Here is a story about cheap, shoddy hardwood floors you may not have heard about. It comes directly from the case files at Flooring Detective. A hundred other such files exist at their offices, perhaps even more. This one, however, is particularly tragic, for it involves the injury of an 8 year-old girl. The picture below is directly related to the incident:
This 10 inch long splinter of wood became a deadly hazard when it peeled away from a section of poorly manufactured Chinese flooring and pierced the girl’s skin 5 inches deep. Her wound required treatment at a nearby children’s hospital. Doctors considered her escape from more serious consequences fortunate in the extreme. One look at the picture is all it takes to validate their opinion. The sliver of wood shown cut through its victim like a blade.
When Poor Quality Turns Perilous
Hardwood flooring installation is a gigantic industry. In 2019—just one year ago—a global industry report estimated the market size at just under 370 billion USD. Now let’s look at a report from Research and Markets, which found that by 2025 the global market for Chinese flooring will hit 63 billion USD—or about 95 billion RMB. With these facts at our disposal, it could be said that about 17% of hardwood flooring material throughout the world comes from China.
Here is where the problems start. Poor quality flooring material from China is not a foregone conclusion, but it is real. Some of the reasons for this include:
- Safety standards that differ from those in North America
- Cost-saving techniques in manufacturing, such as the use of cheaper material
- Inspectors who take money under the table in exchange for approval
- The use of toxic contaminants in sealing agents
To be forthright: Hardwood flooring material from China often fails to meet North America safety standards.
The little girl’s parents were met with this brutal fact in a most unpleasant manner. Damage shown in the photograph can occur in a number of ways. For instance, have a look at this:
These are two examples of the kinds of plywood used for subflooring. Subflooring is what your hardwood floors rest on—it provides them with foundation. On the right we have Baltic Birch, which originates in the Baltic States—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Notice how smooth, firm, and robust it appears. On the left is inexpensive Asian plywood from China. We notice a number of different-sized plies glued together in haphazard fashion. We observe broken plies and fuzzy edges. All in all, an unreliable product for subflooring. Cabinet makers deem this stuff as unacceptable for their means. Just imagine what a terrifying foundation they’d make!
On top of this—literally, we may apply—is the floor itself which, when imported from China, comes packaged with a reputation for bad milling, unregulated manufacturing techniques, and false labeling. All of these contribute to failures like what hurt the young girl.
Quality Flooring = A Safer Home
Many U.S. flooring companies import goods from China to save on overhead. They rely on you, the customer, not to understand the difference. And sometimes that works out fine. And sometimes the buyer gets angry when his floors fall apart. And sometimes, regrettably, accidents happen.
If you’ve recently decided to have hardwood floors installed in your home, do some checking around in advance. Find out where the local installation companies are getting their material. If it does come from China, make sure that manufacturer’s standards and regulations are aligned with U.S. requirements. Insist on quality subflooring, such as Baltic birch. And never, ever settle for “it’s good enough”. Because when you’re willing to brush off vague misgivings about the future, said misgivings have all the more leeway to put up shop and manufacture a few ugly products of their own.
Hardwood flooring done right is powerful, alluring…and perfectly safe. Nothing less should ever suffice.