What is engineered hardwood flooring? Is it still real wood? Is it “laminated?”

There is a lot of confusion about the different categories of plank flooring, so let me back up a bit. It used to be that “wood flooring” or “hardwood flooring” meant a plank that was made of one kind of wood, solid all the way through, and typically 3/4 of an inch thick. If you’re visuallizing those narrow strip red oak floors, you are on the right track. This kind of floor was typically installed raw or unfinished and sanded and finished onsite with several coats of eurethane. This is a laborious process that requires everything to be removed from a room or house while the floor is finished. But solid wood flooring has many limitations. For one it is typically more expensive as it used more of the original hardwood. Planks are narrower and the range of choices is much smaller. In addition solid wood flooring cannot be installed over concrete slabs – unless you want to build a plywood subdeck on top of your slab first. This is because solid wood reacts to humidity, temperature and weather changes more dramatically and cannot be safely adhered to concrete. So this eliminates solid wood flooring as a choice for many Arizona homes, which are build on slab.

Enter engineered wood flooring (already since the 1960’s).

An engineered wood plank is essentially a ply – that is a plank composed of several different types of wood set at cross directions, with the final top layer of hardwood that is pre-finished and all that you see when the floor is down. The advantage of the layers of different woods is that each wood reacts to humidity/dryness, temperature and weather changes differently and so actually end up holding each other in place. Setting them at cross directions has the same effect. The final top layer of hardwood is bonded to all the other layers so well that all wood flooring manufactures give engineered wood flooring lifetime structural guarantees. Engineered flooring is also pre-finished. Typically five to seven layers of aluminium oxide or ceramic oxide eurethane are hardened onto each plank in a way that can never be duplicated onsite. For this reason finish warrantees are typically 25-50 years. In the end you have a plank that is more durable than anything you can finish onsite, and more versatile and hardy – meaning it will move or gap (expand and contract) a LOT less than a solid floor. For this reason engineered wood flooring can be glued directly to concrete slabs, or floated over concrete slabs (glueing the tongue and grooves together), and even be installed below grade. It can be used in super moist areas of the country like the Pacific Northwest, and most importantly it can be used in super dry areas like Arizona. Although solid hardwood flooring is still installed a little bit here and there, engineered wood floors now dominate about 95% of the wood flooring market, and is most of what we sell and install. Because engineered wood flooring is more affordable, more versatile, durable and has a range of almost limitless wood choices, styles, widths and lengths, it is the best choice for most homes today.

What about thickness and wear-layer?

The thickness of most engineered planks is 1/2 inch, although you can find a few at 3/8, 7/16, and some thicker at 9/16 or 5/8. The wear layer varies from 1mm to 4mm typically. 2mm is most common. Often people ask about refinishing engineered wood floors. The first thing to understand is that because of the toughness of the finish and the 25+ year warrantees, most people will never have to refinish their floors. Another thing to remember is that if you have a rustic wood with lots of handscraping, beveled edges and character once you refinish it you will lose all that surface character and have a smooth finish. However if refinishing is a consideration, you want to choose a wood with at least a 2mm wear layer. The thicker the better, of course. And the thicker the plank and wear layer the more expensive the wood will be. For more questions about engeered wood flooring, please contact us at (928) 925-3084.