Why I Will Never Use Engineered Hardwood Again



Four years ago when we bought our condo, we knew right away that the carpet had to go.  It was old, stained, and smelled of a charming blend of cat, hot dog water and a sickly sweet perfume that attempted to cover the combination up. We figured we had two real choices: real hardwood floors or go for the cheaper, easier-to-install engineered hardwood floors. Since my favorite words – “cheaper” and “easier” – accompany the description of engineered hardwood, we went with that.

For those who haven’t been introduced to this product, engineered hardwood are planks in which the top few layers are made of real wood (and available in nearly every type and color) that have been sealed onto cheaper wood – specifically, particle board. The HDF or MDF has been shaped so that the planks can “click” in place with each other, making installation fairly simple.

I had been warned that engineered hardwood could be problematic (“buckling” was the term I heard used), but as long as you weren’t installing it anywhere that water would likely get to it (like in a bathroom or kitchen), we should be fine.

As you can see from the picture, not all is “fine” – in fact, things are far from fine. Wanna know what happened?

I noticed a while ago that a couple of the boards looked as if they were separating from each other. It wasn’t major – just a little space – but seeing as we had dark hardwood, the separation exposed the pale particle board, which wasn’t very aesthetically pleasing. Friends of ours who also had engineered hardwood mentioned the same thing had happened to theirs, but that the boards snapped back together on their own shortly after. I was hopeful and so I didn’t do anything. Then, they started to lift.

When we walked over them, we could feel (and hear) a real bounce to the floor. The lift became more and more visual, to the point that the boards then started to tepee at their connecting seams. An entire area of our flooring felt incredibly under pressure to the point that other areas were starting to become affected.

I attempted to contact the manufacturer of the engineered flooring by phone and e-mail (and later through a contractor whom I knew and who had done business with them) to see if there was anything I could do to fix it or prevent it from doing more damage. I was completely ignored. I really should call their crap customer service out in this post, but as Marc likes to keep HomeFixated a “happy place”, I will restrain myself and not unleash the hellfire that burns within me.

I eventually lifted up the baseboard (and inadvertently removed some drywall – great!) to see if I could relieve pressure. This did nothing. The boards continued to warp and curve and we eventually took one out to get a good look at it (the rest of the affected boards heaved and buckled immediately).  From what we can tell and from what others who have looked at it could tell, the was no actual water damage in the area and the installation (of both the flooring the baseboards) was done correctly. However, the boards (specifically, the MDF) were curving badly.

We’ve deduced that the most likely culprit for the expansion of the MDF was steam coming from our bathroom. Our friends who also experienced board separation noted it happened to their floors on particularly humid days.

Pretty sure it's not supposed to curve like that.

In other words, it’s the sort of thing we have very little control over, lest we stop showering all together, something that would undoubtedly cause other problems in our lives.

I now have what friends have coined The Rage™. We have to rip up the engineered hardwood in that section (small mercy: the area impacted is in our entrance area only – we’re hoping we can keep the flooring everywhere else) and replace it with humidity-handling tile. Ugh.

So – thinking about getting engineered hardwood? Don’t. Pay the extra little bit and take the extra little time and get real, hardy hardwood (or tile).

I’ll let you know how the process of removing and replacing this flooring goes (including how much alcohol I consume during that time. Prediction: LOTS).

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Comments

  1. Whenever I’ve installed this stuff, I run a little bead of blue Titebond (the waterproof stuff) down each tongue before I lock it in. Doesn’t take much longer and I’ve never had a callback. You’d be surprised what a little moisture + the pressure exerted by walking can do–especially at an open transition like you show in your picture up there.

  2. Tony Cricco says:

    If you are willing to silicone every joint (including butt joints) you wont have this problem. This , however, adds to the cost and ease of installation.

  3. Vicki Robb says:

    Jen, your experience — which is not unusual here in Southern Cali — is why I BEG my real estate clients not to use engineered wood in their remodels. I do not know of a happy owner.

  4. Jenn,
    Firstly, I would like to apologize from a manufacturing stand point for the customer service you have been given. It only makes the rest of us look bad.
    As for the “controlled environment”, you must remember that you have placed a natural product next to a room that gives off moisture. Because are dealing with a product of nature, moisture (whether it is in the form of steam, humidity, spills, etc…) will affect the shape of the wood by either expanding or contracting.
    Now, as for the locking system on this type plank… I’m unsure of. But I have never seen planks simply unlock due to moisture.
    I have also never dealt with MDF as a core product for engineered wood flooring. We only deal with HDF and Plywood. (MDF – Medium Density Fiberboard… HDF- High Density Fiberboard).
    I can tell you this… A manufacture will stick to their guns on the warranty. You have to realize that we can not oversee every customers install or home’s environment, so there are typically strict guidelines on how to install and where to install. There will also be exclusions on what the warranty covers. Read over these… I would bet there are a couple exclusions for moisture related issues.
    If I were in your shoes and did not manufacture flooring for a living… I would threaten the company that you were going to the Better Business Bureau. That always seems to get a reaction!
    Ken

  5. I too work for a manufacture of this type product and agree with Jeff. The target market for this type of item is someone that is looking to save some money, or use it for only a couple of years. However; this flooring can last a long time if the environment is controlled and proper protection procedures are taken.

    I hate to disagree with you, but feel that the manufacture or the flooring is not at fault.

    • Thanks, Ken! Definitely appreciate your feedback!

      I guess my question is, what is a controlled environment, when the environment is a home? Before installing the flooring, it sat in our home for a few days to acclimatize – as recommended. From there, we’ve pretty much just been living normally. There haven’t been any spills or leaks and I wipe the floors as directed (no mopping!). If something as minor as steam from a nearby room can goof the floors up that badly (and steam was our best guess seeing as there wasn’t evidence of anything else) – why is this product (one that was a mid-high price point when it came to the engineered hardwood we looked at) being sold for homes?

      I guess I’m just not happy with the lack of accountability of the manufacturer to even just get back to me on my inquiries about the product, nor am I pleased with the fact that this was the one that was the most highly recommended to us when I described our home (condo, concrete flooring, provided a layout). What’s a homeowner to do?

  6. Wow. That’s awful. How thick is that flooring anyway? Honestly it looks thicker than the stuff my mom just had me, my sister and her husband install in her place. Which has me really worried because it’s in a basement (a very dry one with vapor barrier), but the space includes a kitchen and a bathroom. Sounds like I might be in for some tiling work in the next year or two…

    • I genuinely hope you have no problems with your floor, Ethan. The product in our home is roughly 0.5″ thick. The thing is, it’s fine everywhere else – but massively not fine in one area. Good luck!

  7. You didn’t mention how far from the wall you placed the floor when you installed it?

    • Howdy Odd. As per the instructions (and I worked with a contractor during the install who was familiar with the product), we did leave a small gap near the wall when we installed it. I’m not 100% on this (it was a few years ago), but I think it was 1/4″. I do know that we did what was recommended by the manufacturer.

  8. “We’ve deduced that the most likely culprit for the expansion of the MDF was steam coming from our bathroom. Our friends who also experienced board separation noted it happened to their floors on particularly humid days.”

    While this whole scenario is unfortunate for you, this seems to be a case of an inferior product doing what it will do.

    I sell a product in the flooring industry, and our inexpensive products are not as good as our more expensive products. The inexpensive products are made for a reason – mostly for new home construction where the builder won’t allow a better product to be used or for rental situations where the flooring is expected to last only a short time. And there are people who are looking for “deals” – our inexpensive products really are not intended to be sold for retail replacement jobs, but they end up being used for that because some homeowners have a need for less expensive products.

    I suspect that the biggest problem with the product pictured is how thin it is. Something with more substance would resist cupping better, but if wood is exposed to high humidity, as we all know, it will cup – it’s wood (MDF should be pretty stable, but what you purchased was very thin).

    I am not a fan of the lock together installation systems, but unfortunately, that is the trend right now.

    You can get mad at the manufacturer if you want, but the product isn’t likely defective, it is just inexpensive.

    • Hi Jeff – thanks for the insight – appreciated!

      What I’m actually most annoyed with when it comes to the manufacturer is the lack of customer service. Believe me, I didn’t approach them screaming and yelling (after all, I’m Canadian. We only holler during hockey games. Ha.). I came to them looking for info and I’ve been completely ignored. This flooring supposedly comes with a warranty, too. Have I been able to get any info on that? Nope. Just a voicemail and unanswered e-mails. Fun.

      I’ll take your word on your assessment that the product I had wasn’t great quality to begin with, but it wasn’t really inexpensive. Of the engineered hardwood we looked at, this one was mid-high range in pricing, and one that a trusted contractor had worked with in homes before, so I wrongly presumed what we were getting was pretty decent.

      I’ve received a few e-mails from people with similar problems to mine, wanting to know if we shared the same manufacturer – and we haven’t. Seeing as *everyone* I know who have engineered hardwood in their homes (roughly six people, hardly a huge sample size, I’ll admit!) has encountered an issue (from the very minor board separation during humid times to my massive buckling situation), I’m frankly just not confident in engineered hardwood, regardless of price point. Would love to be proven wrong, but so far the anecdotal evidence isn’t looking great for this kind of product.

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