Few flooring options can match the popularity and beauty of hardwood floors. It seems like everyone wants it and if we can’t have it, we want flooring that imitates the look of it. Hardwood flooring is an undeniably stylish and timeless look. And more and more people are choosing engineered hardwood for their floors over most other flooring options.
What exactly is engineered hardwood?
Engineered hardwood flooring consists of a thin layer of wood on top (a veneer), and multiple layers of backing (the core). The thickness of the veneer and the core varies depending on the design and manufacturer. The multi-ply structure gives engineered wood the flexibility to be installed in places where solid hardwood isn’t an option, such as in basements, over concrete floors or over radiant heating systems. Engineered flooring combats this swelling and shrinking with its plywood core. Each plywood layer is placed in the opposite direction of it’s neighbor, which limits the amount of swelling or shrinking any one layer can do. This creates dimensional stability and is the reason that engineered flooring is far more stable that hardwood flooring in a variety of challenging environments.
What are the advantages of engineered hardwood?
Can be less expensive than solid hardwood - Typically less costly depending on the width, length, species, and quality of veneer.
Impeccable beauty - Difficult to differentiate from solid wood flooring once installed.
Every plank is unique - Since this is a real wood veneer, there will never be a repeating pattern or unconvincing texture. The veneer allows real wood grain, knots, and character to shine in every plank.
Versatile - More resistant to temperature and humidity fluctuations than solid wood flooring, allowing you to use them where solid strips aren't best suited, like basements or directly over concrete slabs. It is also compatible with underfloor heating.
Installation is simple - all options can be floated, glued, stapled, or nailed and some are a simple click method.
Variety - Available in different wood species, styles, colors, finishes and plank widths, some up to 9-1/2" wide.
Can be changed to different finish - The thicker the top wear layer, the more likely it can be sanded and re-finished. This depends on the quality of the material and manufacturer - always consult the manufacturer before sanding or refinishing.
Where can I use engineered wood?
Because of its high moisture resistance, you can install engineered hardwood in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and even basements. Engineered wood is durable enough to be installed in both residential and commercial settings, so your business and your home will look great. Plus, there’s no grade level of your home that’s off-limits. Some planks are complete with an attached underlayment, making them ready for anything in every room of the house.
The moisture that gathers here wreaks havoc on solid wood flooring. Because the veneer layers used for engineered boards crisscross like plywood, the wood's natural tendency to expand and contract in humid areas is reduced. The boards' thinner profile also helps where headroom is at a premium.
The range of thickness options, starting as low as ¼ inch, allow you to finesse transitions between different types of flooring at doorways and stairways that would be awkward or impossible with standard ¾-inch solid flooring. You can also lay engineered flooring over any flat, stable surface, including ceramic tile, sheet vinyl, and existing wood floors.
Over Radiant Heat
Thinner engineered boards transfer heat better than thick solid wood and are more stable. Floating floors are best because they don't need staples or nails that might puncture wires or hot-water tubes. Check with the radiant system's manufacturer before using a foam underlayment, which interferes with heat flow.
Good, Better, Best
Engineered flooring runs the gamut from the low end, starting at $3 per square foot, to the high, at $14 and more. To judge quality, check the thickness of the "wear layer," or top skin of wood; the number of veneers in the core; and the number of finish coats. Typically, the more layers, the better. Below, see how the three common classes of engineered boards stack up.
Good: 3-ply construction; 1-2 mm wear layer; 5 finish coats; 10- to 15-year warranty; ¼ inch thick; About $3-$5 per sq. ft.; Options limited to common species, such as oak or ash, and just a few stains.
Better: 5 plys; 2-3 mm wear layer; 7 finish coats; 15- to 25-year warranty; ¼ inch thick; About $6-$9 per sq. ft.; More species, such as cherry, beech, and some exotics; all stains and a few surface effects, such as distressing.
Best: 7-9 plys or more; 3 mm-plus wear layer, which makes it a possibility to refinish; 9 finish coats; 25-year-plus warranty; 5/8 to ¾ inch thick; About $10-$14 per sq. ft.; Widest selection of species; reclaimed options; and more surface treatments, such as hand scraped and wire brushed.
Why Hardness Matters
The harder the top layer, the more resilient it is to dents and the longer it'll keep its like-new looks. But hardness isn't the only factor to consider. Dense woods with less grain, like maple, show dings more readily than a slightly softer wood with a bold grain, like red oak. And floors with little or no gloss are better at hiding scratches and wear.