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Evaluating Engineered-Wood Flooring

Martha Stewart Living, September 2006

Engineered-wood flooring, which has been available for about 25 years, is starting to look indistinguishable from the real thing. Engineered products comprise several layers of wood (typically three to seven) that are glued together and then topped with a finished veneer. Although the prices of natural and engineered flooring are comparable, there are differences relating to in stallation and maintenance.

Over its plywood base, the top layer is a premium-wood veneer, so what you're seeing is actual walnut, cherry, oak, or whichever species you like. The biggest advantage of engineered flooring is that it can be installed over virtually any subsurface, including cement, vinyl, and existing wood. That means you can have wood floors where you never could before, such as in a basement. The layered construction also makes it more stable than natural wood, so it will not shrink and swell as much.

The top veneer is 1/4 inch thick at most (and often paper thin) so the floors cannot always be refinished as readily as natural ones. Furthermore, because of how it's made, walking across engineered flooring doesn't feel (or sound) the same as with natural floors. And some people complain that the perfectly straight boards are just a little too perfect. After all, opponents argue, trees don't grow that way in the forest.

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