What is a Floor Inspector? Can They Help Me?
Many people have never heard of flooring inspectors, that is, until they have a flooring problem & then it may be too late. Flooring inspectors are trained to perform all types of flooring inspections-carpet, hard surface and resilient, specialty floors, and substrates. BUT, not all certified inspectors are trained to inspect ALL floor coverings. Each require specific training and certification.
What Training and Certification Should I Look for in a Floor Inspector?
Some schools try to group several categories under one class called hard surface. Wood and Carpet are different. Commercial carpet and residential are totally different and each have a specific certification. Wood can be solid or engineered. Wood can be site finished or pre-finished. Wood can be domestic or imported. A LOT of differences in both.
A few seasoned inspectors began taking wood science training classes from some of the most respected universities in the country with Wood Science Departments. Wood is one of the most complex floor coverings as well as costly. Many retailers and installers do not really have a good understanding of the wood floor. We learn about it from the seed to the finished product and everything that can happen in between, including manufacturing process. We have manufacturers sending their technical people to the classes and NWFA has sent their team to attend some of these too.
Then there is Bamboo. It is NOT wood and should not be installed or treated as wood. It is a grass and ALL bamboo is engineered, regardless of what it says on the box or in their marketing advertisements. If it does not grow this way, it is engineered, PERIOD. Bamboo behaves like wood in very few ways. It will dent like wood, but when it comes to reacting to environmental changes, it is FAR from wood in behavior.
Ceramic, tile, natural stone, and manufactured versions of each by themselves will take more than a one week class to learn about. I took my training from Dave Goebis; one of the foremost experts in the country and a 3rd generation tile and stone guy. Not only did he understand the technical side; he was on the committees who wrote the standards. He also had installation experience which is not common for some instructors to have both.
Are All Inspection Schools or the Certifications the Same?
There are schools teaching a hard surface course which lasts less than 5 days followed by an exam. They try to put tile, stone, laminate, resilient (vinyl sheet, tile, and plank), cork, bamboo and whatever into one class. Hire one of their inspectors and you will find out the hard way why this certification is a farce. Up until a month or so ago (6/2017), one instructor had NO certifications. He owned a school and granted himself any certifications he had or got them from the previous owner when he started teaching for her before buying the school.
That is a HUGE problem. I can buy a law, medical, engineering, culinary or whatever school. That does not mean I am an attorney, physician, engineer, chef or any highly trained competent professional. Floor inspectors are not as regulated as licensed professionals. Home Inspectors are NOT floor inspectors; without proper credentials, they can’t properly inspect a floor and write a credible report, but there are some who try to put themselves out there as qualified. Those are the ones I love to spend a day in court with. I make the easiest money I can make because it takes me less than 10 minutes on the stand assisting the attorney for my side to usually get their report dismissed.
Professional competent Floor Inspectors spend many hours in training & continuing education each year, hours in testing, & invest thousands of dollars in tools to do the work properly. Flooring inspectors ARE NOT home inspectors or structural engineers & can not perform the work of the trained professionals. Home inspectors CAN’T perform flooring inspections that will be recognized by manufacturers without proper training & certification. And in court, they often are found to be lacking credibility which makes it easy for a seasoned inspector to assist the attorney and slam dunk that case.
Inspectors are usually hired after a problem or concerns are noted. They are commissioned by manufacturers that have relationship agreements with their retailers & both parties agree to abide by the findings. Flooring Inspectors can be hired to perform pre testing required by manufacturers, oversee the work performed, or inspect after the work is complete by builders or those building a home. Proper site conditions are the responsibility of the installer to ensure are present as part of the required work scope, but is often not performed. It is the responsibility of the contractor, building owner, or party with control of the structure to provide these conditions before the installation is performed. But to answer the question in one word; NO!!! Some schools are very lacking and at one point (which is why I carry their certification still), they were owned/operated by someone qualified, but not currently sad to say.
What About Concrete Slabs; floor installed on grade or below grade on a slab?
Inspectors have found old substrate concrete slabs emitting excess moisture or pH & found thousands of dollars worth of wood, laminate, bamboo, resilient or tile floors fail because of this. Had the contractor or installer performed required testing prior to installation & necessary steps to correct the problems taken, a successful installation would still be there. At this point, the manufacturer is often off the hook & an installer or contractor now owns this floor.
Contractors are ultimately responsible for all subcontractors. Time is money; everyone is looking to get work completed, homes or buildings occupied, & get paid. Because of time, contractors or installers may not test substrates to ensure they meet standards or acclimate site or flooring which can lead to problems later. Is it worth taking the chance? Once a home or building is sold & everyone is paid, floors can still fail. At this point, a builder may still own the floor or is usually first to be sued. Manufacturers WON’T accept responsibility; one deviation may be enough for them to legally walk away from problems due to warranty limitations & exclusions… and many will!!!
Inspectors perform vapor emission testing (Calcium Chloride or Relative Humidity testing) according to ASTM protocol. They can prepare the test sites, set test kits in place, pick them up, read them, & give a certified written report on the results. This is enough for manufacturers to warranty materials if the floor fails if all required steps are taken. They can also be hired to oversee an installation, do follow up inspections, & ensure proper installation guidelines are followed. If problems arise, the inspector can report on things to the manufacturer to get faster resolution.
What About Inspection Cost? I Hear a WIDE Range in Inspection Pricing?
Inspector’s services are much less costly on the front end. On the back end, there’s no other option. Many inspectors can also be hired as expert witnesses & can testify in a hearing to help settle disputes quickly. This helps get the problem resolved at the expense of the party responsible. It is like the Aamco man said, “You can pay me now, or pay me later.” You will pay inspectors a lot more once they are needed.
If manufacturers end up paying for inspections & problems are not due to their materials, they will deny a claim & leave the other parties to work things out. Why shouldn’t they, especially if they provided acceptable materials & pay for an inspection that showed it was not their materials causing the failure? If it is due to manufacturing issues, they warranty their materials & many times, pay for tear out & replacement labor.
Remember, EACH floor covering or substrate requires proper training and certification. This includes moisture testing for concrete. I achieved the IRCI certification for moisture testing which is one of the most recognized in the industry. Since it represents such a small portion of my work, I did not renew the certification, but does not mean I am not still trained and certified to perform those inspections or tests.
You get what you pay for. If I can cancer, I am not shopping for the cheapest care giver. I am not shopping for the cheapest hospital. If you are like me, price is one of the least considerations when something this serious is at risk. Our homes are one of the most expensive investments most of us will make. Do you really want to shop price when it is time to get a problem resolved. Cheaper contractors are often uninsured or underinsured; you will find out if things go wrong and the time comes to get resolution. I carry more insurance than 99% of all floor inspectors which also gets me work more than 95% of them will not be considered for.
I buy the best tools I can and replace them every few years. Not because they are worn out, but because I maintain the latest software updates in my meters and it is not much more to replace them as it would be to send them in for updates and then get them back. I have a 7 page resume for a reason (and it could easily be 10 or more if I chose to add fluff).
After nearly two decades in the business and doing this full time since 2004, I invest heavily in training, tools, educational updates and continuing education, insurance, and it costs more to do business than a cheap inspector who may be lucky to have a 1 or 2 page resume. I also normally buy 2 or 3 of each tool; this way, if one would break or I questioned the reading, I can validate it with another meter or several meters.
There are inspectors with one or two decades in the business who still maintain the minimal certifications, carry little or no insurance, or buy the cheapest tools and never replace them until they lose them or they stop working. Sadly, some of them have never properly learned to use the meters. Since they rarely ever get called in as an expert witness, they do not care. Those are another easy day in court for me to make a good income while assisting my client to win their case.
I do not shop for a CPA or Attorney based on price either. I want the most qualified experienced professional my money can get me. They are not costing me money. They actually save me money by making sure legally, ethically, and in regard to tax and accounting, I am not crossing any lines that could come back on me later. I also do not change professionals unless they were to move, retire, or get out of the business. I work with those professionals based on an ongoing relationship and I am not changing when something is working well for both sides.
What BONUS do I get if I Hire You As My Floor Inspector?
If you have a wood floor, I am one of a FEW inspectors in either of the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee, West Virginia and Pennsylvania who is currently NWFA Certified AND earns 100% of my income from flooring inspections. Oh, you will see a number of inspectors listed on www.nwfa.org as an inspector. Several are also installers. Why would an installer get an inspector certification if they install floors for a living? Great question.
Because they also know there are some “hired gun” inspectors out there who look to blame the installer, even when the concern is not their responsibility. There are some installers who now carry the inspector certification and require being able to be there during the inspection to see if the inspector is doing due diligence gathering evidence to support their conclusion. Some of these installers will do inspections for additional income, but because they do so few inspections and because their income comes mainly from installation, they can easily be challenged by another installer if they find them at fault. Kind of hard to say they are impartial and unbiased if they are inspecting a floor of a direct competitor. Call it against them and they will cry FOUL.
Then there are manufacturer or distributor reps who may be required by their employer to carry the credentials. Again, they may need to be aware of what the inspector found and determine if they followed industry protocol and support their findings in a report with concrete evidence, not opinion or hearsay. I will be doing a legal case shortly against one of these inspectors. The attorney for my client and I have reviewed the evidence and both inspection reports and already have an almost indisputable defense to discredit their report findings.
It will come into question whether or not this inspector does not have an indirect/indirect financial interest since he represented the builder. The builder has never installed their flooring up to this point. Why not side with the builder to get them out of a problem they created and see if their company can’t sell them wood, carpet, tile, laminate or whatever flooring moving forward. This builder builds hundreds of middle to high end houses each year; would not be a bad way to get their foot in the door to get that business moving forward taking their side.
OR, what is the retired manufacturer rep is still getting a pension or other compensation from a manufacturer? Do you think they will “bite the hand that is feeding them?” They still have a financial interest which could call their integrity or ability to be impartial/unbiased into question. Is this really the person you want to hire to do your floor inspection?
I do not let it bother me when I lose an inspection to one of these other inspectors. I can only do so many floor inspections in a week and maintain a proper work/family/church/recreational balance. I am not interested in doing 15 or more inspections in a week at my age. Having logged nearly 1.5 million miles since 2002 and now having two granddaughters I enjoy spending time with, I limit how much time I devote to work which means I do not opt for lower paying work as much as others may.
My wife and I invested in a beach condo (paid for in cash since we do not borrow money since 2006 when we paid off our house). I like to spend some time there as often as I can, even if it is only 2 or 3 days at a time. The cost for me at this point is gas there and back. It doubles as an east coast office I work from so the business covers some of the expenses for rental use if I am there doing work. Still cheaper than renting a hotel room or making a longer day having to drive back home.
Let me say it again; 100% of my income for the past decade and more has come from doing one thing; flooring inspections and consultations. I do not sell flooring. I do not install flooring. I do not manufacture flooring. I do not get kickbacks or any fees from manufacturers, distributors, installers, builders, or other vested parties. I have one goal; determine the cause of the problem if possible, support it with valid evidence, and cite the parties responsible, regardless of who is hiring or paying me.
I am like an umpire. I do not have anyone on any team I know or have ties to. I do not care who wins the game. My goal is to call balls and strikes, PERIOD. Some vested parties do not like inspectors like this and refrain from using them knowing they will call “their baby ugly” if indeed it turns out to be. My response is this to those parties; “IF you do not like me calling YOUR baby ugly, STOP making ugly babies.
Another response is my integrity is not for sale at any price. If I am expected to lie or look the other way for your money, I might as well run for congress (or senate). It pays more, most of my peers do the same, and if not reelected, someone I did a favor for will pay me more to be their advocate moving forward. Problem is, I like money like most people do, but not enough to sell my integrity for. If I can’t make my living being a man of integrity, God is probably telling me He has other career options He wants me to pursue.