1. Buy mill-direct. Many flooring manufacturers claim to be mill direct, but they are really just buying someone else’s lumber and re-milling it into flooring. Look online and find a sawmill that is the sole manufacturer of their wide plank flooring from start to finish. Or you could go even further and look for a sawmill that also runs a forest management service-these companies are integrated in that they grow the trees, harvest them, and make flooring with them. It doesn’t get any more direct that that. A company that controls its entire supply chain will be able to offer the widest selection of grades as well as the best quality and value.
2. Choose random widths. In most cases you will save money by choosing your floor in a range of widths (for example, random amounts of 6″, 7″, and 8″ instead of all 6″) because random width orders involve less sorting of the product than orders of equal width or orders of repeating patterns. Random width flooring also provides a more natural and historically accurate look. Floors in early homes were always random width because in the old days people used the entire log or resource that was available to them. As the log was sawn, boards of varying widths would come off of it.
3. Consider narrower widths. If you like the look of wide plank flooring but need to keep costs down, consider going with a mix of 3″, 4″, and 5″ widths. A mix of 3-5″ widths is more affordable than wider widths and costs less to install. Just because the planks aren’t super wide doesn’t mean they aren’t premium. Even narrower wide plank widths come in much longer lengths than store bought flooring, and these longer lengths reduce the number of butt and edge seams on the floor for a visually pleasing look.
4. Trim ends on site. Choose plank flooring that is not already end trimmed. Yes, you will have to trim some ends on site, but you will save at least .50/square foot by doing this yourself.
5. Be flexible about the product you want. Love the look of Select Red Oak but want to spend less money? Consider other less clear grades of Red Oak, such as Country or Character grade Oak, which will have some knots and less uniform color. This type of wood is especially suited to a less formal home. Mineral Red Oak, so called because it contains some darker areas running parallel to the grain (caused by minerals the tree extracted from the soil while growing) can be a bargain and the patina comes direct from Mother Nature.
If you’re looking to save money and don’t mind imperfection, ask the mill what kind of second-grade material they have available. This material may not be listed for sale, but it’s there. More than other suppliers, sawmills tend to accumulate quantities of material they cannot ship as their regular product due to features such as sap stain or sticker shadow (areas of darker stain caused by the sticks the sawn wood rested upon while drying). These imperfections are cosmetic only and do not affect the stability of the wood floor. If you like character markings, these features can actually be a bonus.
Sawmills may also have flooring leftover from a large run, or they may have piles of a product that was produced for a market that suddenly vanished. These woods may come in any grade or species and are often a liability for the mill looking to clear space or reduce inventory. To find these wide plank flooring bargains, call or check online for a sawmill’s overruns and clearance items.