Engineered Flooring Buying Guide

buying-guideEngineered wood flooring is often preferred to solid wood flooring because it is more versatile and can be installed over concrete and in basements. Due to the way the planks are manufactured with solid wood on the top layer only, it is highly resistant to many of the environmental issues like humidity and wetness than can effect solid wood floors.

Engineered wood flooring is crafted with a tongue and groove system. The flooring can be glued directly to concrete or can be nailed to a subfloor. Newer locking flooring is designed so that each piece secures to the ones next to it. This means they do not have to be glued or nailed, creating the same type of floating floor you get with laminate wood flooring.

This engineered flooring buying guide provides a detailed look at the reasons engineered hardwoods are quickly gaining popularity, as well as the best options available when you shop for engineered wood flooring. Browse additional engineered wood flooring guides on installation, maintenance and pricing. Or see our similar guides covering all of today’s most popular flooring types.

What It Is and How It’s Made

Engineered wood flooring is made from 3-12 plies of wood material. Depending on the product, soft woods, hardwoods or plywood may be used for some of the layers. Only the top layer is premium hardwood such as oak, maple, hickory, Brazilian koa, etc.

Each ply is glued to the one beneath it with the grain running perpendicular, or cross-grain or cross-ply. This is done to give the material more stability. It vastly reduces the expansion and shrinkage that solid wood flooring goes through with changes to temperature and humidity. This is, perhaps, it’s key advantage over solid wood.

Wear and Durability

As you shop for this type of flooring, you’ll find thicknesses from 3/8” to 3/4″. The thicker it is, the longer it will last. This is true because the wear layer – the top layer made from the type of wood you wanted — is thicker. It can be sanded down and refinished 2-3 times during the lifetime of the flooring. That means it will last 40-80 years depending on how heavy traffic is on it.

Thinner engineered wood flooring cannot be refinished. It should last 20-30 years depending on traffic. This flooring can be used where solid wood flooring cannot be – over concrete slabs and in levels below grade such as a basement. In addition, the resale value of engineered flooring, often called the return on investment, is the same as for solid wood flooring.

Flooring Materials, Lengths and Patterns

There are two main factors when considering this type of flooring: the wood species you want and the width of the flooring. More types of exotic wood are being added each year including Brazilian koa and cherrywood, sakura, tigerwood, teak and kempas.

Domestic woods include red and white oak, ash, maple, walnut, cherry, hickory, birch, yellow birch, mahogany and pine.

In terms of width, you can find it as narrow as 2 ¼” and as wide as 7” or sometimes wider. In general, narrow widths give a room a more formal or contemporary feel. Wider widths are associated with design schemes like country, old world, French provincial and colonial.

Plank lengths vary from 12” to 60”, and boxes of flooring will have planks of differing length to help ensure a random plank field in which butt ends are not aligned side by side.

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Leading Brands and Recent Trends

All the major manufacturers of natural hardwood flooring are making engineered hardwood. The best industry leaders include Armstrong, Anderson Tuftex, Bruce, Columbia, Harris, Kahrs, Mannington, Mohawk, Muskoka, Scandian and White Mountain. For more information on leading brands see our reviews of the best engineered wood floors. See also our guide for where to buy hardwood flooring.

Here are the most popular trends in engineered hardwood flooring:

Hand scraped or handscrape hardwood: Until the 20th century, each piece of wood flooring was often milled and prepared by hand from the large piece of lumber. Draw knives were used to cut each piece from the log, and knife marks were left behind. The result was a very authentic look. In today’s busy world, homeowners are looking for a connection to the past, when life moved at a slower pace.

Wide planks: This is very much in keeping with the hand scraped trend. Flooring of the 1800s was wider. Wide planks reminiscent of early America or old world Europe are very popular.

Distressed wood flooring: This look was very popular in the 1960s and ‘70s. It’s back and better than ever with a greater variety of styles and wood specie. Distressed wood has the look of reclaimed/recycled wood that began to be used in the 1990s.

Exotic woods: Domestics are still popular, but now you’ve got our choice of a wide range of imported wood specie such as Brazilian cherrywood and koa, kempas, sakura, teak and tigerwood.

Engineered Wood Flooring FAQs

Q: What are the main benefits of engineered hardwood flooring?
A: The main benefits are:

  • It can be glued directly to concrete.
  • It can be installed below grade.
  • Quality material will last up to 80 years if refinished.
  • It works well in humid areas where solid hardwood might not.
  • There are a wide range of wood specie, colors and styles.

Q: Does engineered wood flooring cause allergies?
A: No. Unlike carpet and some vinyl flooring, it will not cause allergies. It does not trap allergens like carpeting does.

Q: Do you need to remove tile, vinyl or wood in order to install engineered wood flooring?
A: No. As long as it is secure and flat, and hard material can remain.

Q: Are there degrees of quality with engineered wood flooring?
A: Yes, and you usually get what you pay for. The best engineered flooring has the thickest wear layer, the top layer of solid wood that can be refinished if needed.

Q: Can engineered wood flooring installation be a DIY project?
A: Yes, if you’ve got moderate to good skills. See our guide entitled Installation of Engineered Wood Flooring for all the details.

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