How can I identify what kind of wood flooring I am looking at?
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Just because it looks like wood doesn’t mean that it is. Today’s designers are very good at creating tile, laminates and vinyl to look convincingly like wood. If you are a homebuyer that wants to know, ask your realtor to find out from the seller what the flooring material is, although you may not always get the correct answer. It’s worth a shot anyway.
The first thing we do as home inspectors when identifying the flooring material is to bend down and touch it with our fingers. Texture and temperature can tell you a lot. Tile will be hard and cold and the surface texture does not give as you run your fingers across it. Sheet, strip or vinyl tile squares will be soft enough to press a finger nail into it. Also, vinyl tends to mirror any imperfections in the floor surface below when you look across the room with light reflecting on the floor.
Laminates and engineered wood flooring usually come in sections that incorporate two or more strips of flooring, and if you look carefully for seams or repeated patterns you might be able to narrow it down to these two hopefuls. Real old-fashioned hard wood flooring is installed in individual planks and you will find no repeated patterns and lots of color variations.
The best way to understand the flooring material is to be able to look at it from the side. Try to find a place where you can view an edge. Sometimes a threshold is missing or there is an unfinished section of floor covering in a closet. You may also be able to brush the carpet aside where it meets the hard flooring and see the side.
A laminate product will have a base of plywood, composite or oriented strand board and a thin layer of printed laminate on the surface. Engineered wood flooring will have a plywood or oriented strand board base with a top layer of real hardwood, and some of the premium brands have a hardwood layer thick enough for one refinishing.
One thing we always do is search for leftover flooring that the homeowner has put away in a closet, the garage or the attic. We usually find some in the original packaging as well as installation scraps. If you can only find scraps or loose pieces, look at the edge.
Also, see our blog post Why does the laminate wood floor move when I walk across it?
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