With economic times as they are, engineered flooring is becoming a more and more viable option, and for good reason. First of all, and perhaps most obvious, an engineered floor is a cheaper option than a solid hardwood floor, making it a much more viable option for those looking to pinch a few pennies. The reason that engineered flooring is ultimately cheaper than solid hardwood is because the expensive specie that makes up the wear layer is only a thin layer in the overall structure of the board. The rest of the board is comprised of plywood that costs less to acquire and mill for manufacturers. I’m interested to see if this newfound frugality in America creates a bigger demand for engineered flooring, and if, subsequently, once consumers realize that engineered flooring is far more dimensionally stable than solid hardwood flooring, if they will become devoted to engineered products thereafter. There are some advantages of solid flooring, such as a general acoustic quality, meaning that it gives off a different sound than an engineered floor. This is particularly true when an engineered floor is floated. Some say that this creates a “hollow” sound. Then there is the additional benefit that solid hardwood can be sanded and refinished more often than engineered flooring. Naturally, a thicker wear layer on an engineered floor means more opportunities for sanding and refinishing. But I’m interested to see if we see more people advocating engineered products and to see if those who were traditionally proponents of solid hardwood floor come over to the engineered side because of being forced to consider engineered as an option for economic reasons.
Engineered flooring comes in many different specie-flavors, sizes, veneer types, etc. Add to that the different gloss levels of the finish on the product and it becomes abundantly clear: One size does not fit all when it comes to engineered flooring. When shopping for engineered hardwood, it is important to take into consideration this myriad of different structural and finish characteristics rather than finding a specie you like and pulling the trigger. Shopping for hardwood flooring means that you, fair consumer, must become somewhat of a junior architect. As with any product, the more you know about it before you buy, the better the product you will ultimately select. Additionally, you will be more satisfied with that product, as you will know exactly how it stacks up next to the other products you could have chosen, not just how the color and appearance of the veneer specie compares to others.
Here are some factors to take into consideration that come down to your taste as a potential engineered flooring buyer:
1. What is the finish comprised of? What brand is it?
Prefinished wood products in addition to engineered flooring all come prefinished by the factory, but what brand of finish did they use for the prefinishing? Is that finish manufacturer reputable, or is it comprised of a guy in the back of a VW bus with a chemistry set and no trace of eyebrows? This is one of the easiest factors to take for granted when making your flooring decision. Put your retailer on the spot; he may not know off the top of his head, but should be easily able to find out for you.
2. What is the gloss level?
This is a matter of preference for some. Some prefer a very glossy finish to catch light, while others feel that a high gloss finish obscures the wood’s natural beauty with glare. Personally, I tend to lean towards the latter: I’ve got enough reflective surfaces installed in my house to admire myself in, I don’t need my floor serving as a surrogate mirror. Gloss is calculated in degrees. For instance, a 40 gloss is called a “medium” or “semi-gloss,” whereas 25 gloss is a more subdued gloss level. 85 gloss is sometimes called a “glass” or a very shiny gloss, like that of gym floors. 100 gloss is like walking on the translucent ceiling of heaven, pure light. Actually, I’ve never seen 100 gloss, I just made that up.
Don’t forget to take these factors into consideration, as they are the easily overlooked but very important factors that can make the difference between an engineered hardwood floor that you love and one that’s just not quite right.