Hardwood: Solid or Engineered?
If you are looking for a new hardwood floor in today’s popular, wider widths, you are most likely looking at engineered flooring.
Unlike solid hardwood flooring, an engineered floor is put together in layers, using the premium wood species only on the surface.
Historically, solid hardwood has been favored because of a perception that it is stronger, and can be sanded and refinished more times, making it last longer than engineered wood. But the truth is that many engineered floors will last just as long, and they can offer benefits that solid hardwood can’t match.
“And today’s No Added Urea Formaldehyde (NAUF) adhesives, used by many leading manufacturers, have reduced concerns about unhealthful chemical emissions, which have been a concern raised about engineered products in the past.
The premium wood used in engineered floors is the top veneer or layer, which can be up to ¼-inch thick. This veneer is glued to a wood core and backing, which make up the rest of the tongue-and-groove board. This construction results in a floor that is more dimensionally stable, meaning less expansion and contraction in response to changes in humidity and temperature.
For this reason, engineered floors also can be installed in basements when as a general rule, solid hardwood can’t. And in some cases, they can be refinished or recoated like a solid product.
Still, solid hardwood floors offer their own set of advantages.
Choosing the Finish
Most engineered floors come pre-stained and pre-finished. Carpetland’s hardwood division, Schumacher & Co. Custom Hardwood Floors, does carry two unfinished engineered products, made by Somerset Hardwood Flooring and Stoehr Flooring, which can be custom-finished to your liking after being installed.
Unfinished solid floors, though, offer the widest selection of custom finishes, which now include low-Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) waterborne polyurethane and zero-VOC plant-based oil. The plant-based oil is very matte in appearance, and offers the advantage of being spot-repairable. So you do not need to sand and refinish an entire area, as is needed with a polyurethane finish, simply to recoat an area that is showing wear.
Focus on Indoor-Air Quality
Because of adhesives used and finishes applied during manufacturing, today’s focus on indoor-air quality has driven many manufacturers to have their products tested and certified for meeting limits set for emissions of multiple VOCs. These certifications, include FloorScore, GreenGuard and GreenGuard Gold. Many indoor-air conscious consumers will prefer a prefinished solid or engineered hardwood floor simply because the finish has already been applied and had time to off-gas, meaning little odor or fumes during installation. And several manufacturers now offer solid and engineer products, prefinished with zero-VOC plant-based oils.
“Personally, I like the plant-based oil finish because of its potential for spot repairs and the patina that it will develop over time,” says Tom Helwig, quality control manager for Carpetland Erlanger. “Unfortunately the oil-finished, engineered wide widths often come at a higher price, and the bottom line often drives our clients’ decision-making. So, we probably sell more standard prefinished products that have good price-to-quality ratios.”
Long trailing the West Coast, more people in the Midwest now are choosing engineered hardwood floors because of a growing demand for wider-plank flooring, in 5-inch widths or greater, which can need the engineered construction to ensure dimensional stability.
An echo or hollow sound is a traditional complaint about engineered floors that are floated, meaning they are not attached to the subfloor. This has improved in today’s construction and with use of a cork or other underlayment to absorb sound. And some of the self-locking products that are designed only to be floated come with the underlayment already attached.
Nonetheless, other tongue-and-grove engineered products can be nailed or glued to the subfloor and offer much the same sound and feel as a solid hardwood floor.
Be sure to use an installer who is trained to National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) installation standards, and when nailing is the installation method, uses nails or cleats of the correct length for the thickness of the floor, at the correct intervals along the board.
Tom Helwig is NWFA certified in hardwood flooring sales. Reach him at our Erlanger, KY location or Tom Helwig email@example.com