hardwood - pre-engineered or natural?

fillagirlNovember 22, 2012

Hi, I am looking at getting hardwood in my living room and dining room. I will have 2 large area rugs over the hardwood.

I have a dilemna - put pre-engineered hardwood in OR natural hardwood (which they install "bare", then sand and stain on-site). My designer is urging me to go with the natural hardwood, as he believes it has a much more natural and organic look. However, I go to the flooring store and they tell me the pre-engineered is much better in terms of durability and longevity. I currently have the sand & stain hardwood in my family room, which I will have sanded & stained to match the new hardwood.

I looked at a new pre-engineered product that claims to be handscraped and not "uniform" looking, what they mean is more natural. I liked the look of it as it didn't seem too "perfect' looking. The price for the natural hardwood is not that much more than the pre-engineered.

I'm stumped. The natural hardwood would be nice but the sanding would not be great (I have a piano that I can't move too far away and I would need to ensure it was very well-covered if they're sanding around it). The pre-engineered looks nice and doesn't need to be sanded, but I want something classic and organic and traditional/transitional. Last bit of info - this is not a high traffic area, but could see some high heels and dog paws.

Anyone have experience/opinions in this area and what would you recommend? Thanks so much.

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I have both, and love each equally. We will be getting hardwood floors installed in the kitchen and family hopefully in the spring, and will go with the pre finished oak, mainly because I just don't want the mess and smell that comes with the raw wood.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 11:58PM
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If I had a dog I'd go with the engineered but since I don't I'm happy with my wood floors.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 1:35AM
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" However, I go to the flooring store and they tell me the pre-engineered is much better in terms of durability and longevity"

Of course they tell you that....how much would they sell if they recommended natural wood.

I recommend natural wood. We went with hardwood so that we could match the 100 yr old hardwood thatt was already there in some rooms. Finishing on site was not super messy - the vacuuming system worked well.

Out original wood flooring was in very good shape after 100 yrs. That's enough durability for me....go with natural wood.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 4:47AM
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How could the hand-scraped flooring EVER be refinished? I don't think it could be sanded.

I have pre- finished hickory solid planks through my whole living are, including kitchen and master bath. It is cabin grade, whatever that means, but it was cheap, so most of my cost was installation, and I really like it. It is quite distressed, so the dogs nails, and mil's walker scrapes blend in.
It reminds me of the floor out of an old store.

Also, with prefinished, there is the edge bevel for stuff to collect in, and you don.'t get that with on- site finishing.


    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 8:47AM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

Natural, finished in place would definitely be my choice. Durability? There are still hardwood floors that look spectacular that were installed in the 1700s. That is certainly good enough for me. Also, we have two big dogs and a grandpuppy that have not damaged ours at all. Grew up with dogs on hardwood floors, too. No worries. Easy to keep looking looking beautiful, especially if you will have large area rugs. For me, it would be a no-brainer!

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 8:58AM
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Springroz brings up one of the biggest negatives of refinished --- bevels.

They're horrid and make light floors look striped. We had ours sanded down to remove the bevels soon after we moved into our new home 15 years ago because the sight of the dirt in the bevels drove DH crazy. He was constantly trying to remove it.

We recently added site finished hardwood throughout our first floor and had it matched to the previous. You can't tell the difference now. The process was surprisingly dust-minimal.

I do think the refinished has site finished beat when it comes to durability, though.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 9:20AM
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You are confusing your terminology.

Wood comes in two categories: solid and engineered. Solid is exactly as it sounds, solid pieces of wood. That was what was traditionally used in older home construction as older homes were all built on crawl space or basement foundations that had low moisture issues. Or, in most older homes, if they had a damp basement, the rest of the house was so leaky that the humidity wasn't trapped in the home.

Engineered wood is layers of cross grain wood like plywood. It was developed in order to deal with the moisture issues that slab construction has so that a wood floor could be installed in that situation and be stable and not cup. Concrete is like a sponge, and a big slab of it on the ground with no moisture barrier underneath will suck up enough water to make a solid wood floor cup pretty dramatically. Engineered also manages scarce natural resources better as only the top layer is created from the finish wood. That allows a rare or desirable wood to "stretch" much further in production than it would if you only used solid boards. The downside to having a thinner layer of the finish wood is that it can be sanded down and refinished fewer times than solid hardwood can.

The other two categories of wood flooring are pre-finished and site-finished. And they are exactly as they sound. Pre-finished wood gets a coating at the factory and goes down fast, without you having to worry about dust and dirt getting into the finish or the smell running you out of the house. Pre-finished can have very very tough topcoatings on them that will not wear through for the life of the wood. They will, however, dull somewhat from wear over time. It can be screened and recoated when the wear paths start to look duller.

Site-finished can provide you with a custom stain color that you may not be able to find with a pre-finished product. And if you have a good quality flooring professional, you may not have too many issues with inclusions in the finish. Thanks to water borne technology, there are also products available that will not have high VOC content, but all site finished flooring will produce some smell when applied, so if you are sensitive to those issues, you may not want to go that route.

There are a few myths that this site promulgates about hardwood flooring, with the top myth being tha site applied finishes somehow provide more "protection" for the wood because it somehow makes an impervious sheet that liquids cannot penetrate. That simply is not true. The first heating and cooling cycle that the home undergoes will see the wood do what wood does, which is to shrink when there is less moisture in the air and swell when there is more. That will break any "bonds" that any finish may have provided between the boards, even if it doesn't look like that to your naked eye.

A second myth is that pre-finished flooring cannot be refinished. If the top layer is thick enough, of course the floor can be refinished if you want to change your mind on the color and sand back to bare wood. However, "refinishing" isn't necessary with modern floor finishes---either site finished or pre-minished---if you keep up the proper regular maintainence. That includes using the proper products to clean it, such as an "authorized" wood flooring cleaner. NO ORANGE OIL OR OIL SOAP PRODUCTS SHOULD EVER BE USED ON WOOD FLOORING! They leave a residue that you cannot remove, and if the finish becomes dulled in the traffic paths and you need to screen and recoat, then you cannot do so as those products will retard proper adhesion of the finish. You will have to sand down to bare wood and start over if you use those products.

If you do the periodic screen and recoat, say every 7-10 years more or less depending on traffic and pets, then your floor can last the lifetime of the home.

So, a floor can be solid wood and either site finished or pre-finished. Or a floor can be engineered and pre-finished or (rarely) site finished. There are good cases for the use of both products. Just don't buy into the myths that only site finished solid wood is "upscale". That is NOT the case.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 10:04AM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

We have prefinished hardwoods and they have worn like iron. Our builder wanted us to use them as they significantly cut down on site mess but I do like the durability (and the bevels!)

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 10:57AM
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We had site finished oak put down in our kitchen last year and chose that to match the flooring in the rest of the house. However, we didn't have a piano to deal with. I can certainly understand your concern with that. Can it be moved?

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 11:34AM
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We had engineered wood (high quality Shaw) in our previous condo. It scratched and dented SO easily! It looked gorgeous but it was like walking on eggshells. Our little cats made scratches with their claws, so I'd hate to see what happened with dogs. You drop anything and there is a huge dent. Water damages it very easily - I dropped some ice cubes and missed picking one up, it melted and caused a board to warp up at the seam. I would never pay for this type of floor again.

Real hardwood on the other hand I have lived with in many homes with pets. It stands up to punishment much better. I would have real hardwood again if I could afford it.

Finished on-site means that the seams are sealed, which is more resilient against water damage, since the moisture can't seep between boards and cause warping. Standing water can stain any wood if left, but if water gets between seams it is impossible to dry out before it does damage.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 11:40AM
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I think GreenDesigns summed things up very well. I'll just add my own experience.

We have had engineered hardwood in our basement for almost nine years, and it sees a lot of use. Overall, they have worn very well; and they can be refinished if desired. However, we did have someone in the basement for several years who regulary wore stiletto heels and there are indentations in the wood as a result.

A friend recently built a new home and had pre-finished, hand-scraped floors put in. They love them. I am not particularly fond of either the handscraped floors or the beveled edges. They've only been in their home a few months, but they are very happy with the floors. Incidentallly, the handscraped floors can be refinished, it's just that when you sand them down you will lose the handscraping---but you will still have lovely wood floors.

We recently had hardwood (white oak) put in our house and finished on site. We seriously considered putting in pre-finished hardwood. (We found some that did NOT have the beveled edge and installed exactly like the unfinished hardwood.) What made us change our mind about the pre-finished was that we already had hardwood installed that needed to be sanded and refinished anyway, so why not have the old and new all done at the same time? An added benefit, since they are adjoining rooms, was that the installers were able to weave the new hardwood into the old and, once it was all finished, you cannot tell which are the old and which are the new. I feel we had more options that way, plus I didn't have to worry about being able to match exactly the old floor that we had refinished onsite to the new pre-finished floors.

Having said that, I have severe asthma, and the first month after the floors were finished was a bit difficult. We had it done in the summer and put exhaust fans in the windows, as well as additional fans all over the house to move the air through constantly. Although it was difficult, I would do it again, because I love the results.

If you have another floor that needs refinishing, then you will have to deal with the dust and other issues anyway, right? So I wouldn't base the decision on that factor alone.

We went back and forth for several months before we decided what to do about flooring on our first floor, so I understand what a difficult decision it can be---it involves a lot of time, effort, and money, and it's something you'll live with for years. If you're like us, you'll go through several different ideas before you make your final decision. Hope everything goes smoothly after that!

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 12:39PM
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Glad to read GreenDesign's very informative overview. And also glad SailAway points out that all engineered hardwood is not beveled. For some reason that's another myth that seems all too common on the forum.

Last but not least, because someone's engineered HW floor dented easily also does not in the least apply to all engineered hardwood. I've got it throughout my house, non-beveled high quality oak and it is *bulletproof*. We have 2 cats-no scratches. We drop things constantly, as well as track dirt and sand in and no damage. Spills? Ha, living in Florida and being not only careless my own self but having an equally careless young male in the house...no damage.

And engineered HW can definitely be refinished. I've always thought this is a false issue anyhow. How many people refinish floors more than once in a lifetime? I don't have a lot of concern that my flooring will be refinish-able in one or two hundred years. That's for someone else to worry about-someone who probably will be swapping out the flooring by then anyway.

So not a single one of the site finished 'advantages' truly beats out engineered hardwood flooring. Other than needing to match existing flooring I truly cannot see any advantage of the site finished.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 1:58PM
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Can someone point me to prefinished flooring that does not have a beveled edge? That's a new one on me.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 2:15PM
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dlm, I can't give you a link, but I can tell you that we found one at Lowe's. It was oak --- 2-1/4", which matches what we already had, and I think it may have been by Bruce. One of the many reasons we decided to go ahead and put in the hardwood and have it finished onsite was that, while the prefinished by Bruce was an acceptable color to me, it didn't really excite me.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 2:25PM
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It is good that someone pointed out that the type of wood used makes a considerable difference in the life of the floor and it�s ability to resist scratching and denting. We have engineered hickory wood flooring. Some was installed 14 years ago, the rest was installed about six years ago. We have (had) four dogs and two cats during this time, romping and running on these floors. We are down to just 2 dogs. You can not tell which flooring is the older installation, and there is also no scratching or denting visible anywhere in the house. Additionally, our refrigerator caused full floor flooding in the kitchen, and a faulty toilet flooded the bedroom floor, and both areas still look as good as new, even though they had water standing on them for a couple hours before the flooding was detected.

I still love these floors and consistently receive compliments on how attractive they are. The brand we purchased was Mannington, and it was not even their most expensive line of flooring, this was probably their mid-grade product. The flooring was installed over crawl space, not over slab.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 2:59PM
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Thank you to all for weighing in and providing your insight. I have to admit, I'm still stumped. I hadn't considered the "bevel" issue, so I'll have to look at that too. I think I will go back to a few stores and do more research and looking at product. And I'm also trying to look at area rugs too, so my head is starting to spin! (:

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 11:05PM
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Lauzon has prefinished engineered wood flooring available with bevels or without bevels (square edge).

A few years ago, we installed their square edge (no bevels) engineered red oak natural and have been very happy with it. Our home is on a concrete slab, so we could not do solid hardwood. With the square edge, it is extra important to make sure the concrete subfloor is very flat.
Lauzon's engineered wood is dry solid sawn, not sliced or rotary peeled.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lauzon

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 12:17AM
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We have Kahr's engineered oak. No bevels.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 12:54AM
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Thanks for those non-bevel suggestion.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 7:53AM
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I have white oak, site finished, and love it. Friends installed maple prefinished and the finish flakes off where the sun hits it for long periods of time. Our GC opted for prefinished hickory in his house.

As long as you get a good product you will be fine. The friends who had problems bought the lowest price material they could from a discount chain (LL). Don't do that. As for the mess and smell ... It's pretty bad for 5 days (2 for sanding, 3 for stain and poly if its oil based). Lots of airflow helps if the weather cooperates (dry air, not humid).

And bevels are great places for dog hair to lie. They also make an annoying clack-clack-clack when you roll a vac over them. That makes me want to scream, personally, but I'm like that with some noises. It just sets my teeth on edge for some reason.

Good luck, it's a hard decision with lots of pros and cons. You can always try the coin toss trick, where you flip a coin to make the decision and see if you feel relieved or regret, and change your mind if needed.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 8:29AM
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