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Question: What is the difference between wood, engineered, and laminated floors?

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

The type of wood flooring we’re most familiar with is hardwood made from oak, walnut, teak, maple, mahogany, hickory, beech, and alder to name a few. We also know softwood floors such as cedar, pine, redwood, spruce and Douglas fir. These are solid wood slats milled from timber that has been kiln or air-dried before sawing. The slats are sanded and finished with a clear or pigmented protective coat. This can be done either on site or at the factory.

Historically, royalty was the first to enjoy the comforts of wood floors – while others lived on dirt, slate or local stone floors. Wood floors at that time were literally hand-scraped and sanded. Workers would lay rough hand-hewn timbers and use hand tools to scrape them smooth and then bring in handfuls of sand to rub on the floors making them even smoother.

Wood floors are resilient and will last hundreds of years if cared for properly – like the 250-year-old Heart Pine floors at George Washington’s estate in Mt. Vernon.

Laminate flooring, also known as “floating wood tile” is a multi-layered synthetic, fused product. It was first invented by the Swedish company, Perstorp, and was introduced to the United State in 1994 as Pergo. It simulates wood with a photographic applique. The inner core is usually composed of melamine resin and fiber board.

It became popular because of its easy installation and friendly cost. Do-it-yourselfers can click the tongue and groove planks together. Or, sometimes the floors are glued to the sub-floor. A foam or film underlayment helps to cut down moisture and sound. Improper installation can result in gaps. It’s important to keep laminate floors clean, as dust, dirt, and sand particles may scratch the surface over time in high-traffic areas. It is also important to keep them dry as sitting water or moisture can cause planks to swell or warp. Some brands are equipped with water-resistant coatings. Water spills aren't a problem if wiped up quickly, and not allowed to sit for a prolonged period of time.

Somewhere between centuries-old, high-cost solid wood and modern-day, less costly laminate is engineered wood flooring. This product consists of two or more layers of wood adhered together to form a plank. Engineered wood floors are real wood floors made with multiple wood or wood composite veneers. That is to say that the core is typically plywood with a veneer of natural wood. The veneers can be the same or different species. The grain runs in different directions which increases its stability. This means the wood will resist expanding and contracting during fluctuations in humidity and temperature. Depending on the thickness of the top layer, some floors can be sanded and refinished one or two times.

Engineered wood is the most common type of wood flooring in Europe and has been growing in popularity in North America.

Although you did not ask about it, I want to mention one of my favorite floors. Bamboo. It has many physical characteristics similar to solid wood and can be as hard or harder than oak, maple, hickory, and cherry floors. It also has a natural resistance to moisture and is eco-friendly. Because bamboo is a grass, it grows much faster than a tree. It can also be harvested without the need to replant because the root system is left intact.

Choosing a floor will ultimately depend on costs, aesthetics, maintenance, wear, and installation.

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