgehammer to dislodge this nosing, not much is going to move it no matter how much foot traffic it encounters.
The small details of a project really do matter in the long run for the value of your investment. I encourage you to discuss these simple details when getting estimates to ensure you are getting quality for the long haul.