Engineered Hardwood Flooring FAQ


Offering superior durability over traditional solid wood floors, engineered flooring is available in a versatile variety of species, widths, textures and finishes to add elegance and value to your home. Nearly indistinguishable from solid planks once it is installed, these high-tech boards let you enjoy the beauty and warmth of hardwood floors throughout your entire home or business.

Available in the market since the 1960s, today's engineered hardwood provides a quality flooring product that captures the natural characteristics of real wood while providing greater stability, particularly in areas that have humidity and temperature fluctuations. Global Alliance is so confident in the quality of this factory-produced product's ability to withstand the demands of daily life that we provide a 25-year residential warranty.

Q. What is engineered hardwood floors?

engineered hardwood flooring faq

Engineered hardwood consists of two layers. The top slab is the same real wood that you get with solid hardwood planks. The surface veneer, which is called the lamella, is sawn from genuine logs and dried to remove the natural moisture. This produces a stable top layer that is better able to resist cupping. The lamella can be cut from any type of domestic or exotic hardwood although oak, maple and hickory are the most prolific in the market. The hardwood skin is available in a variety of textures and stains and is sealed with a factory finish.

The top hardwood veneer is then glued onto the core, which consists of multiple plies of wood that are stacked in opposing directions. This cross-ply construction further strengthens the stability to make the flooring more rigid and resistant to cupping and warping. The wood in each ply is bonded with adhesives, intense heat and pressure and then fused to the next ply to reduce the normal contraction and expansion problems found in hardwood flooring. The core layer is most often made of plywood, but hardwood and high density fiberboard (HDF) are also commonly used. The number of plies varies widely in the industry, ranging from three to seven. Premium products have more layers and sometimes include a hardwood backing on the bottom to provide extra support.

Q: How is engineered hardwood different from laminate?

One of the biggest consumer misconceptions is that engineered hardwood is the same as laminate. While both products share a factory-made core of heat-pressed plywood or HDF, the top wear layer is very different. Laminate imprints a textured photographic image on top of a composite fiberboard/melamine resin plank that is man-made. The top layer of engineered wood is a natural log slab that is glued on top of the core boards.

Q: What are the differences between engineered and solid hardwood?

 

In the real wood flooring industry, consumers have two options: solid or engineered. Hardwood is prized for its natural beauty and ability to last a lifetime under the hard demands of family life. Modern advancements in engineered wood have made the look, texture and feel of both products nearly indistinguishable once the product is installed. According to the latest figures released by Floor Covering News, the engineered segment has recently edged out solid floors, capturing about 54 percent of the business. Rising lumber costs and increased consumer demand for wider planks is believed to be driving the growth, but engineered hardwood has several more advantages over the traditional solid planks.

As a hybrid of natural wood and factory-made wood products, the construction design allows homeowners to enjoy the authentic beauty of wood floors without having to deal with many of the major issues that are associated with solid planks. The improved structure strengthens stability, resists moisture and is less susceptible to temperature changes. This means that the boards are less likely to warp, swell or split in locations that have high humidity or drastic swings in climate conditions.

For this reason, engineered wood is more versatile. You can install it over surfaces that are difficult to cover, such as radiant heat systems and concrete slabs. It also works in high-moisture areas, such as basements, bathrooms, entryways and laundry rooms, although you must be careful to wipe up soggy messes and air out moist rooms. You can also lay an engineered floor over ceramic tile, sheet vinyl or existing wood floors as long as the surface is flat and stable.

It is also typically easier to install, has a lower ecological footprint and the wear layer is built for high-traffic use. Finally, when you choose a high-quality engineered wood floor, your investment will return a resale value comparable to solid hardwood. Quality products have a thick lamella, at least five coats of finish and five layers in the substrate.

Additional factors that you want to consider include:

 

 

Engineered Hardwood Flooring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solid Hardwood Flooring

Ease of Installation

Ranges from advanced DIY project to professional installation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Typically requires professional install; Unfinished boards require additional work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Price

Comparable but may be more expensive depending on materials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comparable but unfinished and installation options may drive up the cost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lifespan

20-30 years on average; High-quality materials that are refinishable can last 40-80 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Varies depending on species, thickness, quality and care but can last more than 100 years with refinishing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stability

Unique substrate of cross-layered plywood, hardwood chips or MDF greatly strengthens stability, making it more durable, even in high-moisture areas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Highly susceptible to moisture as well as humidity and temperature fluctuations, which leads to damaged planks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finish

The top layer is a thin veneer of hardwood. Available in most of the same domestic and exotic species, hand textured finishes and color stains. Always factory prefinished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The entire plank is made from one solid log. Available in a wide array of species, surface effects and stains as well as unfinished and prefinished models. Needs to be buffed and have a new coat of finish applied every 3-5 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: What is the sturdiness of engineered wood planks?

The method used to construct engineered hardwood planks makes this a hardy flooring option. Underneath the top wood veneer is several layers of plywood, which make up the core. Each layer is stacked crosswise to strengthen dimensional stability. This enhanced structure prevents the expansion and contraction that occurs in hardwood planks. By counteracting this issue, there are fewer problems with warping, buckling, cupping, twisting, swelling and splitting due to seasonal humidity and temperature fluctuations.

Q: Why is a thicker plank important?

The hardwood lamella comes in a range of thicknesses between .5-mm and 4.5-mm. Thicker boards do not have as much flex and are less sensitive to moisture, so they provide greater stability over the lifetime of the flooring. Thicker veneers can also be sanded and refinished more times. The number of layers in the core substrate is also important because each ply increases the dimensional stability.

Thicker planks are also often used to cover awkward transitions between different flooring materials. It is usually more expensive to buy a thicker plywood underlayment in order to raise a floor to make it flush with a tiled kitchen or carpeted living room. By using thicker engineered wood planks, you can seamlessly bridge these transitions without the need for installing unsightly strips or trimming down doors.

Q: What are the best materials for the core layers?

It is extremely important that you understand which materials are used in the core substrate because this directly impacts the strength, stability and durability of engineered hardwood floors. Plywood is the most common product used for the wood structural panels. A staple of the construction industry, this hardy board is manufactured from thin plies of wood slices and assembled in crosswise layers to create a stiff plank. Premium boards sometimes utilize small pieces of milled timber to add extra strength. Core layers made of high density fiberboard (HDF) help to reduce the overall cost, but the material is generally considered inferior to plywood because it is more susceptible to moisture. Some manufacturers also use lower-quality oriented strand board (OSB) or finger core milled timber.

Q: What engineered hardwood installation options are available?

Like hardwood floors, engineered planks are available in two different styles: traditional tongue and groove and modern click-lock technology, which let you literally snap boards together. You can choose to either nail, glue, staple or float the boards over a 2-cm (3/4-inch) thick plywood subfloor. If you are working with a concrete subfloor, then you should stick with floating or gluing. The special properties of engineered hardwood floors allow you to install this versatile product in a wide range of rooms whether they are on, below or above grade. Each engineered hardwood installation method requires specific tools, preparation, materials and carpentry knowledge, but engineered hardwoods are generally easier and faster to install than solid hardwoods. Additionally, solid hardwood is not recommended for below grade or moisture-prone rooms.

Q: Can I install an engineered hardwood flooring system myself?

There is a different installation method for each floor type. For the intermediate DIYer, a click-and-lock system is often a doable project within one or two days. If you have done several projects around your home and have a good grasp on handling power tools, then a floating floor is manageable in two to three days. Nail, staple and glue down floors are the most difficult and require the most knowledge.

Even if you are comfortable tackling this project, you must also research which underlayment is best for your type of floor and do the prep work to make sure the subfloor is level and dry. Faulty installation voids your warranty, so it is critical that you follow the provided instructions on proper engineered hardwood installation. Note that flooring should be acclimatized for 48 hours before installing to improve stability, so you will not be able to shop on Saturday morning and begin installing later that afternoon. Some warranties require professional engineered hardwood installation to remain valid.

Q: Can I install engineered hardwood over radiant heating systems?

Engineered hardwood is one of the best options for pairing with radiant heat since it does not contract and shrink as widely as hardwood, which often cups and buckles from the fluctuating temperatures. However, you must choose the right product. Thinner engineered boards transfer heat better, but engineered hickory and maple do not hold up well over radiant heat systems. Additionally, a foam underlayment can interfere with heat flow. Floating floors are the best option since there is less risk of damaging the expensive system underneath.

Note that some manufacturer warranties are voided when flooring is installed over radiant heat. To optimize the life of your flooring system, the temperature should not exceed 27°C (85°F) or change more than one degree per day.

Q: Can I install engineered hardwood floors in a basement or over a concrete slab?

Since engineered hardwood is less sensitive to humidity changes, it is an ideal solution for covering concrete slabs and updating basements, which are two areas prone to moisture and flooding. Concrete subfloors require specific and careful preparation, such as being completely level, curing for at least 60 days and laying down a moisture barrier to prevent water from coming up through the porous surface. Some underlayments, which insulate, support and cushion the flooring, have a built-in moisture barrier. Warranties typically require you to complete a moisture test before installing the product.

Q: Is engineered hardwood really moisture resistant?

While the construction of engineered hardwood makes it more resistant to moisture and seasonal fluctuations, it is still susceptible to water damage. Engineered wood floors should not be installed in rooms that have high humidity, which increases the risk of warping and mold growth. Pet urine as well as burst pipes and slow leaks from bathtubs, dishwashers and sinks can seriously damage floors. In high-risk areas, it is a good practice to allow for air movement between the flooring and foundation so that moisture can dry out. Basements and concrete subfloors require glue down or floating floor systems.

Q: What is the lifespan of engineered hardwood floors?

With the right product and proper maintenance, engineered hardwood floors can withstand decades of foot traffic, moving furniture, bouncing kids' toys and pet claws. Depending on the type of wood and the thickness of the top wear layer, you can expect your investment to last 20 to 80 years. Global Alliance offers a 5-year commercial and 25-year residential warranty on our engineered hardwood flooring in Toronto. Some manufacturers boast that their products last a lifetime, ranging anywhere from 40 to 80 years. In order to achieve these types of results, you must take excellent care of your floors, choose a hardy wood species and floor finishing as well as buy planks with a thicker top layer that can be sanded and restored two or three times.

Q: How does an aluminum oxide finish strengthen and protect my floors?

A high-quality finish and the number of coats are critical to prolonging the life of your floors because these factors determine how well they withstand surface wear. Global Alliance's engineered hardwood floor products are coated with 10 separate layers of an aluminum oxide finish, which is one of hardest finishes available on the market. Premium products have between five and 10 coats of finish applied to the top layer to bolster scratch resistance, guard against oxidization and moisture, prevent stains, increase strength and durability and solidly seal the surface. This protective top coat is your barrier from everyday wear and tear.

Global Alliance utilizes a sophisticated technique that adds aluminum oxide chips to the clear urethane finish on our engineered hardwood floor products. This additive not only increases the life of the floor but also provides more abrasion resistance. Our UV-cured factory finish penetrates the top wood layer, providing greater resistance to traffic while enhancing the grain of the natural wood.

Q: Will my engineered hardwood flooring fade over time?

All hardwood flooring naturally reacts to ambient light as it ages, but direct sunlight exposure can darken or lighten an exposed area. An aluminum oxide finish paired with a UV coating helps slow this shading process. Also be mindful of occasionally moving your furniture and rugs around the room to prevent noticeable spots from forming. Mats and rugs with latex, vinyl or rubber backing also contribute to floor discoloration. Choose an underlay that has a breathable mesh or grid pattern.

Q: Can I restore my engineered hardwood floors?

The short answer is yes, but there are multiple factors to consider before restoring an engineered floor. Since the planks have a thin veneer of hardwood, you only have so much product to sand down before hitting the core layer. The sanding process removes 1/32 of an inch, so a 2-mm layer can be sanded once or twice. In contrast, a hardwood floor can withstand between seven and 10 refinishes every 10 to 20 years.

Thinner surfaces and floating floors cannot be refurbished. However, modern technologies have produced such high-quality finishes that a majority of floors never need restoration. Additionally, it is often cheaper to professionally repair a damaged area than invest in an extensive refinishing process. It is important to note that refinishing a floor will void the manufacturer's warranty. You will also lose the artistic bevels and textured finishes, such as hand scraped or wire brushed.

Q: Which design options are available in engineered hardwood flooring?

There is a great deal of design versatility in engineered hardwood floors. Whether you want elegant cherry, rustic oak or exotic Tigerwood, you will find all the beautiful wood species, stain colors and finishes available among solid hardwood selections. Once installed, it is almost impossible to distinguish between a hardwood floor that was born in a factory or a forest. One notable difference is that all engineered hardwood planks have micro-bevel edging although many prefinished solid hardwoods also have these shallow V-shaped grooves.

Since the top of engineered hardwood is actual wood, you still get the same amazing grain detail and natural character found in solid hardwood. The Global Alliance showroom is stocked with nearly two dozen engineered hardwood floor options that range in stain color palettes and surface texture treatments. Our entry-level soft scraped line is made from maple and available in five creamy brown, gray and black tones.

Our wire brushed oak line is a hardy product that cleverly masks mishaps and surface wear. Our premium hand scraped hickory flooring is prized for being the hardiest wood species and offering a distinctive beauty with its varied grain pattern. Our floating floors are available in oak and maple varieties.

Q: Which flooring style and color should I choose?

The style of flooring that you choose is mostly a matter of personal preference, the color scheme of your home and your lifestyle. Although oak has a mid-point rating on the Janka Hardiness Test, it has greater stability than other species, which makes it great for high traffic areas. Maple is the most popular choice among consumers because it provides an instant homey feel. Hickory grain is varied and distinct, offering contemporary homes an elegant atmosphere. Surface textures add character and also covers minor dings and dents.

Note that there is a natural color variation in all hardwoods, and some species have greater variation. The sample swatch that you receive may not give you a clear picture of the overall appearance of the flooring.

Q: Should I choose a narrow or wide plank?

The width of the boards that you choose is another style choice. Traditional narrow boards give off a more formal feel while wider planks over 5 inches convey a more casual tone and rustic, vintage vibe. The superb dimensional stability provided by engineered hardwood allows for larger planks that can exceed 7 inches in width. Solid hardwoods generally cannot go beyond 5 inches because of the susceptibility to humidity and temperature fluctuations. While wider boards naturally have more shrinking and swelling than narrow strips, this movement is minimized with an engineered hardwood product.

Global Alliance carries a range of sizes in engineered hardwood, including ½" x 4 ¾" and ½" x 5" as well as ¾" x 5" and ¾" x 6". Per industry standard, our product is sold in random lengths, which allows the staggering of boards to achieve your perfect aesthetic. Product packaging indicates the shortest and longest lengths, and the rest of the boards fall within this spectrum.

Q: Is engineered hardwood a cheaper alternative to solid hardwood?

Consumers often assume that engineered hardwood flooring is less expensive since it is manufactured instead of naturally harvested. However, there are several factors that determine the cost. Like hardwood, engineered wood varies in price by species of wood and overall product quality. Exotic and hardy species, the thickness of the plank as well as the core's materials and depth of layers are all factors that influence price.

The installation method also affects how much you will need to spend on materials, such as glue or underlayment, as well as the amount of time you invest in laying the flooring down. The cheapest engineered hardwood installation method is generally floating planks since it does not require nails, staples, glue or professional experience.

However, when all things are equal, engineered hardwood is often cheaper than its solid hardwood counterpart. Market prices for both types range from $3 to $14 per square foot. While it is tempting to choose the lowest price, be aware that cheaply made products do not last as long as premium products that have thick veneers and a multi-layered substrate. Discount rates with our manufacturing partners allow Global Alliance to carry nearly two dozen premium varieties that average $4-$8 per square foot.

Q: How much extra flooring should I purchase?

Global Alliance is committed to stocking an array of traditional and trendy engineered hardwood flooring options in Toronto. While we expect many of our products to remain in stock for years to come, we cannot guarantee that our manufacturers will not discontinue or update their product lines. We recommend purchasing an extra 10-20 percent of your estimated square footage. You will need more than your initial estimate for defective materials and installation wastage, such as cutting boards to fit specific areas. You will also want to keep some on hand for potential repairs.

Q: Is engineered hardwood flooring environmentally friendly?

According to statistics compiled by the National Wood Flooring Association, "wood flooring is the most abundantly renewable flooring material available." Although hardwood trees typically take 40 to 60 years to mature for harvesting, they are growing faster than they are being removed. Hardwood floors are believed to improve indoor air quality, require less water and energy to produce than other flooring and outlast every other option by decades. Additionally, trees milled for flooring are harvested from responsibly managed forests or reclaimed wood from old buildings.

Engineered hardwood shares many of these same benefits although the product has a much shorter lifespan even when you factor in the ability to refinish the flooring. However, the amount of raw material needed to produce a thin veneer skin is far less than what is required to make a solid wood plank. Since it is mostly made from organic material, engineered hardwood can be salvaged and recycled to expand its usefulness.

The core layers are also made from organically harvested materials. However, the stains, topcoats and finishes, as well as the adhesives and resins used to bind the scraps and particles of wood, can have issues with off-gassing. This naturally occurring process releases a colorless gas known as formaldehyde that may be associated with certain serious health risks.

While emission levels are generally at or below regulations, there are several steps you can take to
reduce the risk of off-gassing when installing your new engineered hardwood flooring. At a minimum, let in fresh air daily and keep the temperature and humidity levels low. Health Canada provides more in-depth details to further understand this important issue. Quality manufacturers are committed to producing products that minimize off-gassing, but this is a critical question that you should ask before buying a product. All of Global Alliance's engineered hardwood flooring in Toronto complies with CARB II standards for indoor air quality.

Q: What is the best method for cleaning my engineered hardwood flooring?

Since the top layer of engineered hardwood is no different from a solid wood floor, you should give it the same special care and treatment. With proper maintenance, you will be able to enjoy the beautiful finish for years to come. Taking care of your floors is as simple as regularly sweeping, dry mopping or vacuuming up dirt. You can spot spray a light mist of water on tough spots and then immediately hit them with a microfiber mop. A traditional wet mop and harsh cleaning chemicals will permanently damage your new floors.

When needed, only use cleaners that are specifically designed for engineered hardwood. Our aluminum oxide urethane-based finish does not require waxing, buffing or polishing. In fact, these harsh processes can actually strip the finish, making the surface appear dull no matter which products you later try. Avoid abrasive cleaners that contain acidic properties, such as bleach, vinegar, ammonia or oil soaps.

Q: How do I protect my new floors to ensure lasting durability?

 

Follow these simple cleaning tips to keep your floors looking like new:

 

·         While the 10 coats of aluminum oxide finish provide an excellent barrier, you should still take precautions to wipe up liquid spills immediately and regularly check for leaking water. An entry door rug can catch dirt and rain, helping you to minimize what is tracked into the house.

 

·         Some hardwood species are more sensitive than others to dents and dings. It is a good practice to remove shoes at the door, particularly if you wear spiked heels or steel-toe shoes. This also prevents sharp objects embedded in shoe tread from scraping across the floor. Add floor protectors on the legs of heavy furniture to prevent scratching and indentations, and keep your animals' nails trimmed.

 

·         Protect the floor from direct sunlight with window treatments and rugs. However, you should periodically move rugs and furniture around to prevent the natural discoloration that can occur when a spot has been covered for too long.

 

·         For more tips, consult your care and maintenance guide included with your product. You can also contact Global Alliance at any time to ask for our expert advice about engineered hardwood flooring in Toronto.