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Engineered Flooring: Easier Hardwood?

by Marcus Pickett

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None can deny the appeal of a hardwood floor. It has a long tradition of luxury, and a timeless beauty. It is also expensive and difficult to install. Those looking for that classic look and feel might do well to consider engineered hardwood flooring.

Engineered Hardwood
Unlike conventional hardwood, which comes straight out of a tree and into your home, engineered hardwood is a more complex product that consists of several layers. The outermost is a hardwood veneer, a thin slice of wood (less than 1/8") of whatever species you desire. The inner layers are made of plywood, high density fiberboard, or hardwood. The core layers make the product more stable than regular hardwood, while the outer veneer surface adds beauty and authenticity. Engineered hardwood is different than a hardwood laminate because the surface is made of real wood. While laminate has a core of high density fiberboard, its surface is basically a picture of wood (or any other material, for that matter). Laminate is less expensive than engineered and solid hardwood, but has a different look and feel due to its make up.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring Pros
Engineered hardwood flooring is designed to reduce the moisture problems associated with conventional hardwood. Its layers block moisture and provide added stability to your floor. Engineered flooring will not swell or warp, making it very low maintenance. The price of engineered hardwood is another selling point. In addition to reducing upkeep costs, engineered flooring is less expensive from the start. This becomes even more true as the type of wood gets more exotic. Rare hardwood is very expensive. Since engineered hardwood flooring requires only a thin slice of the desired wood, the cost decreases dramatically.

Environmental Advantages of Engineered Hardwood
Choosing engineered flooring is considered more environmentally friendly than traditional hardwood for a few reasons. Veneer is sliced rather than cut with a saw. This process produces no sawdust, which means that all of the tree's wood can be used. The sawdust produced making hardwood boards is wasted wood (and adds up to a significant amount). Also, hardwood trees grow much more slowly than the trees used to make engineered flooring cores. Because more surface area is produced making veneer, installing traditional hardwood uses many times the amount of slow growing tree. This makes the replenishing time much longer.

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Engineered Hardwood Flooring Cons
There are, in actuality, very few principle drawbacks to this type of hardwood flooring, but this doesn't make it a foolproof project or even the right floor for every application. Comparable to solid hardwood in terms of cost, engineered floors are still considerably more expensive than laminate, tile, and carpet. That said, by far, the biggest concern as a homeowner should be avoiding shoddy or inferior engineered manufacturers and products. Veneers that are too thin will prevent sanding and refinishing opportunities that may double the lifetime of the floor. Some veneers are so thin and poorly made that they can prematurely warp or fade. Plus, core layers must still be fashioned from high-quality wood. Some manufacturers try to cut corners by using fiberboard or oriented strand board that may compromise the stability of your floor and, at the very least, will result in an inferior flooring product.

Is Engineered Flooring Easier, Cheaper to Install?
Engineered flooring is definitively easier to install, in fact, some handy homeowners are even enticed into installing their own engineered floors. It's still a major project with big financial implications, however, so don't over-reach on your home improvement skills. Even for the majority of homeowners who hire a flooring contractor for the job, you'll save a hefty sum on installation, which is important given that most engineered flooring is more expensive than solid wood.

High-quality engineered floors (thick veneers, quality substrate) will usually cost somewhere between $8 and $12 per square foot. How much extra money this costs and whether cheaper installation offsets this price often depends on the type of wood you're choosing. With an exotic or even highly-coveted hardwood, such as maple, engineered flooring is likely to be cheaper overall. For more common hardwoods, solid wood flooring may be cheaper overall, although it will still take longer to install. Costs will vary depending on your local market. Check below for ratings of flooring pros in a city near you.

Marcus Pickett is a professional freelance writer for the home remodeling industry. He has published more than 600 articles on both regional and national topics within the home improvement industry.