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.

Domestic Engineered Wood Flooring Species

Of the many types of engineered flooring products available, some of the most beautiful and traditionally elegant examples are the American domestic species. These are trees you probably see in your every day life, lining your street, sprouting up along highways and country roads, even in your backyard. Some well known American domestic species include Cherry, White Oak, Red Oak, and Maple, to name just a few. The interesting thing about American domestic species is that they tend to fall within the brown to yellow/white color spectrum, with some red tones here and there, but there isn’t a whole lot of deviation from this general spectrum. White Oak and Maple tend to be in the lighter category, Red Oak brings, naturally, some redness into that white equation, with Cherry bringing in a more orange-red tonal quality.

American domestics also tend to be fairly soft in comparison to other hardwood species from elsewhere in the world. Here are some technical specs for each of these species:



Modulus of Rupture:   10,700

Modulus of Elasticity: 1,450

Janka Hardness:  1450 lbs.

White Oak
White Oak

White Oak:

Modulus of Rupture:   15,200

Modulus of Elasticity: 1,780

Janka Hardness:  1360 lbs.



Modulus of Rupture:   12,330

Modulus of Elasticity: 1,490

Janka Hardness:  950 lbs.

Red Oak
Red Oak

Red Oak:

Modulus of Rupture:   14,300

Modulus of Elasticity: 1,820

Janka Hardness:  1,290 lbs.

These types of engineered hardwood flooring as well as engineered products with exotic specie wear layers are becoming increasingly popular due to their dimensional stability and very reasonable price tag. Well worth revisiting some traditional hardwood standards, or even giving an exotic a try.

Leather Engineered Flooring: A Beautiful Alternative to Standard Engineered Hardwood Floors.

Torlys is a manufacturer of flooring based in British Columbia and Ontario, Canada. In October, they announced that they would soon be releasing their engineered leather flooring in North America, starting in Canada and moving into the United States thereafter. It has since hit the show rooms of American flooring retailers nationwide, and it is an amazing product.

There are some great selling points for the leather product: It’s made from environmentally responsible leather, uses cork backing to eliminate the need for underlayment, both of which provide a soft feel to those walking on it. The leather itself is comprised of scrap leather which is chopped up into fine bits, put into a slurry with other polymers and resins, and once it is hardened, it is imprinted with leather patterning.
This product is designed to appeal to those looking for comfort and luxury. Pricewise, there is a bit of a divide: MSRP for the leather flooring is approximately $12.95/sf, compared to engineered hardwood flooring’s MSRP range starting around $3. However, the product is gorgeous, unique, and well made, so the higher price seems only natural. Additionally, leather flooring in the past has been prohibitively expensive, so Torlys‘ pricing is quite reasonable by comparison.

Overall, kudos are due to Torlys for manufacturing this green flooring in a way that reuses scrap leather to creates a beautiful new product. These elegant engineered leather floors bring a very unique and luxurious product into the price range of more consumers than leather flooring products in the past, all the while adding sustainability and environmental friendliness to the overall product.

To float or not to float?

Floating an engineered hardwood floor is a manner of flooring installation that many opt for. Boards are glued or snapped together at the sides and installed over a layer of underlayment. Underlayments come in a variety of different styles, with higher quality underlayment eliminating more of the acoustical by-products of a floating floor. This is one of the most noticeable down-sides of a floated engineered floor: there can be a somewhat “hollow” sound when it is walked on, a result of the space between the floor and the subfloor created by the underlayment. Nailed or glued down flooring can feel more “solid” underfoot as a result of each board being secured individually and vertically to the sub-floor itself. Also, engineered hardwood flooring that is floated can create “cracking” noises soon after it is installed, which is the result of the glue settling and acclimating to foot traffic.

A floating engineered floor is also unforgiving when it comes to certain installation oversights. If there is a low area in a sub floor that isn’t leveled or corrected, this will create a spot where your foot will sink, as the floor is horizontally suspended over the indentation. With a nail or glue down floor, this imperfection would more likely not go undetected, as the nails and glue must reach the subfloor, which would indicate to the installer that something was amiss.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of the pros and cons of engineered hardwood flooring, these are some important considerations derived from experience and the experiences of others that I think will help you to make the best decision as to which installation method best suits your needs.

Will a down economy convert frugal consumers into engineered flooring advocates?

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.

Considerations When Purchasing an Engineered Hardwood Floor

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.

Possible Installation Locations for Engineered Flooring

When considering the type of wood flooring you want to use, the specific application may dictate your options to some degree. However, if engineered flooring is among your options, the installation location possibilities are greater.

For example, solid wood flooring is not recommended for use in “below grade” applications, but engineered wood flooring can often be successfully used below grade. Below grade means the floor surface is below the level of the ground outside, such as in a basement. Solid wood flooring is not generally recommended for use below grade because the typically higher moisture levels may cause problems with excessive expansion of the floor boards. Basically, the flooring may swell too much after installation and therefore not lay flat. When wood flooring expands (or wood in general – boards, wood siding, etc), it expands more in width than in length, so the result of solid wood flooring installed below grade can be buckling – sometimes enough that it can push some flooring boards right up off the floor!

Engineered flooring often can be successfully used below grade because it is considerably more stable than solid wood flooring thanks to its multi-ply substrate. It still should not be used in a very high moisture situation (no wood flooring product should be), but it definitely gives you additional installation location possibilities that you might not have with solid wood flooring.

Additional installation location possibilities offered by the use of engineered wood flooring are any location where there are very large swings in humidity. Think about a home in Northern climates that heats with a wood stove in the winter, creating a very dry environment in the home, then in the summer has the doors and windows open during a period of warm, humid, muggy weather. This is an ideal application for engineered wood flooring because the seasonal changes in humidity (severe in this example) would be problematic for solid wood flooring, but tolerated far better by engineered wood flooring, thanks to its superior dimensional stability.

Engineered Flooring

Engineered flooring, due to the way it is manufactured, offers superior dimensional stability. It is more stable than its traditional counterpart, “solid” wood flooring. If you are unfamiliar with the construction of engineered wood flooring, it is essentially manufactured in a manner similar to plywood. The plywood base, or “substrate,” is made of thin layers of wood which are oriented with their grain in an alternating arrangement (90 degrees for each subsequent layer, or “ply”), and glued under heat and pressure. This creates a very stable wood flooring product, less susceptible to movement that could present itself as gaps between flooring boards, cupping, or crowning.

This highly stable base, when bonded to the top layer, or “wear layer” (what you walk on and see after installation), is what makes engineered wood flooring more resistant to the normal movement that occurs in wood flooring during changes in the relative humidity within the structure.

Many homes and commercial buildings undergo significant seasonal variations in relative humidity. In some parts of the United States the relative humidity within a building could range from 10% in the winter to 90% in the summer, depending on whether humidification is used during the heating months, and whether air conditioning (which dehumidifies the air) is used in the summer months.

All wood “moves” to a certain degree with these changes in relative humidity, and engineered wood flooring simply moves less than solid wood flooring because of the superior dimensional stability of the multi-ply substrate. Today there are a myriad of choices in engineered flooring in both exotic and domestic species, in both prefinished as well as unfinished engineered wood flooring. For many installation scenarios the superior dimensional stability of engineered wood flooring is worth considering.

Engineered Veneers

There are three primary types of veneers, also known as “wear layers,” that are used in the construction of engineered flooring. These are:

1. Sawn veneers.
2. Peeled veneers.
3. Sliced veneers.

Each veneer type has its benefits and drawbacks that are important to consider when choosing material for your engineered floor.

Peeled Veneers

Peeled veneers are made by first boiling and steaming a log. The log is then rotated against a blade that peels a layer off the log, which becomes the peeled veneer. Peeled veneers are typically the poorest quality of veneers.

Sliced Veneers

Sliced veneers are considered to be superior to peeled veneers, though both process begin by boiling and steaming the log. Whereas the peeling method rotates the whole log against a blade, sliced veneers are made by slicing a quartersawn log either perpendicularly to the grain or radially by rotating the quartersawn log.

Sawn Veneers

Sawn veneers are the oldest style of veneer, and are produced by cutting the log with a band saw. They are typically less dimensionally stable than sawn and sliced veneers, as they are more structurally similar to the actual log itself than the other two veneers. As a result, you can expect more swelling and contraction in an engineered floor with sawn veneers than one with sliced and sawn veneers.

Typically the thicker veneer types, usually sliced and sawn, will last longer as they can be refinished more often than thinner types. Thickness and method of construction are all important considerations for an engineered floor.