What is engineered hardwood flooring?

Engineered hardwood flooring consists of two layers. The top slab is the same real wood that you get with solid hardwood planks. The surface veneer, which is called the lamella, is sawn from genuine logs and dried to remove the natural moisture. This produces a stable top layer that is better able to resist cupping. The lamella can be cut from any type of domestic or exotic hardwood although oak, maple and hickory are the most prolific in the market. The hardwood skin is available in a variety of textures and stains and is sealed with a factory finish.

The top hardwood veneer is then glued onto the core, which consists of multiple plies of wood that are stacked in opposing directions. This cross-ply construction further strengthens the stability to make the engineered hardwood flooring more rigid and resistant to cupping and warping. The wood in each ply is bonded with adhesives, intense heat and pressure and then fused to the next ply to reduce the normal contraction and expansion problems found in hardwood flooring. The core layer is most often made of plywood, but hardwood and high density fiberboard (HDF) are also commonly used. The number of plies varies widely in the industry, ranging from three to seven. Premium engineered hardwood products have more layers and sometimes include a hardwood backing on the bottom to provide extra support.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring

How is engineered flooring different from laminate?

One of the biggest consumer misconceptions is that engineered hardwood is the same as laminate. While both products share a factory-made core of heat-pressed plywood or HDF, the top wear layer is very different. Laminate imprints a textured photographic image on top of a composite fiberboard/melamine resin plank that is man-made. The top layer of engineered wood is a natural log slab that is glued on top of the core boards.

What are the differences between engineered and solid hardwood?

In the real wood flooring industry, consumers have two options: solid or engineered. Hardwood is prized for its natural beauty and ability to last a lifetime under the hard demands of family life. Modern advancements in engineered wood have made the look, texture and feel of both products nearly indistinguishable once the product is installed. According to the latest figures released by Floor Covering News, the engineered segment has recently edged out solid floors, capturing about 54 percent of the business. Rising lumber costs and increased consumer demand for wider planks is believed to be driving the growth, but engineered hardwood has several more advantages over the traditional solid planks.

As a hybrid of natural wood and factory-made wood products, the construction design allows homeowners to enjoy the authentic beauty of wood floors without having to deal with many of the major issues that are associated with solid hardwood planks. The improved structure strengthens stability, resists moisture and is less susceptible to temperature changes. This means that the engineered hardwood flooring boards are less likely to warp, swell or split in locations that have high humidity or drastic swings in climate conditions.

For this reason, engineered hardwood is more versatile. You can install it over surfaces that are difficult to cover, such as radiant heat systems and concrete slabs. It also works in high-moisture areas, such as basements, bathrooms, entryways and laundry rooms, although you must be careful to wipe up soggy messes and air out moist rooms. You can also lay an engineered wood floor over ceramic tile, sheet vinyl or existing wood floors as long as the surface is flat and stable.

It is also typically easier to install, has a lower ecological footprint and the wear layer is built for high-traffic use. Finally, when you choose a high-quality engineered hardwood flooring, your investment will return a resale value comparable to solid hardwood. Quality products have a thick lamella, at least five coats of finish and five layers in the substrate.

Additional factors that you want to consider include:

Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Solid Hardwood Flooring

Ease of InstallationRanges from advanced DIY project to professional installation.Typically requires professional install; Unfinished boards require additional work.
 
PriceComparable but may be more expensive depending on materials.Comparable but unfinished and installation options may drive up the cost.
 
Lifespan20-30 years on average; High-quality materials that are refinishable can last 40-80 yearsVaries depending on species, thickness, quality and care but can last more than 100 years with refinishing.
 
StabilityUnique substrate of cross-layered plywood, hardwood chips or MDF greatly strengthens stability, making it more durable, even in high-moisture areas.Highly susceptible to moisture as well as humidity and temperature fluctuations, which leads to damaged planks.
 
FinishThe top layer is a thin veneer of hardwood. Available in most of the same domestic and exotic species, hand textured finishes and color stains. Always factory prefinished.The entire plank is made from one solid log. Available in a wide array of species, surface effects and stains as well as unfinished and prefinished models. Needs to be buffed and have a new coat of finish applied every 3-5 years.

What is the sturdiness of engineered wood planks?

The method used to construct engineered hardwood planks makes this a hardy flooring option. Underneath the top wood veneer is several layers of plywood, which make up the core. Each layer is stacked crosswise to strengthen dimensional stability. This enhanced structure prevents the expansion and contraction that occurs in hardwood planks. By counteracting this issue, there are fewer problems with warping, buckling, cupping, twisting, swelling and splitting due to seasonal humidity and temperature fluctuations.

What installation options are available?

Like hardwood floors, engineered hardwood planks are available in two different styles: traditional tongue and groove and modern click-lock technology, which let you literally snap boards together. You can choose to either nail, glue, staple or float the boards over a 2-cm (3/4-inch) thick plywood subfloor. If you are working with a concrete subfloor, then you should stick with floating or gluing. The special properties of engineered hardwood floors allow you to install this versatile product in a wide range of rooms whether they are on, below or above grade. Each engineered hardwood installation method requires specific tools, preparation, materials and carpentry knowledge, but engineered hardwoods are generally easier and faster to install than solid hardwoods. Additionally, solid hardwood is not recommended for below grade or moisture-prone rooms.

Can I install an engineered hardwood floors myself?

There is a different installation method for each floor type. For the intermediate DIYer, a click-and-lock system is often a doable project within one or two days. If you have done several projects around your home and have a good grasp on handling power tools, then a floating floor is manageable in two to three days. Nail, staple and glue down floors are the most difficult and require the most knowledge.

Even if you are comfortable tackling this project, you must also research which underlayment is best for your type of floor and do the prep work to make sure the subfloor is level and dry. Faulty installation voids your warranty, so it is critical that you follow the provided instructions on proper engineered hardwood installation. Note that flooring should be acclimatized for 48 hours before installing to improve stability, so you will not be able to shop on Saturday morning and begin installing later that afternoon. Some warranties require professional engineered hardwood installation to remain valid.

Can I install engineered hardwood over radiant heating systems?

Engineered hardwood flooring is one of the best options for pairing with radiant heat since it does not contract and shrink as widely as hardwood, which often cups and buckles from the fluctuating temperatures. However, you must choose the right product. Thinner engineered boards transfer heat better, but engineered hickory and maple do not hold up well over radiant heat systems. Additionally, a foam underlayment can interfere with heat flow. Floating floors are the best option since there is less risk of damaging the expensive system underneath.

Note that some manufacturer warranties are voided when flooring is installed over radiant heat. To optimize the life of your flooring system, the temperature should not exceed 27°C (85°F) or change more than one degree per day.

Can I install engineered hardwood floors in a basement or over a concrete slab?

Since engineered hardwood is less sensitive to humidity changes, it is an ideal solution for covering concrete slabs and updating basements, which are two areas prone to moisture and flooding. Concrete subfloors require specific and careful preparation, such as being completely level, curing for at least 60 days and laying down a moisture barrier to prevent water from coming up through the porous surface. Some underlayments, which insulate, support and cushion the flooring, have a built-in moisture barrier. Warranties typically require you to complete a moisture test before installing the product.

Which flooring style and color should I choose?

The style of engineered hardwood flooring that you choose is mostly a matter of personal preference, the color scheme of your home and your lifestyle. Although oak has a mid-point rating on the Janka Hardiness Test, it has greater stability than other species, which makes it great for high traffic areas. Maple is the most popular choice among consumers because it provides an instant homey feel. Hickory grain is varied and distinct, offering contemporary homes an elegant atmosphere. Surface textures add character and also covers minor dings and dents.

Note that there is a natural color variation in all hardwoods, and some species have greater variation. The sample swatch that you receive may not give you a clear picture of the overall appearance of the flooring.

Is it environmentally friendly?

According to statistics compiled by the National Wood Flooring Association, “wood flooring is the most abundantly renewable flooring material available.” Although hardwood trees typically take 40 to 60 years to mature for harvesting, they are growing faster than they are being removed. Hardwood floors are believed to improve indoor air quality, require less water and energy to produce than other flooring and outlast every other option by decades. Additionally, trees milled for flooring are harvested from responsibly managed forests or reclaimed wood from old buildings.

Engineered hardwood shares many of these same benefits although the product has a much shorter lifespan even when you factor in the ability to refinish the flooring. However, the amount of raw material needed to produce a thin veneer skin is far less than what is required to make a solid wood plank. Since it is mostly made from organic material, engineered hardwood can be salvaged and recycled to expand its usefulness.

The core layers are also made from organically harvested materials. However, the stains, topcoats and finishes, as well as the adhesives and resins used to bind the scraps and particles of wood, can have issues with off-gassing. This naturally occurring process releases a colorless gas known as formaldehyde that may be associated with certain serious health risks.

While emission levels are generally at or below regulations, there are several steps you can take to reduce the risk of off-gassing when installing your new engineered hardwood flooring. At a minimum, let in fresh air daily and keep the temperature and humidity levels low. Health Canada provides more in-depth details to further understand this important issue. Quality manufacturers are committed to producing engineered hardwood flooring products that minimize off-gassing, but this is a critical question that you should ask before buying a product.

What is the best method for cleaning my engineered wood flooring?

Since the top layer of engineered hardwood is no different from a solid wood floor, you should give it the same special care and treatment. With proper maintenance, you will be able to enjoy the beautiful finish for years to come. Taking care of your floors is as simple as regularly sweeping, dry mopping or vacuuming up dirt. You can spot spray a light mist of water on tough spots and then immediately hit them with a microfiber mop. A traditional wet mop and harsh cleaning chemicals will permanently damage your new floors.

When needed, only use cleaners that are specifically designed for engineered hardwood. Our aluminum oxide urethane-based finish does not require waxing, buffing or polishing. In fact, these harsh processes can actually strip the finish, making the surface appear dull no matter which products you later try. Avoid abrasive cleaners that contain acidic properties, such as bleach, vinegar, ammonia or oil soaps.