Hardwood flooring can be a very confusing purchase to make for any homeowner. There are so many styles, species of hardwood, thicknesses, widths, and installation methods; it can make a sane person crazy.
What is “Engineered” Hardwood?
The majority of hardwoods sold in the Austin market are “Engineered” hardwoods. This means that the flooring has been manufactured or “engineered” into several layers of wood rather than being milled from a single “solid” piece of wood. What would seem to be common sense, gives a consumer the impression that engineered hardwood flooring is an inferior product or “not the real thing”. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality this process is used to make hardwood flooring more structurally stable, economic, and environmentally friendly. Stemming from the ability to produce more useable product, saving more exotic species of wood or just being able to acquire a more structurally sound flooring without having to jack up the height of the floors by almost an inch.
Why “Engineer” Hardwood?
First and foremost, the yield or total amount of flooring that can be manufactured with a quality, attractive, non-defective appearance is greater due to the fact that only the surface or “veneer” of the engineered hardwood flooring need be of “select” grade. Thus if mineral streaks or imperfections that may not be desired for the selected style, are present in one part of the tree being harvested, they can simply be filtered out and used for a “layer” of the flooring that will not be visible. This also allows more rare or “exotic” hardwoods to be offered at substantially reduced costs than a solid hardwood of the same variety, by using a veneer of the selected wood. The rest of the flooring can be manufactured with less expensive/more readily available woods.
Another reason for engineering hardwood flooring is to add structural stability to the product. Hardwood has the tendency to expand across the grain of the wood. Heat, humidity, and moisture can cause serious problems with solid hardwoods, as there is nothing to stunt the expansion or swelling of the wood. When an engineered hardwood is made, each “layer” of wood is “quarter turned” or laid in a different direction than the layer immediately above or below it. This causes the layers to “fight” each other and help minimize or prevent expansion. This means that the planks are less likely to bow or warp than a solid hardwood.
Is Plank Thickness Relevant?
Some flooring dealers will “up-sell” the consumer based on the overall thickness of the plank. This in most cases is wasted money. Most of the engineered hardwoods installed in the Austin area are glued directly to the concrete slab. Whether the plank thickness is 5/16” or over ½”, neither one will perform any differently, or be any more stable than the concrete they are fixed to. The only time I feel that the overall plank thickness is relevant, is if it is going over a wooden sub-floor (i.e. Peer and beam) and the structural integrity of that sub-floor is questionable. Almost all of the hardwood flooring manufacturers offer a lifetime structural warranty on their engineered products. Therefore, thick or thin, they all have a lifetime structural warranty.
Is It Necessary to Purchase an Ultra Thick Veneer?
Flooring dealers will also try to “up-sell” consumers making them believe that they have to purchase an ultra thick veneer in order to have the ability of “sanding and refinishing” the hardwood flooring, falsely leaving the consumer with the belief, that if they don’t buy a “top notch” hardwood with a veneer thick enough to be “sanded and refinished” several times, that they will regret it. Again, here’s the reality. With the newer finishes that are being applied over the surface of the veneer, the flooring’s ability to resist wear has substantially increased. Current “Finish” warranties can range anywhere from 10 years to the life of the home. What this means is that for the duration of the warranty, under normal wear, that one would not be able to wear through the various protective finishes, in order to get to the raw wood to distort the graining or the color. So, the need for refinishing has been drastically reduced. Furthermore, newer processes for refinishing hardwood floors have been developed, and the need for actually “sanding” any of the wood down to refinish it is pretty much a thing of the past. The newer process of “screen and recoating” simply abrades the existing finish and applies a new coat of finish over the old. None of the actual wood has been removed. For this reason, the total thickness of the veneer is practically irrelevant.
Many people seem to have a problem swallowing that fact, so I like to use the Pergo style laminate floors as an example. Laminate flooring’s wear warranties range from 10 years to life of the home, just like wood does. The decorative part of a laminate floor (which would be comparable to the veneer of hardwood flooring) is literally a digital (paper thin) photograph. If these laminate floors are warranted for wear with a veneer that is paper thin, wouldn’t it stand to reason that any thickness of veneer would suffice on a hardwood floor? Don’t let some salesperson “up-sell” you for the ability of refinishing your hardwood floor.
Different species of hardwood do; however, have different hardness ratings. Remember that the type of wood may affect the cost; you may elect a specific species of wood over another based on how hard the wood is. The hardness rating will have some affect on the flooring’s ability to resist indentations. Thus, contributing to the long term, overall appearance of the floor.
Is Refinishing an Entire Floor Necessary?
What’s more, if you were to damage an area of your flooring, significantly enough that refinishing is being considered, you actually have two options. You will either have to refinish your entire floor, or (preferred) simply replace the damaged planks. Of course spare material from the original installation will be needed. So, it is always a good idea to save some in a safe place. If you know what you are doing, you (or a professional) can literally remove a plank (even from the middle of the floor) and insert a new one. This is much less intrusive than having to refinish the entire floor. The reason the refinishing route usually requires a complete refinish is, that it is extremely difficult to refinish a portion of the floor without a noticeable difference between the newly refinished area and the old finish.
The ability to simply replace damaged planks takes away many of those reasons that some “salespeople” will give you for needing to buy more expensive products. The only reason I encourage someone to buy a more expensive hardwood floor, is if it is an exotic or distressed product. The species of hardwood (i.e. Brazilian Cherry, Santos Mahogany, Amendoim, etc.) have very distinct looks, but in many cases will cost more. It’s okay to pay more if the reason is for the artistic value. Paying more to get the look you want is understandable, but it is hard to justify paying more just for the ability to refinish the flooring.
If you have any questions about hardwood flooring, please do not hesitate to contact us at 512.458.4900 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.