Whether renovating or building a home, stretching the budget to buy high-quality materials will not guarantee the best results. Without skilled professional installation, even top of the line flooring, ceramic tiles and other materials may not look their best or function as designed.

Worse yet, you may have little recourse and suffer great frustration trying to get installation problems corrected. Saving money with do-it-yourself installation or by using a less expensive installer may devalue the special investment you've made. Once the flooring, tiles or other materials are incorrectly put in place, it is no small task to rip them out and reinstall or replace them.

One Ontario homeowner learned the hard way that paying someone to lay a cork floor does not make that installer a professional. Nor is experience laying hardwood flooring automatically transferrable to working with other flooring. He also learned that poor workmanship is expensive to set right, even if you can find someone willing to repair another's mistakes.

Cork flooring has been around for over 100 years, but it has only recently become popular in Canada. This alternative to hardwood, ceramic and vinyl flooring combines the warmth of natural materials with durability and low maintenance. Cork is also an excellent flooring for those with mobility or back problems as the floor's flexibility and resilience is easier on the knees and back when standing.

The homeowner had researched the range of cork products available and went over budget to buy high-grade floating cork flooring because he could see the value. The click floor system of floating floors replaces the glued-down floor in many of today's applications, largely as it is an easier, cleaner, simpler method. However, manufacturer's instructions must be followed.

The highly-recommended, high-profile contractor hired to renovate this homeowner's kitchen used a proficient general tradesman who's familiarity with installation of ceramic and hardwood flooring gave him a false sense of confidence. He was not deterred by his inexperience with the specific requirements of cork flooring. The homeowner provided a set of detailed instructions from the manufacturer's site and installation instructions were shipped with the pre-finished floating-floor cork planks.

From the results, it is now evident the installer did not know the difference between laying hardwood and installing cork planks, nor did he read either set of instructions. Instead of gently tapping the planks into place, he wacked them together with a mallet as he would hardwood planking. This damaged the joints and later gaps and peaking were visible between planks. The only way to fix these problems is to replace the floor. At this point, the homeowner discovered the contractor had a questionable track record and few financial resources, so there is little chance of replacement or compensation.

The homeowner realizes that neither the flooring or the manufacturer is the culprit. All he can do is warn friends and neighbours about the contractor's service.

When the contractor's team finally cleared out of the kitchen, the cork floor was pockmarked with depressions where heavy tools and materials had been carelessly dropped and stored. At first, the homeowner was very discouraged, but a visit from the manufacturer's representative reassured him. Now a few months later, nearly all of the depressions have disappeared -- a 'memory' feature of the material.

Cork plank flooring consists of a pre-finished thin cork surface layer, a waterproof exterior-grade fiberboard centre and a base layer of cork. If pressure is applied in one spot, the air is driven out through interconnected pockets of air. When the pressure is removed, the air can move back and the floor surface springs back. Indentations usually rebound over time. Weight is not the problem, it's distribution. High-heeled shoes offer the most danger to cork floors, followed by small-footed stools. Sixty kilograms distributed over the surface will not hurt the floor, but concentrate this weight in two small spots like two spiked heels or the feet of a stool and it's a different story. The concentrated pressure in these two situations may actually compress cork's natural air pockets to the point of no return.

How can you avoid installation problems? Buy good quality materials like the homeowner who chose Natural Cork and read the directions. That way, you'll be able to ask questions to test that the required installer expertise is there. Stores and showrooms that sell cork flooring can usually refer experienced installers. Don't let a contractor with product inexperience try anything new on your home unless they are prepared to foot the bill for any problems.

"Leave it alone, cork has memory," is usually the advice given to those with cork flooring. The cork floor is beautiful and a delight to walk on. For this homeowner, it's his memories of shoddy workmanship that he is struggling to live with.

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