What is Engineered Hardwood Flooring?

What is Engineered Hardwood Flooring?

You know how those websites have to put the disclaimer in the intro to their webpage? I want to go ahead and get that out of the way: I absolutely love engineered hardwood flooring. My last house had it, my current house has it, and the house I am trying to get built right now will have it. Why? Because if we will buy a high-quality, well-constructed engineered floor (at a steep discount from ReallyCheapFloors.com) we will be happy with our purchase and its performance for decades.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the different attributes and construction processes, which will allow you to select and purchase (hopefully from us) a floor that meets and exceeds your expectations. If know what you want, and just want to see what we got, then shop our engineered floors here.

What is Engineered Hardwood?

First, what is an engineered floor? An engineered hardwood floor is made of layers of wood or wood product, as opposed to a solid wood floor that is carved or milled, from a solid piece of wood. Many customers think that this means the solid floor is much stronger and will last longer, but that is not necessarily the case.

Engineered Hardwood is Less Durable than Solid Hardwood? 

Engineered floors are a definite improvement over solid floors in terms of stability. The number one problem with solid wood floors is their lack of stability due to changes in temperatures and moisture levels.

Solid hardwood flooring will warp and cup. The harder the species, the worse it gets. The wider the board, the worse it gets. The less you control the moisture in your house, as in running the AC, or keeping air circulating under your house, the worse it gets.

Engineered Flooring has Layers

Engineered floors are constructed using multiple layers of wood to create the stability that is simply not possible with a solid floor. The number of layers, materials used, and different manufacturing processes all contribute to the durability and stability of the finished product. That is what we will look at in this blog. Everything can be exposed in the layers. 

Engineered Hardwood Finishes

Let’s start with the finish. Almost every wood floor on the market today has a polyurethane finish with an aluminum oxide additive. You will hear some salespeople say that this floor features 7 layers of finish. Or 9 layers. Or….well, pick a number. Any number. These salespeople throw these numbers around, implying that their superior product will last longer due to the number of layers. The problem is, no floor has 7 layers of finish. 

What the floors get is 5-10 steps of finish. Sealer, stain, polyurethane, aluminum oxide, etc all contribute to the steps. I have toured several finish lines, and I can assure you no manufacturer is going to repeat the same step more than twice. It would be unnecessary. Is there any difference in finishes? Some high-end products, like the entire Somerset line, will get a second layer of aluminum oxide, but I cannot speak for any other manufacturer. Other than that, the quality difference between manufacturers is just not that big of a deal.

The Engineered Veneer

Next is the veneer. If the rest of the construction is comparable between products, the thickness of the veneer, and the species it is composed of, will have a big contribution towards the quality of the finished product. However, some companies will slap a thick veneer over an inferior core, just to make it look good. More on the core construction later.

Veneer thickness will determine if a floor can be sanded or not. Ask a flooring salesman how many times a floor can be sanded, and you will get some interesting answers. Sorta like the layers of finish response! In reality, no one knows the answer to that question. When I get that question I like to tell people the floors we offer can be refinished a million times. That usually draws a blank look.

Sanding vs Refinishing: Solid & Engineered 

Sanding vs refinishing. Two very different operations. When we sand a floor, we are actually grinding up the surface of the hardwood floor in an attempt to lessen the visibility of surface dents that have taken away from the look of the floor. How many times can a floor be sanded? That depends on how bad the indentations are that you are trying to remove. Get the picture? In reality, your floor will never get sanded. 

What you might do, yet still doubtful, is refinish your floor. In the old days, pre-aluminum oxide floors would experience a change in gloss level over time, due to abrasive wear. This was easily fixed. Just scuff the surface of the floor with a buffer, and add one or 2 coats of finish. Ta-dah! New floor!

Aluminum Oxide Floors for Refinishing

Aluminum oxide was a game-changer. I am not smart enough to tell you how it does it, but I do now that aluminum oxide is one of the hardest substances known to man, and is added to many applications to retard abrasive wear. Today’s floors should never need to be refinished.

That is not to say that your floor will look perfect in 20 years. No floor will. You will get dents and gouges. The severity of dents and gouges will depend on 2 things: the density of your veneer, and the density of your core. The harder the surface or core, the less it dents.

Don’t be afraid to abuse a sample of any hardwood that you are considering purchasing. After all, how it handles wear and tear is a big part of why you would choose a floor. Now don’t beat it with a hammer, then call and tell us that it is dented. Don’t laugh…it happens. When testing a floor’s impact resistance, including different products. After all, your goal is to compare the products.

The Engineered Hardwood Core

That brings us to the core. The composition and construction of the core contribute mightily to a floor’s performance. Sadly, it is also the most under-appreciated aspect by both consumers and manufacturers, so it is often reduced to an inferior quality to save some money. After all, isn’t that how we all shop? Do we look at the price first? All engineered floors are not the same price, and the core is the best way for manufacturers to save money. That is why it is so important that we as consumers educate ourselves. I do not mean to infer that everyone should buy high-end flooring. What I mean is that you should know enough about the product you are buying to determine how well it meets your expectations. 

Hardwood Core Layers

The quality and stability of an engineered hardwood core are determined by the number of layers, and what the layers are composed of. As a general rule, a ½” floor will be of higher quality than a ⅜” floor. All thinner floors are made that way to get costs down, not to improve quality. Ever. 

Cores made with hardwood lumber instead of softwood will resist dents and gouges much better. How can you tell? Hold samples in your hands and compare the weights. Heavier is better in engineered hardwood flooring!

Also, look at the numbers of layers. Each layer will be turned 90 degrees to the previous layer. This is how an engineered floor gets its superior stability, as the alternating layers resist expansion and contraction caused by moisture and temperature much better than a solid. More plys are better.

HDF Engineered Floors: High Density Fiber Cores

Engineered HDF High Density Core Image

Engineered HDF Core Cross-Section 3/8″ inch Example

 

In this graphic, you see a ⅜” floor that utilizes an HDF, or High-Density Fiber core. This floor is made by Shaw Floors from their Epic Plus line. 

HDF has a few advantages. One, it is made from recycled materials, so it has a nice story. More importantly (to the durability) is that using a manufactured core allows Shaw to determine how hard that core is. That allows the floor to resist denting, regardless of the species used. 

Shaw Epic Plus floors also tend to be more stable than most other 3/8” flooring products.

3 Ply ⅜” Engineered Floors

3 Ply 3/8" Engineered Hardwood Image

Engineered Cross-Section 3 Ply 3/8″ inch Example

 

The next most common construction is the 3 ply ⅜” floor shown above. This is the type of floor you will find at the lower price points at almost any box store. Sometimes offered as a Builder-type product, that just means it is cheap. We sometimes will offer a ⅜” engineered floor from Bruce or Mullican. These floors are great for applications where the money is tight, or quality just isn’t an issue. Flippers and rental property managers love this stuff!

½” 5 Ply Engineered Floors 

5 Ply 1/2" Engineered Hardwood Image

Engineered Cross-Section 5 Ply 1/2″ inch Example

Now we get to my latest favorite construction, the ½” 5 ply. In this case the manufacturer is trying to pass off a cheap 5 ply as a quality ½” product. There is no such thing. If you want a cheap floor, buy a cheap ⅜ and spend your savings on paint. If you feel like you need to upgrade, please skip right past the 5 ply to the good stuff….our 8 ply, ½” floor! A 5 ply floor is made to mimic a high end floor but made with a cheap core. In my opinion, the jump to a better 8 ply is an easy decision.

Probably 80% of the engineered hardwood flooring we sell is from this category. Why? Because we have an amazing partnership with a manufacturer that makes arguably the best engineered hardwood floor in the world, and it is made here in the U.S.A. In the picture below you can see what I am referring to.

The deal we have with them is that we liquidate all of their Blue Label, Builder Grade, overstocks, and discontinued goods, allowing them to focus on all running line products. They also make some private-labeled first quality goods for us. The product line that they offer us represents almost every price point, species, and width that is on the market today, and we can offer these products at prices unavailable to any other dealer in the country. I realize that is big talk, but we can back it up!

Please keep in mind that this is not an attempt to sell you higher-end goods. Quite the opposite, actually. 

½” 8 Ply Engineered Floors

somerset engineered hardwood cross-section close up picture

Engineered Cross-Section 8 Ply Example

 

All of our 8 ply floors are made using a high-density hardwood core. This construction offers the most stable and durable hardwood floor that is available on the market, and we are proud to be the only liquidator in the USA that can offer all 3 grades. 

When you consider that we can offer you an 8 ply, ½” thick, 5” wide oak engineered hardwood floor in our Blue Label grade for half the price of a competitor’s Builder” ⅜” thick product, you will see what I mean. Sure, our Blue Label will have small imperfections, as well as shorter board lengths, but the quality of the finish and construction is the same as the first quality floors that sell for $8-10.  After all, our Blue Label and Builder grade products are graded out after the floor is completely finished.

Or Builder grade floors will not contain more than 5% of boards with open knot, wormholes, or seasoning checks larger than ⅜”. Also expect to see less color variation in this grade. Because the grading parameters for this company’s first quality is so high our Builder grade floors are, in many instances, cleaner than other companies’ first quality products, and are much cheaper.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I would much rather buy one of our Builder grade products at $2.79 or so than pay $3-4 for a poorly constructed first quality ⅜” floor.

Face-Sawn Veneer

Another attribute that we are proud of in our Blue Label and Builder grade floors is the face-sawn veneer.

Most engineered floors are made with veneers that come from a rotary peeled process. In this process, a log is peeled around the circumference, allowing a high yield. Unfortunately, this process also yields a product with an inferior visual.

In the face-sawn process, the veneer is cut the same way a solid hardwood floor is cut, just thinner. It is sliced across the log, layer after layer. This is how our Blue Label and Builder products offer the same visual as a typical solid hardwood floor.

If I sound a bit prejudiced towards our engineered collections, it is because I am. There are 2 things that thrill me: buying the good stuff and saving money. Our Oak Plank, Wide Plank, Appalachian, Country, and Antique collections of engineered floors offer the best mix of quality construction and value that can be found on the market today.

Engineered Flooring Recap

If you would like to see a sample, ask a question, or argue with one of the points I have made, please feel free to give us a call. We would love to help! Engineered hardwood gets a bad rep these days. It seems to be equated to the solid hardwood’s cousin that was twice removed. High moisture resistance, increased stability, and are