Hardwood Flooring Cost

As with any other product, you get what you pay for with hardwood flooring. More specifically, however, hardwood flooring cost is influenced by two factors: flooring grade and installation. Both of these are variable. Flooring grades range from clear or select – the highest and without natural marks like knots or streaks – to character, and installation depends on what needs to be removed first, how the flooring is added, and if you are going with a contractor or doing it yourself.


Unfinished and prefinished flooring both come in multiple grades, although the former follows National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) standards more closely. Most unfinished domestic flooring comes in the following grading:

  • Clear – the most consistent in color and primarily heartwood.
  • Select – similar to clear but with more natural characteristics.
  • #1 Common – more color variety with some streaking and knots.
  • #2 Common – even more color variation, mineral streaking, and knots.

Maple flooring, however, is the exception. Although most unfinished domestic hardwoods are graded by the standards above, maple flooring is given one of the following grades: First, Second, or Third. Contemporary terminology refers to maple flooring grading as Select #1 and Select #2.


Prefinished flooring, on the other hand, varies with manufacturing, and grades are more marketable and descriptive names rather than a set NWFA standard. Typically, however, prefinished flooring is labeled as "prime," "standard," or "tavern," although "traditional," "exclusive," and "character" may also be used.


Cabin grade flooring, also referred to as "factory seconds," "value," "character," or "tavern grade" flooring, is the lowest grade for hardwood, but primarily this label refers to the appearance. Cabin grade products, however, differ from their standard graded hardwoods in terms of warranty and availability. For the former, cabin grade flooring is rarely covered by a warranty, and although nearly all manufacturers offer factory seconds, their availability depends upon the type and amount sold each month from a mill. The Timberland™ Collection by Bruce Hardwoods and Hartco and Robbins lines by Armstrong are popular value grade flooring.

For unfinished flooring, cabin grade describes the appearance, which is likely dotted with knots and mineral streaks and has more color variation. Sometimes, however, "cabin grade" is used to describe poorly-milled hardwood. In these cases, the hardwood may have voids on bottoms, visible tree bark edges, or missing tongues, and these features may pose problems in installation. Boards may not be square, and the surfaces of the hardwoods may not line up evenly. If you decide to go with cabin grade flooring, purchase more than one box or at least 10 percent more than what you expect to use.

What's Not Value Grade Flooring?

Prefinished character grade, however, is not value grade flooring. Although displaying knots and mineral streaking, prefinished character flooring is distressed by the manufacturer, which increases the price of the hardwood. Value grade prefinished flooring, usually labeled as "cabin" or "tavern" grade, has similar marks as unfinished factory seconds, or the finish may not be up to the manufacturer's standards.


Installation also influences the cost of hardwood flooring and may include materials, labor costs, and removal. Hardwood flooring that needs to be nailed, glued, or floated, for instance, is priced on average at $2.50 to $3.50 per square foot, and installing plywood on concrete is $1.50 per square foot. Other factors also influence the price of hardwood flooring installation, including refinishing, screening and coating, staining, floor preparation, installing a moisture barrier, baseboard installation, installing common borders, sound control, or carpet or old flooring removal. Materials are likely added to this cost and can include nails or staples for a subfloor, underlayment, adhesive, or trim moldings.