Choosing Solid vs. Engineered Hardwood Flooring
When considering your new hardwood floor, you’ll be tasked with a number of mind-numbing decisions, one of those being whether you should install solid or engineered wood planks. Solid and engineered hardwood are in many ways the same — that is, they are both real hardwood products — but are also in many ways different.
Both types of planks fall under the hardwood umbrella, but they undergo a starkly contrasting manufacturing process. Depending on the environment of the floor’s location in your home, some of these dissimilar traits can impact the integrity of the floor, so it is important to understand when and why to use one type of plank over the other.
Solid wood planks are typically milled from a single 3/4” thick piece of hardwood and coated with a thin protective layer often including a urethane finish, along with ceramic, oxide, or an acrylic monomer.
- While 3/4” widths are standard, “thin profiles” such as 5/16” are also available among some manufacturers.
- Solid hardwood can be sanded and refinished many times over.
- Solid planks expand and contract more with changes in a home’s relative humidity.
Unlike solid wood planks, engineered flooring is constructed with anywhere from three to five layers of wood, each layer bundled in a cross-grain pattern to prevent excessive expansion and contraction. The top layer of engineered hardwood is the most desired, and its thickness will determine if the wood can be refinished and, if so, how many times.
- Engineered planks are more resilient to moisture.
- Their thinner, the plywood-backed structure makes them less vulnerable to shifts in humidity.
- Can be installed virtually anywhere in the home.
- Preferred for kitchens or in areas under more volatile moisture conditions.
Location, Location, Location!
When distinguishing between solid and engineered hardwood, understanding the location at which the floor will be installed is critical. The location of your hardwood project falls under three general categories:
- On Grade: At ground level
- Above Grade: At any second level or higher
- Below Grade: Any floor located below ground level, such as basements or recessed living rooms
Using solid 3/4” hardwood for below-grade installations could present a host of structural problems as potential moisture issues will cause the wood to expand and contract, resulting in gaps and cracks in the floor. Meanwhile, the general composition of engineered hardwood provides increased structural stability allowing it to be installed at any grade level, preferably when a moisture barrier is used.
Which Hardwood Planks Should You Choose?
Ultimately, the decision on which hardwood planks you choose should be determined by where you will be installing your floor — taking in consideration not just the geographical location of your home, but the location at which you will be installing the wood inside your home.
In terms of moisture, the width of the hardwood can also play a significant role, because the wider the plank, the more room there is for expansion. Because engineered planks contain a thinner layer of wood, and are backed by multiple layers of cross-grain plywood, they are the safer choice for wide-width hardwood.
If for example, you live in a high-humidity state like Florida, and you plan on installing 5” width planks, engineered hardwood would be better for maintaining the structural integrity of your floor. On the other hand, if you are installing the floor on an above-grade level and you prefer traditional hardwood, then you are free to go ahead with solid hardwood.