Plugging the Radiator Holes in the Floor

NOTE: This post was written primarily as a form of therapy to help me cope with what turned out to be an unfortunate business relationship that caused me to flip my lid.  Read with caution.I apologize for the passive anger fueling this post.

Regular readers will recall that we hired The Floor Guy to refinish our floors a while back.  For the most part, we were happy with him and the final product, but there were also several things that we were disappointed with.  In particular, there was one thing The Floor Guy did that was completely asinine (to quote The Roof Guy).

Back when we were still trying to figure out if the floor was worthy of restoration, one thing I was particularly worried about was all of the holes in the floor from the old radiator pipes.  In total, there were six holes, each about 1.5 inches in diameter that would need to be repaired.

When The Floor Guy came over, I asked him about the holes and how he planned to fix them.

“I’ll stick a tree branch in them.”

Say what?  A tree branch?

The Floor Guy was proposing to fix them by sticking a tree branch in them, apparently.

In hindsight, this should have been a huge red flag.  And it was, I guess.  I was skeptical from the beginning about “sticking a tree branch in it.”  But I knew from googling around that it’s common to use tapered plugs that you jam into the hole and then sand until they’re flush with the floor.  And so when The Floor Guy proposed doing virtually the same thing but with a tree branch, well, I just assumed he knew what he was talking about.  He said it with such confidence.

I knew something was wrong, however, when he had finished sanding and hadn’t filled the holes, yet.  I was curious how he was planning on making sure that the plugs would end up flush with the finished floor.  Still, I was pretty darn impressed with the sanding he’d done, and he hadn’t yet given me reason to doubt that he knew what he was doing.

The problem became more apparent as work progressed, however. I came home one day to find that he had plugged the holes, but half of them looked like this:

In case it’s hard to tell from the photo, the plug has sunk about a half inch below the level of the finished floor.  None of the plugs he used fit tightly in the holes.  The Floor Guy had attempted to glue them in place, but it didn’t work because the gaps around the edges of the plugs were too big.  With hardly any effort, it was simple to push the plugs straight down through the floor into the basement.

I pointed that out to the floor guy and indicated that I thought the plugs needed to be supported from underneath, and he assured me he’d fix it. Later, he told me he’d fixed it (“I used tons of Gorilla Glue this time!”), but again, when placing hardly any pressure on the plugs, they fell right through.  And he hadn’t even tried to fix several of the other plugs.

So then we had to have an uncomfortable conversation, which I’ll quickly paraphrase:

“Gluing them in place isn’t working.  I think the plugs need to be supported from underneath.”
“No, they’re fine.  They won’t fall out.”
“Yes they will. One of them already has and the rest will fall out as soon as someone sets a chair leg down on them.”
“Well don’t put a chair leg on it.”
“The plugs are too small. They don’t fit tightly in the holes.”
“They were tight when I put them in, they shrunk because I used a branch from a live tree.”
“You told me you’d done this before. Shouldn’t you have anticipated that?”
“Well I’m only charging you $10 to fix the holes… What else do you want?  We spent a long time trying to get the Gorilla Glue in there.  I’ll fix it when I come back to install the kitchen threshold in a couple days.”
You’re an asshat.  Get out of my house and don’t come back.”

Ok, I didn’t actually say the last one, but I wanted to.  The truth is that I had already paid the guy, so he had little reason to care about whether he’d done a good job.  And he did still have to come back one last time to do one more thing.

After this conversation, it became clear than he and I had very different ideas about quality.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a total hack.  I do a half-assed job at a lot of our home improvement projects, but this guy is making me look like Bob Vila!  If this was representative of The Floor Guy’s hole-fixing skills, I wasn’t sure I wanted him to try again, especially since all he was talking about was “more Gorilla Glue.”  It became clear to me that even if I fought with the guy to make him try to fix it a third time, I wasn’t going to be happy with whatever he came up with.

I didn’t actually mind that the plugs weren’t tight in the holes.  The old floor is full of gaps and cracks, so it’s really not a big deal if the plugs aren’t totally snug.  I just didn’t want them falling through the floor into the basement the first time somebody looked at them wrong.  Is that too much to ask?  If the plugs aren’t going to be snug in the holes, I felt pretty strongly that they needed to be supported from underneath somehow. So I had to fix it myself, which was annoying since I had already paid him to do it.

The first step was to remove all the old plugs, which wasn’t hard at all since they were falling out on their own anyway. Here’s a couple photos of one of the plugs, which The Floor Guy had attempted to support from underneath with a crumpled up piece of paper and duct tape:

 

Here’s a photo of one of the other plugs looking up from the basement:

Yes, that’s an 8 inch tree branch sticking through the subfloor into the basement.  Am I the only one that thinks this is asinine?

Providing modest support from beneath was easy.  I just screwed a piece of plywood onto the underside of the subfloor across the holes. Nothing complicated here.  It just has to be strong enough that the plugs don’t have to defy gravity to stay in place.

Once all the holes had a bottom on them (i.e. they weren’t just gaping holes straight into the basement), it was easy to cut the 8 inch tree branch plugs down to the right height and glue them into place again.  Here’s what one of them looked like when I was done:

The worst part is that this has left me with a sour taste in my mouth about the whole experience. The Floor Guy was recommended by a friend, who has hired him several times in the past and had good experiences each time.  The Floor Guy was nice enough, and responded quickly to most of my requests.  In addition I was quite satisfied with the rest of the work performed by The Floor Guy. Overall, I think the floors look great. Still, it is unlikely that I would recommend The Floor Guy to a friend in the future.

What do you think, readers?  Am I an unreasonable customer, or am I getting exactly what I paid for from a guy who proposed to “stick a tree branch in it” for $10?

15 comments to Plugging the Radiator Holes in the Floor

  • Anonymous

    Not being unreasonable at all my friend! But a word to the wise. I would never pay all of it up front….pay half, then when you are satisfied with the job, then pay the rest, that is how you do business:) Sorry for your frustration…but your posts are hilarious.

  • @Anonymous – lesson learned. It's a long story, but I had only paid him half, then he performed the bulk of the work, and then I paid him for everything else at a later date (but still obviously too soon…)

  • Dez

    I would think that if you wanted a log cabin that you would have requested it upfront. Although, I'm not sure your support will hold up to much either.

  • @Dez – well it's certainly not the best way to fill these holes, although it's strong enough to walk on, and I'm confident it's a good 10-year fix at least. A better idea would have been to replace the boards with holes in them. The strange thing is that The Floor Guy did, in fact, replace a few entire boards in a couple other locations and he did a decent job. Why he didn't do it in these locations as well is bizarre.

  • Dez

    I'm guessing it's because they are so close to the baseboard and might have required taking that out to replace…

    unless of course the ones he replaced were by the baseboard, and if that is the case please disregard this whole comment.

  • @Dez – well, one of the boards he replaced, for example, is visible in the last photo of this post. Look left of the plug, and you can see the joint and the slightly-different-color board to the left – 3rd plank from the wall. That's a new board he replaced. Why he didn't make that joint 8 inches further to the right to get rid of that hole is a complete mystery to me…

  • Codicho

    That's so bogus. It is pretty obvious how much less effort & time supporting them with a board from underneath would be than glue.

  • Wow, what a hack job. No, you're not being at all unreasonable in expecting someone to do it right. If it was you doing this work or a friend of yours doing it for free, hey, no big deal. If you're paying someone to do the work, they should do it right. These repairs were just plain comical.

  • I don't know much about this kind of stuff, but I literally laughed out loud at the tree branch sticking down into the basement. I don't think you're expecting too much. I would expect better. Though I would also expect to pay more than $10 for a good fix, too. Did he have some reason to think that the holes had to be fixed for $10?

  • @Codicho – Totally – I spent 2 or 3 hours doing this, and that's probably about the same amount of time The Floor Guy spent trying to figure out how much crumpled paper he needed to fit under that one plug.

    @InspectorReuben – I'm glad you agree. I'm wondering what you would have written in an inspection report if you found a tree branch hanging out the bottom of a floor??

    @Apertome – Well, $10 is the price he quoted me when he first agreed to "stick a tree branch in it." This struck me as unusually cheap, but it was exactly what the friend who recommended him to me told me would happen – that he would offer to perform spot repairs at an extremely low rate.

  • Maybe you could negotiate backwards: "$20 for the holes, but you fix them properly."

  • I'm very much a plain English kind of guy. I would have said "It looks like someone tried to repair a hole in the floor with a tree branch. This probably won't last long."

    Short and sweet.

  • Mike H.

    It’ the accused reuben has really hyped this up, I did’nt jam a 8″ log into his floor, they were’nt even 1 ” with my table saw you cut 8 to 10 3/4 to 1″ peices to find the best fit, then you grind the edges to a cone shape, I’ve don’t it once or twice and people liked it better then i pine plug, HE DID”NT WANT TO PAY ME TO TEAR-OUT AND REPLACE W RECLAIMED WOOD TO MATCH PERFECT, patch work can get up there in price, I tried to save him the burden of that expense, I also remember reminding Reuben, that HE needed to figure out how to come from the basement side and screw in pieces of plywood I told him that 4 times,He would have had to pay my more for subfloor prep, He jammed that tree into his own floor and took a picture of it to try to make me look bad. I do excellent work Every Where I Go, His Kitchen tile with all that mud and everything else The Tile Guy Did, had that floor over an inch above the hardwood, My distributor does’nt have anything for that without a 100 dollar attached to it,Bottom Line The guy did’nt want to sink alot of money into the floor, I did the best i could without taking advantage of the situation, Im an honest man, somebody else would have come in and stuck it to REUBEN for and extra $5-600 easy He wanted to avoid patching in because of the expense, thank you for listening to my side, and here he is trying to slander my good name. WOW!

  • There are two sides to every story, right folks? I was an unhappy customer, and I will never hire Mike again. That being said, I mentioned that Mike came highly recommended from a friend. That same friend was shocked that we had a bad experience with Mike, and has since hired Mike again to do additional work, which he was pleased with. I am confident that my friend would continue to recommend Mike’s work to other customers.

    I’m not going to respond directly to Mike’s comment above (because this was over a year ago, we don’t own the house anymore, and I just generally don’t care anymore), only to note that I remember some things differently than he does, and I don’t agree with his characterization that we were unwilling to pay for repairs (see previous comments about how he actually did perform some repairs).

    Am I an unreasonable customer demanding quality that I don’t want to pay for? You’ll have to decide that on your own.

    Good luck.

  • chris

    Hi, well what I do have to say is its more of a carpentry job. If he is just a refinisher he shouldn’t have to rip up boards from a closet attic etc. You would have had to call a carpenter or a floor installer who most don’t refinish. Refinishing is a tough job in itself. Only the strong can hack it daily. As long as your willing to shell out an additional possible 150-200$ for the guy to hunt down the right boards install cut rip up glue etc and hope your pleased,then its all great. Remember the carpenter would have charged you a minimal charge. Being a floor refinisher we don’t get holes all the time. By ripping up boards and replacing your creating a lot of work for the guy.

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