When homeowners want the look of hardwood floors but are on a pretty strict budget, they generally turn to two flooring substitutes: bamboo and engineered hardwood floors. This article will explore bamboo and engineered hardwood floors, what they are made of exactly, how they are manufactured and the various pros and cons of each.
Many people are confused about engineered hardwood floors and assume they are the same as laminate floors, but they are not. Laminate floors are not real wood, but engineered hardwood flooring is made of a solid wood wear layer typically laminated to a substrate. So what makes engineered hardwood flooring planks different from solid hardwood flooring planks? Solid wood floors are made of sections of a single hardwood such as maple or oak, and the planks are actually a continuous piece of wood.
Engineered hardwood floors, on the other hand, are made up of several layers of different types of wood. The top layer may be cut from just about any species of wood but is thin and glued down to the section underneath it – that top layer is called the wear layer. Below this top section are many layers (the number of layers can vary) of various woods, and sometimes high density fiberboard (HDF) which is often more dimensionally stable. In some cases you may have a layer of plywood on top of a layer of solid wood on top of a layer of high-density fiberboard. When all of these layers are glued together they create a very strong wooden plank. Since the top layer of engineered hardwood is actually wood, these floors appear identical to solid wood floors. When the wear layer is thick enough, engineered hardwoods can also be refinished.
Engineered wood floors may be installed in a few different ways; either nailed down, glued down, or using the floating floor method where planks can simply be snapped together like a puzzle without any need for glue or nails.
Maintaining these floors is very similar to the maintenance used with solid hardwood floors. They should be swept regularly to keep them free from dirt and other debris as over time the debris may scratch the surface. Spills should be wiped up immediately, and harsh chemicals should never be used to clean. It’s also a good idea to avoid using wax-based cleaning products.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring Pros
One of the benefits of engineered hardwood over solid hardwood floors is they hold up to moisture and can be installed as a floating floor, including in basements. The layers actually help dissipate moisture at the same time as adding stability to your floor. These floors are not as susceptible to moisture, swelling or warping as solid wood floors.
Engineered floors are also much easier for a homeowner to install themselves, cutting down on installation costs.
And speaking of costs, the price of these floors is also a big selling point as engineered floors typically cost less than traditional hardwood floors, and since they use less wood they’re often better for the environment.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring Cons
You’ll need to do a fair amount of homework to make sure you find a manufacturer who produces a “solid” product (pun intended!). Some producers manufacture planks with veneers that are much too thin which won’t allow the homeowner to ever sand and refinish. This cuts down on the life of your floors significantly.
Some manufacturers will also try and cut corners by using inferior core layers made of regular fiberboard, not high-density. This can greatly compromise the stability of your floors.
Bamboo is another attractive alternative to traditional hardwood floors. These floors are known for their strength and durability and also their resistance to bugs and water. The hardness of bamboo planks can range from 1500 (carbonized horizontal) and newer manufacturing methods like strand woven flooring can score upwards of 4,000 on the Janka hardness test. These impressive numbers indicate that strand woven bamboo is several times harder than oak, maple and Brazilian cherry. Bamboo comes in a variety of styles and construction that are comparable to hardwood.
Bamboo planks are composed of strands of raw material that are weaved together and then pressed. The strips are first boiled to remove any starch or sugars, then dried and planed. Natural bamboo is a very light color similar to blonde. Should a darker color be desired, the bamboo may go through a carbonizing process where the bamboo strips are steamed under controlled pressure and heat, and bamboo is also stained many different colors. There are many types of surface treatments available for bamboo flooring as well.
Like engineered hardwood floors, bamboo can also be installed using either a glue-down method, nail down or floating method, but care should be taken only to use engineered bamboo flooring in a floating installation as solid locking bamboo flooring has a nasty reputation for having shrinkage problems – especially with certain brands (do your research!).
Bamboo is very versatile and comes in a wide variety of stains and styles.
Again, depending on the manufacturing process, these floors are highly durable and resilient and harder than many hardwoods.
They are the most environmentally friendly floors on the market today because bamboo has a quick regenerative rate. Bamboo can typical renew itself in as little as 5 – 7 years. Compare that to hardwoods which can take as long as 30+ years to grow.
Bamboo floors are very easy to clean and maintain.
Bamboo floors can last for 30 to 50 years, and will easily biodegrade when removed.
As we mentioned earlier, bamboo is very moisture and insect resistant and because of this makes an excellent choice for high traffic areas such as kitchens, powder rooms, laundry rooms, and entryways, as well as for people who suffer from allergies.
Installation of bamboo floors is a fairly quick and easy process, and generally it does not require sanding and multiple coats of toxic varnish.
Bamboo costs a fraction of what traditional hardwood floors cost making it a great choice for home owners on a budget.
Like engineered and solid hardwoods, bamboo manufacturers should be researched before making a buying decision as there are many inferior bamboo products on the market. Some brands shrink a lot more than others, and a simple web search on the brand name and “shrinkage” or “complaints” will turn up good information. Also, although bamboo is a very green choice for your home, all bamboo flooring comes from China, where there are no government standards or regulations concerning environmentally-friendly practices, so researching the importer for negative reviews is of utmost importance.
So is there a clear winner in this flooring challenge? Both are more affordable than traditional hardwood floors, both are durable and stand up against moisture, and both can be installed in a variety of ways and by the homeowner. Where we feel bamboo is the stronger contender is by its superior Janka hardness ranking, exotic beauty, and its unparalleled sustainability as a flooring source.