It begins with a tickle in your throat. Then your eyes begin to water.
Before you know it, you let loose an explosive sneeze, blowing out of the way all that dares cross your path. The culprit? Allergens in the carpet.
This pollen-filled nightmare wouldn't be a reality if you had hardwood floors. If you ever considered installing hardwood floors in your home but didn't think you could afford it, Lumber Liquidators may be able to help.
A national hardwood floor retailer in Albany, Lumber Liquidators boasts a huge selection of flooring at as much as 60 percent less than home improvement stores.
Business has been booming for more than eight years. Lunchtime is the outlet's busiest time, and its offering of quality products at discount prices brings customers from all over the Bay and surrounding areas.
"We get customers from as far as Fresno," said Mike Craig, store manager.
Flooring choices range anywhere from 99 cents to $7.95 per square foot and offer traditional favorites such as oak, as well as one-of-a-kind species birdseye maple and bloodwood.
"Bamboo and Brazilian Cherry are pretty popular among our customers right now," said Brett Anderson, manager of a Lumber Liquidators in Sacramento.
Brazilian Cherry's rich color and moderate price - $4.95 a square foot - make it a frequent buy.
According to the Ace Hardwood Web site, bamboo is hard, strong and elastic, and can be machined easily.
Lumber Liquidators is a do-it-yourself supplier of flooring and provides customers with easy-to-follow installation instructions with their purchase.
The store neither endorses contractors nor provides installation services. Flooring can be shipped to your home, but delivery costs can be pricey.
The company is able to offer premium hardwood flooring at rock-bottom prices because it eliminates the middleman.
Lumber Liquidators buys boatloads of wood, machines it in its own sawmills and sends the product straight to the store, passing the savings on to customers.
Craig estimated that the typical Bay Area contractor charges $15 to $20 a square foot to lay flooring, which includes materials.
If a contractor installed hardwood floors in a 1,200-square-foot home, you would expect to pay about $22,800.
For the same home, buying the flooring from Lumber Liquidators and installing it yourself would cost around $4,788 (based on $3.99 per square foot, the average flooring price) - almost a fifth of the contractor price.
Homeowners can install their own flooring relatively easily, if they are careful.
When applying flooring, "It's not rocket science, you just need patience and time," said Craig. "The prep work pretty much consists of the ground being dry before laying down the flooring."
Anderson said the biggest challenge customers face when installing hardwood floors is moisture.
"Wood product is susceptible to humidity, and if you don't make sure that the area is completely dry, down the line, the wood can swell," he said.
Homeowners can determine the dryness of an area by performing one of two tests.
You can pick up a moisture meter, available at any hardware store, or do a calcium chloride test, which can be found on the Internet.
Once you make sure the foundation is sublevel, you can begin applying the flooring.
Scuffing can be a minor concern with hardwood floors, but no waxing or polishing is necessary, said Craig.
Maintenance is easy and requires merely sweeping and using a damp mop - far better than battling your arch nemesis the allergen in its kingdom of wall-to-wall carpeting.
The closest Lumber Liquidators store to the Peninsula is at 1061 Eastshore Highway in Albany. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. You can view and order samples at www.lumberliquidators.com.