WHICH FLOORING TO CHOOSE FOR YOUR PROJECT & WHY (SOLID HARDWOOD vs ENGINEERED HARDOOD)
One thing I love about my job is being able to ease my client’s mind and remove any misconceptions or incorrect information they came in with prior to their visit at Golden Elite Deco—specifically with regards hardwood and engineered flooring. In this week’s piece I have chosen to break some myths once and for all, in order to better help you make a more informed decision about which type of flooring to choose for your project. This might be the most important piece of reading in your search for the best floors for you.
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MYTH 1: “HARDWOOD FLOORING IS BETTER THAN ENGINEERED FLOORING”
Perhaps the most common thing I hear is, “Well my (fill in the blank) said that solid plank hardwood is better than engineered wood because it’s real wood.” This statement is actually incorrect. In fact, engineered flooring is indeed made from hardwood. The top-layer is a hardwood veneer that can be anywhere from .5mm to over 2mm in thickness, with superior quality thicknesses of up to 3/16”. This type of wood flooring is referred to as “engineered” because the planks are fabricated by reinforcing the top layer of solid wood with several plies or lathes underneath it and then sandwiching the whole plank with a solid veneer backing; this adds to the structural integrity of the plank, making it more stable than its solid hardwood counterpart, and much less susceptible to expansion, retraction buckling, or cracking caused by temperature and humidity fluxes. The most commonly used methods for engineered flooring are: multi- layered technology, cross-layered solid lathe 3-ply solid-core technology and HDF 3-layer technology. (See diagrams below)
Some SOLID HARDWOOD products in Golden Elite Deco, Montreal, Canada
MYTH 2: “WELL I STILL WANT SOLID HARDWOOD BECAUSE IT WILL ADD MORE VALUE TO MY HOME”
The breaking of myth 1, directly leads into another common misconception many of my clients have, which is that they have somehow been convinced that engineered hardwood does not carry with it, or retain the same financial investment or intrinsic value that solid hardwood flooring does. That misconception is quite simply derived from perceived notions, again largely due to misinformation. The problem is that as with anything, once you attach to it a perceived value, well, you end up believing it is better and that belief is what magically adds to the value of something—in this case property value.
In reality, nothing can be further from the truth, mainly because the misconceptions are being dispelled thanks to better education. Truth has finally caught up with perception; a superior quality engineered hardwood and solid hardwood will retain the same return on investment. In fact, in some instances, such as in humid waterfront properties or areas known for their extreme weather conditions, engineered hardwood is actually preferred and adds more value to the investment than solid hardwood.
Some ENGINEERED HARDOOD products in Golden Elite Deco, Montreal, Canada
MYTH 3: “I NEED A REALLY STRONG AND DURABLE WOOD BECAUSE I HAVE A BIG DOG & CHILDREN”
This is perhaps the most important myth to bust. I see so many clients compromising their choice of flooring based on a variable that ultimately really makes little difference in how durable a floor is.
To explain why, we need to delve into the difference between “durability” and “strength”, the latter which is measured by “Pound Force” (Lbf). Therein lies the most common mistake and most crucial determinant to understanding which wood species to choose; the most important factor you should understand is that a wood’s durability is not determined by its strength. I won’t bore you with the science behind all of this, but you do need to understand how Lbf is measured before we go any further. A wood species’ hardness measured by calculating how much pounds of force-pressure it takes to embed a .444mm metal bead half way into the plank. That number is often referred to as a Janka Scale Hardness. So for example if you see a Janka reading of 1350 next to Canadian Rock Maple (Hard Maple) species, that means it took 1350 lbf to sink that metal bead half way into the wood. Janka hardness readings for a myriad of wood species are readily available online.
Now that we understand wood strength, let’s move onto how durable wood is, because here’s where clients are often misled. Durability has nothing to do with Janka readings—well, a little, but not as much as you would think. Sure, if you choose an exotic dense wood such as Brazilian Ipe or Cumaru whose hardness ratings fall around the 3600-3850 lbf, all the data would show that it would take a lot more to damage or knick the wood. But in general, for North American species woods most commonly used for flooring (e.g. Rock Maple, Red Oak, White Oak, Yellow Birch, Heart Pine) the data is not always aligned with practical experience. Think of this as an MPG rating or L/100km ratings on that car you’re driving right now; the data is applied in controlled settings. You never get the mileage advertised by those car companies, do you? More often than not, in your every day practical driving experience you’ll use a lot more gas than advertised! The practical reality for flooring is that if you drop a cast iron skillet, a heavy toy or a hammer on any wood flooring surface it will leave a knick or chip the surface of your floor.
That said, one crucial factor that people miss is that hardwood and engineered floors are treated with a protective layer, usually an aluminum oxide or UV protective coating (every manufacturer carries their own “secret formula”) that add to a wood’s durability. Those scuff marks you are so worried about are usually only surface area scuffs made on the top protective layer and can be usually buffed out. So, unless you are planning on paying a good 4$ to 7$ more per square foot for denser exotic woods (e.g. Cumaru, Woven strand Bamboo, Red Mahogany, Walnut, Rosewood, Brazilian Cherry, Jatoba, Tigerwood), you really should not let a wood’s hardness rating be the sole influence in how durable you think it will be to your dog’s claws, your kid’s toys or your clumsy spouse dropping a power tool or frying pan on it. Just as most woods will be relatively similarly durable, they will also get damaged in much the same manner, regardless of if their Janka reading is 1100 or 1450 lbf. And by-the-way, as a demonstration for clients, I have taken a set of keys to Jatoba and applied medium to mild pressure on the surface, and I was easily able to make a knick deep enough that it showed. So again, please remember, your wood’s durability will be affected only insomuch as how you “live” on it.
So what am I saying? Durability is measured by lifestyle not by data. A good general rule of thumb to remember is that all wood species below Red Oak on the Janka scale can dent or wear more easily and that extremely dense and exotic woods may offer benefits in high-traffic homes and offices, but they can be challenging to install and require much more monitored temperature-controlled environments.
MYTH 4: “POLISHING, BUFFING & WAXING FLOORS FREQUENTLY WILL KEEP THEM LASTING LONGER”
Any woodworker, craftsman or flooring professional that knows wood will tell you that over-buffing, waxing and even washing wood floors of any kind is one of the worst things you can do. Here, the rule is simple: moderation is key. If you’re one of those neat freaks that is used to constantly washing floors you’ll be very disappointed in the medium to long term if you apply those same cleaning methods to your hardwood or engineered floors. Remember that wood floors are “living and breathing” organic material and will expand and contract depending on the climate of your home and seasonal weather changes. It is paramount that a stable environment be created for your flooring especially in the first few years of its life. Investing in a small humidifier/dehumidifier and keeping the general humidity level of your home at 45-50% will greatly ameliorate the lifespan of your floors. The grain in wood should be thought of as the pores on your skin. If you choke that grain with over-waxing and over-buffing, the grain gets “choked” and will not allow your wood to “breath”, much like your pores allow your skin to breath and adapt to your climate. Remember that every layer of wax or oil you use, leaves a microscopic layer of build-up and/or residue that penetrates deep inside the grain of the wood. While it is necessary to buff and protect your floors, overdoing it will clog the grain; every thin layer of wax will build up over time creating an undesirable fogginess to the surface and worse, because the wood cannot breathe naturally, it will begin show hairline cracks. Over washing your floors or using too much water when you do wash them will eventually cause the wood to expand and buckle (the floorboards will push against each other creating humps, bumps and major cracks).
The best way to clean and maintain your engineered or hardwood flooring is to simply dust it regularly with a microfibre duster. Washing should be done only when necessary, and only using a lightly dampened mop and immediately thoroughly dried thereafter. There are several types of polishes, waxes and urethane products out there, so be sure to use what the manufacturer recommends for your floors. Using anything else or doing the work incorrectly will nullify your warranty, so do your research before any kind of major buffing, waxing or polishing. If you are not sure, contact a professional. If you do not know how to proceed, you could be doing more damage than good.
ENGINEERED OR HARDWOOD – FEW CLOSING POINTERS
Now that we have busted a few myths, let’s take a few minutes to outline a basic guide as to when to choose hardwood and when engineered wood should really be the go-to. I’ll leave the species of wood you choose entirely up to you, based on the helpful indices I have provided you herein.
Generally speaking and in normal circumstances you can install solid plank hardwood of your choice on any main floor or second floor room (living room, dining room, or bedroom for example). You may wish to opt for engineered flooring if one of those rooms is right over the garage however, as the cold and dampness of unfinished garages especially could adversely affect the floors on the floor above it. If you do not want tiles in your kitchen and wish to carry the same flow of floors throughout the house and really want wood floors, then definitely choose engineered flooring. You never want to install solid hardwood in a kitchen as any spills, leaks or water damage (eg. From a faulty sink, plumbing, or broken dishwasher) could prove devastating and very costly to repair. Moreover the heat generated from cooking in kitchens provides for a much more instable environment for solid plank floors. Engineered flooring s up to 60% more stable than solid plank and thus its expansion and retraction under those conditions will be quite minimal. Also never install hardwood flooring on a radiant (heated) subfloor. In most cases you should not use even install engineered wood over radiant floors. If you want to do this, consult the vendor or manufacturer to see which guidelines they recommend—if any. In basements, you could choose to use engineered flooring but it is not recommended at all unless you are sure your basement’s foundation is water-sealed (a very costly method by which concrete can be water-proofed against water and humidity) and that the entire basement is set at a constant humidity level complimentary to the floors. In most instances though, if you do not want to deal with any headaches—or warranty issues, SPC vinyl plank is best for basements. In extreme high traffic or office spaces where hardwood flooring is being considered, you may want to look into harder, denser woods, but again, given the information I have provided you, it may not be an absolute necessity to spend so much more on an exotic wood that ultimately will also wear much like its counterpart.
GOLDEN ELITE DECO – YOUR ONE-STOP SHOP FOR ALL YOUR BATHROOM AND FLOORING NEEDS
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At the end of the day, I hope if nothing else that this article helped demystify or clear up any questions you had in determining which type of floor to consider for your project. Ultimately the goal was to help you choose what you love—not what you were told you should get based on incorrect information or preconceived notions. Sure, there are a lot of variables to consider, but at least now you have solid ground to stand on.
Stay tuned for next week’s installment: Which Flooring to Choose For Your Project and Why
Buy any SOLID HARDWOOD or ENGINEERED HARDOOD flooring in our three Golden Elite Deco shops located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada:
Montreal's West Island Warehouse and Showroom:
88 boul. Brunswick
D.D.O., Qc H9B 2C5
Monday - Friday 9am - 6pm
Saturday - Sunday 10am - 5pm
*Warehouse pickups: Monday to Friday 9am to 4:45pm, Sat 10am to 4:45pm
*Deliveries not available on Saturday or Sunday
South Shore Showroom:
3929 boul. Taschereau
Saint-Hubert, Qc J4T 2G5
Monday - Friday 10am - 6pm
Saturday 10am - 5pm
Sunday 10am - 5pm
515 Boulevard Curé-Labelle (corner Boul. Dagenais O.)
Fabreville, QC H7P 2P5
Monday - Friday 10am - 6pm
Saturday 10am - 5pm
Sunday 10am - 5pm
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