A lot of the condominiums for sale in the District are in buildings erected after 1940 that have wood parquet floors. And when they go on the market, the sellers have often buried the parquet under new floors that look like wood. And in some newly constructed and renovated houses and condos, it’s a good idea to look carefully at the flooring. When you take a close look, what you think you see may not be what you get.
Sometimes new floors are indeed made from various types of trees or even bamboo. But most are constructed in one of two ways:
- Engineered wood floors are constructed in layers with a plywood base and a layer of real wood laminated on the surface. The quality will depend on the type of wood and the thickness of the top layer. Some of these floors have 3/8” to 3/4” of hardwood, compared to all-hardwood floors that are between 1/2″ and 3/4″. If you choose floors with a thick upper layer, they will last longer and can be refinished over the years. With a thinner wood level, the floor’s life expectancy goes way down.
- Laminated floors are what we typically see in what they call “real estate jobs”, and they are made without sacrificing many trees. This flooring is manufactured by taking photos of wood flooring and laminating it to fused fiberboard. What is fiberboard? It contains chips, sometimes made from wood and sometimes not, fused together with some sort of space aged goop. It’s easy to spot because the wood patterns on the surface repeat themselves, and it is usually installed in large rectangular sheets that fit together, but usually with obvious seams. The advantage is that this flooring is very inexpensive, but don’t be surprised if it starts to peel up after not that much wear and tear. Also, it can’t be refinished.
So if you have an older home with challenging floors, be careful about how you address whatever issues you have. It’s almost always possible, and a lot less expensive, to refinish the original floors, especially some of the vintage parquet like those in the photo. If the floors can’t be saved, trying to save money by burying them with inexpensive laminated flooring is likely to be a false economy. And if you are buying a place with new floors, see if you can get the name of the product they used and check it out.
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