How to save money on your flooring installation (without cutting corners).
By Aaron Hartung
Saving money on your flooring installation isn’t about choosing the cheapest contractor and products — it’s about engineering value at every stage of the process. From planning to material selection to installation, there are dozens of opportunities to capture savings — and, more importantly, add value — to your building’s flooring installation.
Value engineering isn’t a difficult concept to understand — it’s a systematic approach to identifying the best-value solutions based on your budget, application and design needs. It’s about finding the highest value at the lowest cost.
But value engineering is difficult to implement. It depends on a wealth of knowledge about the upfront and ongoing costs of different products and cost-saving installation best practices. Only the most experienced contractors know the industry well enough to apply value-added practices before and during an installation.
For building owners with tight budgets, it’s tempting to cut corners — choosing a cheap (but short-lived) product, choosing a low-cost (but inexperienced) contractor — but all of these decisions have costs of their own, such as:
- Scheduling overruns and budget creep
Inexperienced contractors might not take the time to schedule before the product starts and manage logistics until it’s done — which can cause your installation to go over budget and over schedule. And the longer a project lasts, the more it will cost.
- Moisture damage to your floor
Moisture-related failure of your flooring adhesive can happen when an inexperienced contractor doesn’t test the subfloor prior to installation. This can also void your product’s manufacturer warranty.
- Choosing a product unsuited to your application
Selecting a product purely based on price — and ignoring the needs of your application — can result in premature failure of your flooring system.
Think of the old saying, “buy cheap, buy twice.” Cutting corners may save money up front, but it can cost you twice as much later on if the flooring system fails prematurely. Don’t focus on upfront savings — focus on life cycle cost and value. Framing the price of your flooring installation in terms of life cycle cost allows you to save money at the time of the installation, and for years to come.
A few questions facility managers need to ask before starting a flooring project.
Value engineering is the key to costs saved, value added and schedules met. As a business owner, it’s up to you to ask the right questions before your flooring installation to ensure you get the flooring you want at the price you need.
Use these questions to guide your selection of products and contractors:
What wear and tear will this flooring system need to withstand?
Your flooring system needs to withstand all the challenges of your application for the time in which you’ll be using it. If you’re only going to be in the building for the next 3 years, you don’t need a highly durable product. Likely, though, you want a product that will perform — and maintain its appearance — for the next 10 years or more. Of course, this means different things for hospitals than it does for heavy-duty kitchens. You’ll need to evaluate your building’s particular needs, and work with your contractor to select the project best-suited for each area within your facility.
What functions do I need this flooring to serve?
Do you need sound-absorbent flooring? Do you need slip resistance? Do you need to achieve a specific design aesthetic? Or perhaps you’re working toward LEED certification for your building. You need to be able to tell your flooring contractor what you expect out of your flooring. Then they can make product recommendations perfectly aligned with your vision for the building.
What maintenance is required for each product I’m considering?
Some products require very little maintenance (i.e., regular mopping), while other products require frequent and extensive upkeep (i.e., regular waxing, refinishing, polishing, etc.). Because maintenance costs can sometimes exceed the upfront costs of a product, it’s important to do a life cycle cost analysis for each material you’re considering. Examine the upfront cost of the material plus the estimated maintenance costs, divided by the number of years it’s expected to last. A life cycle cost analysis should give you a more accurate idea of the true cost of each material you’re considering.
How much budget do I have for this project?
Even the smartest planning can’t create a big budget where there isn’t one. You need to know your bottom line. It’s your flooring contractor’s job to find ways to maximize the value of your budget by choosing the right product and amplifying the value of each labor hour through proper planning.
Who will manage logistics throughout the project?
Proper planning keeps a flooring project going. By ensuring someone — ideally your flooring contractor — will take ownership of material selection, product staging and logistics management throughout your project, you’ll not only save time and money, but also maximize the value of your investment.
The answers to these questions will empower you with the information you need to choose the team and products that will provide the greatest value for you and your building. From there, you can debate the merits of all the products that meet the needs of your application and fit the constraints of your budget.
Three corners you absolutely shouldn’t cut during a flooring installation
One of the key tenets of value engineering is finding the solution with the highest value and the lowest cost — and eliminating any low-cost/low-value and high-cost/low-value elements.
Simply put, you want to minimize cost — but you don’t want to cut any corners that might cause high-cost problems down the road. To that end, here are three corners you don’t want to cut when evaluating money-saving measures:
- Planning prior to the installation
Planning now saves time and money later. Before any construction or renovation project begins, you should have a clear picture of your timeline. This will give your subcontractors (i.e., flooring, plumbing, electric, etc.) an idea of who else will be in the building when they are working, and goals for when they should have certain action items done.
A clear plan helps your flooring contractor know when to procure, stage and install flooring materials — and sets clear expectations of what you expect to be done and when. With new construction, your general contractor will likely take care of this, and subcontractors will proactively schedule around each other. With a floor replacement, though, the heavy lifting should be done by your flooring contractor.
- Hiring an experienced flooring contractor
Don’t choose the flooring contractor with the cheapest bid. Choose the flooring contractor that’s dedicated to engineering value into every dollar you spend. In addition to informed product selection, seasoned contractors will take simple measures (i.e., surface preparation, proactive scheduling with other subcontractors, etc.) that will glean huge cost savings for your project.
- Selecting a product proven for your building’s application
Choosing a flooring material that isn’t suited for your application spells disaster. For example, using the wrong quarry tile grout in a commercial kitchen installation will result in having to replace your flooring in a few short years. Spending a little more money on the right product from the outset will save you in the long run.
Four high-value flooring materials to consider
With thousands of products on the market today, it can be difficult for building owners to know where to begin with material selection.
But there are a couple tried-and-true materials that provide good upfront and long term value for a multitude of commercial applications. Although far from a comprehensive list of high-value flooring products, these are a couple products commercial facility managers should consider based on price, durability and function.
Carpeting is one of the most versatile commercial flooring products available. It offers virtually limitless design and the emergence of stain-resistant tiles and broadlooms eliminates concerns about soiling and spills.
In terms of upfront cost, broadlooms (carpets that come in 12-foot rolls) are cheaper up front. But carpet tiles (carpet that comes in 2x2 tiles) are easier to install and replace, bringing down the life cycle cost. Generally speaking, carpet tiles are the better choice for high-traffic commercial applications. For buildings with little traffic, or where you don’t plan on staying for an extended period of time, broadlooms are a cost-effective alternative.
Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT)
LVT can be used for practically every application, except for high-impact industrial buildings and commercial kitchens. It’s everything you’d want out of a commercial flooring material — it’s durable, quick to install, low maintenance and aesthetically versatile. Plus, LVT is a resilient and cost-effective alternative to more expensive products like marble, wood and ceramic tiles as it can be made to mimic the look of almost any material.
Terrazzo is one of the pricier flooring options in terms of upfront costs. But its extreme durability — it’s about as close to a forever decision as you can get in flooring — brings its life cycle cost down tremendously. Terrazzo is best-suited for upscale entranceways, showrooms or any building where you’re looking to impress.
Perfect for back-of-house spaces (i.e., receiving areas, commercial kitchens, bathrooms, etc.), quarry tile is a great choice. It’s a rare mix of low initial cost, minimum maintenance costs and tremendous durability. It isn’t used for many high-profile front areas due to its lack of design versatility — it comes only in earth tones. It’s ideal for spaces in your building where function trumps form.
Although saving money on a flooring installation isn’t as simple as choosing the lowest bid, there are proven ways to deliver quality flooring systems within even the tightest budgets. You just need to be intentional with your product and flooring contractor selection, and by engineering value into your project from the beginning.
— Aaron Hartung is the communications manager at Spectra Contract Flooring, the largest commercial flooring contractor in the U.S. For more information, visit www.spectracf.com.