Engineered hardwood is a type of wood floor that consists of 2 or more bonded layers. The bottom layers may be made of plywood, hardwood, softwood, or even High Density Fiber (HDF). The top, or ‘wear’ layer is made of real wood. The main advantage of engineered wood floors over solid hardwood is superb dimensional stability – engineered flooring is a lot more resistant to humidity and temperature fluctuations, and for this reason may be installed in a wide range of interiors. Engineered hardwood is a good choice for lakeside cottages, offices, as well as kitchens, or rooms located below grade.
However, not all engineered floors are created equal. While there is high quality engineered flooring available on the market, there are also low-quality counterparts that cost more than they are worth and may even pose serious health hazards for you and your family. So how do you tell the difference between high and low quality engineered flooring? Read on, as the tips below reveal the questions you should ask before purchasing engineered flooring.
1. Where and by whom was this floor manufactured?
The market for hardwood floors is huge, flooring is produced virtually in every part of the globe, and manufacturing standards and practices differ vastly as well. In certain developing countries, flooring can be made using questionable practices, including environmental carelessness, utilization of toxic materials etc. Professional industry associations that exist in North America and Europe set high industry standards and strict rules for flooring manufacturers, compliance with which is the requirement for obtaining membership and retaining good standing. When researching an engineered flooring manufacturer, check for their membership in any professional association (such as NWFA). To protect yourself, always buy brand name flooring produced by well-established manufacturers.
2. What is the top layer made of?
If you are looking for a natural wood floor surface, make sure that the top layer of the engineered flooring you are about to buy is made from real wood. In top quality engineered flooring, the top, otherwise known as the ‘wear’ later, is made from solid sawn wood lamellas, which preserve the look and feel of natural wood because they are, in fact, real. Pay attention to the thickness of top layer. Industy norm is from 2 to 6; top layer thickness of Coswick engineered floors in 4mm, which surpasses the industry average.
Do not confuse engineered flooring with laminate or composite floors. In the latter, synthetic materials, melamine resin, fiberboard and other materials are used to imitate the look of real wood.
3. What kind of glue was used to adhere the layers?
Although most engineered flooring manufacturers in Europe and North America comply with strict safety and environmental standards, there are still some flooring producers that lower production costs by using materials of questionable quality, such as toxic glues. Before committing to a purchase, always make sure that the glue used to adhere layers of your engineered flooring is a high quality product that is free from formaldehyde and other toxins, as well as provides good bonding and won’t cause delamination later on.
4. Can this engineered flooring be installed over radiant heat?
While engineered flooring is far more dimensionally stable than solid hardwood, not all engineered hardwood is recommended for installation over radiant heat. In most cases, quality and properties of glues used for bonding layers of engineered flooring, is what dictates whether instrallation over radiant heat is possible. As improper installation will often void all warranties, always find out in advance whether manufacturer recommends this kind of installation. As a rule of thumb, most locking/floating engineered floors can be installed over radiant heat. Some engineered hardwoods with plywood base layers are not recommended for radiant heat. Engineered floors made from exotic wood species (ie. Jatoba, Santos Mahogany) are not meant for installation over radiant heat altogether.
5. What is the installation method? How does it affect the overall cost of flooring?
Different types of engineered floors are meant to be installed differently. Preferred installation method depends of the flooring construction and profile, as well as plank thickness. Installation methods vary from staple- (or nail-) down, glue-down installation to “floating”. The cost of installation will vary depending on method, as well as subfloor requirements. Staple-down or glue-down method of installation often requires services of a professional flooring installer and purchase of installation materials, which can be costly. Floating is an easy DIY procedure that requires no special training, and thus significantly cuts installation time and cost.
6. Are there any warranties?
Reputable manufacturers of high quality hardwood flooring issue consumer warranties, offering to replace defective flooring or issue a full refund should serious problems arise. While most flooring producers issue structural warranties on solid hardwood, fewer manufacturers are willing to warrant their engineered floors against potential problems with core structure or surface finish. To avoid any unpleasant surprises in the future, always inquire about the warranty before purchasing!
There are of course more questions that a serious homeowner should be asking before buying engineered flooring, and the questions listed above are meant to get you thinking about the purchase. Make an informed decision and you will avoid some costly mistakes!