Composite Wood Flooring Options

    Composite wood flooring (also known as engineered flooring) comes in many varieties and colors, typically comprising a composite block that may look like thick plywood, covered with a thin veneer of solid wood. Most composite wood is green -- as in environmentally friendly -- composed of small fibers from fast-growing trees. This preserves old-growth forests and utilizes parts of the tree leftover after cutting solid planks.

    Here are additional advantages of composite wood flooring, and a guide to several composite flooring options.

    Variety of Styles

    • 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. Often, domestic woods are relatively inexpensive, are softer than some exotic woods and come in a limited color range - mainly shades of brown.

    • Brazilian cherry and other exotic hardwoods are upscale alternatives to domestic woods. Some are harder and offer a greater variety of colors. However, homeowners need to be careful to buy sustainable wood, and shipping from Brazil or other countries adds substantial transport energy costs.

    • Bamboo is actually a grass, which grows very quickly. All bamboo flooring is composite wood because bamboo cannot be sliced into wide planks. When sustainably raised and harvested, bamboo is very eco-friendly, though high transport costs from tropical bamboo forests make bamboo composites a little less green.

    Flexible Installation Possibilities

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

    When you hire a flooring contractor, ask whether you can have composite wood products installed if you have radiant floor heating. Some composite wood flooring types inhibit heat transfer and lower energy efficiency.

    Consider Environmental Factors

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

    Also look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, which means the wood was harvested sustainably. 

    Advantages of Composite Wood

    Composite wood flooring is prefinished 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.

    Updated September 12, 2018.

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