Grades of Hardwood Flooring: Choosing the Right Grade

When it comes to hardwood flooring, not all wood species are created equal. Grades of hardwood flooring vary in quality, appearance, and durability, making it crucial for homeowners to choose the right grade for their needs.

Different grading systems are used by manufacturers to classify hardwood floors based on factors such as color, grain pattern, and the presence of knots or other imperfections. Understanding these grades will help you make an informed decision when purchasing hardwood flooring for your home.

Let’s explore the most common grades of hardwood flooring and how they affect the overall look and performance of your floors for this article.

Grading Systems in Hardwood Flooring

National Wood Flooring Association

The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) provides a grading system for hardwood flooring in the United States. This system categorizes hardwood floors based on the appearance of the wood, focusing on factors such as color variations, knot size, and mineral streaks. The main grades outlined by the NWFA are:

  • Clear Grade: The highest quality with minimal color variations and knots.
  • Select Grade: Similar to Clear Grade, but with minor imperfections and color variations.
  • Common Grade (No.1 and No.2): Contains more knots and color variations as compared to the higher grades.

Canadian Lumber Standards

In Canada, the Canadian Lumber Standards (CLS) provides a grading system for hardwood flooring. Like the NWFA, the CLS focuses on appearance-related factors but also includes additional requirements such as moisture content and milling. The primary grades used in the CLS system are:

  • Prime Grade: The highest quality with minimal defects and color variations.
  • Exclusive Grade: Contains a few imperfections but maintains a consistent appearance.
  • Antique Grade: More knots and color variations than the higher grades, but still meets CLS requirements.

Comparing these two grading systems, it is evident that the following similarities and differences exist:

Clear GradePrime Grade
Select GradeExclusive Grade
Common Grade (No.1 & No.2)Antique Grade

Common Hardwood Flooring Grades

Hardwood flooring grades are classifications that indicate the appearance and quality of the wood. These grades are important when selecting the right hardwood flooring for your needs. Different grades have different characteristics, including color, knots, and other natural variations. Here is an overview of the common hardwood flooring grades:

Clear Grade

Clear grade hardwood flooring is the highest grade and features the most uniform appearance. It has minimal color variations, very few to no knots, and almost no visible imperfections. This grade is ideal for a clean, modern look and is commonly used in high-end residential and commercial projects.

Select Grade

Select grade hardwood flooring is a step down from clear grade, but still offers a relatively uniform appearance. It has more color variations and may have some small knots, but overall maintains a clean look. Select grade is a popular choice for many homeowners, as it offers a good balance between appearance and cost.

No. 1 Common Grade

No. 1 Common grade hardwood flooring has more character than select grade, with a greater range of color variations and more pronounced knots. These characteristics give the flooring a more rustic appearance, making it an excellent choice for those seeking a more natural look. This flooring grade can also offer a more affordable option while still providing a quality product.

No. 2 Common Grade

No. 2 Common grade hardwood flooring, also known as “rustic” or “builder’s grade,” features even more prominent knots, color variations, and natural imperfections. This grade is often used in settings where a more casual or distressed appearance is desired. Due to its imperfections and lower price point, this grade can be ideal for rental properties or budget-conscious projects.

Factors Affecting Wood Grade

Various factors influence the grade of hardwood flooring, and understanding them will help you make an informed decision when purchasing your flooring.


The appearance of hardwood flooring depends on the species of the tree from which it is made. Different species exhibit distinct natural patterns and grains, which influence the look and feel of the floor. Wood grade is affected by these patterns, so it is essential to ensure your desired appearance aligns with the grade you choose.

Color Variation

The color of hardwood flooring can vary widely between boards, even within the same species. Higher grade floors tend to have less color variation, providing a more uniform appearance. If you prefer more character in your flooring, lower grade wood may offer a greater range of shades and tones.


Knots are natural irregularities found in wood where branches were once attached. They can impact the overall appearance and strength of the flooring. Knot size and quantity varies depending on the wood species and grade. Higher grade wood typically has fewer and smaller knots, ensuring improved uniformity and durability.

Mineral Streaks

Mineral streaks are natural color variations in wood caused by mineral absorption. These streaks can range from subtle to pronounced and may impact the aesthetic appeal of the flooring. Higher grade hardwood usually contains fewer mineral streaks, offering a cleaner, more consistent appearance.

The Relation between Grade and Quality

The grade of hardwood flooring refers to the appearance of the wood rather than its durability or strength. There are generally four common grades of hardwood flooring: Clear, Select, No. 1 Common, and No. 2 Common.

Clear Grade is the highest grade and has the least amount of imperfections. It is characterized by:

  • Uniform color
  • Minimal knots
  • Long length boards

Select Grade displays more natural variations, but still maintains a clean appearance. Further characteristics include:

  • A bit more color variation
  • Occasional small knots
  • Longer and wider boards on average

No. 1 Common Grade showcases more imperfections and color variations, providing a more rustic look. Its features include:

  • More color differences
  • Frequent knots and character marks
  • Shorter board lengths

No. 2 Common Grade is the lowest in terms of appearance and has the most natural imperfections. Characteristics consist of:

  • Considerable color variations
  • Large knots and mineral streaks
  • Shorter and narrower boards

Keep in mind that higher grade does not necessarily translate to better quality. The appropriate grade for your project depends on the desired aesthetic and budget constraints. Many homeowners appreciate the character and natural beauty of lower grade hardwoods, while others prefer the more uniform appearance of higher grades.

Choosing the Right Grade for Your Home

When selecting hardwood flooring for your home, it’s important to choose the right grade based on your specific needs and preferences. In this section, we’ll explore factors to consider, budget and aesthetics, maintenance, and durability.

Factors to Consider

When choosing the right grade for your home, consider the following:

  • Room function: Is the floor for a high-traffic area or a quiet, low-traffic space like a bedroom?
  • Style preference: Do you prefer a more rustic, natural look or a sleek, polished finish?
  • Environmental sensitivity: Are you concerned about environmentally-friendly materials and finishes?

Budget and Aesthetics

Keep your budget in mind when selecting a grade. Hardwood flooring grades often vary in price depending on the following factors:

  • Wood species: Some species like oak or maple are more affordable than exotic options.
  • Color consistency: Higher grades tend to have more uniform color, while more affordable grades feature more natural variation.
  • Grain pattern: Higher grades display fewer knots and inconsistencies, whereas more affordable options can have more distinctive markings.

Maintenance and Durability

The grade of hardwood flooring you choose will also impact its overall durability and maintenance requirements:

  • Higher grades typically have fewer imperfections, which can make them easier to clean and maintain.
  • Durable species like hickory or white oak tend to withstand scratches and dents better than softer choices like pine or cherry.
  • Thicker planks will generally be more stable and last longer, but can also come at a higher cost.

By carefully considering these factors, you can make an informed decision about the grade of hardwood flooring that best suits your home and lifestyle.


In summary, hardwood flooring offers a range of grades to cater to diverse preferences and budgets. Selecting an appropriate grade will ensure satisfaction in appearance, durability, and maintenance requirements.

When considering the various grades, take into account factors such as:

Finally, consult with professionals and review specific product information for the most accurate and up-to-date details on hardwood flooring options.

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