Engineered hardwood continues to gain popularity as a flooring option that is both durable and stylish. Those involved in this fast-growing category say the engineered wood era is in full swing.

Engineered wood is far from new. In fact, more than a century ago, the first so-called engineered wood product – plywood - was introduced. Since that humble beginning, the value of engineered wood has been recognized by builders and end users alike.  It’s not hard to understand why the strength and performance of engineered wood is excellent.  Further, the environmental benefits of engineered woods cannot be overstated. On average, one tree will produce 2,000 square feet of engineered wood, as opposed to only 500 square feet of other wood products.

The increasing cost of timber due to over-harvesting has also been a factor in the shift toward engineered wood products. In that respect, 1998 was a benchmark year. During that year, approximately 505 million cubic meters of round wood was required to produce the wood and fiber products consumed in the United States, the highest level ever, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Techline, Timber & Fiber Demand and Technology Assessment. The resulting price increase contributed significantly to the growth of engineered wood use.

According to the numbers, the engineered wood era is in full swing. The number of engineered wood product mills in the U.S. and Canada has nearly doubled since 1989, from 54 to 102 last year. 

Of course, not all engineered wood is created equal, particularly in the flooring industry. Strength, stability, board length, and resistance to extended wear and high foot traffic are issues that separate the best from the rest. Fernand Dicaire, director of sales for Parquet Deluxe, a Quebec-based floor installation, refinishing and resurfacing company, explained the kind of stringent testing that his firm utilizes to determine these qualities.

The move toward engineered hardwood flooring is allowing  manufacturers to optimize raw material. When wood is used to make engineered flooring the yield is usually about four times greater.

“When we test an engineered wood product, we install it in our warehouse and leave it there for a substantial amount of time, often as much as three or four months,” he said.  “What’s more, we try to install it in an area where it will be exposed to a degree of foot traffic equivalent to several years in a typical home. People will walk on it every day, grinding sand, dust and water into it.” 

“We install it, examine it carefully and subject to it to all kinds of abuse. This gives us a good idea of what the product can do and what it can withstand.” Dicaire has tested engineered wood products from Canada and those imported into Canada and found most of them lacking in one way or another.

Some of the lacking engineered wood products had wearlayers that were either too thin or too thick, Dicaire explained. “If the wearlayer is too thin, the base and surface are subject to cracking or face checking. If the surface is too thick, it can lead to an unstable product.  Plus, some of these woods were only two or three ply. Ultimately, when we conducted our tests, we saw wood lifting in the corners after just three months of wear, as well as splitting and other types of problems.

Dicaire’s tests showed that engineered products with a plywood base and several coats of hardwood makes the wood stable. Plus, the thickness of the wearlayer should be sufficient to allow a re-sand once, possibly twice if needed, which helps replenish the product and make it look brand new.