Monday, June 7, 2010

Engineered Hardwood Flooring - How to Select It For Your Needs

Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Engineered hardwood flooring is a product made of a core of hardwood, plywood, or high density fiber and a top layer of hardwood veneer that is glued on the top surface of the core. It is available in almost any hardwood species. The product has the natural characteristics of the selected wood species as opposed to a photographic layer. The "engineered" product has been designed to provide greater stability, particularly where moisture or heat pose problems for hardwood floors.

Wood floors come in two basic types:

o Solid wood flooring
o Engineered wood flooring

Solid Wood Fl is fabricated from 3/4" thick solid wood and tongue and groove sides to join the boards. Some manufacturers make a thinner version that is 5/16" thick. The main advantage of solid wood flooring is its ability to be re-sanded and refinished over many years. It is not uncommon for solid wood floors to last 50 years or more. Solid wood floors come unfinished or prefinished in almost any wood species.

The main issue to consider with solid wood floors is its susceptibility to expansion and contraction due to humidity changes in the home. To accommodate for movement, these floors are typically installed with a 5/8" to 3/4" gap around the perimeter of the floor along the wall. This gap is covered by shoe molding and baseboards.

The 3/4" thick floors should not be installed in a below grade condition, such as a basement. However, the thinner 5/16" wood floors may be used in that application. When installing a solid wood floor over new or existing concrete, be sure the manufacturer's recommendations on limits of moisture in the concrete are followed.

Solid wood flooring is available in three main types:

o Strip flooring is denoted by the thickness and width of the wood planks. Strip flooring has a set width, but the thickness can vary. Strip flooring ranges in thickness from 5/16" to ¾" wide. It is available only in widths of 1 1/2", 2", and 2 1/4".

o Plank flooring comes in two thicknesses, but unlike strip flooring, the widths can vary. It is available only in thicknesses of 1/2" or 3/4" and a range of widths from 3" to 8".

o Parquet flooring has a very different look from typical hardwoods. They are made up of geometrical patterns composed of individual wood patterns composed of individual wood slats held in place by mechanical fastening or an adhesive.

Laminate flooring is not real wood, at least not in the way that hardwood and engineered wood are. It is comprised of a thin top layer of resin-infused paper, all on top of a wood chip composite. Technically, it is wood. It is an amazing simulation of wood. The resin layer is essentially a photograph of wood. Laminate flooring is an alternative to wood flooring. It is scratch resistant and it works well in topically moist environments like bathrooms and kitchens, unlike hardwood flooring. Additionally, laminate flooring is very easy to install.

Engineered wood flooring solves a lot of the problems hardwood and laminate flooring have:

o Solid Hardwood does not tolerate moisture well.
o Solid Hardwood can have uneven quality
o Laminate Flooring does not tolerate moisture well
o Laminate Flooring is fake wood and can not be sanded.

Basics of Engineered Wood Floors

Engineered hardwood floors are constructed similar to that of basic plywood with the top surface being actual hardwood. Products come in two to ten ply construction depending on the manufacturer. Many manufacturers have increased the surface (also known as veneer or wear layer) layer that will result in some engineered floors lasting as long as the traditional ¾" solid flooring. One of the most important factors contributing to the longevity of any hardwood floor is the amount of refinishable material.

Solid 3/4" hardwoods have approximately 1/4 of an inch above the tongue and groove construction. Once it is sanded to that level, nails or staples begin to appear and should be replaced. The better and thicker engineered hardwood floors have 1/8" to 3/16" above the tongue and groove. Since the veneer is real wood, it can be sanded up to two to three times.

Engineered floors are the ideal solution for hardwood flooring on concrete. The dimensional stability of the way they are constructed. Each ply layer is pressure glued and set in the opposite direction. Engineered hardwood floors expand and contract with high humidity, as opposed to hardwood flooring. The more plies the greater stability.

Installation of most engineered hardwood floors are done by the glue down or floating floor method. It is very important to note that not all engineered products have the same type of installation specifications. Some floors may be floating, glue direct, or staple only. Maunufacturers specifications should be followed explicitly. The majority of prefinished engineered hardwoods have limits on lengths at 42 to 48 inches, opposed to most solid hardwoods at 72 to 84 inches. Typically, lower end flooring will have shorter pieces. Typically, longer lengths are preferred as they offer a more appealing look on completion.

What is a floating floor? It is a method of installing a floor rather than a specific type of flooring material. In this method, the individual planks or boards attach to each other - either by means of gluing or snapping together, but do not attach to the sub floor on which it is being installed. This is in contrast to a solid wood floor which requires nailing down to the sub floor. A jigsaw puzzle is one great comparison. With a jigsaw puzzle, pieces connect to each other, but not to the table. A floating floor is like a jigsaw puzzle. An advantage of the floating floor method of installation is it allows for the floor to move and expand in response to changes in the room's humidity.

Wood Flooring Hardness Rating

The hardness of wood flooring is measured by something called the Janka Test. A.444 inch steel ball is driven into the wood to half the ball's diameter. The test measures the force needed to embed a steel ballot half of its diameter in the piece of wood being tested, with rating measured in pounds of force per square inch. So with this rating, the higher the number the harder the wood.

Wood hardness is important since one of the key considerations in selecting the species of wood floor, you should be aware how much resistance the wood has to scratches and indentations. For example, if you have a dog with long nails then scratching the floor is a consideration and you should select a species with a higher rating such as hickory, maple, oak, or ash.

While it may seem logical to pick the hardest wood, certain factors should be considered:

o Soft wood can be hardened to some degree by the application of polyurethane finishes

o Hard wood is nearly always much more expensive than the softer and medium grade woods.

o Hard wood is more difficult to saw, drill, and nail than other woods, requiring more time and labor, therefore more money.

Hardwood Floor Appearances Can Differ

Hardwood veneers have the same surface appearances as solid hardwood flooring because they are both natural hardwoods. Different appearances result from the different ways the hardwood is sawn. The different sawing methods are:

o Flat Sawn (also referred to as plain sawn) - can be flat grain, which has a cathedral or gothic effect or vertical grain which has a radial or edge grain effect.

o Rotary Cut - method of cutting wood in which the hardwood layer is peeled off the log using large wood lathes. This peeling method shows dramatic, wilder graining.

o Off-Set Rotary Cut - method of cutting wood which gives a sliced appearance and grain pattern with the added cross grain stability of sliced, without the sliced cost. Hardwoods are more dimensionally stable across the grain, and off-set rotary cutting takes advantage of this property. The yield is lower than a regular rotary cut creating a slight price increase vs. standard rotary.

o Sliced Cut - method of cutting wood in which the hardwood layer is sawn like regular lumber. This shows finer graining.

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