Dennis BeaverDecember 18, 2020 • By Dennis Beaver

“Mr. Beaver, I live in a home that is over 100 years old and has beautiful wood beams, paneling, floors, built-in bookshelves, counter tops, a dining table – beautiful, old wood everywhere.

“I hired a company that claimed to be wood cleaning experts and whatever they used seems to have ruined much of the wood in one room. It is streaked, has bubbles, and looks horrible. I stopped them from doing anything further. I am really angry!

“You are called the Anne Landers/Dear Abby of the legal world, so can you tell me what my rights are, and since you are a beaver, I’ll bet you can find out for me what should not be used to clean old wood. Thanks,” Kelly from Corvallis, Oregon.

Preserving the Evidence – Making a Claim

I discussed Kelly’s situation with San Francisco attorney Dan Veroff who is familiar with these types of property damage cases. He gave the following recommendations for Kelly to follow:

“She needs to take good photos of the damaged wood. As she lives in Corvallis, the Wood Sciences department at Oregon State University might be able to send out someone to give an opinion as to whether the wood has been destroyed or can be saved and at what cost. Also, an experienced furniture refinisher could probably give an opinion.

“Kelly should write the company, state the problem and ask to be put in touch with their insurance carrier. However, if there was a written contract, it might have a clause giving them a right to repair–or attempt to repair–the damage before an insurance claim or lawsuit could be filed.”

But, what about her own homeowner’s insurance? Could that be used?

“There is chance – a very slight chance — she has coverage for this incident. She needs to carefully read her policy to see if this damage is covered or excluded, and, as insurance policies are difficult for the average person to understand, a consultation with an attorney would be advised.

“If the damage significantly exceeds the $10,000 small claims limit in Oregon, she will of course consider retaining an attorney to file suit. But I would caution her to read that contract with the wood cleaners closely and see if there is a prevailing party wins its attorney fees and court costs provision. Does it specify arbitration? Does it say where any suit or arbitration must be filed, such as in a location far from where Kelly lives?

“Finally,” Veroff concluded, “if the damage is under $10,000, Kelly can file a small claims lawsuit herself. If she does file her suit, I would not be surprised if suddenly the company’s insurance carrier contacts her and a settlement is worked out.”

Wood Care Advice from the CEO of a 59 Year Old Company

Kelly’s interesting situation was the perfect moment to reconnect with Denver, Colorado-based Mark Goldstein, the CEO of Scotts Liquid Gold, a family-owned company that has been around for almost 70 years. He was a guest on my Saturday morning talk radio show years ago, and was happy to provide wood care advice for Kelly.

“What should you not use on real wood?” I asked.

“On natural wood, do not use any products that contain water or silicone,” Goldstein points out. “They are ok on plastic or Formica. Water and wax are the enemy of natural wood as they do not allow it to breathe. When cleaning wood furnishings, never use all-purpose cleaning sprays, such as the kind used on kitchen tables, unless your furniture has a plastic coating.

“Some of the leading polishes are not beneficial for real wood. For example, Pledge is mainly water and silicone, great on non-wood, or lacquered wood surfaces that do not allow oil to penetrate, but I would not use it on natural wood paneling. But regular Pledge or Lemon Pledge are a great products on simulated or lacquered wood surfaces.”

I asked, “How will I know if I have real wood or something else?”

“In general, if you can see the grain and the finish allows oil to penetrate, then it is real wood. But if it has been lacquered–as flooring often is–it may still be real wood, but oil will not penetrate.”

How do I know if my wood needs care?

“If your wood appears ‘dull’ or you see a ‘whiteness’ it needs care. If not dealt with, this will lead to cracking.”

Goldstein reflected a deep appreciation of the beauty that wood brings to our homes. “It is so sad to see fine wood damaged by the use of the wrong cleaning or polishing product. So, before applying anything to your wood, I recommend reading the ingredients statement on the product itself.”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.