Cheap Hardwood Flooring?
Searching for the best and cheapest? Like age old saying goes..."I wish I had a nickel every time I was asked this question." Looking all over the internet, and now in your home town flooring store, cheap is everywhere.
But I Want Something Good!
Hmmmn, well let's see here. One could always opt for online sellers that sell their own name brands. Most of these products today are imported from China by the container load. All the dealer has to do is put a name on it that sounds attractive. You asked for cheap, but unfortunately I cannot help with the good department because I do not know enough about these floors because there are so many.
Cabin Grade - Some Great Deals!
Nearly all big prefinished manufacturers offer cabin grade or factory seconds, but you will not find them in retail stores. Obtaining samples is more difficult unless you want to buy one full box. Distributors get lists each month of what is being sold at discount through major mills. All of these products come from the same line they produce but there are flaws. For example; Bruce may have 10,000 square feet of a Cinnamon stained color they designate as cabin grade. With stained hardwoods, some of the flaws are in the color itself and not necessarily how the product was milled, good or bad. However, to be on the safe side, don't expect color to be the only issue.
They're Not All Junk
Contrary to what you may hear, not all cabin grades are junk. In many circles some refer to it as being a lower quality wood species. This is not necessarily true, but depends on what one perceives as quality. It often has nothing to do with the structural capacities of the species itself, but the appearance. Some may have knots, mineral streaks, and a wide variety of color, sometimes called swamp wood in the industry. You may see blacks, greens and other unusual colors not inherent to higher graded wood flooring. Other characteristics may include poor milling (shown below) or the manufacturer may run excess that has voids or tree bark edges on the bottom. Missing or incomplete tongues are also common place. The surface may look fine, but the installation could create some problems.
Poor Visible Milling
Some cabin grade products may have splits, checks and windshake in the face of the material. Most of these characteristics occur when the tree is growing. Stress to the tree causes openings in the grain. On the milling side, some boards may not fit tight upon installation. They may have ends that are not milled square, resulting in a non square fit. Another cabin grade characteristic can be poor milling in relation to how the floor looks on the vertical level after installation. Some boards may be higher or lower than another.
Depending on the manufacturer, cabin grade generally does not contain finish irregularities. But this may not be true with smaller companies. On the other hand, some manufacturing runs may have missed an inspection point resulting in some inferior finishes.
Other products sold as cabin grade may be shorts shown in the installation on the right. Manufacturers have to do something with all hardwood they cull from better graded material. Hence they become shorts. They can be as short as 8 inches to 12 inches opposed to their higher premium lines that run twelve inches to 84 in the case of many solid products.
Can't Beat The Price
If you hunt long enough you cannot beat the price. For instance, that Bruce Cinnamon stained color may retail for eight or nine dollars a square foot, and the cabin grade as low as four. If you're near Dalton, Georgia prices are even cheaper, as the town is a mecca for seconds in all types of floor coverings. Lumber Liquidators is another good choice for these types of hardwood.
This company is a good alternative to low priced flooring as they are the leading retailer of wood flooring across the USA. Cheap? Yes. Good? Hard to tell because the company sells so much product, but the overall consensus from members on our flooring talk forum is not positive. Conversely, Bob Vila endorses it, so there must be value? But we have doubts Vila has even looked at the product since he put it in his own home almost fifteen years ago.
Update March 2, 2015: I have serious reservations about the company in general with the airing of the 60 Minutes program, personal visits to stores and discussions with installers that have worked with them in the past.
How To Gauge What Good & Cheap Is?
For first time homeowners that don't have a bundle to spend, any old hardwood may do. Unfortunately the question remains; what happens when problems occur? Which dealer is better apt to handle problems quickly?
Most of the products mentioned on this page offer no warranties so that rules out anyone being concerned with your problems. If you're really seeking cheap, another option can be buying unfinished #3 red oak hardwood. It doesn't have to look pretty does it? With #3 you will get an enormous amount of color variation and open knots. You can keep it in its rustic form by not finishing or you can simply apply some urethane to it. Today rustic is the rage.
99 Cent Hardwood Floors
These products have more character than common character grade flooring. You wanted cheap and good didn't you? At least with this idea you won't have to worry about finish peeling off. Again, there will not be a warranty, but imagine getting your hands on something that can cost as little at 99 cents a square foot! Translate that into a 1,000 square foot area and costs are only $ 1,000 compared to the flooring store down the street that may want $ 5,000 for one of their low end product lines.