This guide will help you go from novice to expert in only a few minutes of your time.
Once you have read this article you will be confident enough to choose the right engineered flooring and understand what you are buying.
What is Engineered Hardwood Flooring?
So what exactly is engineered hardwood flooring?
Engineered hardwood flooring consists of a core layer, similar to laminate, that has a veneer of solid hardwood to give the look, finish and feel of solid hardwood. It is designed to be indistinguishable from a solid hardwood floor and can be installed as a floating floor, nailed down or glued down.
There are a number of reasons why you may opt to choose engineered hardwood over solid hardwood, even if the cost was not an issue.
Firstly, let’s look at how engineered hardwood is created.
When homes first began to be constructed using concrete slab foundations, and as a direct result wooden subfloors were less common, the industry lost a lot of business to linoleum (or vinyl as it is more commonly referred to today). The main reason was that solid hardwood floors could not be installed over concrete subfloors – or anywhere excess moisture could be a problem.
To fight back against this drop in sales manufacturers started to create an engineered version of the traditional wood floors that would be resistant to this moisture – and this is what we know today as engineered hardwood flooring.
Engineered hardwood flooring is made up of two components; the plywood core, and the veneer (which is real hardwood).
The plywood core
The plywood core is the protective layer (from an excess moisture standpoint). This protective layer allows the flooring to be laid in rooms that may have otherwise been deemed unsuitable, especially for the more traditional solid hardwood flooring.
Additionally, this plywood core offers greater stability and many durability benefits that are just not provided with solid hardwood.
There are three main types of protective core that are used today.
The mul-ply core is created using several thin layers of plywood glued together. These thin layers are usually glued with their grains running in opposite directions to reduce stress and reduce the possibility of buckling and warping.
The multi-ply core is ideal for those that have underfloor heating or believe there could potentially be continual changes in humidity. By doing so you will reduce the chances of warping and ensure greater floor stability over time.
3-Ply is usually the weakest core out of the three commonly available, however, this is usually also reflected in the price you will pay. The total thickness of 3-Ply is usually 12mm to 18mm and is not often available in widths over 200mm, due to the increased risk in terms of stability and warping.
The HDF core is strong and for this reason works well with many click-lock systems, which in turn makes them popular with DIYists. Due to the strength of these boards, the thickness of the boards can be greatly reduced which is ideal if you are trying to transition with other thinner flooring types.
The Veneer (wear layer)
To be considered as engineered hardwood the veneer layer (that you see when walking on it) must be real wood. The thicker this veneer the longer the flooring will likely last and the more times it will be able to be sanded over its lifetime.
Generally, the thicker the veneer, the more expensive the flooring will be to buy, but this is not always the case – so always check just how thick the veneer layer is when comparing two similarly priced products.
When shopping for engineered hardwood flooring they will display thickness in terms of the plank as a whole, and the thickness of the veneer used. For instance, a plank displaying 18/5mm will be 18mm thick when including the 5mm veneer of solid wood.
Buying Tip: When choosing your engineered hardwood flooring it is always a good idea to first order a sample so you can be confident that the flooring you are paying for is what you are expecting.
Dry Sawn or Rotary Peeled?
When deciding to invest in an engineered hardwood floor it is assumed that you are looking to have a floor that is indistinguishable from a solid wood floor and have decided that you do not want something resembling run of the mill laminate flooring.
There are two ways that manufacturers will create the veneer, and it matters which you choose.
In my opinion, only the dry sawn engineered hardwood floors are indistinguishable from solid hardwood. This is because like hardwood flooring the veneer is cut from the same bit of wood, only around 1/3rd thickness. So without seeing the core protective layer underneath it is impossible to tell the difference.
The wooden grain remains intact and allows you to sand it multiple times without damaging the flooring. It is in effect a hardwood floor with a protective plywood layer over your subfloor.
Such a floor should last between 20 and 30 years.
Buying Tip: When buying sawn flooring look for a veneer (wear layer) of over 4.5mm and under 5mm (with a total plank thickness of no more than 18mm) if installing over under-floor heating, and anything over 4.5mm if not (higher the better).
Rotary peeled is as the name suggests, just peeling the smallest amount of wood off a solid hardwood flooring plank. This peel can be as thin as 2 mm and can not be sanded when the floor is in need of it.
While the peel has been taken from the same piece of wood as the dry sawn cut, it is easily distinguishable by the feeling when walked over, and once the peel layer has been damaged there is no way to fix the board without replacing it altogether.
I liken this engineered hardwood to laminate, and not to true engineered hardwood flooring as we have been discussing in this article. For this reason, I would give this flooring a lifespan of 10 years to 20 years at the top end of the scale, and only if well looked after.
Buying Tip: Always ask whether the flooring you are looking at has been sawn or rotary peeled when comparing price. Comparing sawn flooring with rotary peeled on price alone is fine as long as you understand that is what you are comparing.
The Cost of Engineered Hardwood Flooring
The cost of your new engineered hardwood floor will vary greatly depending on the selections you have made with regards to the protective core and specifically the veneer.
Average prices when considering the quality of flooring.[table id=3 /]
There are several installation techniques that can be used when laying a floor with engineered hardwood. Not all engineered flooring lends itself to every installation method, so if you have one that is preferred you must find the flooring that is suitable; whether it be nails, glue, or a floating floor click-lock system.
If you intend to install your own engineered hardwood floor you will want to confirm that the floor is not only suitable to be installed as a floating floor, but also that it has a click-lock system for installation.
More confident DIYists may be happy to install glue down or nail down installations, but if this is not you, I would consider paying a professional to install any flooring that should not be floated or that does not have a click-lock system.
Cost of Installation
Estimating the cost of installation is by no means an easy task, it will depend on your location, the size of the room, and the amount of work involved. A good estimate for installation is around £35 to £50 per square metre – or if in the US between $5 and $9 per square foot.
Will an Engineered Hardwood Floor Increase My House Value?
The NWFA (National Wood Flooring Association) conducted a study of homeowners to determine their attitudes towards wood flooring in the home.
Engineered wood flooring can increase house prices anywhere from 1% to over 10%, the actual figure will depend on how recently the flooring was installed, and its current condition.
When asked which type of flooring do they believe increases the value of their home the most? 79% of respondents chose wood.
An earlier study revealed that 99% of estate agents agreed that wood flooring increased a home’s value, and 82% believed that homes with hardwood flooring were easier to sell.
In terms of how much of an increase in value you can expect:
- 88% of estate agents believed the figure was 1% – 10% more
- While 12% believed an increase of over 10% was a truer figure
Using that data as an example, if a homeowner with a house valued at $243,300 were to invest $10,000 in wooden flooring, at an increased sales value of 10% – the home could potentially sell for $266,530.
This would be over 100% return on investment.
The Advantages of Engineered Hardwood Flooring
- Engineered hardwood flooring can be installed as a floating floor (check this with the manufacturer), making installation easier and cheaper than that of a solid hardwood floor.
- The core protective layer makes engineered hardwood a better option for those living in older homes that are more susceptible to increased changes of heat and humidity.
- You can choose wider plank sizes than would be possible with a solid hardwood floor.
- It is less likely to warp than solid hardwood.
- Engineered hardwood flooring that has a click or tongue and groove joining method and is suitable for floating floors is ideal for DIYists.
- When installing engineered hardwood flooring much of the associated costs will reflect in your house value, unlike laminate flooring.
Wood flooring is the only flooring option available that is completely sustainable. Take a look at the NWFA Education & Research Foundation Life Cycle Analyses for Solid Hardwood Flooring and for Engineered Hardwood Flooring (2011) conducted by the University of Wisconsin. – you can read it here.