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Free or Low-Cost Flooring Installation

Is It Such a Good Deal?

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"Free" provokes conflicting emotions. On the one hand, free is free. What can be better than paying $0.00?

On the other hand, it's unfathomable that businesses would carry the high cost of flooring installation. Maybe a shoe store can give away free socks. But with flooring, installation is a service running into the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. We all know that the cost must be carried elsewhere.

Let's examine the details of those offers for free or low-cost flooring installation.

Some "Options" Are Not Optional

Free and low-cost installation offers don't give you much beyond the bare minimum. Yet you often need to go beyond the minimum even to get the thing installed properly.

Some extra charge options that I consider moderately or completely optional:

  • Stair Installation: Not everybody has stairs. Even people who have stairs don't always want the new flooring installed on it.
  • Moving the Furniture: A heavy-duty task, but not one that must be performed by flooring installers.
  • Removal and Disposal of Old Flooring: If you're not up to the task of installing your own flooring, you're not up to the task of removing the old product. It can be frustrating, back-breaking work. But you can hire anyone to do the job.
  • Sub-Floor Preparation and Leveling: You may have a subfloor and underlayment system perfectly suitable for your new floor. Cost: zero. Small areas that need to be leveled can actually be addressed inexpensively with a liquid, pour-on self-leveling compound. Larger areas need carpentry work and can be expensive.
Yet other so-called optional services must be performed:
  • Transitions Between Different Types of Flooring: Transitions smooth out differing levels and/or gaps between your new floor and adjoining floors. Whole-house flooring installation is one instance where you might not need to install transitions.
  • Removal and Re-Installation of Shoe Molding or Baseboards: Flooring and walls never seamlessly join each other; they need help. Help is in the form of moldings to cover the gap: quarter-round, shoe-molding, baseboards. Often it's difficult to remove the materials without damaging them. In this case, you will need to install new baseboards or moldings.

Mainly Carpeting and Laminate Flooring

The most significant limiting factor: most free installation offers are for carpeting and laminate flooring only; you won't find offers for tilework or hardwood flooring, both labor-intensive activities.

I hesitate to call laminate flooring installation easy. But, well, it is easy. Even a minimally skilled DIYer can install laminate flooring. In essence, you are paying someone to do what you probably already can do.

Carpeting is a bit different: it's not as simple as unrolling the product and pressing the edges into tack strips.

Hardwood floor and tile installation are both considered as much art as they are craft, and you'll be hard-pressed to find free offers for either.

And as a final limiter, free installation offers tend to restrict which laminate or carpeting products can be applied to the offer. As one example, glue-down carpeting is often excluded from these offers.

Best Bet: Separate Cost of Materials From Cost of Labor

How can you compare apples to oranges when the factors are different? Let's say The Home Depot offers $1.99/sq. ft. whole-house laminate flooring installation--yet applicable only to certain types of laminate which may not necessarily be your first pick. Another company offers you the laminate you really want, but installation is not included. Where do you stand?

When shopping, keep materials cost separate from labor cost. I think it's perfectly valid to entertain free and low-cost installation offers, but they should be kept separate from materials- and labor-only estimates.

Standardize estimates so that they are all on the same page. For example, if a company offers $250 whole-house installation, and your house is 1,500 sq. ft., the cost per square foot is around $0.17. A negligible amount, yes, but it helps you accurately compare the various estimates.

Sample Flooring Costs For Laminate Plus Installation (Per Sq. Ft.)

COMPANYMATERIALSLABORMATERIALS + LABOR
The Floor Source$3$1$3.50
Floor-o-Rama$5$2$5
Flaherty & Co. (Installer)N/A$2.75N/A

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