Engineered wood flooring- a buyer's guide
Engineered wood is often seen as the best of both worlds, offering an authentic wood finish but with many of the benefits associated with laminate flooring. Although not as hard-wearing or moisture resistant as laminate, engineered wood is more stable than solid wood and is suitable for most spaces in the home (with the exception of bathrooms). Engineered flooring can also be sanded and re-finished (the number of times depends on the thickness of the top layer), increasing the lifetime of the floor.
Although there is a common perception that solid wood flooring is a higher quality product than engineered wood flooring, this is not generally the case- in fact, engineered flooring is often manufactured to a higher standard in terms of the straightness and uniformity of the boards, resulting in a better finish with fewer gaps between boards. The appearance of an engineered wood floor is no different to that of a solid wood floor due to the real wood top layer, and if preferred engineered flooring can be nailed or glued down to the sub-floor, just as for a solid wood floor, to give a more solid feel to the floor.
In terms of cost, engineered flooring lies somewhere between laminate and solid wood. The flooring itself is similar in cost to solid wood flooring, but the preparation and installation costs are often lower than for solid flooring as it is possible to float engineered flooring on an underlay- this can (in some applications) avoid the need to install a damp proof membrane and/or grind concrete sub-floors.
As with laminate flooring, engineered wood consists of several layers, however unlike laminate the top layer is real wood. It is this real wood that gives engineered flooring the same appearance as solid wood.
When choosing an engineered floor, many of the same factors apply as for laminate. However, additional features such wood species, grain and the type of finish also need to be considered. For more information on these features, please refer to our article on Wood Species, Wood Grain & Finishes which can also be found on our Flooring Advice page.
Engineered wood flooring can either be floated on an underlay, or fixed down to the sub-floor by glueing or nailing. Floating the floor on an underlay is the most common method of installation, as it is cheaper and quicker, and can sometimes reduce the amount of preparation needed prior to installation. However, a floating floor will not feel as solid as a floor that is glued or nailed down.
Single plank, where the top layer of each board is made from a single piece of wood. This style is best suited to large rooms for aesthetic reasons.
Multi-strip boards, which have a top layer made from 2 or 3 thinner strips of wood glued to a single board. This style is often preferred in small rooms, as it can make the space feel bigger than it is. Multi-strip boards are cheaper than single planks as they require smaller trees for their construction.
Bevelled, micro-bevelled or square edges. Square edges create a uniform surface that gives a contemporary appearance, while bevelled edges accentuate each board giving a more traditional floorboard feel. Micro-bevels give a look that is half-way between bevelled and square edges.
Engineered boards comes in widths from 90 to 240mm or wider. For single plank boards, the choice of board width is often influenced by the room size, with wider boards better suited to larger spaces.
Board and veneer thickness
Engineered flooring is available in thicknesses from 12.5mm to 22mm. The main advantage of thicker boards is that they tend to have a thicker top layer of wood, or ‘veneer’, meaning they can be sanded more times and therefore prolonging the life of the floor, however this is not always the case and attention should be paid to veneer thickness as well as overall thickness. Other advantages of thicker boards are superior acoustic performance (i.e. they are quieter to walk on), their more solid and ‘wood like’ feel. Engineered boards with a thickness of 20mm or above can be used as a structural floor, nailed directly to the joists.