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Genuine hardwood flooring is generally quite expensive... but a few local stores have glue-down hardwood planks that are actually cheaper than mid-priced laminate (~$1.80/sf).

What's the catch?

The cheap hardwood looks nice, and aside from taking a bit more work to cut & lay, I don't see any glaring "gotchas". Are there any?

The hardwood planks I'm talking about are solid wood, roughly 3/8" thick and 2" wide, finished on top, and have a groove cut into one side & a tab cut into the other.

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Does that price include the glue? – Freiheit Feb 25 at 21:13
up vote 28 down vote accepted

There are a lot of factors when it comes to pricing flooring as it has become a highly competitive, mass produced commodity.

What you have here is the cheapest specs you can get in wood flooring:

  • 2" wide planks are about as narrow as it gets, it is a harder install

  • 3/8" thickness is about as thin as it gets and will limit its application to something that has a very very good subfloor.

  • these planks can be made out of literally the scraps because they are so narrow and thin. The wood costs are probably ridiculously low and most of the cost to consumer goes to transportation and cutting the tongue and grooves.

  • quality hardwood flooring is 3/4" thick. Yours is half that. There is usually a 1/4" wear layer which allows 3-4 sandings. I wouldn't expect more than a very very light touch up sanding out of 3/8" flooring.

  • thinner hardwood is more likely to develop splitting or impact cracks

  • thinner hardwood is more likely to warp

  • the cost differential between this and other flooring options is negligible. I can get decent 3/8" laminate and engineered flooring for about $2 sq/ft.

  • in fact laminate and engineered flooring might be a much better solution if going thinner as there is more control for humidity variance and moisture intake.

  • I personally just installed engineered flooring in a house that was 5/8" thick, looked beautiful, and had 4.25" width. It costed $2.89 sq/ft. It was a dark brown and we got a quantity discount which dropped it 50 cents sq/ft. It would beat any 3/8" hardwood on the market as it had a solid pine layered backing (no mdf). I mention this because its ugly sister - same exact stuff in really ugly orangish brown try at cedar - was selling at $2.05 after the quantity discount.

  • you will pay a premium for a manufacturer of hardwood. If it is not being labeled by a major hardwood manufacturer it will cost less. It is like going to the store and buy Cola or Coca-Cola. You know how one will perform and not sure about the other. I have gotten some bad and good really cheap flooring.

  • Every major hardwood distributor carries 3/8"x2.25" planks that I know of from anywhere between 1.50-2.25 sq/ft. It is mainly so they can say in their ads, "Hardwood flooring from $1.79". Another reason would to be just to satisfy a cheap customer. They do not really want to sell you this stuff. It has innate problems and needs to be installed right and they don't want to hear about problems on a product with slim margins. If someone is pushing this on you it means they are carrying way too much of it and need to make space.

  • And to summarize - what you are talking about isn't "real" hardwood flooring. It is a cheap imitation made out of wood. It is a con job on the uninformed consumer. You are informed now so you will buy something with at least 5/8" thickness or you choose laminate or engineered flooring as they will perform better with the same or longer life expectancy.

Note: This is not a shameless plug but I have used BuildDirect at least 20 times to buy wood/tile/laminate - I have absolutely no affiliation with them. (waterproof laminate they have is awesome. They have sales and clearance sell offs. They send you free samples. There are a range of flooring in the low 2s that meet your criteria and 3/4". Maybe a utility grade flooring will give you what you want as it is actually great flooring but has knots, natural cracks and blemishes - but done with thought these look great.

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+1 But tell me what you really think. – bib Feb 25 at 14:39
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@bib - This was just a rant off the top of my head. I have bought a lot of bad/partially done flips. 3/8" hardwood is typical, then we have to rip it out, and it is glued down... So they paid $1500 for 1000 sq/ft, another $1000 for materials/work, I pay $200 to rip it out, then I pay $1000 to install good hardwood, that you can get for a little over $3 a sq/ft. The math just never adds up for the cheap stuff. – DMoore Feb 25 at 16:03
    
OK, given a choice between the cheapest hardwood (as described above) and the cheapest engineered hardwood (same thickness, plywood base, hair-thin layer of veneer that probably wouldn't survive a single sanding let alone 2 or 3), which would you say is likely to be worse? My main objection to laminate is that I want something that can survive short-duration incidental exposure to water (like cleaning or spills), and all of the "waterproof" laminate I've seen looked cheap... either blatantly vinyl-like, going WAY overboard on the texture, or just plain looking like plastic (continued) – Bitbang3r Feb 25 at 16:57
    
(... continued ...) I'd definitely consider laminate IF I could find one that combines the top layer of the best laminate with the bottom layer of vinyl planks (or maybe even plywood... does laminate built like engineered hardwood, but with laminate top for durability, exist?)... but so far, I have yet to see waterproof laminate that doesn't look like cheap vinyl planks. For what it's worth, the subfloor is a cast-in-place reinforced concrete suspended slab in an interior hallway and bedroom. – Bitbang3r Feb 25 at 17:01
    
@Bitbang3r - You have a very valid issue - one that we in the business have all thought about. The problem is by labeling something hardwood the sales people act like it is hardwood. You cannot sand 3/8" hardwood 2-3 times. You can't even give it one "proper" sanding. That is the real miscommunication. The engineered and laminate are in the same boat - can't sand them. So all three are for a 1 layer use. What I am saying is that laminate/engineered will perform way better during that use. But what I am really saying is pay a $1.5 more a sq/ft and do it right. – DMoore Feb 25 at 18:30

If it's truly 3/8", then the glue-down hardwood is half the thickness of a traditional hardwood flooring material (example - 3/4" thick oak). This uses less volume of wood per square foot of floor, hence the lower cost. The boards may also be narrower, which makes them cheaper to produce (per sqft) than wider boards.

The downsides of the thinner material are that a rigid subfloor is required, along with glue rather than nailed installation (nails would risk splitting thinner tongues). And there may be less material you can sand/refinish in the future, though I think that would be somewhat mitigated by the fact that you don't have any nails in it.

Finally, I don't know how glued hardwood performs long-term, but I'd be a little concerned about the adhesive failing after years of the wood expanding and contracting. This is not a problem for engineered woods because their engineered lumber base is stable, but traditional hardwood floors usually have some allowances for expansion.

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