Is Free Carpet Installation a Good Deal?

Carpet Installer Using Knife to Trim Wall Edge
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What can be better than free, especially when it comes to expensive purchases like carpeting? Is it a good deal for you?

Some free deals truly are free. A shoe store can afford to give away a free pair of socks, at least for a limited time. But with flooring, installation is a service, and employees need to be paid. The cost must be carried elsewhere. Consider the details of the offer to determine whether free or low-cost flooring installation makes sense for your project.

Typical Limitations

Companies that install carpeting for free typically impose limitations:

  • The carpet must cost over a certain amount. Often, the lowest price carpet you can buy and still get free installation is $1.00 per square foot.
  • You must buy a certain kind of pad--which helps drive up the total price.
  • Additional services often are not included in the free 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 one might consider highly optional or even necessary:

  • 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 probably also 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.
  • Subfloor 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.

Only for Carpet or Laminate

The most significant limiting factor: most free installation offers are for carpeting and laminate flooring only; rarely will you find offers for tile-work or hardwood flooring, both labor-intensive activities.

Carpeting is not a DIY project. Installation is 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 a craft, and you'll be hard-pressed to find free offers for either.

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.

Separate Cost of Materials From Cost of Labor

How can you compare apples to oranges when the factors are different? Follow this scenario:

You have a 1,000 sq. ft. space that you want to carpet. Flooring Company 1 offers free whole-house carpeting installation on any job over $699. Flooring Company 2 offers you the flooring you want, but installation is not included. Where do you stand?

When shopping, keep materials cost separate from labor cost. It is perfectly valid to entertain free and low-cost installation offers, but they should be kept separate from materials- and labor-only estimates.

  Flooring Company 1 Flooring Company 2
Materials $2,240 (@ $2.24/sq. ft.) $1,850
Labor $0 $600
Total $2,240 $2,450