Floor Grade Primer
Familiarize yourself with what's on the market
If you're like many wood flooring contractors, one of your biggest headaches is dealing with customers who are unhappy with the grade of flooring installed in their homes. Perhaps there are a few boards throughout the floor that the customer doesn't think fit in, or maybe the entire floor looks different from what the customer expected. Either way, you've got a problem.
That's why it's your job â€” long before the floor is installed â€” to educate the customer on what to expect from flooring grades. Before you can do that, though, you need to be clear on what's out there in the marketplace. An important point to remember is that association guidelines judge flooring on appearance. Structural quality should be the same across all grades.
The National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association, which traces its roots to 1909, has grading rules for unfinished oak, beech, birch, maple, ash and hickory/pecan, as well as prefinished oak flooring. Plans are in the works to develop grades for engineered floors, as well.
The grades from the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association have evolved since the association's founding in 1897. The grades focus on maple, beech and birch flooring, with an emphasis on sport flooring.
Among its many other functions, the Canadian Lumbermen's Association has grades for oak, maple, birch and parquet hardwood flooring. Unlike NOFMA and MFMA, CLA grades are self-policed by member mills.
Lumber grades in the United States and Canada are determined by the National Hardwood Lumber Association. (The grades are adopted verbatim by CLA in Canada.) Although some of the grade names may be similar, choosing a grade of lumber does not determine the wood flooring grade.
There are several associations that have grades for softwoods â€” they vary depending on the species of the wood and the region of the country.
Some lumber mills, as well as some wood flooring manufacturers, will take a particular grade of lumber â€” typically 2A or 3A â€” and run it into a flooring profile, without dividing the flooring into grades. This is typically called "mill run" or "run of the mill."
In addition to using standard flooring grades such as those developed by NOFMA, MFMA and CLA, many manufacturers may have their own (often called "proprietary") grades. Because proprietary grades are created by the manufacturer, written descriptions of the grades may not be available to the consumer. Most plank flooring is sold under proprietary names.
NOFMA does have grading rules for prefinished solid products, but most manufacturers also create their own proprietary grade names, as well.
No hardwood flooring association currently has established grades for prefinished engineered wood flooring. Most manufacturers of engineered product do not create "grades" per se. Instead, they create product names. The products are categorized according to veneer, finish and milling. Many manufacturers' product names reflect three levels or more of quality ranging from a premium level down to what is generically referred to as cabin grade.
There also are no standard grades in the United States for parquet flooring. That's just a basic outline of what's on the market. It's up to you, the contractor, to make sure that your customers understand what the grades mean and end up with the floor they really want.
-K.M.W. August/September 1998 HARDWOOD FLOORS