When you first get more involved in a remodeling project and start shopping for wood flooring options, you’re likely to come across the concept of floor grades.
Floors are graded based on standards initially laid out by the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association (NOFMA) to help maintain consistency in their quality. These standards, which are promoted by the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), are the ones used to grade basically all wood floors in the United States.
While there are certain standards that have to be met in order for wood to be used for things ranging from cabinets to frames, which are set by the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA), NOFMA standards put more emphasis on the characteristics of the wood in terms of appearance and different markings.
So when you’re comparing floor grades for the purposes of your hardwood flooring project, you’re essentially looking at a description of the floors characteristics.
4 Types of Hardwood Floor Grades
Understanding the unique characteristics about the different floor grades can help you make the right decision for your remodeling project. Let’s dive into the common types of floor grades and go over what makes them unique.
Here are the four levels of flooring as determined by the grading rules developed by NOFMA.
1. Clear Grade
As the name suggests, this is premium grade wood that is clear of any markings such as knots or burls. The color and grain is consistent between the boards, and since the wood of these boards is taken from the heart of the tree, it has a very smooth finish. For these reasons, clear grade wood is the most expensive, but if you’re going after a clean, classic look for your flooring project, this is your best bet.
2. Select Grade
Similar to clear grade, select grade will be mostly clear of any markings that can be perceived as imperfections, such as knots or burls. The difference is that select grade is cut from heartwood and sapwood, which means you’ll have more variation in the color and will likely notice differentiated patterns in the grain from board to board. Select grade is still relatively expensive, but is less costly than clear grade wood.
3. #1 Common
This grade of wood is a good mid-level option in terms of cost and appearance. While the coloring of this wood is very uniform, you may find some small knots, streaks, and other markings. This type of wood is best if you want a natural, organic appearance and aren’t too concerned with consistency in color between the boards.
4. #2 Common
This wood grade is basically a more textured version of #1 common grade wood. So, with #2 common grade wood, you’ll have a lot more markings like knots and burls, and will notice wide color variations and inconsistent grain patterns between the boards. These textures can make this option a great choice if you’re looking for the most natural and organic looking wood floor you can get.
An Overview of Floor Markings
The marks within hard wood floors are basically scars in the wood that occur naturally during the development of the tree that the wood was cut from.
Here are a few common marks you might find in your wood – particularly if you go with #1 or #1 common grade wood.
A knot is a dense, round spot in the wood that is a result of a branch or twig. In graded wood, only knots that don’t negatively affect the structure of the wood are permitted, so if you see a knot in your wood, it’s purely cosmetic.
Streaks are exactly what they sound like – long, thin, discolored lines in the wood. They’re often a result of mineral deposits that the tree extracted from the soil it was grown in.
Burls are a result of abnormal growth in the tree. In hardwood floor, this can be the cause of inconsistencies in the grain in the form of circular patterns.
How to Choose the Right Hardwood Floor Grade for your Project
With all this in mind, how do you choose the right floor grade for your project?
If you’re looking for a very clean, sleek look and have a pretty loose budget, clear grade is the way to go. This wood can be hard to find, however, because you can’t get a lot of it out of a single tree, so there just isn’t a lot of it available compared to other grades of wood. Select grade is a good alternative to clear grade if you don’t mind some color variations between the boards.
If you’re on a budget, or just want that natural, organic look in your wood floor, #1 or #2 custom would be great choices depending on the level of markings you’re okay with.
Does Higher Grade Wood Mean Higher Quality Wood?
It does sound like lower grade would mean lower quality, but this is a common misconception. The difference in grade has to do with the appearance of the wood – not the actual quality of it. Because of the more clear appearance, higher-grade wood is generally more expensive.
So, does a wood that’s clear of markings really mean that it’s better? That’s for you to decide! If you need any help choosing the right hardwood contact us!
Oak grade photo samples are taken from the NWFA website.
Learn how to maintain and protect your hardwood floor, as well as how often it should be refinished.