In this interview, I speak with Zach Liske, a flooring contractor, about various flooring options and sustainable practices. Zach discusses his background and how he got into the flooring business. He talks about his company, Floor Huggers, which specializes in sustainable hardwood flooring. They focus on using local hardwood resources and offer a “forest to floor” program where they source wood from local forests and mills. Zach also mentions their Eco Demo service, which involves deconstructing buildings and salvaging reusable materials. He explains the benefits of using sustainable flooring and the cost differences between different types of flooring. Zach recommends visiting showrooms like Gallagher and Nema’s Eco Flooring to browse flooring options. He also discusses the process of installing a new floor and the importance of acclimating the flooring to the space before installation. Additionally, Zach introduces the Floor Angels program, where they provide flooring services for free or at a reduced cost to individuals or organizations in need. They are launching a Facebook page and GoFundMe campaign to support this program. The episode concludes with the host thanking Zach for his insights and providing links to Floor Huggers’ various online platforms.
I have a very special guest. His name is Zach Liske, and we’re going to have sort of a free ranging discussion about all kinds of stuff. So it’s going to be a surprise. Zach, why don’t you introduce it yourself and tell us where you’re from, how long you’ve lived here and what you do.
Sounds good. Hi, I’m Zach Lisky, and let’s see, a story of my living down here based in Santa Cruz was kind of a funny story working in, I grew up in the East Bay and I was working a company in San Jose and it was early twenties out of college, and a couple of my buddies and I are getting a house, kind of a bachelor pad, and we had our choice between an apartment in Cupertino and then we came down and looked at a house in Santa Cruz and we’re looking at the commute and it’s like, okay, it’s pretty similar. Hey, why not live in Santa Cruz, this beautiful beach town and had a cool house that we rented out there. So that’s kind of what brought me down to this area. That was back, that’s about 25 years ago. So I was out of college and I’m 45 now. So since then I’ve gone on to develop a couple of different construction related companies and a bunch of little different meanders here and there along the way as well. 12 years ago I met my wife and got married and started a family about eight years ago. And we have a young son, eight years old.
Yeah, I got married 12 years ago. Also a small world.
So what do you do these days to keep yourself busy? What are you working on?
Yeah, so kind of my narrative a little bit was back when my son was born, I was working as a national account sales manager for energy efficient lighting company. And we’d go into these big corporate facilities all over the country and count up lamps and ballasts and make recommendations on what would be more energy efficient. And then if they chose to, they would go and do the work. That was a little bit of, I want to call it a low point, but I had a young son at home. I was doing a ton of traveling and I remember being out in this facility in Atlanta, I think it was a foster farms meat processing facility, and I’m sitting there in a bunny suit counting up lamps, and that was only day one. That was on Tuesday, and I was going to be there for three days, and that was kind of a point where I took an inventory.
I said, okay, I am, this is not something that I’m going to be able to keep doing with a family, a young son back home and just wasn’t feeling right. So back then, so then I kind of did a personal inventory, what do I want to do? What’s meaningful, what’s important? And I started floor huggers, which is a sustainable hardwood floor company. And that was back then, the vision for floor huggers was really to work within the community. I had a vision for, you might work with someone that you actually have on your son’s soccer team, or we’re involved in a paddling club out on the ocean. So you might have an integrated life where you know them socially, but then you do some work for them and really be embedded in the community. And that was kind of the vision for floor huggers. And I’m happy that it has developed.
It’s taken a while, but I’ve had some experiences where I’m doing that very thing where I’m coaching my son’s soccer team and one of the parents is saying, Hey, I got a floor project and come and take a look at it. One of my favorite quotes, and I’m going to paraphrase, it’s a Gandhi quote, and he said something to the effect of all of his activities, a blend together, a connected in a hole, they make a hole. And prior to kind of remaking my life, back then I felt like all my activities were kind of separate. I had my work life and I went over the hill or I traveled and then I had my family life and these little parts of my life were kind of separate. And now with the goal and being intentional about it and trying to get everything to be a little bit more connected and holistic and community-based.
So did you have a background in flooring or it just seems like to go from meat processing in Atlanta, counting lamps to like, I’m going to start a flooring company. How did that happen?
Yeah, good question. So back in my twenties, I did some construction projects and my wife and I, when we first bought our house, we had bought a house on the west side of Santa Cruz, and it was a beautiful a hundred year old craftsman with these Douglas fir floors, and we did some remodeling. So in addition to the construction stuff I did in my twenties, I refinished just on a D I Y basis, kind of refinished the flooring in my house, Douglas for a floor there. And that was really where the inspiration came from. I really sat to myself and I said, what do I love to do regarding construction? And the flooring really speaks to me because that’s where I kind of got the experience of it and then developed it from there. But flooring is really amazing because it’s the one part of residential construction where, or there’s a couple, but for the most part it really connects you to nature.
You can see, and when you’re looking at a hardwood floor, you can see the wood grain on the floor. There’s a certain species of wood there, there’s an aesthetic quality to it. And I just love it. I love the transformation of going from less than ideal conditions, maybe it’s a carpeted house or whatever it is, and you transform this into a beautiful floor that really connects you to nature and the outdoors in a very real way. So going back to your question, so yeah, I did the construction activities cut in my twenties and then did our own personal project, picked up my contractor’s license along the way, and then focused on the flooring because that’s where the passion was in that field.
So you guys also, do you specialize in sustainable flooring? Is that right?
Yeah, so we focus on, and we do it all the basics, engineered floor and whatever most of the flying companies do, but we do specialize in sustainability side story. Back when I was 18, I actually kind of went on a little walkabout and did some conservation work in between a couple of years of college, went to Australia and did some conservation work where we would dig trails and plant trees and do invasive species removal. So I have a conservation background from that. And really that’s where I wanted to focus on with the flooring too, is how do we be sustainable ecologically minded? And so part of what we do and what I love to do is what we call our force to floor program where we’re utilizing local, basically local hardwood resources. Many people don’t realize that we don’t have to bring in oak from Savannah, Georgia or Poland or European Oak to put in our houses.
We have a species right here growing in Bon Dune in the hills and foothills of California called tan oak. And you might not recognize it as an oak tree, about 200 feet tall, very straight, and it doesn’t looks like a pine or a Douglas fir, but it’s a species of oak called tan oak and it makes a beautiful floor. So with our forest to floor program, we’re teaming up with some local mill folks here in the Bay area and basically processing and installing local floors from local forests. And one of my buddies, we were talking one time and he goes, Hey, it’s like farmer’s market for flooring and it’s really a good way to think about it because you get your veggies locally, why not get your floors locally? So it’s really exciting when customers pursue this because these are trees that maybe they’re taken out selectively stand on a property. Sometimes they’re actually trees that have come down from pg e tells a homeowner, Hey, you got to take out that Douglas fir or a couple of those tan oaks near your power lines, so it’s super sustainable. Or if a storm comes through and knocks down some trees, it’s another source for some of our flooring. So it was really sustainable. It’s also a very beautiful product and those are super exciting projects to work on.
Well, that’s really interesting. I want to dive into that a little bit. So normally if you have some land and it’s timber production and it’s oftentimes redwood and big Creek lumber and whatnot, they own these tracks and manage them and have a resource extraction plan so that they can have a consistent and predictable supply of wood. But what you’re talking about, I mean, do people have any tpz zoned or whatever forest land for this tan oak? Or is it all strictly just on a ad hoc basis as people are clearing land on their property and just storm damage and whatnot? Because it must be hard to predict the supply if that’s all it comes from?
So it’s a little bit of both. Some folks have large parcels where they have to have a forestry management plan and they can take out certain number of trees or someone comes in and consults and says, okay, here’s what we’re going to do here. And it’s all that way. Other folks are kind of on smaller parcels and the trees will come down in the wind or they have to take ’em down or they’re going to be taking ’em off their property. So it’s a little bit of everything and how we get word of it is through a lot of the guys that are going doing it and doing tree work. So we kind of team up with some of the local, not only some of the guys are doing the tree work or they’ll get called out to the property and they’re involved. So that’s sort of how we get wind of it.
And we worked there as kind of a group of folks that do it. We have the guys that mill and process it, and then we’re obviously the ones that are installing it too. Ultimately I’d love to have the whole operation, but right now we’re just on the install side a little bit more on this. Sometimes these trees, they’re coming from public projects where for example, we just were having this development on the west side of Santa Cruz where they’re extending Ingles Street and they’re building a mixed use development there. Well, there’s five huge old cypress trees that just got taken out. And so that’s another place that some of this beautiful wood comes from is maybe it’s a hundred year old walnut tree that’s aging and needs to come down rather than chop it up and take it to the landfill or chip it for ground cover, we can source that for hardwood floors. So it’s really kind of a mixed bag and we have this little network of people who are always talking and developing it. It’s also, unfortunately not as much a part of my business as I would like. I would like to only do these kind of projects, but there’s some realities on things that are cost and feasibility and then timeline that are a little bit more complicated to get out there. So that’s another thing on the development or the supply side.
So I’m just not going to let this go quite yet because fascinated by it. So the milling, I would think that milling a hardwood floor would be kind of a specialized job. And I know that a lot of these smaller harvestings, they bring out a portable mill to the actual where the tree comes down and they mill it right there on site. Is this what’s going on? Are people actually milling floorboards on site?
Yeah, it’s a great question. It is kind of funny because think that we’d, it’d be a lot more production based, and that’s one of the reasons why the costs are high, because literally it’s like a guy in a chop with a chops saw out in the forest and a portable mill. So I mean, it can vary. There’s different ways that it can be done, but a couple of the guys that have, they do have the portable mills and they’ll come and they’ll process it, what’s called, it’s kind of a multi-stage thing, which is another challenge for the timeline on the product is you have guys that go out and they process it, but then it has to be till and dried for six months before it can be processed into the flooring. And so you have kind of a two stages. The first stage, obviously getting it into these big container ships that are outfitted with either a solar or a propane boiler that produces kind of a warm air that helps reduce the moisture content of the wood.
And I tell you the experience of opening up one of these containers, I’ll never forget, one of the guys was showing me, we opened up this big container ship and it was all Cyprus. I dunno if you’ve ever smelled Cyprus, but it was like that wonderful cypress smell magnified like a hundred times because all this warm fragrant air was kind of coming on me. So that was pretty neat. So that’s the first step is to get that stuff cut into larger pieces and then it gets kiln dried, reduce the moisture content to a certain acceptable range, and from there it then gets produced into floorboards. There’s one guy on the west side that is able to do the particular fabricating molding of what’s called the tongue and groove joint, which is how the floorboards fit together. There’s also a company in San Francisco that we send up truckloads to, and they process the actual final piece, which is putting on that tongue and groove and then sending it back. But when you compare that to European Oak going to China and getting a pre finish on it and then sending it to California and installed, and you look at the energy consumption of all that, it’s definitely a very sustainable and local option.
So how much is the cost? Let’s say I want to get a regular oak floor from Georgia or whatever. I mean that might cost what, and then how much to get this 10 oak sustainably harvested floor? What’s the
Differential? Yeah, the differential. So let’s just say the installation and the cost of the finishing, the sanding and finishing is the same. So it’s really just on the product side. So you might spend four or $5 a square foot for a nice wide plank oak from American Oak or European Oak, and it might be 10 to $12 for a local tan oak. So it is twice as much, but once again, it’s for a type of customer that really likes the sustainability thing. And once you see these floors too, the grain pattern on these floors are just absolutely beautiful. And there’s a very unique story to tell. My ultimate goal with the forest to floor program is to actually market it down to where did this tree come from? So it goes with the floor so the customer knows, Hey, this came from Bonnie Dune and this is the part of the area that it came from. So part of it is the story that it tells and the feeling that you have when you’ve done the right thing and able to use local resources.
Yeah, it’s so interesting because more and more we hear in marketing about the importance of telling the story. You could get your floor from China and there isn’t really much of a story to it other than someone’s trying to maximize their return. And then there’s a story of the craftspeople, the landowners, the forest conservation that’s gone into your flooring here. So I think that’s really a thing that a lot of people who are entrepreneurs or marketers that really want to focus on telling the story behind the product because people need to understand what they’re buying, right?
Absolutely. Why is that difference? Absolutely.
What kind of
Houses are these sustainable floors going into? I mean, are you doing new mansions in the hills by the beach or are these
Renovation jobs or who’s buying these
Floors? Yeah, it’s all over the board. And just going back real quick on telling the story, I mean, one of the goals too is that there’s no reason why the price point has to be there because the hardwood resources in California in general are underutilized because people don’t think there’s really a market for that. So my goal is if we can get the volume is to go in to do some cost efficiencies on production and different things, so hopefully we can get that pricing down because it is definitely an option. Now going back to your other question about the projects, they’re really all over the board as said, from being here in Santa Cruz, there’s not a whole ton of new construction where you’re building a custom home on a lot that does happen, and we’ve done some of those projects, but for the majority we’re going into large remodels or even smaller type remodels where someone’s changing out flooring and they select this option to go with. So it’s kind of all over the board floor huggers works both with end users, homeowners, as well as general contractors and architects. So we have a nice mix of types of projects that we’re getting involved with.
Okay, so what about recycled hardwood flooring? Is there such a thing? Right. It’s always a shame when people take out an old floor and a lot of times it might have some life left in that. Does anybody recycle hardwood flooring? Is that a thing?
Yeah, absolutely. In fact, that’s kind of funny you bring that up because we have this adjunct to our business, which started basically the same way. We were doing a project up in Santa Cruz Hills for a higher end client who had a kitchen that was put in a kitchen in a whole lower floor of Brazilian cherry five inch wide solid Brazilian cherry from about 15 years ago. And my general contractor who I partnered with, which was Eric Lacus at Elite Construction, we talk sustainability stuff all the time. And he looked at that and he goes, Hey, what do you think about maybe you salvaging or reclaiming this floor, we can donate it or figure out what you can do with that and for us. And so we did that. I talked to my wholesalers, I talked to all my colleagues in the floor industry and they all said, you’re crazy.
You’re never going to be able to recover it. It’s going to cost too much. You’re going to just spend too much money and time on that, but I’m a little bit crazy for this stuff. And so we went ahead and we did it and it worked out really well, and we pulled it out. There’s a couple of little specialty tools that we picked up and we pulled all this floor up and salvaged it and got it back into another house, another project that we were doing. We ended up selling it into another project that we had, even though it cost us a lot to pull it out, we recovered some of the money on another project. So that was really gratifying and that actually was the inspiration. That, and a couple other things was the inspiration for launching another side of our business called Eco Demo, which is deconstruction of not only hardwood four, but actually other components of the building structure. So we’ve done it in that project and then we’ve done it in two other projects where we actually pull up the hardwood floor, Dena it, stack it, and donate it to facilities that can, then people can go buy it and put it in their project.
This is like Habitat for Humanity Restore. Do you guys work with them at all?
Yeah, it’s interesting for as far as facilities. So Eco Demo started with that kitchen project, but we’ve gone on to do full deconstruction projects where a homeowner, when they’re doing a whole house or they’re doing a large remodel, instead of the items going to either a landfill or best case scenario get recycled, we actually go through and carefully dismantle everything that’s usable. It can be the hardwood floors, it can be lighting fixtures, even down to studs and siding. We did a large project in Scotch Valley where we deconstructed a large house with the beveled redwood siding and hardwood floors, and we try and we find places where that goes. So there has to be donated to a nonprofit that can be restore Habitat for Humanity. Restore doesn’t take a lot of hard lumber materials like header, stock framing, stuff like that. So you have to kind of find a mix of folks that’ll take it. And all of this is done with a third party tax appraiser who goes in and documents everything that gets donated and the customer ends up paying a little bit more for the service rather than conventional demolition, but then they get a tax benefit of it when everything gets donated and accounted for. So it’s a pretty exciting new aspect of construction and we’re trying to get in on some of that work as well.
Yeah, a friend of mine did that. He got a gigantic tax deduction for demolishing his house by hand and recycling it rather than just destroying it. A few years ago, I heard that that was kind of going to be the standard that they, in California at least, they weren’t going to allow you to just bring a bulldozer and scrape a house. They were going to require you to go in and essentially disassemble it and recycle it. Am I imagining that or was that,
Yeah, it seems like we’d be farther along with that. And there’s kind of three levels. One level is taking the bulldozer and you take it to the landfill and it goes in the landfill. Next level is maybe you take a bulldozer to it or you go through and you sort it and then you quote recycle it. But the third level is actually the reuse part, which is these items are taken out so carefully that they can be actually reused in a building project. And that’s where we’re trying to get to. And currently where it is right now is understand is there’s codes that require mandate that you quote, recycle a certain percentage of your construction and demolition waste, but there’s not really any mandates in terms of reuse on that. So hopefully that’s a place we can go, but we’re trying to eco demo, we’re trying to push it where it makes sense financially or it’s close enough to make the project feasible where we can actually go through and deconstruct it, provide a tax benefit, and then get things reused.
So speaking of the tax benefit, is that still there with the wonderful new tax structure that we have in 2018 going
Forward? As far as that, it’s kind of a little niche aspect, and I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to be moving forward, but right now it doesn’t look like it’s changed, to be honest. It’s a little bit off the radar with there’s other bigger fish to fry, I guess, if you’re going after tax changes. But one of the important things about it for people that are interested in doing this is definitely affiliating with a high ethics deconstruction appraiser, a little bit like the wild West where some of the companies are going in and they’re saying, Hey, you can get this huge tax rebate. They even document it and tell the customer that’s what they’re going to get. But down the road, if there’s ever any kind of an audit, then hopefully everything works out. But so you really have to be conservative about it.
There’s a rule of thumb on, well, there’s a couple of things. First of all, there’s a rule of thumb on donated materials being like 50% of new plus or minus per condition. But the big thing is to have your deconstruction contractor, which is us at Eco Demo, separated organizationally from your tax deconstruction appraiser. So the folks that we work with, we suggest we have two that we work with or we suggest and they work with the client on the financials and the tax benefit. We don’t ever see that because a little bit of a conflict of interest, if we saw that there is a huge tax benefit, maybe that changes our proposal. So we just propose on the work of it. And then the deconstruction appraiser deals with the client on all the financials and the tax benefit, and so that keeps it clean and ultimately better, safer for the client because they’re not going to have a surprise down the road if it happens to be an audit.
So where do you do your eco demo work? Do you mostly do it in Santa Cruz or how far a field do you work on projects like that?
Yeah, so these are projects where they’re definitely project project basis. It’s not every day that they’re doing this stuff. We do probably one or two, maybe one a month, maybe two a month, but they’re bigger projects. They take time. So we have guys out doing it. But your podcast is funny. It’s aptly named, it’s Beta Bay, which is, I was thinking about it before our talk, and that’s very similar to our territory. We don’t go all the way up to San Francisco, but for the most part, with both floor huggers and eCOA, we go from San Mateo down to Monterey. So we’re kind of covering that area.
Right. Well, it’s a great place to be. So I’m looking here at your house page and I see you have 15 five star reviews. What’s it like being an entrepreneur, a businessman in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay area? I mean, do you find it really challenging to get the business or is there a lot of regulations that are making it hard to do business or are there certain aspects to working in this area that are really helpful to somebody like you?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think that sound kind of Santa Cruz groovy here, but if you’re lined up with what you’re supposed to be doing, then you get good results. I mean, I don’t know, it’s like I feel passionate about the floor huggers and eco demo when we started it. And honestly for us, I’m not saying we haven’t had challenges, but it’s gone pretty nicely the clientele. And I don’t know if it’s just because we attract certain type of clientele that they’re super great to work with. I mean really good partners, good communicators. We try and do, obviously do our part. And I think if you look at our reviews on house and the other websites like HomeAdvisor and stuff, I don’t think we have a bad review on any site. So one way or another customer’s going to be happy. But fortunately we’ve come into some really great clients who communicate well and it’s been nice.
I think the biggest challenge, as said, living here in California coast is the cost of living and starting a business as a small business, getting it going and the cashflow and developing all the resources that you need, that can take some time. So we’ve been able to kind of inch our way forward on that and now we’re doing pretty good. But it’s been enjoyable and not to say without stress, but I think the biggest thing if we’re talking about people coming up and maybe entrepreneur inclined they want to start a business is it doesn’t have to look a certain way. There’s different ways you can do a certain activity. For example, I really appreciated or connected with the creativity of starting a business and what’s it like to create that and bring other people in. I don’t have to do it all myself. I can bring other people in, do the things that I’m passionate about and that I have the energy for.
So I would actually counsel people to focus on what they love to do and try and look for creative ways that you can build your business where you’re, for the most part, you can do what you like to do. And for me it’s really working with clients. I mean, the most satisfying part of my job is when you see that transformation and there’s an aesthetic quality to the floor and the customer is just super jazzed about the result. Probably similar to when you sell a house and they’re just over the moon because they’re in their dream home.
Yeah, it’s really all about the people. It’s interesting you talk about being in alignment because part of my thing with the real estate business is it is a sales job, but being a salesman isn’t necessarily totally in alignment with who I am. I much more prefer to just establish the relationship and people ask me questions about real estate, I’m there and eventually once in a while, somebody works with me to buy or sell a house, but get there. It’s not about cold calling or door knocking, it is just about being there for people when they need somebody who does what I do. I guess kind of what you’re saying is that’s, your business is kind of growing too, just sort of more organically rather than a heavy sales marketing strategy.
Yeah, it’s definitely, and I do some things the way I try and combine the two where for example, if I’m driving around town and I see a contractor, I’ll walk them and talk to ’em. So you could call that a cold call or you could call that getting to know. So I of just
Getting know somebody in the business.
Yeah, exactly. I think the big takeaway is really about try and make it work for you. People have a preconceived notion of if I start a business, it’s going to be this, this and this, and I’ll have to do, I’ll have work late, I’ll have to do all these things. And some of that’s true, but it’s not necessarily true. So try to stay curious and say, Hey, how can I plug into what I’m passionate about? And I think the more you do that actually, it’s ironic, but the more successful you are too.
So I see you have great views on Yelp and home Advisor and House. What percentage of your business comes from cold inquiries from people seeing you on house or Yelp versus people you’ve worked with in the past or family or just business associates? What’s the breakdown?
Yeah, I think it’s probably about, I’d say it’s third. So I think a third comes from web-based stuff. We’re getting off of Yelp and House and Home Advisor and different things Facebook as well. And then a third of it is kind of repeat business from contractors, general contractors that we work with, which is really nice. They have the relationship there and we plug into those projects. And then the other third might be, I guess personal network where it’s friends or family school associates and stuff like that. Actually that’s probably more like 20, but yeah, it’s a good question. I should probably have all this dialed in, but I think that’s the general breakdown. And actually it’s kind of interesting now we’re starting to get people, I would put in the category of friends and family or end user homeowner types who are now, maybe they have a new house or one of the things we focus on with floor huggers is maintenance.
And a lot of floor companies don’t really focus on it. If you go in every couple of years and in the high traffic areas do what’s called a screen and recoat, it’s a light application. We buffer it out and we put one coat on top, it’s like a maintenance coat for paint the floors basically you have a lifetime floor, you never have to go in and do a full sand and refinish. And so we’re starting to get some of that. So I’m getting some customers now that have been just homeowner customers that are now coming back for screen and recoat or maybe they bought another vacation home or maybe they’re doing a development property. And that’s been kind of rewarding to have even that repeat relationship with what I thought was going to be kind of a one-off.
Wow, that’s really great. That’s one thing I really envy about the mortgage business versus the real estate business is that you’re a mortgage broker, you help somebody buy a house and then you help them refinance it several times or get an equity line of credit and it seems like every 2, 3, 4, 5 years you’re working with a client again. Whereas what I do, I try to stay in touch with my clients and a lot of my clients end up becoming friends and I socialize with them. But in terms of an actual business perspective, usually it’s just one and done. But I really like what you’re saying there about having a maintenance program for your floor. I don’t have hardwood floors, I have tile pretty much throughout my house, but everyone loves the hardwood floors. What does that cost? Let’s say I have 2000 square feet of hardwood floors, but you’re just saying it’s the high traffic areas that would get sort of touched up.
Yeah, I mean some people go through and they do their whole thing. I mean there’s a couple different ways. If you want to really be on top of it, you’d be doing your high traffic areas like maybe your kitchen right in the kitchen next to the sink in the dishwasher where there’s a moisture and you’re in there every day. You’d go in and do that area at maybe like a dollar 50 a square foot for a hundred square feet. That’s really not too bad. It’s a small little touch-up. Other folks are waiting three to four years and then doing their whole house.
And that would be a dollar 50 square foot for 2000 square feet sounds like a lot, but when you compare it to a refinish, which could be $5 a square foot or even six down the road, then it’s a lot cheaper to do the maintenance. Plus it keeps it nice. The other impact keeps it nice. What’s really nice about the screen and recoat too, and one of the biggest challenges I have, it’s funny when customers are debating doing flooring, it’s not really that they can’t do the floor, they don’t have the money to do the floor. It’s really, they’re like, where do we go for three or four days or a week? Who’s going to move all the furniture out? So it’s more of, sometimes it’s a logistics, a hurdle that people can’t get over. So the screen and recode is nice. You can move the furniture around and then you buff it out. You don’t have to mask everything off. It’s a less invasive kind of application.
So those screen recodes, that can only be done on a real hardwood floor, right? These engineered hardwood floors, you wouldn’t do that for that, would you?
No, absolutely. Yeah, you can. Yeah, I mean it has a finish on it. Usually the engineered floors have an aluminum oxide finish that’s put on in China or somewhere, wherever they’re producing the floor. And so what we do is we have a product that goes in and etches it, so it kind of gives it a tooth or makes it a little bit rough, and then we buff out a thing. It’s not going to take out, if you have a floor that’s been beat up, it’s not going to take out the deep scratches, but it’ll take out the surface scratches and it will make it look kind of uniform and clean and nice. And I’m amazed that as a floor guy, when I do a screen and recoat on a floor that has some deep scratches, I look at that when it’s done and I can still see, okay, there’s still some of that stuff’s in there, but the customers love it. They like it more than I think they would because it’s clean, it’s refreshed and all the light scratches are gone. And then it’s also protected from the moisture.
So about the engineered hybrid floors, again, I’d always heard that you can’t really refinish those more than two or three times because it’s just a veneer on top of plywood or particle board that you can’t really refinish them too much. Is that not correct?
Yeah, it’s a good question and it’s kind of all over the board, and that’s why we always counsel folks to the critical measurement is when you’re buying engineered floors to look at the wear layer, and honestly there’s really no reason not to buy an engineered floor, especially in coastal climates. They’re more dimensionally stable because the substrate is a plywood which has the cross doesn’t expand and contract or cup like a solid wood might. And as long as your wear layer, which is basically the sandal part that you’re going to refinish down the road or the part that you walk on the top, usually that’s whatever solid wood that is, whether it’s oak poplar or not poplar, but oak or maple or whatever it happens to be, as long as that’s significant and what you’re looking for is like a four or a five millimeter wear layer that’s a quality product and they make some cheap stuff that has a two millimeter wear layer, you’re not going to be able to really refinish that. And what’s interesting is people think with, even with solid wood floors, you can just keep sanding and finishing you getting three sand and finishes out of a hardwood floor, maybe four. That’s actually a lot because all you’re really working with is that top part above the groove. So people think you can just refinish solid wood floors until the cows come home, but you can’t always. But yeah, so the engineered floors, as long as you’re getting a nice thick wear layer, you can certainly sand those down and refinish.
Well, that’s interesting. So you’re telling me that if I have a, because you walk into a house, they have these dug fur floors from 1910, they must have been refinished a bunch of times. I mean that’s a soft wood though. Is there a difference between the soft wood flooring from a hundred years ago and refinishing it versus the hardwoods that we use today?
Yeah, that’s a good question. Yeah. In fact, my first project was that craftsman I was mentioning earlier was a Douglas fir floor from a hundred years ago. And so we finished it,
We finished it once. And when you’re refinishing a softwood like Pine or Douglas, it goes a lot quicker because it’s soft. So you got to be careful about how quick you take it down, but you can still refinish it a number of times if you like. What you can do is sometimes people have a little vent to where the heat register comes up on the floor and there’s a little cutout. So that’s kind of a little trick if you want to see how much wear layer you have is to pull that vent up and then look and you can see exactly where the tongue and groove joint is and then how much what’s called meat or wear layer is on top and you get an idea of how much more you have to go. But yeah, you can refinish that as well. And one of the products that we use, another part of the sustainability focus of floor huggers is some unique and custom finishes. So you put an oil-based polyurethane on, or what we’re using for the sustainable products, especially on a duck fur or an oak is a wax oil finish, which is a different treatment and it looks a little bit different on the floor than a polyurethane finish. And it’s also a hundred percent, well, it’s very sustainable with zero VOCs. It’s made from a little wax particle that goes in the oil that goes in the floor. So it is a pretty neat product.
Not everybody knows. V O C is what’s A V O C?
Yeah, V O C is a volatile organic compound, and basically it’s the amount of chemicals that are off gas or that vent out of your product or out of your floor after you’ve applied it. So everything is rated for acceptable limits of volatile organic compound. So this product, one of the ones we use is called Rubio hard wax oil or Osmo Hard wax oil. They’re a little more popular in Europe and they’re gaining traction here as well is a zero V O C product. And it’s a really nice option. So many clients, as you know, SAB here and Santa Cruz and along the coast are really conscious of sustainability and also the health impact of your home. You want to have a healthy home and not have off-gassing and chemicals in your construction. So this product’s popular with that crowd.
Is that a lot more expensive than the toxic whatever they use normally,
And I should probably reframe that because no products are actually toxic. I think it’s a scale, the oil base is probably a little worse, polyurethane as well. The difference is the toxicity or the volatile or can of compounds, but it’s also kind of an aesthetic difference too. Polyurethane, I kind joke I tell people it’s kind of like putting one of those plastic covers on your couch. There’s a little film on top of your floor, so you’re a little bit separated. The hard wax oil goes into the pores of the wood and penetrates it so it looks a little bit more like natural wood even though it does have a finish on it. And so that’s how that’s working. And I’ve already talked out of your question, I can’t remember what you actually asked there.
Oh, just the cost differential between
Low V O C and traditional whatever stuff that people use.
That one’s the same. That’s what’s kind of nice about it.
So why would people use it? Just the look they want more traditional polyurethane look versus
V O C
Look. Yeah, so there’s a couple of things there too. The product’s more expensive, but the application’s a little quicker. So we just for pricing and we do it the same. One of the, and these wax oil finishes are popular in Europe where their mentality for construction and building is like, Hey, this is going to be, this house is going to be in the family for 300 years or whatever. So they have a little bit more of a longer term perspective. And so one of the benefits of the wax oil is that instead it’s similar to a maintenance coat where you can go on and you can spot repair areas, you can go into areas and reapply it in spots where you can maintain it, where you never have to go through and do the full standing, take the wood down to raw and then refinish down the road. So a little bit more yearly maintenance, but reduces that need to do a full maintenance down the road. It’s a little bit more if you’ve got kids and dogs and things. Some people like the polyurethane because it’s pretty robust. They don’t have to worry so much about if they’ve got a dog with sharp claws or something. You’re going to see some of that until you do your maintenance code on it. So there’s a little bit different aspect of how the floors age as well.
So you’re telling me that I can get a engineered floor with a thick wear level that I can expect is going to last as long as just a standard California oak floor. Is that right? Did I you hear that correctly?
Absolutely. And in fact, even if you’re doing a sightly finishing where we bring the sanding equipment down and sand the floors down and it’s called finish in place, which we’re going to apply either polyurethane or hard wax oil, even if you’re doing that, you can still have an engineered engineered floor that has a raw wear layer. And what’s nice about that is a little technical detail. When you have a pre-finished floor that comes out an engineered, they have what’s called micro bevels, which is a little tiny crack basically in between the floorboards and they have to have that so that there’s no sharp edges in between the floors because you’re not going to be sanding those in place. And so some people don’t like that look. They like the look of a traditional floor where it’s perfectly flat and there’s no cracks or gaps in between the boards.
And so you can get an engineered floor that we can actually finish in place. It’ll look exactly like a solid wood floor, but it’s going to perform a lot better, especially in these coastal climates. A little side note here, we’re seeing some things happen to our floors that we haven’t seen in 15 years, and it’s a little bit the flooring equivalent of extreme weather patterns because we had such drought years for a number of years and then we had all that moisture last year and we’re seeing some movement in some of our floors where we haven’t seen it. And so the engineer floor is going to perform a lot better with that kind of a situation because it doesn’t expand and contract as much, you’re not going to have any cupping over time like you might with the solid wood floors.
Well, that is very good to know because I’ve always looked at the pricing on the engineered pre-finished floors and I thought, well, there must be something not great because they are cheaper seems to me than getting a traditional hardwood floor. What’s the cost differential between the two between a standard oak floor and an engineered product?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, it’s not as much of a delta as you might think, and it really depends. Once again, I mean you can buy engineered floor at Home Depot for 2 99 a square foot with a two millimeter wear layer that is not super nice, won’t last a long time. Or you can get a dish Chateau European engineered floor for 15 bucks a square foot. So it’s really all over the board. But I think a good middle range, if you want to compare it is we’re at like 12 or $13 per square foot for let’s just say for an install and a finished in place oak floor with no stain for the product, the installation, and the standing and finishing. And you might spend about 10 or $11 a square foot or let’s just say maybe nine to $11 a square foot for an engineered for that you put in as well. So the delta, it is less expensive, but it’s not as much as you might think.
So why would people want to have a not finished hardwood floor installed? I mean it seems to me that nowadays when you go to the flooring store, most stuff is pretty finished. So why would you not want a pre-finished floor installed?
Well, so one of the things about that is the convenience factor. When you have finished in place floor, you need to have time to the contractor come and install it. You have to provide the dust protection. So it’s a lot more convenient to have a pre-finished floor that goes in and there’s no sanding involved. It just goes in a little faster and that’s one of the reasons why you see so much of it out there.
But why would you want to have a not pre-finished floor now that there’s so many great pre-finished options available? Why do some people choose still to finish it in place?
Got it. That’s a good question. Yeah, so the finished in place look is something that, it goes back to that micro bevels. Anytime you have an engineered floor that already has the finished on it, the technical term is chafer, which is a little edge cut on each of the boards. And so when you’re looking at it, it’s
At my iPhone, the chafer edges.
Yeah, CHED Edge, exactly. It’s kind of a minute detail, but when you look at it, you can tell, okay, this isn’t a totally tabletop type floor. So you can still see it has an engineered look and those bevels, those edges, there are one of the things that people want the C and finish in place because it gives it that traditional look with no cracks in the boards,
But that’s for the engineered product. What about the non engineered product? I mean, you can still order unfinished hardwood.
I see what you’re saying.
Sorry. Why do people want to do that? Why would we even bother?
Why wouldn’t they just do engineer?
Well, even non engineered, they have a non engineered pre-finished hardwood flooring, right? So why wouldn’t you just get that versus the not finished and then finish it on site? What’s the appeal? It’s a lot more
Work it seems
It’s a good question. I mean, some of it is people, they have preconceived notions that they think are out there, so we’re kind of up against that sometimes. A lot of my job is educating clients on what the best options are. We have a forward word process, which is consult, design, install, and then love. So that’s kind of our process. We consult and that’s what we really focus on is what are the needs of the client? What are they trying to achieve? If some people want the cost effective option, maybe it’s a rental and they’re putting in something that’s durable or they have an aesthetic they’re trying to achieve. So we try and listen to the client and then from that design and install the project that they want and then for years of enjoyment. So that’s sort of our process on that. And a lot of that is educating people on these very questions about, Hey, what’s the difference between engineered finish in place solid versus pre-finished and that kind of thing.
Okay. Well, I’m going to use a bad word here, so please forgive me, but what about laminate flooring?
Laminate? Yeah. Do
You guys do that at all or no,
It’s fine. I’m trying to think if we’ve ever done one. We don’t not do it. I should say that I would do it, but
No one’s asked.
Yeah, I haven’t had that request too much. There are some really interesting products that are coming out that they’re not one of the reasons people commonly choose laminate. Their cost is one of ’em, but the other one is the durability because it’s pretty bombproof. The moisture is not an issue with it, but there’s some new floors coming out that are composite floors which have the look of wood and they have kind of a wood grain on top, but they’re actually made of cement material. There’s almost zero expansion contraction on these floors, and they’re a hundred percent waterproof. So they’re great for kitchens and bathrooms and that kind of thing, and they’re pretty cost effective. So we’ve done a couple of those floors as well. So when people are looking for laminate for the durability and things, I try and point ’em to some of these new composite products that are out there that are really nice. And the aesthetic is quite a bit different too. It looks like a natural wood.
Oh, interesting. Now I also heard about they have a new kind of bamboo product because bamboo is very inexpensive, but it’s soft. But I hear they have a new kind of bamboo that’s infused with a resin or something like that to make it really hard and durable.
Bamboo is a super hard finished floor product and it’s engineered, they have to obviously engineer it. It’s not like raw bamboo, it’s really a grass. Bamboo is really a grass. And so they laminated, I think it’s called Strand, which you’re talking about was their laminating layers and layers of bamboo with their hard resin. And it’s as far as the scale of hardness, which I think is the jenka scale, which is they rate all hardwood on that scale. Bamboo is super, super hard and durable. So it’s a great product. It’s also really sustainable in terms of lifecycle of how long it takes for these things to grow and the energy they take to produce and stuff like that. So Bamboo’s a real popular product as well. I think maybe we’re on the tail end of the popularity it seems like a few years ago it was kind of a rage, and people are still doing that. We just did two bamboo projects in the last month, so it’s definitely still popular.
Okay. Now let’s say that I’m thinking about replacing my floor and I want to go and look at a whole bunch of flooring ideas. Where’s a good place for a consumer to go and educate themselves on their flooring options today?
Yeah, it’s funny, in the old days, your flooring contractor was kind of the guy that helped you source your floor, and now you can buy flooring everywhere. You can buy it at Target, probably, I don’t know. But we’re now more in a position as contractors where we’re consulting with folks and sometimes they want to buy their own product or they’ve seen it, which is Great. House is a good website for taking a look at different ideas that are out there, especially in how it connects with the design of the house. But all the flooring stores that are out there, we have a wholesale shop in San Jose that provides all of our raw materials and flooring, and they have a really nice showroom where my clients can go and have a look at all these different options and take a look at ’em, and then come back to me and say, Hey, I like this A, B, and C. Let me see a quote on what these are. And we can get samples provided as well.
What’s that shop called?
Gallagher, yeah. Those
Are the folks that provided me with that flooring for my job down there in Carl Dera. And that came out really well, by the way. No one walking through that house had any idea that that floor had been patched. Right. They matched it. So exactly. It was uncanny, actually.
Perfect. Nice. Matt,
Remember, was that a Doug F? Did they?
No, that was a Red Oak.
Red Oak, yeah.
Glad that worked
Out. It’s amazing because the whole floor is refinished, but I mean those floors were 1965 original, so that means those trees were cut in 64, whatever, and here it is 50 plus years later and it’s a exact match, just like you wouldn’t even know. So Gallagher, and where are they located? They’re in San Jose and anyone can go anytime to go and browse their selection.
Yeah, they have a great showroom there where you go in ’em. They usually have someone on staff that can help you depending on what species or what type of you look you’re looking for and go through it. It’s a nice place for clients to go if they’re on that side. There’s a couple other spots here as well.
Yeah. Who in Santa Cruz does, or Monterey, who around here has a good selection? I mean, any names?
Well, the top of your head. I really like a colleague of mine actually, and just don’t tell ’em Floor huggers is going to do the install, but a colleague of mine is NEMA over at, so May’s Eco Flooring is a really great guy, owns a little, kind of a smaller shop over near the Ville and Santa Cruz, and it’s got a lot of great options, sustainable options, pre-finished stuff. One particular that I like a lot is actually a reclaimed product that comes from San Diego. It’s an oak floor that’s coming out of barns and different things, so it’s actually a reclaimed hardwood floor product. So Nema, Samaya, iss Eco Flooring, the owner there is Nema. He’s a great, great guy there. Really consultative and points people in the right direction, but just tell ’em it’s a floor hugger job.
Right. Okay. Well that’s interesting because that’s not like a big name, right? That’s not Bay Area Floors, that’s not Rainbow Carpet or Home Depot. So should people sort of stay away from these big name or chain home improvement type places for their flooring? Or is it okay,
To their brows, all those products just really cheap, bad quality or what?
No, those guys, I mean, bay Floors does a great job of having a full gamut. I mean, they have a larger showroom, so they’ve got everything from what I call down and dirty, maybe cheap on the laminate or cheap pre-feed engineered all the way up to De Chateau. So Bay Area Floors is a good one. Obviously you can go to the big boxes and stuff. I always like to keep it local. I think for what we do at Floor Huggers, I like to work with folks that are doing the sustainability stuff if we can. And Bay Area Floors I’m sure has those as well too. So a lot of these retail locations like to provide their own installations too. So I have to be wary about who to partner with in terms of making sure that we’re doing, covering our bases, on keeping our clients.
But so many people go to Home Depot and if I go to Home Depot, I look at the flooring, none of it looks really that good. Is there any good product there? Could somebody go there and buy sustainable flooring and have you install it? Is that even a possibility or no?
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, they can buy a product there, and I had that in the past. I mean, they have some Bamboo products there. Bamboo is a sustainable product and I’m not going to disparage it. Like I said about the consultative aspect, I mean, some people, they’re like, Hey, we’re on a budget. We’re trying to put a couple bedrooms together and we need something that’s $3 and 50 cents a square foot. Maybe Home Depot’s a good option there. And even Gallagher has some low cost options too. So I don’t really prescribe to one size fits all. It’s really about what the client needs. So Home Depot is an option spot. I just have a personal philosophy of trying to keep business somewhat local. And there’s some political stuff with Home Depot, but we don’t have to get into that.
Right. So if somebody wanted to have a floor installed by you, what’s that process? Does that take a long time, you have to book it six months in advance, or what’s that process like? You go over their house and you consult with them. What’s that look like?
That’s exactly it. We set up a meeting. Sometimes there’s a quick call on the phone on what they’re looking for. I make sure that they understand what maybe some general ballpark pricing is before we go over and have a look. But most of my clients, it’s funny, most of my clients are pretty ready to go. They know that they need it. They’re looking at some different options. So we’ll go over and have a look at the job and see what they’re looking for, what some of the options are, maybe there’s some repair that needs to happen, and then give ’em a proposal, provided that everything looks good. We’re schedule it up on the schedule with either a signed contractor or deposit. And we’re running about three weeks out right now on our installations, which is more than I’d like. I’d like to be a little faster on stuff, but most people have to plan ahead anyway, as we mentioned with moving and logistics. So it works out well and well,
It’s an busy time. I mean, it’s a boom essentially, right? I mean, it’s a boom time, I guess. Right? Economy
Be doing pretty well.
Yeah, exactly. Right now is a time where there’s a lot of building going on, and that can be for the homeowner that can be heard a lot from some of my clients. Like, Hey, so glad that you guys came in and did a great job. Because like I said, everybody’s out there doing a lot of work. So for the client side, they’re having to sort of chase some of these guys.
Well, plus this three weeks now hardwood is supposed to be cured, mean or acclimatize to your house. So if I say, okay, let’s start in three weeks, does that mean three weeks you come and deliver the flooring to sit in my garage for two weeks? Or how does that work?
Yeah, that’s a great question. And that’s all part of our process. So if it’s every floor that we put in, we’ll need to get acclimated at some level. If it’s an engineered floor, it’s a little bit less, but usually it’s about five to 10 days beforehand and you need to have it in the condition space. The garage is not going to be good because it’s not heated
There’s the moisture. So yeah, so that’s all part of the process. We will sign the contract, we’ll get material ordered, what we call load in, which is, Hey, when’s a good time to bring the product over? And oftentimes I’ll be lining my guys out and showing them the project and what the scope is while we’re in there loading in the wood after five to 10 days in there. And there’s rules of thumb, but we like to go with hard data. So we have a moisture meter, we actually test the wood and it has to be within a certain tolerance of the subfloor. So there’s two measurements. One is the general moisture level of the hardwood, and the other one is the, I should say there’s three moisture level of the hardwood moisture level of the plywood substrate, which you’re going to nail it to, and then making sure that those are all in range.
And then also that they’re close enough together within a certain range too. So there’s some of that stuff that we have to look at. A lot of guys go with just rules of thumb, Hey, we let it sit for five days, but if that product hardwood came from say the South, or it came from a high humidity area and then we’re having a dry time of year, that can kind of play havoc on how that floor performs. The other thing that often time people don’t understand is that there’s an acclimation process for a finish in place floor where we need to acclimate five to seven days in between the installation of the floor and the sanding and the applying of the finish. So on those projects, there’s actually two times where we have to pull off and let things acclimate to in order to achieve a great result.
Right. Okay. Interesting. So I’m sold, if I need a floor, I’m calling you. How can people get ahold of you to get you in their house and figure out a great flooring solution for them?
Yeah, good question. So we’re on all the sites. Google My Business House is a great one. We have a little default website on house as well where all my contact information’s there. Home advisor by, that’s
H O U Z z.com.
How? Yeah, if you just punch in your browser house floor huggers or homeadvisor.com/floor huggers, we’ll come up Floor huggers a unique name, so you’re not going to get us confused with anybody else. We’re in the process of getting our website launched as well, so that’ll be another adder. But other sites, Yelp is another one. If you in Yelp floor huggers, we’re coming up on all the sites, and those are great sites because it’s kind of a default. You can see testimonials of past customers and reviews as well as photos of projects as well. So you kind of get to learn a lot about us just through those sites.
Alright, very good. Okay, so we’re about an hour into our discussion here, and then we’re going to wrap things up. Is there anything you want people to know before we wrap this up here?
Yeah, great. I wanted to make a note. We’re kind of formalizing a new thing for Floor huggers, which we’re calling Floor Angels in conjunction with launching of our Facebook page, which should be coming out in the next month every year what we’ve done is we’ve picked one project that is kind of more of like, I want to call it community service, but maybe a client that needed a floor and wasn’t able to come up with the funds for it, or a nonprofit that needed to have a tuneup on one of their floors. So we try and pick something that’s a community service based thing. And so we’re going to be launching Floor Angels where people can nominate Friends of Family on our Facebook page and say, Hey, you need to go help these guys out with their floor. And then what we do is we either do it for free or we do it for, we provide all the labor for free if they provide materials, depends on the scope of the project, and it’s kind of a way that we can give back to the community and share the love on the flooring. So keep an eye out for that, and we’ll be launching our Facebook page soon for Floor Angel Program.
Wow, that is really cool. That’s an amazing thing to be doing.
Yeah, we’re really excited. We’ve done these projects in the past and now we’re going to kind formalize it and put it up and show it. One of ’em that’s coming up that we’re really excited about, it’s not going to happen this year, but it’s going to be next year, is a veteran’s organization in San Jose, and they have a beautiful hall down in Willow Glen, and it’s 1500 square feet of Maple. It’s been refinished three or four times, and you’re starting to see the nails and it needs some love, but they’re strapped. They don’t have the budget for it. So we’re doing a GoFundMe on that one. And so we’re setting that up for a Floor Angels project for next year. And so that’ll be all listed on there too. If people want to donate for this great cause to help this veterans organization get their haul back up, because that’s how they get funding is they rent out this hall for weddings and whatnot, and that’s helping support the veterans.
Wow, that’s super cool. I will be sure to get a link to that, the GoFundMe project for the show notes and also your Facebook page, your Yelp and house and all that stuff, so people will all find that there. The floor angel sounds amazing. That’s really cool thing you’re doing. Thank you so much. And I guess that’s about it, and thank you so much, Zach, for coming on the podcast. I learned a whole lot.
Hey, it’s a pleasure s thanks so much for having me.
Alright, that wraps up episode number nine of the Bay to Bay podcast. As always, the Bay to Bay podcast is sponsored by the sold book.com. That’s right, the sold book.com. It’s a book I wrote called Get It Sold, and it’s all about how to sell your home quickly, easily, and for the highest price possible and hopefully how to have a good time doing it. So thanks again for listening. I really appreciate it. And if you wouldn’t mind, please go to iTunes and give me a five star review. Any review would be great, but five Stars would be so much better. That really helps the show get ranked and share this information with other people around the area who might find it of interest. So thanks once again and we’ll catch it next time.