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What Is Engineered Wood Flooring?

What Is Engineered Wood Flooring?

Choosing a wood floor can be a confusing experience.  Not only are there hundreds of species, finishes and plank sizes to choose from, but there are also several different types of wood flooring, too.  Engineered flooring is real wood, but has been altered to make it even better.

Solid wood flooring is made of one solid piece of wood.  Each plank is typically 3/4″ thick.  Solid flooring is made from domestic woods such as oak, maple or cherry, and exotic woods such as Brazilian Cherry, Tasmanian Oak and Australian Cypress.

By contrast, engineered wood flooring is not one solid piece of wood all the way through the plank.  Instead, each plank consists of several layers of wood that have been glued together.  The top layer consists of the “pretty” wood – the species and finish you selected for your floor.  The layers beneath the “pretty” layer include plywood, with the grain patterns often running in two different directions.  This photo from the Kittle’s Wood Flooring website illustrates the difference between solid wood flooring (on the left) and engineered wood flooring (on the right):

types of wood flooring

Photo courtesy Kittle’s Flooring

Many folks think that solid wood flooring is better; after all, solid wood ANYTHING is better than anything using plywood, right?  Not necessarily.  While solid wood flooring does have some advantages, engineered wood flooring can be a better choice in some cases.

Those layers of plywood – with different grain directions – make the wood planks extremely dimensionally stable.  This means that the planks are less likely to expand and contract with changes in temperature and humidity.  Solid wood planks will move quite a bit after they are installed.  In cold, dry weather, you may notice large gaps between the boards in your floor; the gaps likely close up during the more humid summer months.  Engineered flooring will move much less, allowing your floor to look much the same all year round.

This stability allows engineered wood flooring to be installed “below grade,” while solid wood flooring cannot be.  “Below grade” refers to any space below the surface of the ground – ie, a basement.  Solid wood flooring does not work well below grade.

Armstrong engineered wood floor acacia

Photo courtesy Armstrong Flooring

Engineered wood often comes prefinished, allowing for much less mess when it is installed.  It also comes in thinner planks – often 3/8″ or similar.  Prefinished flooring can be a major advantage when it is being used in a remodeling project, where the homeowner will be living in the construction zone for a period of time.  And, thinner planks can be a positive feature for remodeling projects, as well.  Thinner planks can often fit beneath existing base trim and doors, eliminating the need to remove trim and cut down doors as a part of the project.

When shopping for engineered wood flooring, pay special attention to the durability of the finish, often represented by the warranty offered by the manufacturer.  Also, look at the thickness of the “wear layer,” which is the “pretty wood” at the top.  Thicker wear layers are better; the thicker the wood, the more times you can sand and refinish the floors before needing to buy new planks.  A quality wood floor – weather solid or engineered – should last for decades with proper care and maintenance.

Before you assume that “engineered” = “fake,” take another look.  Engineered wood floors may be a better option for your upcoming design or remodeling project.

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