Engineered Wood: At the top (and bottom) of the totem pole
At Planet Hardwood we get a full range of reactions to the consideration of engineered wood flooring. Engineered wood flooring is an all-wood floor that puts the specie one desires on the top layer only. The rest of the thickness has layers of wood arranged alternately lengthwise and crosswise thereby making it stable.
Engineered wood in other building applications is either fundamental (like plywood) or a signature of quality (like joists and rafters). In wood flooring it’s perceived most of the time as a “less-than” option to solid wood flooring.
Some of this is sound judgment, as the cheapest, crummiest, poorest performing, ugliest (in our opinion) wood flooring is engineered.
But, the best performing, most versatile, most efficient, most developed, most stylish wood flooring in our showroom is also engineered.
So engineered wood flooring occupies every rung of the ladder in terms of quality and value, but most people’s frame of reference is with the crummy stuff.
Sustainability and Engineered Flooring
I’ve come to appreciate engineered flooring from a resource-use, or sustainability, standpoint.
The North American profile for solid wood flooring is pretty familiar: 3/4″ thick and tongue-and-grooved. I distinguish it by North American because it’s fairly exclusive to us. They take a different approach in the rest of the world to wood flooring, and here’s one of the reasons why:
The only theoretically usable portion of that 3/4″ tongue-and-groove profile is from the top of the tongue to the surface. However, when refinishing the floor, one of the first investigations of a sand-and-refinish crew is how much of that distance above the tongue is left from the previous and/or initial sanding(s). If anything approaching half that distance is gone, they run the risk of making it too thin on the groove side to survive a footfall without cracking.
The equipment is simply too big and heavy and the sandpaper too gritty to offer a consistently fine enough tolerance to avoid that risk.
So in practice, the only usable portion of that piece of solid wood flooring is about half the distance from the tongue to the surface. With our 3/4″ profile that translates to 1/8″. This end result is that with a solid wood floor around 80% of the resource is wasted.
A quality engineered wood floor offers the same usable top wear layer as a solid wood floor with a support package of ‘lesser’ woods arranged in an alternating 90 degree stack. This makes the flooring six times more stable than its solid counterpart, allowing its use below-grade and/or directly on concrete.
The lesser woods could mean lower grades of the same species, faster or plantation-grown species, pre or post production wood waste or plywood. All of these options take the pressure off the primary forest and ultimately maximize the yield from the log.
Making the right choices when sourcing wood
Some of the flooring mills that supply us have the versatility to take the raw material downstream in production and make either a solid or an engineered floor. In two recent cases we directed the mills to produce the engineered format.
In one case, it involved a species available to us only sporadically. It comes from an environmentally certified mill that manages their forest to the highest environmental standard in the world. The restrictions result in a harvest-driven menu of choices, not a market-driven menu. Years could separate access to this species. By maximizing the usable material through the use of the engineered format, more total square feet of flooring becomes available.
The other case involved a figured domestic hardwood rarely found in wide dimensions, but the raw material could result in flooring up to 7″ wide. It would have been irresponsible to waste 80% of the Canarywood or Birdseye Maple resource. Instead, we multiplied the square footage.
All of this is to point out that whether we’re looking at sustainability, product availability or performance aspects like stability, a quality engineered wood floor is not a compromise in any way and often, it’s the best recommendation.