My Replacement Engineered Flooring is the Wrong Color – What to Do

Engineered Flooring Mismatch
Don't let this happen to you! (Shopped for effect, hopefully someone would notice this before installing!)

I recently got a good question from a reader asking for advice regarding some replacement flooring. Here was their scenario: “We just bought a house where most of the rooms and halls have a beautiful floor. Some rooms had a bad stained carpet so we got rid of it. We searched on the internet and we bought what was the perfect match. Today they came, and OMG they are way too dark reddish looking compared to what we have. It’s supposed to be the same floor by the picture but they don’t have the same color and black ends as ours.”

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence. Hardwood flooring, even of the same species and style, can vary dramatically from manufacturer to manufacturer.

A good metaphor for this phenomenon can be found in the printing world. Printers mix inks in order to achieve colors, much like painting. The industry standard is Pantone, using the Pantone color chart. This helps printers get as close to true color as possible. The Pantone system specifices exactly how much of each color ink should be mixed to achieve a certain color, which helps keep colors consistent from printer to printer.

So enough about printing, how does this apply to engineered hardwood flooring? Like so: Unfortunately, there is no Pantone-like system for staining or style in the hardwood flooring world. Each manufacturer will modify their wood flooring as per their specification. You may think you’re safe because your species is a natural, with no stain. Unfortunately, this is not so. Many manufacturers will stain photosensitive woods that change color due to sun exposure so that those woods’ color already looks like what they will darken to down the road.

So enough with the scares (it is almost Halloween after all, right?), what can you do to avoid this terrifying scenario?

Remember this: In the hardwood flooring world, color is king. Two engineered wood flooring products  may be labeled the exact same thing, but until you have real live samples to compare to your existing flooring, you really have no idea. Also, please save yourself a lot of agony and do not base your color matching off of pictures on the Internet. (Sorry for all the bold passages, but this is important stuff, people!) This is in no way to disparage Internet hardwood retailers or to say that their photos are intentionally misrepresentative; the fact is that computer monitors are not all consistent in terms of color, so all web photos should be considered an approximation until you have a sample in hand.

In addition, if you are trying to match an existing floor, try as hard as you can to get the identical product from the same manufacturer. If this means contacting whoever built the house, or previous owners, whatever you can, because this is the only way to guarantee that you will get the most accurate match. If you can’t do this, then be sure to bring samples from the retail store or e-tailer shipped samples and compare them to your existing floor. (Also, make sure you specify to the retailer that you want samples that are representative of the color spectrum, so that you aren’t stuck with a patchwork of grain types and colors on one end and a mostly consistent grain type and color for the rest.)

It’s a lot to remember, fair homeowners, but your reward is a beautiful floor that’s consistent as well as the satisfaction of knowing you avoided the mortifying consequences of an unmatched floor. Now that’s scary.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

When Engineered Flooring Attacks: Avoiding Lemons

Angelim Pedra Engineered Flooring NOT Exploding. This is good.
Angelim Pedra Engineered Flooring NOT Exploding. This is good.

So you’re ready to buy some engineered flooring, convinced that you’re cleverly avoiding the pitfalls of solid flooring’s dimensional instability. You get your engineered flooring. You install it yourself, and it looks great. You pat yourself on the back; you belong to an elite class of truly savvy home owners.

Then your floor explodes.

Ok, maybe it doesn’t explode, but it undergoes any number of mechanical failures, from veneers detaching due to inferior adhesives on to unlevel joints popping up due to bad milling, bowing, cupping, you name it. So why is this all happening, despite your super-savviness?

Because you bought your flooring from a twitchy looking guy standing out behind Lowe’s with a U-haul and claims of owning his “own mill” in China or Indonesia.

Ok, again this might be a slight exaggeration. But the point I’m trying to illustrate is this: Make sure the engineered flooring you’re buying comes from a reputable source. Check the brand, make sure it’s been around for a while. Make sure it’s got a good reputation, GOOGLE IT (or Bing it or Yahoo! it, just make sure you research it.) Hardwood flooring is a massive purchase, so a little research can go a long way in making sure that you don’t get skunked with some bum material. Look for customer testimonials. Bargain hunting can be nasty: Cruising Craigslist is probably not the way to find quality material. You might be able to find an independent broker or sourcer, but then you’re in the same position: Research the companies they’re recommending.

Here are a few reputable engineered flooring brands to take a look at:

Be safe out there, consumers! Arm yourself with knowledge!

Nail Down Installation for Engineered Flooring

Nail down flooring installation is a fairly common installation method for many flooring types. The only downside to a nail down installation is the super loud air compressor for your nail gun! But I guess if you’re installing your own floor, doing your own demo, you’re probably loaded for bear anyway, so a little noise pollution isn’t going to deter you.  I was looking around at some videos that showed a good example of nail down installation for engineered flooring and I stumbled across this video by the DIY network on YouTube and thought I’d share it with you all. It goes through a full installation, including sub floor concerns.  I hope it proves informative for you, let me know what you think!

The Sticky Subject of Choosing the Right Glue for Installing Your Engineered Floor

So you’ve decided to install your new engineered floor yourself. You’ve got your kneepads, your saws, pencil, tape measure, a few other accessories and a whole lot of gusto. You’ve decided to go with a glue-down installation. Now the question is, what kind of glue do you use?

After making the complicated choices of choosing the right type of wood, both for looks and structural integrity, then  choosing the appropriate installation method for your floor’s location, glue choice seems like a minor no-brainer. However, there are important things to consider when choosing glue.

First off, are you installing in a location where you have any worries about moisture content? If you have any concerns, it’s best to choose a glue that acts as a vapor barrier as well as an adhesive. It will take a slightly larger chunk out of the pocket book, but it beats having mechanical failures due to moisture down the road. (For those of you skipping over this section, stay tuned for the upcoming post “Board Replacements and You: Why oh Why Didn’t I Just Spring for the Vapor Barrier Glue?”)

Additionally, make sure the glue you’re buying has a guarantee in place. More than this, check to see if the manufacturer of the glue guarantees that their glue will work with the product you are installing. If you’re not installing your floor yourself, check with your installer as well about adhesives. Installers might be prone to stick with adhesives they’ve had luck with in the past, but this might be the time that things don’t jive, and you’ll be the one holding the ball after things go haywire. So be sure and check with the adhesive manufacturer and make sure your installer is on the same page with your findings.

Some other points: Make sure the glue stays on the bottom of the board. Don’t let it creep into the joints, as that will kill your tight fit. Also have solvents on hand for when you get that sticky stuff on yourself. We want you to become attached to your floor, but…

Finally, check your glue for which size/type of trowel it recommends, and also check its dry time, which should both be written on the container. You may have downed a quadruple hazelnut latte prior to getting rolling, but you’re probably not going to cover 3,000 sf in an hour. Although YouTube it if you do, because that would amazing.

Stopping short of diving into the full subject of installation, these are some of the important aspects to remember about glue for your engineered hardwood flooring project. Good luck on your journey into the magical world of adhesives!

Here are a few popular adhesive brands to check out:

Bostik Best (PDF! Not too hefty on the load time, but just FYI it’ll take a second to load.)

BST Urethane (ditto)

Franklin 811 Titebond

Engineered Flooring vs. Laminate Flooring

There is occasionally some confusion as to whether engineered flooring is real wood flooring or not. For the record, engineered flooring is real wood flooring, a composite of plywood and the veneer species. To recap, the plywood plies are stacked perpendicularly to one another and attached to the underside of the veneer species. This construction compensates for swelling and contraction of wood, and also allows engineered flooring to be installed more places and also so it can be installed utilizing the floating method.

So as we’ve established that it is indeed real wood, let’s talk about the differences between engineered hardwood flooring and laminate flooring. Laminate flooring was invented in 1977 by Pergo, a Swedish company. It can resemble a wide variety of materials, including hardwood and marble, to name a few. It is generally easier to maintain, less susceptible to moisture damage, more dent resistant than hardwood, and can also be floated.

For more information on Laminate flooring, you can check out the Wikipedia article, although, as the warning at the top of the page states, the article is fairly biased. It is obviously written by a laminate dealer or installer, particularly because while it touts all of laminates postive traits, it markedly neglects to mention that laminate is basically a photograph of wood or whatever the target material is (they refer to it as an “decorative applique”, which is oh-so-pretty and French) placed beneath an aluminum oxide finish. (To the article’s credit, there is mention of how the melamine resin that makes up the base material of the laminate can cause health problems as it is compound made with formaldahyde. Yikes.)

But the fact remains: Photoshop flooring, people. It is substantially cheaper, yes, but then, so is a print of the Mona Lisa versus the genuine article.

This is not to say laminate doesn’t make great flooring; it does, especially for those with young children and animals that put floors through quite a bit of abuse. Board replacements will be cheaper, and you will be getting a beautiful floor with many of the qualities of hardwood flooring; laminate will reflect light to create a more expansive feel for a room as well as giving it a cleaner appearance. It also has a leg up on carpet as it doesn’t retain pet dander, dust, and mold, making it a more hypoallergenic flooring option. (Providing the volatile organic compounds released from the formaldehyde binding process don’t compromise your indoor air quality. But I digress.)

So there you have it, a tidy comparison of laminate flooring and engineered flooring.

What are your thoughts about the two flooring formats?

Engineered Flooring Species: To Stain or Not to Stain?

There are plenty of times in the engineered flooring and solid wood flooring markets alike when you will come across what one might refer to as a “hardwood purist.” These folks do not believe in staining, particularly when it comes to exotic species or species more known for their distinctive colors/grains.

For instance, Brazilian Cherry is arguably the most popular exotic hardwood flooring species on the American market. It is well known for its salmon, red, and brown coloring. So why, some might think, would anyone want to stain an already beautiful exotic flooring species that you’ve already paid good money to have imported to the United States?

Well, as you may have guessed, I am not a hardwood purist. I think that any modifications made to a product give consumers a wider range of options to choose from is always welcome. This allows homeowners to more accurately express their own individual tastes and styles, rather than being boxed in by the color palette dictated by mother nature alone.

So let’s take a look at some stained exotics. (Stained just bears a negative connotation anyway, doesn’t it? Obviously wood experts weren’t thinking marketing, or we would definitely be talking about “color enhancement”.) Here are some stained versions of Brazilian Cherry:

Here’s the natural:

Brazilian Cherry Flooring

Now here are swatches of two different stains.

Brazilian Cherry Cafe:

Jatoba Hand Scraped

And now Brazilian Cherry Caramel:

Jatoba Hand Scraped Caramel

So you can see how the stain affects the coloring of the wood. (Additionally, these swatches are “hand scraped,” meaning hand distressed and therefore have more of a “bumpy” texture for a slightly more rustic look.) As you can see, the stains often show the graining off in a different color palette, but nonetheless one can easily see that we are looking at Brazilian Cherry, just through a different color of lens. Obviously, this is what staining is all about, but I feel its important to stress that stains are not opaque (At least a good staining ought not to be.) A good stain should alter the appearance of the wood quite a bit, but not obscure the graining much. A bit of subtlety is involved, and this separates a good stain from a bad one.

What do you think of staining? Abomination or blessing of artistic license?

Engineered Flooring vs. Thin Solid Flooring

When it comes to the age old question of whether to use solid flooring or whether to use engineered flooring, there is the question of thin solid flooring. With solid hardwood flooring available in widths such as 3/8 of an inch, the question becomes more complicated. Solid 3/8″ flooring can be glued down, which is one benefit over usual 3/4″ solid flooring, which is pretty much nail down only. (Depending on who you talk to, naturally, but this is the safest bet.)

Additionally, these thin solids are handy when it comes to tight spaces that can come into play during a renovation. However, the solids will still undergo the same heightened expansions and contractions because it is a solid, natural product. (Expansion and contraction is usually measured by tangential shrinkage/expansion and radial shrinkage/expansion) Engineered flooring is not subject to as a result of its construction of perpendicular plies.

Despite the smaller width, the same balance of pros and cons still applies to these formats: With engineered flooring, you’re getting a wear layer that is probably thinner than the total width of the solid flooring, and therefore cannot be sanded and refinished as many times. However, the engineered flooring will be more dimensionally stable than its prefinished counterpart, and while the smaller width may lesson the effects a bit, the solid flooring will still move in service.

The Lacey Act – What Does it Mean for Hardwood Consumers?

On May 22, 2008, the United States congress passed the Lacey Act, amending the existing statute that had previously been used primarily for fighting wildlife crime. Now, the act serves to ban illegally sourced plants and products, promoting a new standard of environmental responsibility for U.S. importers of natural products from abroad. Many companies are already devoted to the use of sustainable harvesting practices, and are therefore already in full compliance with the Lacey Act amendment. Certified vendors of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified products and consumers alike should be happy to see United States policy makers taking steps to ensure the health and well-being of forests and plant species around the world.

What does this mean for the engineered flooring world? As aforementioned, very little for those companies who were already abiding by the rules of healthy business and global ethics. But naturally, the reality is that more bureaucracy means more time, more documentation, and more labor/cost for import/export companies and mills. Therefore, prices for imported hardwoods have to rise proportionally to accommodate this. FSC certification, which establishes a “chain of custody” from the harvest source to the end consumer, also creates this price increase to accommodate for its intensive documentation fees.

For example, engineered Brazilian Cherry flooring coming out of Brazil has to pass through customs in order to make it into the United States, this much you already knew. However, this is a one time fee, with taxes and tarriffs paid at the border. With FSC certification, for example, the wood must be documented each time it changes hands. This means that a representative of the FSC or an agent working on their behalf (Such as SCS, Scientific Certification Systems) must approve each of these transactions and/or documentation must be filled out and filed, requiring extra time and labor. In effect, it’s like going through customs every time the wood changes hands. The Lacey Act is similar in that it requires more documentation than was previously required in order to import goods. Filling out this documentation requires time on the part of the mills, and the added cost trickles down through the supply chain thereafter. Additionally, the fact that engineered flooring features a wear layer of the exotic specie, and therefore not as much of the wood as a solid hardwood, does not lessen the cost of these certifications. Even if one board in the sub-bundle had a Brazilian Cherry wear layer and the rest were bare plywood, in order to be certified, that board must be tracked along the chain of custody in order to be FSC certified. What raises the cost is certifying multiple locations, such as if a distributor had multiple storage locations. For this reason, it is important to realize that if some hardwood dealers are slow to adopt FSC certification, it is not necessarily because they are illegally harvesting or conducting unethical business practices; the fact is, FSC certification can be a very expensive and complicated process.

However, though these certification processes and newly instated laws do raise costs slightly to the end consumer and create more bureaucratic red tape and cost for every member of the supply chain, they are great advancements towards promoting sustainable harvesting practices and punishing those who would otherwise seek to profit from harming the planet through the poaching of natural products.

Engineered Hand Scraped Woods

One of the great aspects of engineered flooring veneers is that they are very versatile and come in a variety of styles beyond the standard smooth texture.  You can also find it in other styles, such as handscraped and French bleed.

What is handscraped engineered flooring? Basically, it is flooring that is handscraped by the manufacturer in order to give the wood an older look, as if it has been worn over time. This style of texturing wood would be particularly appropriate in a house built in an older architectural era, where installing a brand new smooth hardwood floor might clash with the overall tone of the home’s more classic style. The upside of using handscraped flooring is that you get this older look while simultaneously getting new, structurally sound wood that, though the surface is scraped, sports brand new engineered ply layers. Here is a beautiful example of engineered hand distressed black walnut.

French bleed refers to wood with stained edges, with the color of the stain being typically black. Again, this look often provides a more classic tone to a home, and is often combined with hand-distressed or scraping, although not in every case. Both handscraping and French bleed create a tone of warmth and welcome.

The beauty of both of these styles is that you get the classic appeal of and older style appearance of floor while enjoying the structural superiority of modern engineered flooring. If you’re going for a rustic or “Old World” style look for your home, hand distressed engineered flooring or hand scraped engineered flooring are great candidates.