4 Pre-Installation Considerations for Engineered Flooring

Installing engineered hardwood flooring in your home can be a difficult, time-consuming process. Not preparing your wood and floor space for installation can cause the process to be even more challenging. Regardless of whether you are doing the installation yourself or letting a professional take care of it, there are a few issues you need to address before the work begins. The following are four pre-installation considerations you should take into account before installing your newly purchased engineered hardwood floor.

Installing Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Installing engineered hardwood flooring can be tricky if you don’t take the proper precautions before beginning the project.

Inspection
It’s extremely important to inspect all of your wood flooring materials prior to installation and look for any cracks, holes, or bent or warped boards. While engineered hardwood flooring undergoes a rigorous inspection process before leaving the plant, imperfections and faulty boards can still slip through the cracks. In most cases, installing defective boards will void their warranty.

Order of Installation
Wood flooring should always be installed after all other installation and construction projects are finished. If floor installation is the only project, this isn’t something you need to be concerned with. However, if a new floor is part of a larger remodeling or new-home construction project, make sure you save it for last. This will help minimize the chances of your new boards experience major damage due to other construction projects.

Crawl Space and Subfloor Specifications 
It is very important for crawl spaces and subfloors to be dry before the installation process begins. For crawl spaces, there needs to be at least 18 inches between the joists and the ground. Vapor barriers or retarders must cover 100% of the crawl space, with the joints overlapping by at least six inches. The vapor barrier must also extend at least six inches up the stem wall, be attached and sealed.

Protection
Protecting your engineered hardwood flooring prior to installation is very important. The boards should not be delivered to the installation site until the building is enclosed and humidity and temperature are both stable. Fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels can cause boards to warp and bend, rendering them useless for installation. Finally, don’t deliver boards to the installation site until all painting, drywall texturing, masonry, and concrete laying is finished.

Want to learn more about installing engineered hardwood flooring in your home? Contact Fantastic Floor today to speak with one of our knowledgeable sales representatives. We look forward to hearing from you soon!

The Best Protection for Your Hardwood Floors

You’re no fool – you know that in order to protect your newly installed engineered flooring you’re going to need some sort of sealant, stain or varnish. But which should you choose? What’s the best protection for your floors? Here are the main types of wood protection, what types of floors they work best on, and how to use each.

Sealants
Wood sealant is a great choice if you’re concerned about uneven grain or stain patterns. Most often used on soft woods, wood sealant will penetrate your floors and harden, helping slow stain absorbency and giving your floors a more even color distribution. Sealants help protect wood from the elements and are most often used in decking projects, but they can be used on floors in high-traffic or extremely open rooms. Softwoods such as spruce, white pine and Douglas fir (sometimes referred to as SPF lumber) take very well to sealants and are common flooring and decking choices in the US.

Shellac
Used for centuries as a wood finish, shellac is a natural resin produced by tree-dwelling insects. Shellac isn’t as commonly used as it once was, but it can still be found at hardwood supply stores and is a great choice for DIY-ers because it doesn’t produce a lot of fumes. Shellac is very compatible with most other finishes, and when used as a primer can help protect wood from stain blotching or resin bleeding. It also acts as a sealant. It isn’t the most durable wood protectant, so if you only use shellac plan on doing touch-ups as scratches happen.

Varnishes
Varnishes offer great protection to wood floors, but are a little trickier to apply than stains and sealants. Made up of a combination of resins and oils, varnishes must be applied in a completely dust- and dirt-free area as the wet varnish surface is very susceptible to damage. Polyurethane varnishes offer the best protection, making them perfect for indoor use.
The downside to varnishes is that they add a plastic appearance to the floors, which some people find unappealing. Varnishes also tend to yellow and crack with age, so they require a bit more maintenance in the long run. They can be applied to any type of wood, however, and many people find the versatility and protection worth the plastic appearance and down-the-road maintenance.

Stained Tigerwood floors

Stains
Very popular in hardwood flooring projects, stains accent and emphasize wood grain while offering moderate protection. Stains are the most versatile wood protectant, coming in a variety of transparencies and colors, and are generally either oil-, latex- or water-based. Stains are great on woods with striking or exotic wood grain patterns, such as Acacia, Cumaru, and Tigerwood. The downside? Stains don’t offer great protection, so be prepared to reapply more often than you would a varnish or shellac.

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.

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.