How Much Hardwood Flooring to Order

A worker installing hardwood floor
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Every home remodeling project produces extraneous or waste material. Some projects' extra materials are worse than others.  

If you order too many recessed lights, no problem: return the extras to the store for a full refund. If you order too much custom-mixed paint, you are out of luck. You are stuck with that extra paint.

Solid hardwood and engineered wood flooring occupy a type of waste material middle ground. Like paint, you are forced to buy more than you need; this is a given. Unlike paint, this extra material may be able to be returned.  

Bottom Line

Buy the amount of flooring needed, plus another 20 percent, maximum.

In addition to purchasing 100 percent of flooring needed to cover the area, you would also need to buy between 8 percent and 15 percent to account for installation wastage (e.g., cut boards) and 5 percent to account for defective materials.

Example, for a 15-feet by 30-feet square foot room, the total area is 450 square feet. Calculate total this way:

Percentage Needed Square Footage Description
100% 450 The floor area itself.
8% to 15% 67.5 (using 15%) Installation Wastage
5% 22.5 Defective Materials
120% (maximum) 540 Total square feet of flooring you need to buy

What Is Installation Wastage?

Flooring manufacturers set installer wastage figure at between 8% and 15%.

It is impossible to order exactly the right amount of hardwood flooring for your project. 

All flooring installation requires cutting. The boards on the end of a row, unless you are extremely fortunate, need to be cut. This cut piece hopefully will be short--6 inches or a foot, rarely more.

Installing hardwood flooring on a diagonal, while not common, waste even more materials.

What Are "Defective Flooring Materials"?

Not all hardwood flooring you get, no matter how neatly and slickly packaged, can be installed. Some will be missing tongues, missing grooves, water-stained, cracked or split, sun-discolored, or affected by a myriad of other imperfections.

Most hardwood flooring installers are experts at working with imperfect material. While they do prefer to work with clean material, they know how to mitigate many of imperfections.

Engineered wood flooring will have far fewer imperfections (if any) than solid hardwood.  The imperfections are, as the saying goes, engineered out.

Lumber Liquidators' house brand Bellawood notes that up to 5 percent of their product may be unsuitable for installation.

In other words, according to Lumber Liquidators, up to 5 percent of its product could simply be thrown away due to imperfections.

What About the Flooring Installers' Skill?

The inclination of the installer to be as economical as possible also drives wastage figures.

Installing a solid hardwood floor is a bit like putting together a puzzle. Skilled and patient flooring installers can dramatically reduce the amount of waste materials. Unskilled and impatient workers merrily cut off the end boards with little thought as to whether they could have found a better solution.

Can those cut pieces be used? Yes and no. Cut pieces are not the most useful boards in a pile, because an essential part of their structure—the tongue or groove—is now lost.

This is not to say that these cut pieces are completely unusable; rather, they have been transformed into pieces that require planning and forethought, something that the unskilled/impatient installer does not have.

How Much Hardwood Flooring to Order?

  • If you are installing your hardwood flooring yourself and you put yourself in that skilled and patient class, reduce that 8 percent to 12 percent wastage number to the lower end of the range.
  • If you are hiring flooring installers, go for higher wastage numbers. You never want hired flooring installers to stop work early due to lack of materials.
  • If you bought the flooring locally, you could comfortably hit the upper range of wastage—10 percent to 15 percent—because you could haul unopened boxes back to the store for a full refund.
  • If you bought the flooring online, go for lower wastage numbers as returning entails extra shipping costs that you will have to cover.