Ralph's Blog

How Important Are Long-Term Warranties for Prefinished Hardwood Floors?

Posted on Thu, Jun 30, 2016 @ 15:06 PM

Manufacturers of prefinished hardwood flooring like to tout the decades-long warranties they offer for the finish. But these lengthy warranties usually aren’t as valuable as manufacturers would like you to think.

That’s because…

The warranty periods are longer than they need to be.

Twenty-five years has been somewhat of a standard for long-term warranties on the finish of prefinished flooring, but now you can find warranties for even longer, up to “lifetime.”

The catch is that even the best-quality prefinished products almost always need to be refinished before 25 years because of normal wear and/or loss of sheen (i.e. dullness), but typical finish warranties don’t cover either of those things. To keep your floors looking fresh, you will most likely end up having to pay for the refinishing that will naturally be needed before the warranty on the finish expires.

There’s no point in having a warranty on the finish that’s longer than the finish can reasonably be expected to look good!

Slightly defective floors aren’t covered.

What happens if the finish is defective and prematurely wears off? Most finish warranties include a “wear through” clause that guarantees a new finish for the entire floor if that happens—but only when the finish wears off a certain percentage of the total floor.

In many warranties, that percentage is as high as 10 percent or more of total square footage. If that much of your finish is bad, you have a noticeable, unsightly area (unless you’ve covered it up). Meanwhile, you’re waiting in frustration for more of the finish to wear off and kick in the warranty.

Good warranties have lower percentages, but even then, you can’t expect to get a new finish just because the finish is defective in a small area. No warranty will guarantee a 100-percent perfect finish.

Exclusions significantly limit what is covered.

Sunlight damage can invalidate a prefinished hardwood floor warranty.Warranties on finishes usually include a long list of exclusions, such as pet damage, sunlight damage, “rough use,” improper installation, and improper maintenance. Those exclusions can be applied broadly to invalidate your warranty benefits.

The manufacturer might not be able to honor the warranty.

A lot can happen to a business during the 25 years or more of a long-term warranty. Not even well-established businesses are immune from going out of business during that time (or from declaring bankruptcy). And of course you never know about relatively new, unproven companies.

If you’re counting on your warranty years from now, you may be distressed to find that no one will honor it—at least not without getting lawyers involved.

Our advice

When choosing prefinished hardwood flooring, don’t place too much value on a long-term warranty for the finish. The quality of the finish and the standards of the manufacturer are much more important.

When Ralph’s chooses vendors or manufacturers of prefinished hardwood floors to associate with, we focus closely on quality. Our experience allows us to identify the good ones from the bad ones. In addition to the quality of the product, our criteria includes on-time delivery and after-sale service. No manufacturer or vendor is perfect, but we don’t want a poor product or service to blemish our hard-earned good reputation. If a manufacturer or vendor we choose doesn’t do right by our customers, we will.

Tags: prefinished hardwood flooring, finishes, stains & textures

A Smooth Flow: Hardwood Floors and Open Floorplans

Posted on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 @ 15:06 PM

Open floorplans and hardwood floors go well together.More and more new homes being built these days feature open floorplans, and homeowners across the world are knocking down walls to create open floorplans as they renovate older homes.

This global trend has clearly taken hold here in Wisconsin. Many of our customers building new homes or renovating want an open floorplan. That means the living room, dining room, and kitchen aren’t separated by walls—in other words, a kitchen that’s open to a “great room.”

This popularity of open home designs is driven by several factors:

  • Sociability. The lack of walls encourages conversation and interaction, which appeals to today’s busy, active families who like to spend time together when they’re all at home, as well as to homeowners who like to entertain.
  • The decline of formal dinner parties. Formal dinner parties just aren’t as common as they used to be, so there’s no need for a separate dining room.
  • A connection to nature. Open floor plans allow natural light to spread throughout the home, and the lack of walls allows everyone to see particularly beautiful outside views that would otherwise be visible from only one room.
  • Spaciousness. Leaving out the walls obviously creates a larger open space than if the area was divided. In many people’s eyes, this makes an entire home seem more spacious.

When it comes to hardwood floors, homeowners who choose open floorplans usually reinforce the roomy, flowing feel by selecting the same type of hardwood flooring for the entire area. Instead of creating some distinction between the areas by using a different style of flooring or decorative borders, they go for a uniform look that unites the whole space.

In general, that’s what we recommend to our customers who want an open floorplan. That’s not to say there aren’t creative possibilities in mixing things up—for example, by staining the floor in the kitchen a different color. But for most people seeking an open look, uniform hardwood flooring gives them the appearance they want. Furnishings, rugs, and the kitchen counters/bar are enough to define the areas of the open space for them.

A hardwood floor crosspiece is ideal for separating areas in an open floorplan.If you do want some distinction between the flooring in rooms, but want to keep an open, flowing atmosphere, you can use a simple hardwood crosspiece, which creates a subtle transition.

Light-colored flooring (maybe even whitewashed) lends itself well to the natural, airy feel of open floorplans. Wide plank hardwood floors are also a good match.

Any grade of wood can look great, but lower grades that show natural characteristics often appeal to homeowners who like open floorplans because both choices work together to create a causal, inviting feel.

Please visit our showroom to learn more about how hardwood flooring can enhance an open floorplan in your home. Or give us a call at 920.984.3383 or 800.354.9902, and we’ll talk about the possibilities.

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, hardwood flooring trends, remodeling

Playing Matchmaker: Finding your one true love

Posted on Sat, Jun 18, 2016 @ 07:06 AM


When customers come to us looking for new hardwood floors for their home, we always start with a simple but essential question: “What’s most important to you?”

It might be to have flooring that fits a certain interior design style, or has a specific color. Whatever it is, we know you’re not going to be happy if the hardwood flooring you select doesn’t give it to you. And so this question is where we start.

Once we narrow down your options to those that will give you the most important thing you want, we can begin to get more in-depth into which of the possible options will make you happiest, helping you select other hardwood floor characteristics that fit your tastes, lifestyle, and home layout.

Ideally, if the hardwood flooring is going into an existing home, we like to visit the home first, before you come to our showroom. That way, we can not only talk with you about what’s most important to you, we can see for ourselves what the technical considerations are (e.g., the condition of subflooring, moisture issues). We can also show you pictures on our tablets that will get you thinking about the possibilities. Then when you visit our showroom, we can hit the ground running.

But even if you’re building a new home or just stop by the showroom one day, we can still make a lot of progress based solely on your answer to the question about what’s most important to you.

This isn’t something we take lightly. We take pride in providing excellent customer service, and we believe that service includes freely sharing our expertise and experience with customers during their selection process—from the beginning of their considerations through their final choice.

We DON’T view helping customers select hardwood floors as an opportunity to steer them toward options that will increase our short-term margins. That’s not our business model.

Our business model is to focus on making customers as pleased as possible, so they’ll come back to us for future hardwood floor needs and spread the word about how happy they are with the floors we helped them get. That’s why we aren’t “selling” during the selection stage—we’re advising customers how to find the perfect hardwood flooring for their home.

We gladly play matchmaker, helping them find hardwood flooring that they’ll be in love with for many years to come. And it all starts with a simple question!

Image courtesy of Enri Endrian

Tags: about Ralph's, why choose hardwood floors?

New Shades of White: The Transformation of Whitewashed Hardwood Flooring

Posted on Thu, Jun 16, 2016 @ 15:06 PM

Preverco Edge whitewashed hardwood flooringTen years ago, if someone asked us about whitewashed hardwood flooring, we would have assumed they were talking about the very, very white floors popular in the 1980s. And we would have pointed out that this look had become pretty dated.

But over the past few years, “whitewashed” has taken on a different meaning when it comes to hardwood floors, and this style has become quite popular.

Today, homeowners are choosing whitewashed flooring that has white tones but isn’t as purely white as was popular 30 years ago. Back then, the goal was to create a “contemporary,” relatively formal look by using high-grade wood with a uniform appearance and then staining it as white as possible. Sometimes this meant staining it more than once, making it look as if was painted. Often, actual white paint was used.

Now more-transparent off-white and greyish-white colors that don’t hide the hardwood’s characteristics have become popular, and many homeowners are using lower grades of wood to achieve a more natural look. (With hardwood floors, “grade” doesn’t refer to quality; it refers to the degree in which the wood used shows the natural characteristics of its species.)

Another stylistic change is that most homeowners are no longer looking for a uniform look in the other interior design elements around their whitewashed flooring. The goal used to be to make walls, cabinets, trim, window treatments, etc. as white, or almost as white, as the flooring. Now we’re seeing customers select colors that contrast with the white tones of the flooring, sometimes going so far as to dramatically pair black with the white.

One technical consideration is that we usually use water-based polyurethane for whitewashed floors rather than our standard Swedish finish. This is to prevent the wood from taking on an amber color, which can occur with oil-based finishes. This “ambering” isn’t an issue with most floor colors, but with light whitewashed floors, it can become noticeable. (With whitewashed hardwood floors on the greyish side, we can usually use our normal oil-based finish.)

Over the years, we have finished many whitewashed hardwood floors on site, and we are experts at achieving that look. But if you’d prefer prefinished hardwood flooring, you can find good-quality prefinished products such as the Preverco Edge flooring we frequently use (pictured above).

Whichever finishing option you choose, if you want flooring that brings lightness to a room and highlights the natural characteristics of the wood, the new style of whitewashed hardwood flooring might by just what you’re looking for!

To learn more about whitewashed hardwood flooring, please visit our showroom and check out our displays. You can see for yourself how “in-style” whitewashed floors can look.

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, hardwood floor colors, finishes, stains & textures

Thinking Long-Term: Customer Service and Hardwood Floors

Posted on Sat, Jun 04, 2016 @ 01:06 AM


There’s a tendency for customers to think of “customer service” as something that’s in addition to the product or service they’re paying for.

In this way of looking at it, customer service is a bonus. If customer service is lacking, customers will usually complain, but they also often separate that dissatisfaction from their opinion of the product or service itself.

That’s why you might hear a comment like: “The clerks in that store are such jerks, but they have the best clothes in town.”

That’s not the way we look at it at Ralph’s. For us, “customer service” isn’t just a bonus. It’s how we make sure the products and services we provide are in fact the best around.

We pride ourselves on providing customers with the most-enjoyable and stress-free experience possible during installation or refinishing, and you won’t find any friendlier people to work with. But our commitment to serving customers isn’t just about earning short-term appreciation. It’s also about doing everything possible to keep customers delighted years down the road, still in love with their floors.

That means that we take the time to understand what customers are dreaming about. After all, “quality” in hardwood flooring is largely a matter of personal opinion. Of course, there are differences in the quality of materials, but the best materials don’t guarantee a floor that’s going to satisfy a customer. To truly provide a high-quality product, we have to care how our customers define “quality”—and that’s exactly what we do.

(Think about the clerk in the store with the great clothes. Are they just recommending what the store wants you to buy, or are they genuinely trying to learn your tastes and budget so you’ll make the purchase that will make you the happiest?)

Our approach to customer service also means that we take the time to get the installation or refinishing just right, even if the customer would never notice if we took shortcuts. “That looks great; you guys did a wonderful job” isn’t good enough for us if we know that we provided the customer with less than 100 percent of our skill and effort. For us, every job is not just an opportunity to please customers; it’s a chance to blow them away by putting in floors that are more beautiful than they ever imagined they could be.

There’s also the behind-the-scenes work we do on behalf of customers, such as helping them find the best value in material, or working with contractors to get floors in on time despite a tight schedule. We think of our customer’s flooring projects as if they were our own.

As you can see, there’s a lot more to our concept of customer service than simply being polite and personable. We are both of those things, but we believe that true customer service goes even deeper. Our view is that customer service, when done right, should result in a more valuable purchase for the customer.

Tags: about Ralph's, why choose hardwood floors?

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