Factory Seconds Flooring

Grading for hardwood flooring pertains not to its physical quality but to its appearance: The higher the grade, the more even the appearance, and the lower the grade, the more character marks the wood has. Factory seconds is the lowest grade hardwood can receive. Also called #3 common, tavern, cabin, character, or value grade, factory seconds flooring, with its patina of knots, streaks, and less-typical colors, does not meet a manufacturer's standards and, as a result, is sold significantly lower. Typically, factory seconds flooring is $0.89 to $1.19 per square foot.

Although offered by nearly every manufacturer, factory seconds flooring is difficult to find in brick-and-mortar stores, and even in these instances, samples are seldom available. Distributors, on the other hand, offer factory seconds flooring, but selection varies monthly and depends on a list from a mill, which specifies the types and brands available.

For hardwood to be labeled as "factory seconds" and, not, for instance, #1 or #2 common, an ample amount of character marks is present. While not structurally inferior to higher-graded flooring, factory seconds are characterized by an abundance of knots, mineral streaks, and color variety, which may include some green or dark brown shades not present in higher grades.

On the other hand, a "factory seconds" or similar label may indicate the milling quality of the wood. In this instance, a combination of voids, tree bark edges, missing tongues, splits, checks, or wind shake can pose problems in installation. Boards may not fit together, as ends may not be square. Even if all boards do fit together, the resulting surface may not be uneven.

If you plan to buy factory seconds flooring either for the unique appearance or pricing, what approach should you take? First, inquire about the discount: Is it simply for the appearance, or was the wood milled poorly? To compensate for any unusable planks, as well, purchase 10 to 15 percent more. Also, realize that factory seconds products, while priced significantly lower than their higher-grade counterparts, do not come with a warranty.

Both unfinished and prefinished hardwoods can be sold as factory seconds, but some differences exist between the two types of flooring. While unfinished factory seconds are standard, prefinished hardwoods may have been given the grade before or after the finish was applied. In this case, either the finish or the hardwood is not up to the manufacturer's guidelines. Similarly, grading for prefinished hardwoods, in general, is based on a manufacturer's system, and as a result, "character" prefinished products are not always value grade. Instead, "character" prefinished hardwoods may have been distressed intentionally and are being sold at a higher price.