Many people quite rightly seek out solid hardwood flooring as the best means to add certain warmth, class, and an atmosphere of homey comfort to an interior. But, as many find out, hardwood flooring can have limitations in areas that are prone to climatic changes; when it is humid or damp, an unfortunate effect in hardwood is often the swelling or cupping of the hardwood flooring boards. When looking to invest in long-lasting and attractive flooring therefore, one of the things to look out for is a flooring material that is likely to respond to these sorts of environmental changes without losing any of its structural stability, or its attractiveness. A solution that many have discovered for versatility, attractiveness, and with a robust design noted for structural stability is engineered hardwood flooring. But what is engineered hardwood, and what makes it so resistant to the climatic forces which usually spell doom for solid hardwood flooring?
Engineered Hardwood Flooring: Anatomy Lesson
Engineered hardwood flooring is made up of two main elements: the top layer and the core. The core is made up of stacked layers of medium or high-density fiberboard, or sometimes plywood, which most often range from 3 ply to 7 ply construction. This stacking design acts as a means to allow the flooring to counteract the effects of humidity on the natural wood, allowing each board to expand and contract without warping or cupping. As you may guess, this makes for a hardwood floor that is suitable for an installation in an area that is not environmentally controlled, or that is characterized by higher levels of dampness or humidity, such as a basement installation. The top layer of engineered hardwood floors is a species of real wood. In this sense, engineered floors are as “genuine” as any hardwood floor, with real wood that lends a space a decorative dimension that most people interested in hardwood are looking for. So, with engineered hardwood flooring, you get the functionality and toughness that the core allows, as well as the refined beauty of the real hardwood top layer that is indistinguishable to the eye from solid hardwood.
Installing Engineered Hardwood Floors
An advantage that engineered flooring has over many flooring options is that you can install it in any room, either above or below ground. It is also generally designed to be installed quickly and easily. This is advantageous not only for the do-it-yourselfer, but also to the hardwood flooring contractor who may offer engineered hardwood as a means of moving from one flooring contract to another quickly, but without sacrificing quality. With many engineered hardwood flooring lines, there is no need for nailing the boards down to the subfloor. This has a couple of implications. First, that a concrete slab subfloor is a suitable substrate on which to install engineered hardwood, unlike solid hardwood. Second, that many engineered hardwood flooring lines can either be floated, as you would a laminate floor, or glued down. As long as you subfloor is clean, level and dry, engineered hardwood flooring is a versatile option that can yield successful results without the need to consider whether or not a subfloor is suitable for a nail-down installation.
In the case of a floating floor, remember to use a reliable vapor barrier between the subfloor and your flooring. The adhesives used in a glue-down option often add the advantage of acting as a built-in vapor barrier. Ask the professionals about the details on your chosen line of engineered hardwood flooring.
Locking Systems For Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Most types of engineered hardwood feature a tongue and groove locking system. These are designed for a level of precision that makes for a refined flooring surface that is free of unsightly gaps between the boards. Once again, versatility and practicality are the distinguishing features of engineered hardwood flooring. Often, these types of locking systems allow you to take up the boards at a later date when necessary, if you’ve chosen a floating floor option. So, you can take your floor with you when you’re moving house, or allow you to more easily replace any damaged boards. When making a purchase, it is a good idea to ask whether your chosen line of engineered hardwood flooring allows for this feature.
Radiant Heat and the Engineered Hardwood Floor
Radiant heat is a welcome feature to many households and commercial interiors. But, when choosing a flooring option, it is important to note the impact that radiant heating may have in the short term as well as the long term. For solid hardwood, radiant heat can have a significantly negative effect; the radiant heating can severely dry out the hardwood, which in turn causes the boards to warp and cup as they would if they were exposed to excessive moisture. Luckily, engineered hardwood has been designed to counteract this tendency, just as it has in the case of humidity and dampness in a below-grade or non-environmentally controlled interior. Once again, the core of the engineered floor expands and contracts accordingly, while preserving the structural stability of the board and the attractiveness of the top layer.
Freedom with Engineered Hardwood Flooring!
With engineered floors, you are free to consider the possibilities of using hardwood in areas that would mean disaster for a solid hardwood floor. Engineered hardwood floors allow you all of the beauty and organic feel, as well as a greater range of options as far as the location of your installation. With the dual features of an attractive top layer that is a real hardwood species, and a core which is designed to shift and move with climatic changes, engineered hardwood flooring is perfect for a basement installation, or an installation in a summer home or cottage that is not environmentally controlled all year round. Along with these functional benefits, engineered hardwood floors are often less expensive than their solid hardwood counterparts, making them worth serious consideration on a budgetary level. With all of its features that allow these advantages, engineered hardwood truly stands as being in a class by itself.
Here is a list of things to consider when purchasing, installing and maintaining your engineered hardwood floor:
Consider the area where you will be installing your engineered hardwood floor in terms of moisture levels and foot traffic – use this to help you to choose the species of flooring that is right for what you have in mind
Allow for a certain level of wastage per square foot when placing an order, depending on your level of expertise. You are the best judge of how much this will be, but a good range in general is 7-10% for non-professional installers
Read all installation instructions and warranty information very carefully
Consult any information about your radiant heating system in order to learn the best practice when using it under an engineered hardwood floor
Inspect your batch of engineered hardwood flooring for any defects before you begin an installation
Make sure that your subfloor is clean, dry and level before you install your engineered flooring
Clean your engineered hardwood floors frequently, seeing to spills immediately using DRY or DAMP mops, vacuums, and cloths
Use rugs and runners to protect high traffic areas and access points to the outdoors. This will minimize the amount of dirt and grit that can negatively effect the finish of your engineered hardwood flooring
Use wax-based cleaners, harsh detergents, abrasives, or steel wool to clean engineered hardwood flooring
Apply finish to an engineered hardwood floor that has already been finished at the factory
Overwet engineered hardwood when cleaning – excessive moisture can still have a negative effect on your flooring, just as it would with solid hardwood
Wear spike-heels or athletic spikes on your engineered hardwood floors
This is of course by no means a comprehensive list. When making a purchase or caring for an existing floor, it can be a great benefit to consult with the experts. Local flooring contractors and sales experts in the industry are two great sources of information when you are seeking to make an informed purchase or when organizing a cleaning regimen. It is always a good idea to talk with the professionals and use their years of experience in flooring to your advantage.