Thinking about doing wood flooring in you new space? Great! There are so many different products available, it can cause a lot of confusion about what is “best”. So, to start, let’s be clear, there are many “wood like” flooring  products available that are great, but I want to write a blog post, not a novel. This informative article is going to be about WOOD flooring. Not bamboo as bamboo is a grass. I am not slamming bamboo, it is simply not in the wood category. As for laminate, its not wood either, its a PICTURE of wood.

Here’s what I know about wood, so your decision making process can be a little easier.

Real Hardwood?

I live in the south which is dreadfully humid. Wood flooring will shrink and expand with moisture. For this reason I only recommend a true hardwood if you live in a climate that is not subject to extreme moisture. A true hardwood is generally a more expensive product too. The general rule is, the more wood a product contains, the more expensive it will be. Especially in today’s eco-sensitive market place. True hardwoods are a great choice if you live in a drier climate and have the budget for the project. True hardwood floors can easily be sanded and refinished when needed.

It seems obvious, but I will mention that the species of wood also makes a difference both in price and wear ability. You can always check the Janka scale to see where the species you are loving ranks. Below is a simple scale, but more in depth scales can be found online. If are are looking at a more exotic species, the higher the number, the harder the species!

A Simple Janka Scale

So what else is there?

The majority of what is being sold today, is “engineered” wood flooring. With engineered flooring, you have layers. First, the top layer, a wood of variable thickness (More on this in a moment). Second, you have what is called, “core” board. The core board is just as important as the wear layer, if not more so, because that is where they try to hide stuff from you. Especially if they are less than reputable.

When shopping for wood flooring always remember, you really do get what you pay for. Try to get the best quality product for the money you have to spend.  It is my hope that by the time you read this post, you will know the right questions to ask. If the salesperson doesn’t have the answers or if it sounds like BS to you, run!

A Closer Look at Engineered Wood

Lets discuss the wear layer of the engineered wood first. The thicker the wear layer, the more wood the product contains. Meaning the higher the price will be. How to see the thickness? Its pretty simple. I wont bore you with millimeters and all that jazz. Just turn the sample and look at a cut edge. The wear layer will be the top one.

Quality engineered flooring, notice the top layer!

This is what you actually see and walk on.  In the sample above, the wear layer is easy to see, as are the core layers. This particular manufacturer is so proud of their product they show you the wear layer by producing an angular cut in the sample. Nothing to hide here! As you can see, the wear layer is thick enough to sand and refinish should the need arise, due to scratches, dents, etc.

Here is an “entry level” engineered wood product from a major manufacturer.

The sample above is a typical builder grade floor. You can see that the wear layer is very thin and can not be sanded or refinished. Once the damage has  go through that top layer, the core board is exposed and you are looking at replacement. This would not do well in high traffic areas, with kids, large dogs or just an active family life. In most cases, you would be looking at replacement in 5 years or so. This would be fine however in a bedroom or dining area that does not receive high traffic.

Discount Flooring….Worth the Savings?

Buyer beware of “discount flooring”. Saving money is always great. However, flooring is certainly an area in which you get what you pay for. With that in mind, there are things to look out for. The sample above is one I keep in my office, to show clients, what they might find, in the great deal at a “liquidator”. Typically, these products will be from China. As you can see, the wear layer is quite thin. There are bigger concerns though. The CORE on this product, shows no layers and in made from pine. Very cheap and very soft. This means, that the first time your well meaning friend walks across your new floor, in a pair of stilettos, you will have an ever lasting impression of the visit. Have a dance party on this, and your done.

Have you ever walked into a discount flooring distributor and noticed a “weird smell”? Beware of toxic chemicals in imported products as well. Formaldehyde is only one toxin, that can be found in these products. Be sure any product you are putting in your home is Carb2 compliant which means the glues and finishes meet safety standards.

Discounted product also often contains very few long boards in their boxes. Often times, the material in the boxes will be composed of an assortment of short stubby pieces, (some containing obvious flaws) with a few nice long boards thrown in for good measure. Buyer beware. You really do get what you pay for.

At The Core

The core of engineered flooring is more important than you may think. It is the structural support of the product. A good core board, (see first 2 images above) is composed of several layers of wood, much like plywood. These layers are glued together with the grain running opposite at each layer. If these layers get moisture they shrink and expand as wood does, but they pull  against each other which provides a much more stable product than true hardwood.

I cannot stress enough to be sure your product is Carb2 compliant. It is also important, to be sure an use a premium glue. Yes, it’s  few dollars more, but cheap glue can cause issues down the road as well as off-gassing (give off a chemical, especially a harmful one, in the form of a gas). The glue found in these layers, can contain nasty stuff, that you don’t want in your home. A good product will be just as proud of their core board as they are of the wear-layer. 

While not terribly “scientific”, I hope I have provided you with enough information to shop for wood flooring, without fear of being bamboozled by a slick sales person. Do your homework, and you will have enough information to know what you are looking at and the knowledge to ask the right questions! Do you want more great info like this? Sign up for my email list and get the latest and greatest right in your inbox!