If you own a hardwood floor that maybe doesn’t look quite as good as you were expecting, there’s at least a chance you’ve been swindled on the quality of the grade. Mind you, grade quality is only about appearance (more on this below), not the strength of the floor itself. But here are some telltale signs that indicate a weak veneer. They include:
- Black marks or marring
- Short planks
- Knots and nicks
- Vague contracts from the builder that promise “luxury” flooring for “upscale” homes
For shoppers with high expectations that demand authenticity, the market is dangerous terrain. Not only are prices lofty, but it’s easy to get fooled by cunning and meticulous imitators. Indeed, how can one spot real from fake? Which face wears a mask, and which reflects the true heart of an honest company?
I know of a woman with a taste for luxury bags. Michael Kors happens to be her favorite brand. She shops with a keen eye and sharp wit. She knows that Michael Kors bags are made of genuine Saffiano leather that doesn’t bend or lose its shape under stress. She knows that all the zippers feature a stop, with an MK logo on the handle. These and other fine details she watches with a close eye when shopping for a new bag. However, the dear lady was once fooled by an inconsistency simple as this: The zipper handle did not feature the name Michael Kors in tiny lettering directly beneath the circular logo. That’s how an impostor rolls. He gets almost everything right…
What did you pay for? What did you get?
Now tell me what comes to mind when you think of quality hardwood flooring. Perhaps it’s a rich, deep shine of flawless luster, lit by the glow of an evening lamp. Maybe it’s the rustic walking surface of a country kitchen, laid with distressed hardwood to provide that truly authentic, cabin-in-the-grove feel. Or perchance your mind wanders to the pleasant, spicy odor of cocobolo emanating from a cozy bedroom. Whichever the case, hardwood floors done right—and this starts in manufacturing, not installation—are definitely a good thing. They look gorgeous. They up the value of your home. And when guests come over for a visit, you’re going to get lots of nice comments.
But like those luxury bags so many classy ladies covet, not all hardwood flooring is proper through designation alone. There is much to consider when having floors installed in your home, but today we’ll focus on just one: the grading. Or more specifically, the grading of products imported from China.
Grading Levels and How Some Manufactures Cut Corners
Grading usually refers to the look of the floor and how it’s going to hold up. Structural integrity beneath does not—or should not—vary from grade to grade. Some of the most popular grades include:
- Clear Grade: clean and smooth, with no nicks, knot-holes, and very little color variation
- Select Grade: one step lower than clear, though still quite pristine in appearance
- #1 Common: shorter boards with more color shifts and a natural texture (think of knots and pinholes)
- #2 Common: the look here is approaching downright rustic, and can be quite charming for country homes or workshops
In most Chinese factories the labels are a bit different, and go something like this:
- AB: premium
- ABC: natural
- CD: rustic
From the outside looking in, these labels may seem more practical than the ones used in Europe and North America, and with the more trustworthy manufactures in China, they work perfectly fine. But it’s important to remember that the grade also functions as a veneer that, if of poor quality, can wear down sooner than expected, cutting the life of your floor short.
Even just a little water might do it!
Most companies in California keep a heavy stock of many grades of wood flooring. They are categorized for easy reference, so if, for example, a customer orders a section of clear grade for his living room, installation experts can go directly to what they need sans confusion. However, other companies operate with a higher degree of improvisation, ordering material as needed from manufacturers in China who may not be as trustworthy as others.
Unproven—and sometimes unregulated—manufacturing techniques overseas can often end in a floor grade that cracks or breaks apart easily, or is overly susceptible to everyday impact, such as foot traffic. There are even stories of clients receiving a completely different grade than the one they paid for. Floor inspectors in China are sometimes paid under the table for the exportation of poor quality products. This is typically done either to save manufacturers money, or to meet tight deadlines, or both.
Avoid The Hazards
So what can you do to ensure the flooring you want is, in fact, the flooring you get? How to dodge the pitfalls of poor quality grading?
Ask questions. Earlier, we mentioned homework, and that’s a good place to start. Make sure the company you’re buying from is connected with a manufacturer who’s on the up and up. Ask those questions, and if you don’t like the answers, head for the door.
Check prices. Companies offering low, low prices from products manufactured in China are likely not the best people to do business with. When you visit a used car lot and talk to a salesman named Earl Shive who wants to sell you that car for $2995, you’re not really going to buy the car, are you? Of course not.
Get testimonials. When you’ve found a company that seems legit, it’s a great idea to—if possible—track down some of their other customers for opinions. Are they happy with what they received? Does the company keep an open, friendly line of communication with them?
The grading of your hardwood floor should be exactly as you wish, both in looks and resilience. And with just a bit of fine sensibility during the purchase process, you’ll discover it easy enough to achieve. We hope that, having read this article, you’ll be armed with a little extra confidence on the battlefield.