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Laminate vs. Engineered Wood


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karla's Forum Posts: 6

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By karla in stigler, OK on 7/31/2006


Could somebody tell me the difference between laminate flooring and engineered-wood flooring?  To me, they look like the same thing, but I'm definitely no expert. 

Do they both install the same way?  Does engineered qualify as a "hardwood" floor?  Do appraisers look at them differently?

And while I'm bugging everybody for flooring answers, can you install a tongue and groove hardwood floor yourself?  How hard is it to stain and seal an unfinished floor?

Appreciate any advice.


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By Jason in Lake Stevens, WA on 8/15/2006


I have never done any type of hardwood floor installation before, but I have been thinking about installing my own hardwoods in my home.

I have read a few how-to websites, and this one I like best for the way the author depicts how to install hardwood floors.

You can buy pre-finished material and install it yourself, you just have to be extra careful at installation to not damage the floor.

hammerzone.com/archives/flooring/hardwood

Good luck, let us know how it goes.

Jason


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By Phillip in Tampa, FL on 8/15/2006


Karla:

Engineered wood and laminate are NOT the same thing - engineered flooring has real hardwood surface, adhered to other materials throughout the plank to maximize strength and resistance to moisture, etc. The surface (usually 1/8" or so) is real wood, so the floor appears the same as a solid hardwood floor. It is almost always prefinished.

Laminate is simply a photo of real wood with a protectant over it - it is certainly not as highly valued as hardwood, and is obvious when installed to even an untrained eye that it is not real wood. However, it is much more resistant to damage, easier to install, and newer models really do look nice, so for some it is a trade-off they are willing to make. Of course, it is in many cases much cheaper too!

DIY installation depends largely on your handiness, the substrate you are installing on (plywood, concrete slab, etc.) and the area you plan to cover. To put it really simply, one of the easiest installs would be laminate over plywood, and probably the most difficult would be unfinished hardwood over slab.


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By Sybil in Leominster, MA on 8/15/2006


I'm not an expert by any means, but a laminate floor is exactly how it sounds - it has a small strip of wood or veneer laminated to the top of its base.

An engineered floor is actual wood.  And depending on the manufacturer, most engineered floors can be refinished just as many times as solid hardwood.  But, (also depending on the manufacturer), an engineered floor is usually less likely to warp, shrink, etc.  So you may find that a 3/4" engineered Cherry floor is more expensive than a 3/4" solid Cherry floor.  If you're thinking of using radiant heat, you can go with wider planks with an engineered floor compared to solid wood.  Both can be bought unfinished or prefinished. 

If you purchase an unfinished floor, it doesn't just need to be stained and sealed.  It will also need to be sanded several times.  Installing a tongue and groove floor is probably an okay DIY task if you have some carpentry skills.  Finishing a hardwood floor is not an easy task.

As far as your appraiser, if you choose engineered flooring and state that you're installing hardwood, you would be being completely honest.  


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By Phillip in Tampa, FL on 8/15/2006


Sybil:

Not to be argumentative at all, but just to make sure everyone understands: laminate flooring is NOT real wood. See this link for an explanation of laminate: ifloor.com/articles/lam/basics

A brief overview of various flooring types, as they are generally defined, can be found here: ifloor.com/cgi-bin/smoothcorp.cfg.

You are correct in your assessment of unfinished floors - very difficult installation, and time-consuming! And hardwood and engineered look identical once installed, and would make no difference on the appraisal. The only real difference would be how many times they could be sanded down and refinished, but very few of us are concerned about that!


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By Sybil in Leominster, MA on 8/16/2006


Phillip,

Yes, you're right, the majority of the time laminate flooring is NOT real wood.  I definitely should have commented more on plastic laminates.  And I apologize for that.

I would like to blame a lack of industry standards on flooring.  For example, let's take a look at Alloc Flooring.  Alloc makes click-together glueless floors.  They make a 3-ply strip flooring that has a 2.5mm veneer of real wood on the surface.  Ifloors.com has this flooring categorized under floating "hardwood" floors.   Most websites such as fastfloors.com categorize this same product as a premium laminate. I'm sure there are others who would categorize it as engineered and perhaps that's why Karla, you may have found the two so similar. 

There are up to 8 other manufacturers on ifloors alone that sell this click-together glueless "hardwood" floor with a wood veneer instead of photographic face.  The core or substrate is the same as you would find on a Pergo-type laminate.  There are a lot of European imports that are making their laminates this way now and you can find them at a quite a few flooring stores.  Look for dimensions in millimeters and there's a good chance it's now wood veneer instead of plastic.  Hybrid flooring, perhaps?

The difference between the plastic and the wood veneer would be the more realistic finished look.

On the other hand, the engineered flooring I was talking about I guess would be a solid engineered floor compared to a multi-ply.  1/4" thick piece of real wood which is then "laminated" onto its substrate.  

So Karla, unfortunately, if I were to answer your question about installation, I would have to say that some laminates install like engineered.  Some engineered install like hardwoods.  And some hardwoods install like laminates.  It all depends on how the manufacturer and/or the distributor wants to classify their product.  The question to ask would be is this floor floating, glue down, stapled, nailed or a combination? 

I guess what it should come down to is:  What is your budget?  What type of use is your flooring going to see?  High traffic?  Pets?  Subjected to water?  Radiant heat?  What do similar homes in your neighborhood have?  How long do you plan on staying in your house?  And then research all of the pros and cons of each.


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By Ralph in Fort Collins, CO on 8/17/2006


Hi Karla,

I won't comment on the difference between engineered and laminate flooring,  everyone else in this thread did a great job of explaining the difference.

I have installed all of the types of floors that we have been talking about (I just put a 1,500 sq ft Cherry engineered floor over radiant heat) so I'm just reflecting my own experiences.   Whatever flooring you choose, check the manufacturer's information to make sure it is suitable for the surface you are installing it on.  If you install the floor over radiant heat set in gypcrete or lightweight concrete, most manufacturers will require an engineered product rather than a solid wood floor.  That is due to the expansion and contraction of the floor, which will cause the seams in the floor to open up.   The engineered floor is more stable. Remember, the floor is the heater so it will expand and contract. 

For a DIY floor, I would recommend a prefinished product.  The sanding and finishing is critical to the end result and there are lots of tricks of the trade that most people find out about after they've screwed something up.

Installing a hardwood floor is hard work, no matter which type you choose.  Be prepared to spend a lot of time crawling around on your hands and knees and bending over... and over... and over... and over...  However, when you are finished, it is one of the most rewarding DIY jobs you can do.  Every time you walk into the room that floor will greet you and bring a smile to your face.

On a side note, I am particularly happy with the cork floor that I put in the bathrooms.  It looks like a very exotic Rosewood... very cool.

Here are a couple of websites where I purchased my floors:

ifloor.com, I got the cork flooring there.

hoskinghardwood.com, I bought the American Cherry floor there.  Great prices.

Good luck.

Ralph


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