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Engineered Wood

By HHI Staff

Engineered wood is a popular choice for environmentally-preferred flooring.  Distinguished by a top layer of hardwood, engineered wood is made from layers of wood which are glued together in a stack. Unlike “real” hardwood, engineered wood flooring comes pre-finished and is relatively easy to install. With improvements in quality, aesthetics and choices of wood and finishes, engineered wood has become a popular option for durable flooring.


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Overall quality of engineered wood is determined by the number of layers or “plys”; the thickness of the top or “wear” layer and the resiliency of the finish coat. Generally speaking, more is better; lower quality products might have three layers or plys, where a high end product will have seven to nine. Thickness of the planks range from 3/8” to 5/8” which provides for flexibility in installation. Engineered wood can be nailed or glued to the underlying surface; thicker planks can be installed as a floating floor.

A factor to consider when choosing engineered wood flooring is whether the top, hardwood layer is “rotary cut” or “flat cut.” Rotary cut planks resemble plywood, mainly because they are produced in continuous sheets like plywood. Flat cut planks have been milled like traditional hardwood, in slices along the length of the log.

Health concerns related to engineered wood flooring include the potential of offgassing from chemicals and solvents used in manufacturing the planks.    Top coats, and resins used in the composite material of the underlayers, may contain formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is a probable carcinogen and can trigger significant health problems. Symptoms of exposure include irritation of eyes and throat, running nose, wheezing and coughing, development of sensitive skin or rashes, tiredness and sometimes nausea. Formaldehyde is also an asthma and allergy trigger and should be avoided for those suffering from these and other respiratory conditions.

Besides chemical additives used in the flooring itself, adhesives used to secure the wood planks to the subfloor are likely to contain several harmful solvents which can offgas for months or years after installation. Polyvinyl acetate and diethylene glycol monobutyl ether acetate are just two of the many solvents used in glues and adhesives which vaporize while curing.

Not all engineered wood flooring contains health-damaging chemicals. Steps to take when choosing a flooring product include:

  • Researching manufacturers for those which make formaldehyde and solvent-free products. One question to ask is whether the product’s top coat was “acid-cured”; if the answer is yes, it’s highly likely that the product contains formaldehyde.
  • When possible, avoiding use of adhesives by stapling the planks to the subfloor or installing a floating floor using tongue and groove planks.
  • If gluing the wood to the subfloor is your only option, choosing a low or no-VOC adhesive.


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Engineered Wood:  Created on December 25th, 2009.  Last Modified on January 7th, 2010


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