The High Cost of ‘Free’ Installations

Have you ever been in one of the big box home improvement stores or a big box flooring store – looking at flooring products, trying to make a decision on what you want, and the pricing? Then you see that they offer “Free” or cheap installation. You might think to yourself, “Now that is a great deal. That could save us some money.” And yes, in the short term it will save you money. However, in the long term – or sometimes not even that long after the installation it could cost you more than paying for a professional installation.

So what do we mean by “The high cost of free installations”? First and foremost – The big box stores make up the money they lost offering ‘free’ or cheap installation, by adding in fees that most other flooring companies do not and would not charge you. Big box stores are there to make money, and they are not losing out on that front. They usually upcharge on the padding and other supplies as well. While the installation is itemized as being “Free” or priced cheaply – it never is. Think about it – that free installation cost is being made up on the back end for things like: extra for measuring – estimates, extra for delivery of the flooring, extra for removing the old flooring and pads, dump fees, extra for stairs, extra for doorway transitions, extra for replacing or repairing tackless strips, extra for just about everything, and marking up prices.

The way the big box stores work, is that they underpay on average their installers (And that is if they use in house installers. Spoiler alert – they rarely do.) We are not saying that the installers will do a bad job, but how would you feel if you were being underpaid? Or, and this is most likely what they do, they will subcontract the installation work to another independent installer. They do this because it’s cheaper. They don’t need to pay taxes when they pay them, and they don’t need to offer benefits – like health insurance. They don’t have the risk of an employee damaging the home or taking too long because they’ve run into a difficult install. The subcontractor assumes those risks. The big box store’s pricing structure is set to guarantee money in their pocket. Usually, but not always, those installers will hire anybody to help them on the job. Think of them like a temporary employment agency. Sure they want to hire qualified installers, but sadly qualified installers with a great reputation don’t apply to these types of companies. The installers they hire often do more damage than good and most of the “so-called” good installers don’t last more than a month or two before they move on to something better and higher paying. This is the type of installation company that big box retailers are dealing with to handle all their flooring installations and who they rely on to hire and supply installers to do all their installations. This means that you have no way of knowing in advance who is going to install your flooring until they show up at your door. You can’t do your research on the company beforehand. You have no information.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Who is working in my home? Are they trustworthy?
  • Are they well established in the community?
  • Are they qualified to install my floors? Will they do a good job?
  • Are they Bonded and Insured?

Now, mistakes can happen – no one installer is perfect. However, say something goes wrong and your floors are installed incorrectly? What can you do, and who should you call?

  • Will anyone be willing to accept responsibility and help you resolve your complaint?
  • Can you get a quick remedy? Or will it take weeks of calling with no response?
  • Has the installer quit, been fired or moved away?

Making the right choice on flooring is not an easy task. Here’s another thing to keep in mind. Usually the employees at these big box stores don’t understand installation, have never done installation, know anything about construction, don’t know about all the subtle nuances and differences of the products, and in what situation to use which one. They’re sales people. If you were to purchase the wrong product for your needs you could stand to lose up to thousands of dollars. Not to mention your time – and most likely add frustration into the mix.

Since the staff at these big box stores are most likely not an installer themselves nor know anything about construction – the ordering and delivery of supplies needed may not be delivered on time. Or supplies are missing. Now, the installer has to wait until they arrive. That adds time and money. And, through no fault of the installer, the big box store will try and pass that loss onto the installer. That’s not morally right at all. (Example: the big box store sent over half of the supplies needed, now the job – which was only supposed to take 3 days now stretches to a week. That adds to the labor costs. So the big box store says they will refund you the labor. That means they will try to not pay the labor for the installers to avoid any loss.) There’s no personal investment on the end of a big box store.

If you do a quick google search you will come across so many horror stories about these “free” installations from big box stores. Homeowners, businesses, etc – who ended up with a poor installation job and the runaround they got when calling the big box store to try to get someone to listen and be helpful. And if it cost you nothing to have your flooring installed, well you’re most likely not getting a refund on installation. Let’s say you paid $37 for installation. Is getting that money back going to fix the poor installation? No, it’s not. And now you’re stuck having to pay someone else to come out and do a repair. The “free” or cheap installation is now not that free or cheap.

Let’s examine pricing. Most flooring companies that are not a big box store can match or come in cheaper than the big stores. At some of these big box flooring stores the sales people are independent contractors so they get paid solely on commission. They also can charge you whatever amount they can get away with. That is why it is so important to do your research and get multiple quotes.

So what would entice someone to go to a big box store for flooring? Their claim to have huge discounts, and having “free” or cheap installation? That is there to lure you in as a consumer. It’s based in psychology and marketing. Let’s do a quick history lesson about one of the most influential people no ones ever heard about. Our modern way of marketing, politics, PR and propaganda is credited to a man named Edward Bernays. He was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. He used his uncle’s research on psychology and applied it to the political, and business world for PR. It’s all about bringing you in subconsciously. Adam Curtis made a wonderful documentary about all of this called, “The Century of the Self.” And these tactics are what these big box stores use. No one goes to these stores because they know they offer the best quality for a low price.

One thing to be on the look out for is the term “basic”. Free basic installation, or just basic installation. What is actually included in that? Does it include removing the old flooring and padding (the tear out)? What about dump and haul away fees? Recycling charges? What is included? That is just a few examples and the answer is most likely no – it is not included. All necessary by the way, so it will need to be paid for to have a successful and clean installation.

Another thing is that these big box stores charge for measurements. But they will absorb the cost for the measurement if you use them for installation. You’re now invested – and most likely won’t walk away from them. For an estimate, the installer will need to take measurements. I will say this, most locally owned and reputable installation companies and retailers will never charge you for that. Ever. They will draw up an estimate for free.

In summary, nothing is ever “free”. And if it’s a cheap installation fee – it will indeed be cheap, and the big box store will still make up that money in other ways. These big box stores and retailers didn’t get that big by giving away things at no cost or cheaply. What they do is hide a lot of the costs and in big, bold letters – they advertise “Free” or cheap installation, but they’re making up for the lack of an installation fee by marking up prices, using cheap labor, not paying the labor they do hire, or not paying them what they’re worth, attempting to pass off any loses onto the installation company used, etc. Always remember the old saying, “if it sounds too good to be true… Then it probably is!” What you finally end up paying for your floor installation may be way more than you expect.