|Engineered wood floor in the home|
It is quite odd that many home-owners in Singapore have not heard of engineered wood flooring, or confuse engineered wood floors with laminate flooring. A common refrain heard among potential clients, whether they be home-owners or designers, is that engineered wood flooring is just a more expensive version of laminates. Many also express their concern that engineered wood flooring will not feel the same as traditional solid wood flooring, long considered the standard in timber flooring.
Not surprisingly, this notion that engineered wood flooring is inferior to solid wood parquet flooring has been perpetrated for years by suppliers of solid timber floors. It springs either from not having a clear understanding of engineered wood floors or from the fact that they perceive it as a threat to their traditional line of business.
Having said that, human beings are naturally resistant to change. We have been brought up in an environment that believes that 100% of anything is the best in quality, and that translates even to the choice of flooring in our homes.
As it had been said earlier, many home-owners have expressed their unwillingness to go with engineered wood flooring, as they believe that engineered wood is not exactly made from 100% wood, and somehow inferior to their traditional solid timber cousins.
However, when the properties of solid wood floors and its engineered counterparts are compared, there are some notable advantages that are in favour of engineered wood floors. These are:
- Dimensional stability in the face of environmental factors
- Environmental protection
Dimensional stability – Defying the elements
Well, not exactly. Engineered wood floors are not impervious to everything nature throws at it. However, when it comes to moisture – the number one enemy for any timber product – engineered wood floors show much better resistance to changes in dimension upon exposure compared to solid timber flooring.
This means that engineered wood flooring can boldly go where no solid timber floor can – below ground level (or in technical terms, below-grade). This is where the surrounding moisture in the air (ambient moisture) is at its highest, having nowhere to escape. Another enemy of timber flooring is air-conditioning, which reduces the humidity level of a room.
Case Study 1 – Too much moisture (High Ambient Humidity)
This scenario usually occurs in tropical countries and in rooms below ground level. When this occurs, the centre of the timber floor boards will tend to be higher than the edges – a condition also known as crowning. This is due to a moisture imbalance when the top surface is wetter than the bottom. In Singapore, the most common cause is wet-mopping the floor. It is known that some domestic workers, in their hurry to complete their task, take to mopping a timber floor as they would a marble or terrazzo one – with liberal amounts of water and detergent. This can wreck havoc on your beautiful timber floor, and even cause large displacements of the floor boards.
Other known causes are faulty air-conditioners, sprinkler systems and not wiping up spills immediately.
Case Study 2 – Too little moisture (Low Ambient Humidity)
Too little moisture can also spoil your timber flooring. When this occurs, the centre of the timber floor boards will tend to be lower than the edges – a condition known as cupping. This is due to a moisture imbalance as well, this time when the bottom surface is wetter than the top one. Local experience has shown that cupping of timber floors in Singapore is usually due to a concrete sub-floor that has not dried up completely and yes, that old enemy – the air-conditioner – which dries out the surroundings.
In both cases, warping – the general name for crowning and cupping - can be minimized by acclimatising solid timber floors to the ambient humidity levels for at least 72 hours. This allows solid timber floor boards to stabilize the rate of expansion and contraction before installation.
However, a leaky air-conditioner or errant maid can still damage your timber flooring. When this occurs, the only option for both cupping and crowning is to sand down the entire solid timber floor – a process which can take anything from a few days to weeks. This will cause massive amounts of sawdust being generated, forcing the occupants to stay somewhere else until the entire process is completed. Factor in the cost of employing flooring specialists to carry out the sanding and re-lacquering of the floor, and you will find that solid timber flooring can be quite an expensive thing to maintain.
Fabian, 23, an Indonesian expatriate living in Singapore, relates his experience with solid timber flooring:
"I have lived in my Singapore home for over 10 years now. Every 3 years, my father has to call in the contractors to sand my whole house because we would start to feel that the wood planks are coming out of the floor. It is a chore to move out of the house for 2 weeks while the contractors sand down, lacquer and clean up the house. Even then, when we come back, we have to poke around into every nook and cranny to clean out the sawdust that they failed to clean!"
He goes on to add:
"In Singapore, your home is your most valuable asset. Everyone wants their home to look beautiful and cosy, and nothing beats timber flooring for aesthetic quality. But the maintenance regime is quite a headache!"
Cost – It's all about the money
When asked what stops her from considering timber flooring as an option in her HDB home, Serena Tan, 26, explained:
"In Singapore, everything is about money. Why should I to pay so much for something I step on every day?"
However, ask any interior designer what the effect of changing the floor would have on the overall look of a house. Just like re-painting the walls a different colour, changing flooring can rejuvenate living spaces. However, out of the many flooring options available, timber flooring ranks as one of the most expensive on the market. This is especially true of solid timber flooring that uses exotic wood species.
|Versatile use of engineered wood floors|
This is where engineered wood flooring begs the question: Why pay for expensive wood that you will never see? Instead of having a whole floor board made of a solid piece of expensive wood, it makes better economic sense for the visible part of the board to have a “show” veneer of expensive wood while the underlying parts are made of something less expensive. This is exactly the idea behind engineered wood flooring.
In engineered wood floor boards, the top layer is made of expensive exotic wood up to a thickness of 3-4 mm, with the rest of the structure made up of a lower-cost species. Therefore can you imagine the cost savings of a Burmese Teak 12mm-thick floor board, made of 100% Burmese Teak, compared to a floor board of similar thickness using only 1/3 that amount?
That assumes you use engineered wood floor boards with a veneer thickness of 3mm. Current brands on the market, such as EnWood Floors from GYMS Pte Ltd, have a range of veneer thickness that can go all the way down to 0.6mm, without compromising the overall look and feel of the floor!
At an average starting price of $12 per square foot (inclusive of installation), any middle-income family home can now have the aesthetic qualities once thought to be something only the rich can afford.
Environmental protection – It's 'in' to go green
|Replicating the expensive look|
Everyone these days is talking about going green. Human beings have come to realise that our planet has only a finite amount of resources for us to harvest, and conservation is paramount to sustainable living.
Timber flooring is often seen as anathema to environmental protection. After all, we are often regaled by stories of disappearing rainforests in Borneo and the Amazon Basin. Trees are the 'lungs' of the planet, converting carbon dioxide into life-sustaining oxygen. Die-hard tree-huggers will often tell us to stop cutting down precious trees for wood where other materials can be used, usually with a zeal bordering on fanaticism.
For less militant environmentalist home-owners, however, wood represents the ultimate in warmth and natural beauty in the home. However, vast areas are being stripped of trees that yield high-value lumber. The problem is that these high-value wood trees usually take many years, even centuries, to mature. Their demand outstrips the finite supply we have on Earth.
Engineered wood floors use only 10%-30% of these exotic woods compared to their solid timber counterparts. Thus, it provides an opportunity to manage this precious resource better and limit the demand of high-value lumber.
As Thomas Edison once remarked: “Necessity is the mother of all invention”. The need to conserve wood, provide better properties and less expensive costs have led to the creation of engineered wood flooring. As the world faces growing environmental and economic problems, the need for less expensive and more sustainable building materials is never-ending.
For the consummate home-owner, technology has now provided a viable alternative to traditional solid wood flooring. While engineered wood flooring may not be the cheapest floor for your home, it is nevertheless an affordable option and a worthy investment for your property.