#3 Common Grade Flooring

#3 common flooring has a significant advantage over its higher-grade counterparts: price, without compromising quality. Hardwood flooring grades, in general, pertain to the appearance of the wood: fewer character marks for higher grades and an abundance of them for #3 common flooring. Priced at $0.89 to $1.19 per square foot, #3 common flooring allows a homeowner to affordably purchase and install hardwood.

Finding #3 common flooring, on the other hand, is a challenge. Most brick-and-mortar stores do not include it in product selections, and for those that do, samples are rarely available. Distributors are more likely to carry solid and engineered #3 common flooring, but species, brands, and types vary monthly and depend on a list sent from a mill.

Not compromising the physical quality of the wood, #3 common flooring is characterized by ample knots, mineral streaks, and color variety, more so than #1 and #2 common grades. In some cases, green or dark brown shades are more prevalent in #3 common than in higher-grade flooring. All such marks add to the character of the wood, giving it a rustic appearance.

In some instances, flooring is sold as "#3 common" because of poor milling, which can affect the structural effectiveness of the hardwood. Such hardwood may have voids, tree bark edges, missing tongues, splits, checks, or wind shake in the face. Because of one of more of these features, planks may not fit together, edges may not be square, or the resulting surface may turn out to be uneven.

Because the chance of finding unusable hardwood is greater for #3 common flooring, a few precautions need to be taken for purchasing such a product. First, ask the distributor or manufacturer why such a shipment has a #3 common grade: Is it the appearance or the milling? Second, be prepared with additional flooring just in case some boards cannot be used. Purchasing an additional 10- to 15-percent is recommended. Also, be aware that #3 common products do not come with a manufacturer's warranty.

Solid and engineered unfinished and prefinished hardwoods by several manufacturers may be available as #3 common flooring at some point, but grading is not the same for all products. Prefinished, for instance, is labeled "#3 common" before or after the finish is added. As a result, the product sold may simply have flaws in the finish, a notable amount of character marks, or both. Prefinished grading, similarly, is not always identical to its unfinished counterparts. While unfinished #3 common may also be labeled as factory seconds, value, tavern, cabin, or character grade, prefinished hardwoods go by a manufacturer's system, which is often used solely for marketing; as a result, "character" prefinished may not be #3 common flooring but, instead, a distressed product sold at a higher price.