What is Engineered Hardwood Flooring?
What is engineered hardwood flooring? Engineered flooring refers to floor planks with a layered construction, often featuring a higher-end hardwood over a foundation of a more plentiful timber or plywood. It’s a common misconception that engineered flooring is a low budget product, made to get by with less hardwood. In some cases this can be true, however, with a smarter design and higher quality construction, engineered hardwood can be an extremely strategic choice. It’s a great hardwood option especially for faster installations and spaces with fluctuating environments.
Engineered flooring has the following characteristics:
- A layered construction
- More dimensionally stable planks (moisture tolerant)
- Enables a faster, easier installation
- Frequently more eco-friendly than solid traditional hardwood
What are the Benefits of Engineered Wood Flooring?
All solid hardwood flooring is hygroscopic and responds to changes in the home environment — expanding and contracting a bit when the temperature and humidity fluctuates. However, an engineered hardwood floor’s stratified or cross-layered construction makes it much more dimensionally stable. The flooring is therefore more resistant to environmental change and a safer choice when installing in more extreme climates or in rooms with more moisture like bathrooms and basements.
This resilience also allows for an easier installation, as planks require less time to acclimate than solid hardwood — only one to two days vs. the five day minimum for solids. A shortened wait time means planks can be laid down sooner, and the space can be back up and running in less time. Saved hours translates to saved dollars in terms of labor and operating costs for commercial spaces.
Engineered planks also tend to be all-round easier to work with than solid wood. A thinner top wear layer allows for longer, wider planks that install in less time and can be floated, glued, or nailed-down with a conventional staple or nail gun.
Because engineered flooring uses less of the prime hardwood, it is frequently a more sustainable and eco-friendly option than solid wood planks. The core of an engineered plank is typically made of a fast-growing timber like eucalyptus or acacia, which are rapidly renewable.
Which is Better: Solid Hardwood or Engineered Hardwood?
Both solid and engineered flooring have benefits to consider. Solid hardwood can frequently be refinished more times than an engineered floor. However, if you opt for flooring with a high-end finish (as is the case with Cali Bamboo flooring where the finish is protected by the warranty) the floor should never have to be refinished whether it’s solid or engineered.
The best option frequently depends on where in the home you plan to install the flooring, and also the climate your home is located in. Solid hardwood can be installed in just about every climate, but will require specific pre-installation steps to ensure planks remain stable. If you plan to install the flooring in moisture-prone areas of the home such as kitchens, bathrooms and basements, engineered can be a smart alternative. In addition, if your home is in a region that sees high seasonal temperature and relative humidity fluctuations, engineered flooring can be a more stable solution that will resist expansion and contraction and help avoid gapping and buckling.
Is Engineered Hardwood Worth it?
Yes, engineered hardwood flooring is worth it. However, not all engineered flooring is created equal, and many manufacturers cut corners to cut cost. These cheaper options may have weaker particle board or MDF cores and thinner top wear layers. For this reason, it’s important to look for some key features when comparing samples.
What to look for in engineered flooring:
- Top Wear Layer – Note the thickness and quality of the top wear layer. This is the beauty layer that sees the most action. Some on the market are as paper thin as 2/100 of an inch and are made of softer woods. This means they’re more vulnerable to damage and unable to ever be refinished. For comparison, a Cali Bamboo Engineered floor has an extra thick 3/16 inch top wear layer that goes all the way down to the tongue. This layer also employs extra hard Fossilized® bamboo, resulting in the hardest engineered floor on the market with a 4,200+ Janka Hardness equivalent rating.
- Protective Finish – Because most engineered flooring can only be refinished so many times, the quality of the finish coated on the surface is crucial. A weak or thin finish leaves the critical top wear layer vulnerable to dents and scratches, whereas a 13-coat scratch resistant Aluminum Oxide finish — seen on Cali Bamboo Engineered flooring — will keep the wear layer well shielded from traffic and other abuse. A quality finish also makes flooring easier to clean and maintain.
- Composition of the Core – Engineered flooring with a soft, particle board foundation will not support the top wear layer as well, creating a softer plank. Look for several distinguishable wood layers in the core to ensure planks will be strong and stable.
- Certifications – Inferior engineered flooring can be made with suspicious materials and can actually be harmful to bring into your home. Look for flooring certifications such as FloorScore® or GreenGuard® to ensure a floor product has been tested and is safe to install.