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Find out how much plywood flooring costs and what it takes to install it. We also included up to 4 free contractor quotes.
Plywood is made from thin layers or ‘plies’ of wood veneer glued together so that the grain in each ply is at right angles to the next ply. The standard size sheet is 8ft x 4ft (or the metric equivalent 1.2m x 2.4m) and ranges in thicknesses from 1.4mm to 4.3mm. It belongs to the family of manufactured or engineered wood boards along with chipboard (particle board) and medium density fibreboard (MDF).
Plywood is made from thin wood veneers bound together with glue. Some types of glue are waterproof to a greater or lesser degree which allows the composite board to be used in wet environments (boat building), not so wet environments (exterior applications), damp environments (bathroom and kitchen floors) and dry environments (not waterproof at all). Waterproof glues are the most expensive which reflects the prices of each type of plywood.
The different directions of grain in each board, this is called cross-graining, gives the sheets several important and useful benefits.
✓ It reduces the tendency of the sheet to split when nailed close to the edges.
✓ It reduces the sheet’s tendency to expand and contract thus providing a very stable product dimensionally.
✓ The strength of the sheet is consistent in all directions.
✓ The sheet is less prone to warping.
✓ There is a high stiffness at right angles to the grain direction of the layer on the surface..
Some more expensive and higher quality plywood have their plies laid at angles of 45 degrees to each other, so 0°, 45°, 90°, 135°, 180°. This arrangement provides a very stable sheet material giving strength in all possible horizontal axes.
In general, the poorer quality plies form the core of the sheet while more attractive veneers are used for the surface plies. This, of course, can lead to the logical conclusion that if you use decorative hardwood plies on the outer layers and poorer quality softwood plies for the core layers you can have a product that combines the benefits of hardwoods without the disadvantages.
There are many different types of plywood designed using different types of wood as well as different glues and different dimensions to suit different applications.
Softwood. Softwood plywood is usually made from various species of softwood such as spruce, pine, fir, redwood or cedar. Because of the open grain of softwood, these sheets tend to be used in industrial and construction applications.
Plywood used in different types of applications has specific thicknesses designed as the optimum for that application. For example, roofing plywood uses 5/8” or 16mm thick sheets, subfloors use at least 3/4” or 19mm and will vary depending on the span between the flooring joists. Flooring grade plywood will have the edges molded to form a tongue and groove so that vertical movement of the sheets relative to each other is minimized. Flooring grade plywood is usually supplied in thicknesses of 0.5” to 1” or 13mm to 25mm.
Hardwood. Hardwood plywood is made from specific species of hardwood and has many subdivisions depending on the species of hardwood. The general properties of hardwoods that make them so useful are their strength, stiffness, impact resistance, wear resistance, moisture resistance, the closeness of grain and attractive finish.
Tropical plywood. This type is made from various species of tropical hardwood trees. These are specifically produced in the rain forests of South America, Africa, and Asia. This is very much superior to softwood plywood and is mainly used for construction applications.
Aviation plywood. This is very high strength plywood made from species such as mahogany, birch, and spruce and using superior adhesives with a high moisture and heat resistance. The veneers are pressed and bonded together over cores of basswood or poplar. This plywood is very light and strong which makes it ideal for light aircraft and glider construction.
Decorative plywood. This type is made from a variety of decorative hardwood veneers over cheaper softwood cores. The face veneers are species such as ash, oak, birch, maple, mahogany, rosewood and teak to name but a few.
They are used more in applications where appearance is more important that strength and durability.
Flexible plywood. This type is specifically designed for bending into curved components such as used in furniture making. Different types of flexible plywood can be steamed or soaked to allow the sheet to be bent around a mould.
The different layers are then glued and clamped together with maybe a veneered plywood as the surface layer. This method was originally used back in the 1850s for furniture production and is still used today.
Marine plywood. This type is produced from the durable and hardwearing face and core veneers with very few defects. The plywood resists flaking delaminating and fungal attack. Each veneer layer will use a tropical hardwood with a dense, close fiber grain so that water cannot be trapped within voids in the grain. The adhesive is very strong exterior grade glue that is resistant to moisture.
Other plywood. There are many other types of plywood specifically designed for their own applications. Examples include fire-proof, moisture resistant, pressure treated. As a need is identified so a different plywood type is designed.
Obviously we won’t be talking about all these different types in this article, we shall be limiting myself to those varieties of plywood that are used for levelling off a subfloor prior to fitting a floor covering such as vinyl, linoleum or carpet, and those types that are used as a finished flooring in their own right, usually veneered on one side with a high quality visually appealing hardwood and usually tongue and groove moulded edges.
You cannot really compare them like this. They are two separate applications that just so happens to use plywood in both.
Using plywood as a subfloor. Using plywood as a subfloor will level an existing floor, getting rid of minor undulations and indentations. This is probably the most common application for which flooring plywood is used.
Plywood, in this case, is used to level the floor and provide a stable and flat surface on which to lay other more decorative floor coverings such as carpet, linoleum, laminate flooring, hardwood blocks or parquet.
Solid wood floorboards can be notorious for giving you an uneven floor surface with hollows or even gaps at the longwise joints. This is no good if you intend placing linoleum or vinyl directly on top of floorboards because in time the floor covering will sag and fill the hollow causing visible grooves in the vinyl. Another way to use plywood as a subfloor is to produce a ‘floating floor’.
Let us assume you have an old floor, boarded out with regular softwood floorboards. Depending on the condition of the floorboards you can either remove them and install plywood flooring directly onto the joists or you can cover the floorboards with plywood directly. Personally we would always remove the existing boards because you can then be sure that there are no pipes or cables in the way of the nailing and you can incorporate access panels into the plywood so that at a later date you can access the underfloor cavity if needed.
Just make sure you screw the access panels down rather than nail, and if you can keep a diagram of where the access panels, plumbing, and cables are, it will help not only someone else when they come to rewire your house twenty years in the future, but it might just help your future self in a couple of years when you can’t remember where the central heating pipes go.
Let us say that you have a finished concrete floor and you want to make it warmer and more attractive to look at.
What do you do?
✓ Firstly, finished concrete is extremely cold and is usually not perfectly level unless you have had the concrete polished.
✓ Make sure you haven’t any moisture seeping in from the outside. If you do, fix that problem before you cover it up.
✓ Just because you cannot see the problem doesn’t mean that it will go away!
✓ Sweep away all the dust and loose concrete grit or vacuum the surface to make sure it is as smooth and grit free as possible.
✓ On top of the concrete lay a moisture barrier of 6mm thick polythene damp proof membrane. Try to use one piece without any joins but if you do, then have an overlap of at least two feet and seal the joins with silicon mastic and waterproof bitumen flashing tape.
✓ On top of the polythene lay slabs of at least one inch thick polystyrene (Styrofoam) insulation.
✓ Then lay tongue and grooved flooring grade plywood. Stagger the joints as you go and leave about half an inch gap all the way around the room, this will allow for movement and expansion. Do not screw the plywood into place otherwise you will pierce the polythene, instead run a bead of PVA wood glue along each tongue and groove joint.
✓ Tap or clamp the boards together as you go so that the glue squeezes out of the joint. Wipe the joint with a damp cloth to remove excess glue.
✓ Allow the glue to dry overnight.
✓ You now have what is called a ‘floating floor’. Notice there is no contact between the plywood floor and the concrete floor so no heat can be conducted through.
Use as a finished floor. On top of the plywood subfloor, you can either lay any of the ‘soft’ floor coverings such as carpet, vinyl or linoleum or you can continue to lay hardwood block flooring, a tongue and groove laminate floor or a tongue and groove hardwood veneered plywood floor. Normally if you choose to lay one of the hard tongue and groove flooring types on top of regular solid wood floorboards you will have to run the boards so that the joints are perpendicular to the original floorboards. This is not always feasible so using plywood on top of the floorboards is a way of allowing the new floor to run in the same direction as the floorboards.
First of all, place a thin underlay on top of the plywood subfloor before placing the laminate flooring or the veneered plywood. This isn’t the same as regular carpet underlay, rather it is one designed for ‘hard’ floor coverings and will prevent any slip between the layers and minimize any creaks or other noise caused by one hard surface moving against another. Once again with the tongue and groove flooring, glue the edges so that the floor is allowed to float on top of the subfloor.
The costs associated with laying flooring grade plywood, either as a subfloor or as a finished floor covering will depend on many factors.
The size of the floor. If the floor is a large area then you will need more sheets of plywood and more labor to fit them. Conversely, if the room is small and awkward to work in, you will find that you have to make more cuts in the sheet to make it fit the available space. So, in this case, you will need fewer materials but more labor to fit.
Are you laying a subfloor or a finished floor? A subfloor will be hidden from view after the job is finished. This means that you won’t have to worry so much about making a perfect cut or making sure the joints look perfect. You will however find that it is more difficult to level the subfloor than a finished floor (with a finished floor the subfloor already gives it a levelled foundation).
You will find that when laying a subfloor it will not matter too much as to the quality of the plywood. As long as the thickness is sufficient to mask any irregularities beneath the subfloor, it doesn’t matter if the plywood is rough and knotty. Any irregularities in the surface of the plywood subfloor can be left alone or filled with epoxy filler.
The type of plywood chosen. We have already said that it doesn’t really matter what quality or type of plywood is used as a subfloor as it will be hidden anyway. Having said that it would seem a waste of money to use high quality and expensive veneered plywood as a subfloor. When using veneered plywood as a finished floor the type of veneer used will be factor in the cost with more exotic and rarer veneers being more expensive than more common ones.
Whether you use tongue and groove or butt joints. Tongue and groove plywood allows for a certain amount of expansion and contraction and ensures the edges of adjoining sheets are level with each other. They are more expensive than square edge plywood sheets that are simply butt jointed.
Method of construction. Whether you use nails, screws, staples or glue will vary the time taken to fix the sheets in place. Likewise, the materials needed for the varying methods will cost different amounts to purchase.
Do you need underlay? You should always place a thin foam underlay between the subfloor and finished floor.
Depending on what the subfloor is made from will govern the type of underlay used. Always do thorough searches of the available underlay products to find the best one for your application and follow the manufacturer’s instructions when fitting it.
Are you laying insulation and a damp proof layer? The type of floor you are intending to lay will depend on whether you need to install a damp-proof layer and insulation.
Is the finished floor layer higher than the original one? Now, this is something we haven’t mentioned before. If you are using the existing original floor as a subfloor to the new finished floor then the new floor will be slightly raised in comparison. This brings problems all of its own.
Do the doors need a bit taken off their bottoms so that they swing easily over the new floor level? Will the join between the floors of two separate rooms (the threshold in the doorway) need to be changed so that there is a smooth transition between levels?
The type of labor. Do you intend laying your new floor as a DIY project or are you proposing to use a contractor? If you use a contractor are you intending to use a carpenter or a specialist floor layer? You will find that they charge different hourly rates for doing the same job.
The type of finish. Is the plywood going to be hidden beneath a floor covering like a carpet? If it is, the plywood will not need to be finished or sealed. If we are talking about a finished floor then either the floor will be painted or will be stained and sealed. Whichever method you use will vary the cost.
Other work. We have already mentioned the addition of insulation, but what about underfloor heating? Removing and replacing skirting boards (baseboards in the USA)? Plumbing or air conditioning work? Placing carpets or other types of floor covering? All these will add to the overall cost of your new floor.
Locality. The costs of labor for all the different contractors will vary depending on where you live and the average wage in your area.
Shipping. If you happen to live near your local plywood supplier (sawmill, construction materials merchant, plywood manufacturer) the cost of delivery will be far less than if you live in the middle of nowhere.
How many suitable contractors live in your area? The availability of the various types of the contractor will govern the cost of their labor. This does not only mean how many contractors live in your area? It also means how busy are they and can they fit your job into their schedule?
The costs of materials and labor mentioned in this article should be taken as indicative of the average cost and are intended to show you the sort of prices you will encounter.
Although adding a new floor can be as expensive as you choose, the higher the quality of the finished job, the more value it will put on your home when you come to move on. Many potential home owners see a new veneered hardwood floor with underfloor heating and insulation as a ‘must have’ when it comes to buying their new home.
Remember that the cost of buying the materials needed as well as hiring the labour will vary depending on where you live. You can save a lot by measuring up the floor and ordering the flooring yourself but remember that you should take into account the number of cuts you will have to make and the amount of wastage you will produce when you come to fit the plywood. If you aren’t sure then by all means hire a contractor to do the work for you.
|Average cost to buy veneered plywood|
|Maple||$10 to $11 per sq ft.||Creamy white to red.|
|Heart pine||$10 to $11 per sq.ft.||Gouges and knots. Has a vintage appearance|
|White ash||$12 to $13 per sq.ft.||Varying colours and grain types. Hides imperfections.|
|Brazilian cherry||$3 to $6 per sq.ft.||Warm red-brown colour.|
|Brazilian koa||$5 to $7 per sq.ft.||Orange with a dark brown stripes|
|Acacia||$4 to $5 per sq.ft.||Varying medium colours with interesting grain|
|Average costs of graded plywood flooring and installation charges|
|Grade||Purchase Cost||Installation cost||Notes|
|Low||$3 to $5 per sq.ft.||$3 to $10 per sq.ft.||This is the basic type of plywood. Consists of 3 core layers covered with a veneer of between 1/16” to 1/12” thick|
|Medium||$5 to $10 per sq.ft.||$3 to $10 per sq ft.||These normally have a thicker veneer than low grade and have a 5 layer core.|
|High||$8 to $13 per sq.ft.||$3 to $10 per sq ft.||Some really high grade plywood have 7 or more veneers and a surface veneer of around 1/6” thick.|
Many different places sell engineered boards in general and plywood in particular. Popular places include:
Online. There are many different online resources that sell plywood. Some even have samples of flooring grade so you can see what it looks like against your existing furniture.
Local retail outlets. These include home improvement centers, building supplies merchants and floor covering stores. You can purchase plywood sheets at different prices depending on which outlet is selling. Keep an eye out for discounts and special offers.
Discount. There are a few specialist online woods and building supplies discount stores that you can try.
Salvage yards. Often salvage yards have second hand and damaged plywood sheets that might be good for subfloors, so don’t dismiss places like this.
When people talk about laying a plywood floor they automatically think about nailing or screwing just like regular real wood floorboards. There are in fact many options you can use to fix plywood flooring, each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on what type of floor you already have and what type of floor you want to end up with.
After you have chosen the type of floor you prefer, one that matches both your needs and your budget, you will have to start thinking about the best way to fix them down. It doesn’t matter what your floor is made from whether it is a traditional softwood floorboard on joists, tongue and groove plywood on concrete or on wood, or whether it is a floor made from square edge plywood 4ft x 8ft sheets. The following methods are useful information if you intend installing the floor yourself as a DIY project or if you want to talk to a flooring contractor or carpenter about the best way to fit the floor.
Glue down. This installation method involves using an adhesive which is applied directly to the subfloor which can be concrete or wood. If you are fitting a plywood floor on top of a concrete floor you will need to, first of all, lay an epoxy damp proof membrane to make sure no moisture soaks up into the plywood.
There are many suitable types available so have a look at the specifications and application methods and choose one which is best for your circumstances and budget. When the glue down method is used properly the result can be a very stable floor as long as you allow enough time for the adhesive to cure before walking on the floor.
The adhesives need to be able to bond with the floor and if not applied properly can end up being a very messy job.
Also, when choosing your adhesives make sure that you choose the correct adhesive for the width of your flooring as some are only suitable for a maximum size flooring. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter otherwise if you have any problems, the warranty will not apply.
Nail down. This is arguably the most straightforward method of fixing a plywood floor, but you can only use it when you are fixing onto an existing wooden subfloor or wooden joists. If you intend laying a solid wood floor over a plywood subfloor then it doesn’t matter which way the boards face, but if you intend laying solid floorboards on top of existing floorboards then you will have to face the boards at ninety degrees to the existing subfloor. This will ensure the floorboards produce a stable floor with no buckling or twisting.
Screw down. The same explanation applies as with the ‘nail down’ method, except that screws are sometimes better if you intend lifting flooring in the future for maintenance or for a change in finish.
Staple down. This is very similar to nail down and screw down but staples are used in place of nails and screws.
Floating floor. This method is probably the easiest and fastest way to lay a floor and so it is more attractive to DIY and beginners. It requires no special skills or experience except the ability to squirt glue all over the place. You will need to put an underlay between the floor and subfloor to prevent contact and moisture transmission between the two. Often people put a layer of expanded polystyrene foam slabs between the floors to provide a thermal barrier as well.
There are many advantages and disadvantages to using plywood as a flooring material. Here is a list of just a few of them:
Easy to install. Not only can you install tongue and groove plywood sheets, you can also have full 8ft x 4ft sheets cut into strips by one of the big home improvement stores that offer this service. Just arrange the strips on your subfloor and fix into place. You won’t be able to tell the difference between that and an expensive hardwood plank floor.
Wear and tear. It doesn’t matter which type of plywood you buy or in fact how many coats of varnish you use to protect it, plywood does not have the same durability and ability to withstand constant foot traffic as hardwood does.
Adaptability. Any type of wood product needs to be allowed to acclimatize itself to the humidity and temperature of the room in which it will be fitted. Plywood, however, once it is fixed in place by whichever means you choose will not move, expand or contract like solid wood products do when exposed to heat and humidity. Plywood, because of its construction process is a very stable product that once fixed in place is not going to move for anything.
Low cost. The most important benefit of using plywood is its price. Many of the plywood sheets used to cost between $15 and $25 per sheet. When each sheet covers 32 square feet you can see that it is quite possible to cover a floor really cheaply. Compare that price to the cost of solid hardwood blocks and planks, combined with the fact that you can install plywood yourself, you can see that you can finish up with a reasonably decent looking floor for a really low price.
There is no doubt about it. If you want to install a good looking and low priced flooring system there is nothing that delivers quite as well as a veneered plywood floor. Sometimes you cannot even tell whether the flooring is plywood or real hardwood boards as the quality of veneer on the top surface of the plywood is so good.
In this article, we discussed ways to use plywood as a method of flooring, both as subfloor and as the finished floor. Plywood has all the advantages of solid wood (in fact it is real wood but as a very thin veneer) and very few of the disadvantages.
Plywood floors are very easy to fit and are a good option for the DIY enthusiast to save some money. All you have to watch is how much wastage you produce.
Next time you decide you want to have a hardwood floor laid in your home, why not give high quality veneered plywood a chance; you might be very surprised at how good the finished product is.
Many thanks for reading.