Engineered hardwood flooring is a product made up of a core of plywood and it has a top layer of hardwood veneer. The veneer surface is adhered (glued) on top of the plywood core. The veneer (surface) comes in many different types of hardwood species. The product thus has the natural characteristics of the selected wood species as opposed to a photographic layer. The “engineered” product has been designed to provide greater stability, particularly where moisture or heat pose problems for solid hardwood floors.
Is Engineered Hardwood REAL hardwood flooring?
In short, YES! Engineered hardwood flooring is awesome for so many reasons. It has all the hardwood you need on top, but gives you so much more flexibility and performance benefits. And, the costs often is cheaper as it uses less ‘unseen hardwood’ that you pay for in solid hardwood, and instead you get higher performing, more stable plywood core.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a lover of solid hardwood, especially as a Canadian that has been inside and supported many Canadian hardwood mills in Quebec and Ontario over the years. And Eastern Hard Maple in a solid hardwood floor from Quebec is a thing of beauty. But, engineered hardwood is the product for BC. Downtown Vancouver apartment high rises, Kelowna townhomes, beautiful old Victoria homes… engineered hardwood flooring is the premium flooring option in BC.
What is the thickness of the hardwood veneer?
The hardwood veneer, top layer hardwood, can typically be 0.6mm to 4mm in thickness. A quality hardwood veneer will provide many years of wear. The 3mm and 4mm top veneer thickness are premium thicknesses, and the 2mm thickness is common on a 12mm product, 7.5” wide (very popular in Greater Vancouver) and it is popular for a reason, it’s beauty and price point. Regardless is its 1mm or 4mm, the surface finish is usually treated with a premium finish that has a 25 year finish warranty. For price shopping, the thicker the veneer, the higher the price.
Can I refinish an engineered hardwood floor?
Yes, if the veneer thickness is enough. First, the elephant in the room… 95%+ of floors are never refinished. You get bored of them and change flooring before you pay for a sand and refinish. Or you move… and the new home owners put in their flooring choice. So remember… everyone asks us if it can be refinished… and 95% of you will never actually do it. Now, to answer the question: it primarily depends upon the thickness of your hardwood layer. Short answer: 3mm and 4mm yes, 2mm and thinner, no. With such durable, high quality finishes the extensive process that refinishing a floor entails, it takes a professional. If sanding is desired, typically, the professional sanding procedure removes 1/32 of an inch. If your floor has a 2mm layer you can sand the floor 1 time, if you have skills. Id the 2mm floor was hand scraped… not that some areas will be less than 2mm due to the original distressing procedure. Therefore, a 2mm hand scraped floor should not be refinished in my humble opinion. Buy a new floor! A new 2mm hand scraped engineered hardwood floor sells for cheaper than the cost to sand and refinish.
How Thick is Engineered Wood Flooring?
Engineered hardwood flooring total thickness is typically between 3/8” to 3/4” thick, whereas solid hardwood is 1/2” to 3/4“ thick. Most popular thickness in BC is 12mm (which is just less than ½”). You will find stores in Vancouver, Interior, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, etc will have lots of 7.5” wide, 12mm thickness engineered hardwood. So the top layer is 2mm and the core plywood layer is 10mm. Hence total thickness of 12mm. For many 3mm and 4mm products, the total thickness is 14mm or 15mm thick. Plywood factories are pretty standardized, where as factories some times decide to customize their veneer thickness. So I have seen 10mm plywood core with 2mm top, with veneer thickness os all sizes: 2.2mm, 2.5mm, 3mm, 3.2mm, 3.5mm, 4mm, 4.2mm etc. Again, rule of thumb… the thicker the overall product, the higher the price.
In my opinion, avoid a 2mm top on a thick plywood core. It seems like a little trick to have you pay more for total thickness while saving money on the hardwood veneer thickness. And the amount of hardwood used is the biggest portion of the cost, that is something to be aware of.
What does greater stability mean?
Solid hardwood can be less stable due to moisture or heat related issues. Under adverse conditions, solid hardwood floors can warp, cup, swell or split apart. Engineered hardwood flooring is more stable and can usually overcome these problems because of being constructed in a multiple-ply plank. This counteracts twisting and remains flat and intact. This makes engineered hardwood flooring a better choice for installation over radiant heat sources, over concrete, and can be installed below grade or above.
How to See ‘Value’ in Buying Engineered Hardwood
What drives the pricing?
Plywood (Core) type
Width of product
Let’s quickly hit on why these are important:
Veneer type – this is the species of hardwood veneer you are buying. White Oak, Maple, Hickory, some sort of exotic species, etc. They all have different price points. Origin of species is also very important. So American Oak is higher priced than Russian Oak. Canadian Maple is much better than Chinese Maple. Exotic species… many look the same (ie: a deep reddish colour) but huge variation in price points. In BC, be careful of exotic woods. They can split or crack if the MC (moisture content was not carefully balanced for this market). Unless you are well researched on your exotic types and are very aware of your MC / RH (relative humidity) levels in your home / project… then buyer beware. This is your responsibility as the buyer. Wood grown in South America, South East Asia or Africa are not always meant for our climate. Engineered hardwood is safer than solid hardwood for exotics… but be sure! The Home owner is responsible, no installer or supplier will honor a warranty if you install an exotic and it has some hairline cracks emerge over time. That is a site related issue. I had a friend install Jatoba (Brazilian Cherry) in BC near the water and it cracked like crazy.
Veneer Thickness – as mentioned, the thicker, the more expensive. The wider, the more expensive. It is a simple as more raw material, higher price.
Plywood (Core) type – lots of different options used in plywood core. Or it could even be a different material like HDF… which is the same as a laminate flooring core. I have seen so many types of cores, different number of plys, cross plys, butcher block, other unique manufacturing processes. And so many raw material types used: often it cheaper wood for the core, softwood or inexpensive hardwood. This is to keep pricing down. But the professionalism in the plywood making is key. Moisture balancing, and quality of glue, and getting testing done (ie: low or zero formaldehyde emissions called CARB and CARB2). I love a CARB2 multi layer Baltic Birch core… and feel this is the best. Pay extra for the core, it gives stability and installs like a dream. With a 3mm or 4mm top veneer on a Baltic Birch multi layer plywood core… oh baby! Absolute beauty.
Plywood thickness - as mentioned, the thicker, the more expensive. The wider, the more expensive. It is a simple as more raw material, higher price.
Width of product - The wider, the more expensive. It is a simple as more raw material, higher price. Engineered hardwood is best as a wide product. Solid hardwood rarely comes in wide widths, so this is where engineered hardwood really separates itself. Vancouver loves 7.5” wide product. We even have 8 and 3/5” width. Wow!
Grading and Special features
As what grade the veneer is. Higher grades, more money. Lower grades (like an A,B,C,D) is often hand scraped and stained dark. I love a character grade floor (Grade A,B,C,D grade mix) I think it looks awesome. Shows knots and natural characteristics of nature. But the cleaner look for an AB grade (Select and Better grade) is very popular in BC now. Clean (no knots) and little colour variation. Stained light brown or light grey. This is on trend right now in Greater Vancouver and all the premium homes are going with this. Usually on a White Oak veneer.
Engineered hardwood has endless visual options like stains, various widths, hand scraping, wire brushing, distressing, white washing. The list goes on and on.
What is the Difference between Engineered Wood vs. Solid Hardwood?
When it comes to hard surface flooring, there are a lot of options, and when there are a lot of options to choose from, the questions begin. Such as, what’s the difference when it comes to solid vs. engineered hardwood? An engineered wood floor is constructed of layers of both hardwood and plywood, where solid hardwood is a solid piece of wood with no layers.
Hardwood flooring is a great way to create timeless pizzazz to any room! What should you consider when making a choice between engineered and solid hardwood? Let’s learn about engineered hardwood and why you may want this over solid:
Engineered hardwood construction has durable, high-performance qualities (it is stable!!).
It is constructed with multi-layers of wood; each layer is positioned in a different direction. This construction prevents the engineered hardwood from warping and bowing the way a hardwood floor might in extreme moisture content areas.
Engineered over solid hardwood is that the construction allows for installation in most grade levels of the home, including below ground with a protective moisture barrier installed.
A hardwood veneer gives the natural beauty and look to the engineered floor just as a solid hardwood floor does.
Engineered hardwood offers easy care and maintenance.
Engineered hardwood has endless visual options like stains, various widths, hand scraping, wire brushing, distressing.
What is the Style of Engineered Hardwood?
Engineered hardwood can offer a variety of style for your home:
Available in today’s hottest species; hickory, oak, maple and more.
There are multiple finishes available in matte, semi-gloss, and high-gloss.
To add visual interest to your floor, engineered hardwood comes in a variety of surface effects such as hand scraped for a time worn appearance, distressed for a slightly rustic appearance, or wire-brushed.
Due to innovative manufacturing techniques, engineered hardwood can be installed in any room in your home, including your basement and bathrooms; as long as there are no extreme moisture issues and a protective moisture barrier is installed. Less expensive than hardwood, selecting engineered hardwood will allow you to install this excellent flooring style in multiple rooms.
Lets restate that: Location, Location, Location The location of your flooring basically falls into three categories:
· On Grade - at ground level
· Above Grade - any second level or higher
· Below Grade - any floor below ground level, including basements or sunken living rooms.
Traditional solid hardwood flooring is not well suited for below-grade installations, because of the possibility of moisture issues. The construction of an engineered hardwood gives it enhanced structural stability that allows it to be installed at any grade level when a moisture barrier 3 in 1 underlayment is used during installation.
I am on a roll, so another recap of Advantages (and a few disadvantages to balance the argument)
Advantages of engineered flooring:
Does not require a plywood subfloor. So, if you have a cement floor, you can easily glue or float this floor. That flexibility makes engineered really popular in all parts of BC
Because of the layers of wood much of the expansion and contraction that you see in solid hardwood is reduced, so the planks are typically a tighter fit
many engineered hardwoods are stronger and more stable than their solid hardwood counterparts. And, because of this strength, it’s easier to go wider in the planks (which is more in style and makes the room look larger). I keep saying that Greater Vancouver is in love with wide planks, so engineered hardwood flooring is a perfect solution for most BC homes
It can be installed below grade (i.e. below the ground level, so it could go in a basement…provided, of course there are no moisture issues).
Some engineered hardwoods can be installed over radiant heat. (Always be sure to check this); most solid hardwoods can’t.
There’s more flexibility from an installation perspective. With most engineered floors you can nail it (if there’s plywood), or glue it (if there’s cement) or float it.
Some engineered hardwoods are less expensive; and, if you don’t have a plywood subfloor, these will also be less expensive from an installation perspective.
Disadvantages of engineered hardwood:
Some engineered hardwoods can not be sanded & refinished. If you just need the hardwood for a short period of time, this may not be an issue; but, over the long term it can be. Check the wear layer – some engineered hardwoods are top notch and can be sanded 2 or 3 times; others once, and others can’t be at all.
Some engineered hardwoods are in fact very cheap/flimsy products, so be careful and do your homework here. I mentioned above that hardwoods are real through and through – they are just layers of wood. That is usually the case, but there are a few cheap ones out there that have wood filler in them or cut corners on manufacturing process. If you want to be really price sensitive, consider laminate
Some engineered hardwoods (the less expensive ones) look a bit fake because they are rotary sawn veneer (visualize peeling an apple and the wood keeps spinning). This is a cheaper way to create a thin veneer and it doesn’t always look great.
What is the Janka hardness test and why should I be aware of it as a consumer?
As a consumer of quality wood flooring, you naturally want to know how the product you are thinking about purchasing will withstand wearing and dents. The Janka hardness rating is your standard measurement for this purpose. The Janka test is conducted by measuring the force needed to lodge a .444-inch steel ball in the wood species to a depth of half the ball’s diameter. The higher the rating, the harder is the species of wood. Of course, the Janka hardness rating is also useful when assessing how easy or difficult it is to hammer a nail into the hardwood or cut it with a saw.
Is there a benchmark for comparing the relative hardness of other wood?
White Oak is a very popular, durable species. It has a Janka rating of 1335 and is considered on the harder side of common domestic species. Red Oak serves as a benchmark for comparing the relative hardness of other wood species, and this is ~1220 on the Janka scale.
Is the Janka rating used for engineered hardwood flooring?
Yes, Janka ranting is used for engineered hardwood, as Janka is a hardness test for all hardwood products. It is good to keep in mind for engineered hardwood flooring as well as solid hardwood, especially if durability is a key selling feature for you. The Janka hardness rating of the hardwood used for the veneer on your engineered flooring will guide you to the best choice for your intended flooring use.
What does it mean when hardwood is sold in random lengths?
Lengths will vary from supplier to supplier depending on the manufacturer. Some will include boards of all one length, generally at a higher cost because of the quality required. Others will include boards of random lengths, while indicating the shortest board and the longest board lengths on the box. With random board lengths, all the boards in the box will fall in between those two lengths. You can also get Fixed Random. Often, you’ll see something like 48” RL on the product specification. That means 75% of the boards are 48” long and 25% are shorter. RL stands for random length.
How should I install my engineered hardwood?
Engineered flooring can be installed in three different ways: (i) nail down if over plywood subfloor; (ii) glue down if over plywood or concrete subfloor, and (iii) float if over plywood or concrete subfloor.
For nail down installation, ideal plywood subfloor should be ¾” thick, and a 15lb roofing felt should be placed underneath.
If gluing the floor directly on the subfloor, use 100% urethane based adhesive with an integrated vapor barrier.
For float installation, use an underlayment with a vapor barrier (and sound barrier if you wish). Usually for floating, the seams will still need to be glued together using regular wood glue.
Please refer to your supplier's installation instructions for details. The above is just a general guideline.
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