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Engineered Flooring

A new breed of laminate is gaining popularity as an environmentally-friendly alternative to solid wood floors, reports Fred A. Bernstein in the New York Times (9/29/11). This flooring, which is composed of a hardwood glued to a plywood base, has "little in common with the simulated-wood or veneer-topped products sold at discount outlets. With top layers that are made of hardwood and are up to one-quarter-inch thick, the engineered floors are marketed to some of the most exacting designers." This is partly because, unlike traditional floors, it’s possible "to inspect the finish of every board" before it is installed.

The boards can also be custom-cut in sizes up to “18 inches wide and 35 inches long, dimensions that are almost impossible with solid wood.” This engineered flooring, which some designers say cannot be distinguished from the real thing, is said to be less prone to shrinking and buckling versus traditional flooring, too. And it obviates the need to install a subfloor first. “It doesn’t make any sense, in a new building, to put in a plywood subfloor and then put another wood floor on top of it,” says Tyler Greenberg of Relative Space, a maker of engineered flooring.

"It’s a disaster environmentally," Tyler adds, "because you’re using so much more material, and you’re losing ceiling height for no good reason." Given that the hardwood layer is just a quarter-inch thick, it’s also possible to get as many as four engineered boards out of a single solid board, notes James Caroll of LV Wood, another maker, who notes that the base layer is harvested from "fast-growing, and therefore rapidly renewable, trees." One downside is that the engineered floors might not hold up to repeated sanding, but its advocates counter that repeated sanding of traditional boards makes them look ragged, too. As Tyler Greenberg puts it, "Just because it isn’t solid wood doesn’t mean it isn’t all-wood."