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Engineered wood flooring: Real wood or fake?

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Have you ever found yourself in this situation? You're standing in front of a hardwood flooring display in a retail store or home center and you see a sign on a sample that reads engineered wood flooring and you ask yourself, "Is that real wood?"

The answer, in a word, is yes.

It's easy to be confused about the term. If it's real wood flooring, why don't manufacturers just call it "wood"? Here's why. Real wood flooring is either constructed of one solid piece of wood, called "solid wood," or it's constructed of three to 10 thin layers of wood or "plies," which makes it engineered wood flooring.

Wood plies

The top ply is called the face. The face layer of a hardwood floor can range from 1/16-inch to 1/6-inch thick. This layer is the actual wood species - cherry, walnut, hickory, etc. - and it's the most expensive part of the plank. The middle ply is called the core, and the bottom plies are the back. Prefinished (made in a factory) engineered wood floors also have a polyurethane finish to protect the floor from scuffs and scratches.

Cross-ply construction

These all-wood plies are assembled and glued together in a cross-ply construction. With cross-ply construction, the grain runs horizontally on one ply, then vertically on the next and builds on that structure. This type of construction counteracts the movement of the wood ply above and below it, making engineered wood less susceptible to shrinking and expanding than solid hardwood.

As you might imagine, the more plies or layers, the better (and more expensive) the engineered hardwood product. That's because the higher-ply engineered wood floors have more glue in their construction, making the floor more resistant to moisture and slowing the transfer of moisture through the wood.

Installing an engineered wood floor in your home

You can install an engineered wood floor on any grade level of your home - including basements. Since engineered wood is real wood, you don't want to put this type of floor in a full bathroom where the humidity levels fluctuate constantly, and there is the possibility of pooling water. However, a powder room or half-bath is acceptable.

The typical installation methods are glue-down, staple or interlock floating. An interlock floating floor is installed by connecting or "locking" the wood planks to each other so that the floor "floats" over the subfloor. This type of installation method is ideal for the DIYer - it's easy to do and doesn't require using glue or staples.

Easy maintenance

Like all solid wood flooring, engineered wood floors are easy to maintain. Follow these simple steps to protect your valuable investment:

* Wipe up spills immediately.

* Vacuum, sweep or dust mop your hardwood floor once a week, or more, if needed.

* Use interior and exterior doormats at entrances to collect dirt and moisture and prevent them from being tracked onto the floor.

If you're considering buying a wood floor, take a closer look at engineered wood flooring products. They can be installed almost anywhere. In fact, they're a popular choice for remodeled basements. They are typically less expensive than solid hardwood floors. And with a little know-how, you can install one yourself.

Engineered wood - it's real, affordable wood flooring for your home.