Monday, December 2, 2013

Hardwood: Real v. Engineered

Different flooring has its purposes, but there's nothing like a wood floor. Tile is cold, and the grout gets dirty and needs to be deep cleaned by a professional every once in a while to keep it looking nice. Carpet is soft under your feet, but even the best carpet can get crushed and needs a professional steam cleaning at least once a year to properly maintain the individual fibers. Wood floors are beautiful, durable, and with the right maintenance, can last for years and years. When it comes to wood floors, consumers have a few choices, mainly real hardwood versus engineered hardwood. Engineered hardwood is essentially layers of wood compressed together with heat and glue into solid planks, whereas a real hardwood plank is a solid piece of wood.  Both are quality choices, and both have their pros and cons. The choice you make will depend on factors such as location and climate. In this article, Mike Holmes discusses the differences between real hardwood versus engineered hardwood, and explains why the experts differ on which is better.
From the Montreal Gazette:

Mike Holmes: Is real hardwood better than fake?

Weigh pros, cons of each option

After a decade, Mike Holmes still cares because he knows the work he, his crew and others do makes a real difference to the people they help.Photograph by: Alex Schuldt/The Holmes Group, Postmedia News
When it comes to hardwood flooring, there’s solid hardwood and engineered hardwood. People are always asking me which one is better, but both have their pros and cons.
Solid hardwood floors are just that — they’re made from solid wood. Each board of solid hardwood flooring is made from a single piece of hardwood that’s about three-quarters of an inch thick. Because it’s so thick, it can be sanded down and refinished for however long the flooring is in the house.
But the main problem with solid hardwood is that it shrinks and expands depending on the humidity in your home. In the winter when it’s drier, hardwood floors will shrink. When there’s more moisture in the air, like in the spring or summer, hardwood expands.
Whoever installs solid hardwood floors must have enough experience to leave the right amount of space for hardwood’s natural expansion and contraction. The individual boards can’t be too tight or too loose. If they’re too tight, your floor will buckle. If it’s too loose, the gaps between the boards will get too wide in the winter.
Then there’s engineered hardwood flooring. It’s made of layers of wood, bonded together with adhesives under intense heat and pressure.
Because of this process, engineered hardwood flooring isn’t affected by humidity as much as hardwood. It doesn’t shrink or expand, which makes it resistant to warping and cupping. And for that same reason, it’s considered very strong and stable.
It can also be sanded and refinished — not as much as hardwood, but a few times over a couple decades is fine, depending on the quality. But another reason why people love engineered hardwood is its application.
Unlike solid hardwood, engineered hardwood can go over concrete under the right conditions, like in a condo. And some people say it can also be installed below grade too, like in a basement. But there is some debate about that.
Hardwood and water don’t mix. If they do, there is the potential for mould and water damage. What does that mean for you? Possibly ripping up your new floors and replacing them. That’s why we never put hardwood in areas where the potential for moisture is high, such as in bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens and even basements.
Should we follow the same guidelines for engineered hardwood? It depends on how much you’re willing to risk. I would never install it in a bathroom or laundry room, but when we talk about kitchens and basements, things aren’t so black and white.
I’ve spoken to a lot of professionals and many of them say that engineered hardwood in the kitchen is fine. As far as wear and tear goes, it can get scratched or dented by falling objects or utensils. But if we’re talking about potential water damage and mould, as long as you wipe up any spills quickly, you don’t need to worry.
They also say that engineered hardwood can handle moisture levels found on most basement concrete floors, usually no more than four per cent. Some engineered hardwood boards allow for air movement between the flooring and the foundation, so if there is any moisture, it can dry out. But the basement must be watertight.
Bottom line, if enough water gets into the boards, you will run into the same issues you have with solid hardwood. That’s why you never wet mop engineered hardwood floors — or any hardwood floor, for that matter.
Can engineered hardwood be installed in kitchens and basements? Yes. Many pros do this. But for most people, engineered hardwood flooring is expensive — it can be more expensive than hardwood.
Then there’s the issue of off-gassing.
All engineered and manufactured wood products are made with adhesives and resins, and most of those will off-gas, including plywood, OSB (oriented strand board), laminated beams, MDF (medium-density fibreboard) and particleboard.
But when it comes to off-gassing and engineered hardwood floors, the issue isn’t the adhesives mixed into the wood — it’s the toxins in the stains and topcoat.
Some manufacturers do a really good job of making sure their engineered hardwood does not off-gas, including the topcoat and finish. But homeowners should make sure for themselves. Contact the manufacturer and ask about their green policies.
I love engineered hardwood, but as with everything else, you need to do your homework. Talk to the pros, ask the right questions and always follow manufacturers’ instructions on proper installation and maintenance.
Catch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit For more information on home renovations, visit

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