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Posted by Steve Graham | Feb 10, 2010

Composite Wood Flooring Options

Engineered wood floors come in various durable, eco-friendly styles.

Composite wood flooring, also known as engineered flooring, comes in many varieties and colors, but the majority is green -- as in environmentally friendly. A thin veneer of solid wood typically covers a composite block that may look like thick plywood. Composite wood is comprised of smaller fibers from faster-growing trees. This preserves old-growth forests and utilizes the rest of the tree after cutting solid planks. The sources and materials turn composite wood flooring various shades of green. Here are some advantages of composite wood flooring, and a guide to several composite flooring options.

Styles

Most wood species in composite flooring offer the same advantages, but they vary in color and appearance.

  • Oak, maple and other common domestic woods comprise the most common composite wood flooring veneers. They are also among the greenest. Many are fast-growing species, and none require the transport energy of shipping wood from overseas. Many domestic woods are relatively inexpensive, but they are softer than some exotic woods and have a limited color range - mainly various shades of brown.
  • Brazilian cherry and other exotic hardwoods are upscale alternatives. Some are harder and offer a greater variety of colors. Homeowners need to be careful to buy sustainable wood, and shipping from Brazil or other countries adds substantial transport energy costs.
  • Bamboo is famously eco-friendly. It is a grass that grows very quickly. All bamboo flooring is composite wood because bamboo cannot be sliced into wide planks. However, high transport costs from tropical bamboo forests make bamboo composites a little less green.

Each composite wood type can be installed in various ways. Some are nailed or glued down, like a hardwood floor. Others snap together as a floating floor, like laminate.

Other Considerations

In choosing composite wood flooring products, also consider other environmental factors. Looks for products with low levels of unhealthy volatile organic compounds, which may be in the binders holding together composite wood flooring. VOCs are also a factor in finishes or glues that may be applied during installation.

Also look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, which means the wood was sustainably harvested. Finally, check with the dealer or installer if you have radiant floor heating. Some composite wood products inhibit heat transfer and lower energy efficiency.

Advantages of Composite Wood

Composite wood flooring is pre-finished and easier to install than hardwood flooring, but more durable than laminate. A side note about laminate: It may seem like composite wood, but it is cheaper, flimsier and less environmentally sound. Laminates are often made with potentially toxic chemicals and plastics, with very little wood.

Composite wood has crisscrossed plywood layers that give it more strength per inch than many hardwoods. It also avoids some of the cracking, splitting and moisture-related expansion that can come with hardwood flooring.

Many varieties of composite wood are attractive, durable and eco-friendly. The only greener wood floor option is reused wood. Consider refinishing your floors or finding salvaged hardwood flooring.

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