Engineered Hardwood: Selection and Installation Tips

The choice of new products and the unique benefits of engineered hardwood have made it increasing popular with homeowners.  It offers the appeal of a real wood finish without the restrictions of solid hardwood.  For example, engineered products can ‘float’ rather than being nailed or glued to the subfloor.  This is important for condominium owners since strata rules typically prevent owners from nailing into common property, which includes the subfloor.  Compared with solid hardwood, engineered products can also withstand more moisture before warping.

What is engineered hardwood?

It consists of a thin top layer of solid, factory-lacquered wood glued to multiple layers of a lower grade of wood, usually the same species.  This construction reduces cracking and expansion that can happen with solid wood floors.  However, engineered products will scratch just as readily as solid wood, depending on the species.  Some of the hardest woods are bamboo and tropical walnut and cherry.  North American cherry and walnut are among the least hard. 

Although harder woods are most resistant to scratches and dents, eventually all wood loses its perfect finish.  With any type of hardwood flooring, it is advisable to use felt pads on the bottom of furniture and avoid wearing shoes indoors.  Pets’ claws can also wreak havoc on floors.  Fortunately, there is an inventive new solution—safe, glue-on plastic claw covers available for both cats and dogs.  Active pets typically lose some of the claw covers after a few weeks but they are relatively inexpensive to replace.

Floating engineered hardwood floors also allow for the use of sound-reducing underlay.  There have been great advances in sound reduction engineering in recent years.  Thin, high-performance polypropylene foam products can significantly reduce the footfall noise (sound within a room) as well as sound that travels to the storey below.

Pre-installation preparation:
Remove furniture and other belongs from the room you intend to work on.  This type of project produces a lot of dust; cover fabric furniture with sheets.

Remove the old carpet, hardwood, tile etc. and any staples or glue used to hold the flooring in place.  It is important to have a flat, clean surface before installing new flooring.  If you discover you have an uneven concrete floor, fill in the cracks and finish with a concrete sealer.  If you have a large area to fix, double check your repairs with a carpenter’s level once each layer has dried.

Moulding
Most moulding is held in place with nails and occasionally also with adhesive.  Use care when removing the existing moulding since you can damage the wall and the paint above.  There is often a seal formed by wall paint along the top of the moulding so cut through this seal with a sharp utility knife.  Run the knife along the top edge between the moulding and the wall.  Next, use a specialty pry bar to pull the wood and nails away from the wall. 

Underlay
With the old flooring and moulding removed and a clean, flat surface to work with, you are ready to install the underlay if you plan to use it.  Read the manufacturer’s instructions regarding installation.  Typically, they suggest that the underlay cover the floor and wrap up the wall a few centimetres for optimal sound reduction.  (The underlay against the wall will be covered later by moulding.)  Roll out two rows of underlay and be sure they do not overlap but butt up together in a neat line then tape along the seam. 

Installing engineered hardwood
Engineered products come in two main varieties: click-lock and tongue and groove.  Click-lock floors use an inventive joint that locks firmly in place without glue.  Tongue and groove products do require glue.  Be sure to purchase glue made especially for this type of installation.  Standard wood glue dries hard and can crack.  Flooring glue remains strong but flexible for many years.

Next, decide on a pattern for laying out your flooring such as classic, herringbone, etc.  Manufacturers typically include an explanation of pattern options that are appropriate for their product or provide diagrams on their website.

Whichever pattern you choose, it is typically best to begin laying the flooring from the longest, straightest wall in the room.  Insert flooring spacers approximately every 30 cm along the wall.  Spacers are typically just under 1 cm (or 3/8”) wide.  This space is crucial since floors expand and contract with changes in temperature and humidity.  The space is also essential to the installation; you must insert a puller tool to tighten the final row.

For tongue and groove installation, use a tapping block and a hammer to make sure that the seals are tight.  Wipe off any excess glue while it is still liquid.  

Repeat with additional rows of underlay (if used) and flooring. 
 
Shopping list of Basic tools and materials:
Table saw or round saw and straight edge guide
Hammer
Measuring tape
Large 90-degree ruler (a t-shaped ruler)
Pull bar
Tapping block (these are made of plastic or hard rubber)
Spacers (just under 1 cm or 3/8” wide and can be made from wood or plastic)
Glue as recommended by the flooring manufacturer
Flooring underlay (if needed)

As with most home improvement projects, allow plenty of time, especially, if you are a beginner.  With patience, care and lots of elbow grease, you will be rewarded with a floor that adds lasting beauty to your home.