Hard Surface 101

Hard Surface 101

Making The Hard Stuff Easier To Understand

Here are a few topics we regularly encounter when discussing hard surface projects with our clients.  These are general topics for informational purposes only. Be sure to discuss your particular circumstances with your Flooring Professional. 


Also, check out or blog for regular additions to our educational materials in a more conversational fashion. 


  • Solid vs. engineered Wood Floors

    This is one of the most common points of confusion in the world of wood flooring. We often have customers that make statements such as, “I want real wood.” Here’s our quick response. If you are looking down at wood grain, and that grain used to be part of a tree, then it is real wood. That’s usually followed up with, “you know what I mean, the solid stuff.”  
    In this situation, we seek to find out why. While we don’t want to win an argument at the expense of losing a customer, we do like to get to the heart of the matter. We often discover that a consumer’s position is based on outdated or misinformation. For example, we’ve had several customers use engineered wood and laminate flooring interchangeably; which is definitely not accurate.

    Engineers make things better. Cars are safer, our phones are smarter, and we can put objects into orbit; all thanks to engineers. Granted, engineered wood floors may not rank as high on the list of engineering achievements of the last century, but they certainly deserve your consideration.

    Once installed, unless you can expose an edge of the wood, there's no visual way to tell if the floor is solid or engineered.  Furthermore, engineered wood floors were not designed to be less expensive, that just happens sometimes; usually when the raw material cost is higher like with most exotic woods.

    Engineered floors also tend to be more dimentionally stable than their solid counterparts. This is a great quality in parts of the country that experience shifts in temperature and humidity throughout the year. It also allows engineered floors to be installed in lower levels of homes (below grade) where solid floors cannot be installed. 


  • Engineered Wood vs. Laminate

    We understand how some people can get confused here. With engineered wood floors, the wear layer is laminated to the other layer(s). Yet, we don't call that a laminate floor. 

    Laminate floors involve 3 basic layers that are laminated, or stuck together. 

    Melamine Wear Layer - The top layer is hard wearing layer designed to resist many forms of abrasion. It is typically made up of several coats of melamine with aluminum oxide giving it a durable surface.  

    Decorative Paper Print Layer
    - This is what gives the floor its appearance. It is a digital print layer. The design can range from that of a wood grain to the appearance of cork, stone, ceramic or whatever design the manufacturer chooses to print. As photography and printing technologies have improved, so too have the appearance of laminate floors.

    Core Layer - The thicker central layer which I the third from the top is the core material. It is typically made with particle board, high-density fiberboard (HDF), or medium-density fiberboard (MDF)  The core is the structural element supporting the weight and stresses of foot traffic. Thicker is generally better. 

    On the other hand, Engineered Wood Floors have 2 basic layers that are stuck together.

    Wear Layer - A layer of actual wood from the chosen species. This can be a paper-thin veneer that was literally peeled off of a tree, or can be a much thicker (5+ mm) layer that was sawed from the tree like solid wood, but just thinner. 

    Core Layer - As with a laminate floor, the core layer provides the material's structural element. Also like laminate, this layer may be made of particle board, MDF or HDF. But, many engineered wood floors have a core layer made up of plywood. 

  • Vinyl - Resilient - LVP / LVT

    We see lots of words to describe this rapidly category of flooring.  For the most part, we use them interchangeably. 

    Vinyl - that's easy, it is made of vinyl. Didn't get creative with names there. 

    Resilient - while this is a more broad term, with a few exceptions like rubber and linoleum, resilient flooring is practically synonomous with vinyl flooring. 

    LVT / LVP - These stand for Luxury Vinyl Tile and Luxury Vinyl Plank.  The only real diffence is in the size of the material and what it looks like.  the "LV" part was basically added to differentiate the products from their VCT (think school cafeteria) or sheet vinyl cousins.

    WPC - This is the newest addition to the category. Wood Plastic Composites, provide the waterproof features of vinyl in a more rigid format.

    These floors come in a wide variety of formats, visuals, and quality levels. Many are available to install as either glued-down or floating. 

    Resilient flooring is taking market share aware from traditional hardwood and laminate, as well as carpet.  These tough, waterproof floors deserve a second look from many busy homeowners due to their beauty and functionality. 


  • Nailed down installation

    Nailed down solid or engineered wood is just like it sounds. A nail or fastener is driven through the material at its tongue using a pneumatic fastener. The next board's groove covers that nail, making for a clean finished look. 

    Subfloor must be suitable for nailing. That means a wooden subfloor with enough thickness and durabilty to not only support the floor, but also hold on to the fasteners over time. 



  • Glued Down Installation

    Sometimes, it is not possible to nail down a floor because of the flooring material. Other times, it is not possible to nail down a floor because of the subfloor. 

    Glueing the floor is a great alternative to nailing, especially over concrete subfloors. 

    Adhesive is applied to the subfloor at a specified rate using a special notched trowel or other applicating device. Then, the flooring is layed on top of the adhsive and nudged or pounded into place making solid contact. 

    While they actually use a thin set mortar to get attached to the subfloor, ceramic or porcelain tiles could be considered glued down flooring because no mechanical fastener is used. 


  • Floating Installation

    As the name implies, floating installations are not attached to the subfloor in any way.  Instead, the floor planks or tiles are connected to each other forming a single unit. The only thing between the subfloor and the floating floor is a potential underlayment material. The floor stays in place by shear weight and friction.

    There are two basic ways a floor can be assembled to allow it to float. First is to glue together the tongues and grooves of the floor's edges. 

    The second way requires that the floor has special locking or clicking edges.  When held at a specific angle, the edges of the planks/tiles can be separated or put together. When the planks/tiles are flat, they are securely locked together. 

    Floating floors are great options, and may even be a requirement for certain conditions, such as multi-family housing situations where noise concerns making floating floors a lower cost alternative to other sound abatement alternatives. 

    Today, all laminates are floating floors.  Vinyl/Resilient come in both floating and glued down varieties.  Most engineered wood floors can be glued together at the tongues and grooves to float. Finally, more and more engineered wood floors are available with a locking/clicking system allowing them to float without the use of any adhesive. 

  • Transitions

    When one floor ends, and something else starts, there is often a transition piece. There are a few different reasons for this.

    -Allow room for flooring material to expand and contract with temperature and moisture fluctuations.
    -Compensate for height differences between new and existing flooring
    -Protect the flooring material's edge from damage
    -Protect you from the flooring material's edge which may be sharp or a trip hazard
    - Round over for a stair nose


  • Species of trees for Hardwood Floors

    Just driving through your neighborood, you can likely see a variety of trees growing around your home. They look, grow and behave differently. 

    Hardwood floors have differences too. If they didn't, we would have a much smaller selection. When it comes to choosing a hardwood material for your next floor, the top characteristics are related to the species include: 

    Grain - are their pronounced lines running throughout the boards. Some species like maple will have less grain than a more common oak, whereas hickory will have more grain. 

    Board variation - are the boards similar to each other, or are their drastic differences from one board to the next.

    Hardness/density - we may call them all hardwood, but they are not all equally hard. In fact, some bamboos and exotic woods are up to 3x harder than a typical oak floor. 

    Light sensitivity and dimensional stability also come into play.

    There are many other factors that determine what a floor will ulitmately look like including finish, stain color, gloss, etc.  But no matter what we do in the manufacturing/finishing process, mother nature's hand was at work long before ours. 

  • Subfloor conditions

    Hard surface floors have different tolerances for the conditions of the subfloor they will be installed over. This is usually described as a certain amount of variance over a specified length of the floor. 

    For example, 1/4" over 6 feet.  Meaning that in a 6 foot section of flooring, there is no greater than a 1/4" difference between the highest spot and the lowest spot.  Once the subfloor is exposed, this can be determined with a long level. 


    A properly level subfloor is important for the following reasons:


    -Protects the structural integrity of the floor itself
    -Reduces squeaking
    -Avoids hollow sounding floor
    -Ensure proper adhesion of glue, or attachment of fastener


  • Refinishing a hard surface floor

    A common question we hear from customers considering a hard surface floor is if they can refinish the floor, and if so, how many times. 

    Think of refinishing a floor like painting a wall. The goal is to remove or cover up any marks from damage or regular wear and tear. Sometimes, we change the color of the surface. 

    Laminate and vinyl flooring DOES NOT get refinished. The melamine of vinyl top layers of the floor cannot be sanded down and re-applied.  

    Wood floors do have the potential to be refinished. Before you call a professional or rent a sander, there are some things to consider.

    1) Is the top wear layer thick enough so that some can be removed and still leave enough behind to be considered a wood floor?
    2) Can a flat sanding device get into the nooks and crannies of the floor's finish. For example, a hand-scraped floor wont' look hand-scraped after a refinishing. 
    3) Are you prepared for the mess and hassle?  There's a reason this is normally done in unoccupied homes. 

    When considering a new floor, rather than worry about how many times the floor can be refinished, focus on flooring choices that will stand a chance against what your family has instore for it. 

    Most hardwood floors don't ever get refinished. There are, however great opportunities to bring new life to your hardwood floors with less invasive buffing and coating processes, also called 'screening'. 

    To put this in another context, we don't ask the new car sales person how many times we can repaint the care we're considering.  TWe will all get some scratches and dings along the way. Those can be repaired or "buffed out" and don't require that the entire care is ever repainted. With a properly selected hard surface floor, you'll be in a very similar situation. 

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