Tech Talk: How Has Engineered Wood Flooring Impacted Your Specific Region?

Michael Dittmer
Changing a customer’s perception of engineered versus solid is always a daunting task in my area. Around Chicago, the old perception is that an engineered wood floor is typically viewed as a product of lesser quality. This can sometimes create a mountain to climb to change the customer’s view. The majority of our installations, about 95 percent, are solid wood flooring.

When we see a specific project where an engineered wood floor would perform far superior to that of a solid, we recommend it to the customer. We explain the benefits of an engineered floor, as well as the risk of using a solid wood floor for the particular installation. Many times, even when we have explained the risk solid presents versus the benefits of engineered, the customer will still go with solid and accept the risk and the greater environmental controls.

On one such installation, a designer’s harmful misinformation on engineered, as well as the additional cost of the engineered, lead to a solid wood floor installation. This installation has seen excessive gapping in the winter as well as some slight cupping in the summer, which has caused the homeowner some grief. Upon my jobsite inspections to address the concerns, I ever so gently reminded the homeowner of the importance and the necessity of maintaining a strict year around environmental condition to maintain a perfect looking solid wood floor (which was not followed).

There is no sense of reminding the homeowner that they did have the option for an engineered wood product that would have performed far more superior at this point. At the end of the day, the client writes the check. We always suggest to the client the best option for their particular installation. We won’t install a floor that’s doomed to fail. We will, though, guide them to a quality long-term installation option.

Jason Elquest
Here in Arizona, we are a mostly slab market. So, it is natural that most of the floors we do here are engineered. This is not my preference, but it is how the industry has been trending. The quick install, the monetary savings from not having to do a subfloor, and the ability to install directly over concrete are the factors driving this trend. On average, about 80 percent of our floors are engineered, and 20 percent solid.

From the inspection side, I have only inspected one solid wood floor this year. Mostly what I see are issues directly related to the home’s environment or installation-related issues.

The biggest challenge that I see here in Arizona in relation to engineered and solid are the environmental conditions we face in the desert. We commonly have an RH percent below what the manufacturers state as recommended for their products. Because installers don’t take the time to educate their homeowners about the risks of not maintaining a healthy environment for their floors, many floors fail.

Many of our homeowners are “seasonal visitors,” and this means an unoccupied home for much of the year. These homes need to have a consistent environment throughout the year, which means not turning the HVAC to 90°F to save money.

Educating the end-user about how to properly care for their floor is key to the successful life of any wood floor.

Lenny Hall
My company’s product mix is heavy on the unfinished side (85 percent). It was a decision I made decades ago as I saw the explosion of new engineered manufacturers emerging, plus the ever-increasing shift toward engineered lines with existing makers. Both groups were forcing market expansion by stuffing every flooring store with waterfall racks. These products were getting into the hands of untrained subcontractors whose mission was to maximize production, often skipping on processes and quality controls. I asked myself, “Do I compete with dozens of floor stores/subcontractors within my area, or niche myself so well there was little to no competition?” I chose the latter.

The dramatic shift towards engineered flooring was nearly impossible to resist: end-users were getting floors done in less time, general contractors and the architect and design community embraced the ease of product selection from tote boards, retailers were able to generate both in-house installations as well as cash-n-carry sales, and finally, manufacturers were reaching max capacity at plants. The challenge I face daily is finding the clients who still perceive a solid, site-finished floor as being a better long-term value despite the overwhelming promotion of engineered floors.

Scott Taylor
Depending on the time of the year, the upper Midwest has a mix of solid versus engineered wood flooring inspections. The upper Midwest has a manufacturing-rich environment with several solid and engineered wood flooring mills. From my experience, about 90 percent of all inspections of a wood floor are moisture related. Even though solid/engineered wood floors are constructed differently, they often experience very similar claims: cupping.

The higher humidity months tend to confuse homeowners on why their floors are cupping, basically a moisture imbalance from the bottom of the wood to the top. This is not always due to high relative humidity. The relative humidity is higher than the manufacturer recommends, so the wood flooring starts to expand resulting in the flooring edges starting to lift resulting in a cupped appearance. What’s fascinating is that an engineered wood floor has the same response to low humidity or the heating season. The real wood veneer/lamella/fillet starts to dry out by lifting around the edges, causing the floor to cup. What’s great about wood flooring is that both of these issues can be easily addressed. If the RH is too high, balance the ambient RH by dehumidifying. The same is true for the “dry cupped” floor; add humidity, and the floor will relax and look like the day it was installed.

4 thoughts

  1. Thanks You for sharing this information. From what I seen at the Expo, ‘Engineered Wood Floors’ is the wave of the future and not going away. It saves on materials which is better for the environment. Production from a log can double. (My Guess) The Quality is there as long as it a reputitable Mill and the selection of designs is enough to make your head spin. The time will come when we will all have to adjust to this new age of flooring.

  2. Like Lenny when you make a decision to get out of the low end Engineered market everyone benefits. We at Wide Plank Floor made that decision to supply a better end product that is going to perform built on Baltic Birch Ply with a 4 or 6 MM wear layer. Being on east coast a lot of Humidity and Coastal business or concrete floors in the suburbs it works. Also when selling either solid or engineered we do due diligence in reference to HVAC and its importance.

  3. Having grown up in the wood flooring industry (4th generation flooring family), we were founded on solid unfinished, however things have changed in the industry… wider planks, more concrete substrates, faster construction schedules, etc, which forced us to look at the limitations of solid. This is why we created where you can get 3/4″ x 8″ long length unfinished plank flooring. By using a precision milled, pre-sanded 6mm wear layer, you get as much sanding life as a solid. Then we also use an exterior grade Baltic birch structural layer. The key difference is dimensional stability. A solid will cup dramatically when exposed to heavy moisture, and even though it will eventually dry out and “flatten”, this will only happen after a dramatic cupping, which will likely result in pulling the fasteners loose, or even splitting the plank. We have had a Castle Bespoke 8″ wide plank floor get completely flooded with inches of water, and after drying the space with dehumidifiers, the floor was able to be simply sanded and finished, and not a single plank had to be replaced, and no post sanding cupping/gapping/crowning. All engineered floors are not equal, but a top quality unfinished engineered will usually outperform a solid, and will install and sand much easier as well.

  4. The biggest problem we have here in eastern North Carolina is that they’re selling engineered flooring that is so cheap that the wear later cannot be sanded and refinished it’s very frustrating

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