Squeak Knights Team
What is Engineered Hardwood and Why we Never Recommend it!
Updated: May 9, 2020
If you’ve recently shopped for flooring or asked your family and friends about what type of flooring they have, you’ve likely come across the term “Engineered Hardwood”. It’s trending – and a type of flooring that we at Squeak Knights never recommend! In this blog post we’ll examine what exactly is Engineered Hardwood and why there are so many problems with this notoriously falsely advertised flooring product.
If there was ever a floor type that over-promises and under-delivers, it’s Engineered Hardwood. You can probably already tell, but if we had to make a list of worst flooring materials, this floor type would be at the top. Here’s why:
1. What is Engineered Hardwood made of?
To start, let’s understand Engineered Flooring. Historically, engineered hardwood was truly an innovation worthy of note! It was made up of multiple layers of thin hardwood, between 1/8” to 1/4", which were laminated (glued) together in perpendicular directions, effectively making really thick and hard plywood planks. Like in plywood, this lamination of perpendicular wood grains prevented unwanted warping and shrinkage typically observed in regular hardwood. This in-turn prevents movements in the floor which otherwise allows for squeaking, cracking of the urethane finish, loosening gaps and misalignment of the planks.
This was the original Engineered Hardwood. It was significantly more expensive than regular hardwood flooring but with improved quality and a longer lifespan.
Today, this original innovation now represents only a fraction of the market. What you find in the store today is effectively a fake! There are four different types of “engineered hardwood” that stray from the original product: The first is a (1) softwood core with hardwood veneer on top. The second is type is made with plywood with veneer on top (there is (2) high-density and a further poorer quality (3) low-density plywood). Finally, (4) medium density fiberboard, or MDF, with hardwood veneer on top.
The key difference you should remember is that engineered hardwood floor is rarely entirely made of hardwood. In fact, it’s likely that underneath the hardwood veneer is either cheap plywood, softwood or worst of all, MDF (pressed paper).
2. Types of Engineered Hardwood
There are two types of installation for engineered hardwood flooring, each with its set of problems.
The first is a floating interlocking system, similar to how laminate floors snap together. There are no nails or screws, the planks snap together and float on a pre-installed foam or cork pad. In this case gravity is what holds the floor down, which may not be as secure, however the advantage is the floor is free to expand and contract with humidity and temperature. The cause for concern here, is when you step on this floor the soft under-pad allows the boards to squeeze, squish and squeak against one another.
As a result of all of this unwanted movement, the weaker areas of the engineered hardwood often split and crack at the joint where it is clicked together. As a side note, when we conduct our assessments , we often find the same problem with laminate flooring.
The second kind are Engineered Floors that are designed to simulate traditional hardwood, employing a tongue and grove design, fit together like puzzle pieces, and are fixed to the floor with traditional methods such as nails, staples and glue. This undoubtedly is a much more secure way to install a floor. This engineered floor is attached to a strong sub-floor which prevent excessive movement. However, remember that by far most of the modern engineered floors that you can buy are hardwood only on the very top layer, the rest being made of softwood. Imagine what happens to staples or nails fastened into softwood over time. Think about it, if nails in traditional hardwood can loosen and squeak, how fast will nails and staples will work their way loose in softwood. Sure, they may look good, but they will squeak within months.
Prepare for instant gratification with a dose of long-term regret!
3. What are the problems? (Why does it squeak?!)
There are compounding problems that are either unique to engineered hardwood floors or exacerbated by this particular type of flooring.
For engineered hardwood floors that are made using plywood with hardwood veneer, plywood has a number of defects that Squeak Knights have encountered. The poor grade of plywood can split and separate. Plywood is also not a conducive material for the design of the snapping features, resulting in them breaking loose. All of the separation caused by regular wear and tare loosens the floor and causes squeaking.
Engineered floors are often more sensitive to seasonal temperature and humidity changes, in part due to the mixture of wood components in its design. Warping, bending and gaps are much more likely to form in part due to the variety of construction materials as well as the interlocking system. When the pressures are too strong the floor’s interlocking element snap, permanently losing the floor elements, allowing for excessive movement.
The top veneer layer (that you walk on) is often weak as well. Unlike traditional hardwood, engineered hardwood is too thin for even a single refinishing job. We have even visited clients who’s floor’s veneer layer was so thin that it chipped at the ends and caused painful splinters in their feet.
You probably know the saying, “you get what you pay for.” The scary thing with engineered hardwood is that this statement does not apply! You can pay more than hardwood and still end up with poor quality and squeaky floors. We recommend that you stay away from this Engineered Hardwood flooring. Better safe than sorry.
If you’ve already installed engineered floors and have noticed squeaking, don't panic, we are here to help! Call our experts for a comprehensive assessment of your floor at 647-427-4260 or book an appointment online.
(Next Read: How the Squeak Knights silence squeaky floors)
Written by the Squeak Knights Team.
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