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Solid vs. Engineered Wood Flooring: Which One Is for You?September 19th, 2014 by
If you’ve been considering new floors for your home, you may have already fallen in love with the classic look of wood flooring. Wood is one of the world’s oldest flooring materials, and with good reason. Wooden floors tend to be very durable, and due to the seemingly endless variety of woods available—from traditional species like oak, maple, and cherry to exotic types such as purpleheart, teak, and chinquapin—wood flooring easily complements any decorating scheme. However, deciding on your wood flooring involves more than just narrowing down wood options, though that’s an overwhelming enough task; you also have to choose between solid and engineered wood. Both types have their perks, and this article will help you decide which one is right for your home.
What’s the Difference?
The first thing you need to know when deciding between hardwood and engineered wood is what their differences are. First, it is important to note that—just like solid wood—engineered wood is made entirely of wood, and both kinds of flooring look practically identical once installed. The main structural difference is that solid wood flooring consists of planks of—you guessed it—solid wood, whereas engineered planks are made by attaching a thin layer of the chosen species on top of what is essentially plywood. The core layers of engineered wooden planks are formed by binding veneers, fibers, strands, and particles of abundant types of wood like poplar and birch. These layers are then fastened at right angles to each other so that the grains run in opposite directions, leaving less room for the expansion and contraction typical of solid wood floors.
Where Are You Installing Your New Floor?
Wood tends to expand when exposed to heat and moisture and contract as it dries or when temperatures are low. Over time, this process can cause unsightly gaps to develop between the planks of hardwood flooring, which makes solid wood floors a less-than-ideal choice for rooms with a high moisture content or drastic temperature fluctuations, including bathrooms, wine cellars, basements, laundry rooms, and even kitchens. The multilayered structure of an engineered wood floor, on the other hand, gives it more dimensional stability than floors made of solid wood, so it’s the better option for rooms such as those listed above.
Additionally, differences in the engineered wood flooring installation process allow it to be installed in places solid wood floors cannot. Solid hardwood flooring must be nailed to a subfloor, so it can only be put on or above grade, and it can’t be installed over concrete. While engineered wood floors can be nailed in place, they can also be stapled or glued, or the installers can perform what is called a floating installation. Floating hardwood floors aren’t attached to anything underneath them; instead, they are secured by interlocking the wooden planks over a layer of cushioning material. Floating floors can be installed just about anywhere—on, above, or below grade, as well as over almost any hard surface. Hardwood flooring in basements, for example, is floating engineered wood. Heated floors are also usually engineered wood because a floating installation prevents any tubes or wires under the floor from being punctured by sharp nails or staples. The thinner layers in engineered wood planks also allow them to conduct heat better than solid wood.
Do You Want Your Floor to be Environmentally Friendly?
While both solid and engineered hardwood flooring are made of natural wood, engineered wood floors are actually considered greener than solid wood flooring. Because the core layers of engineered wooden planks are constructed from wood products that would otherwise be tossed as waste, fewer trees are felled to produce them. Rare species and old-growth trees also go a lot further when they are used for engineered wood flooring, as only the thin wear layer is made from them.
Regardless of the type of wood flooring you decide to go with, look for wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. FSC-certified wood comes from responsibly managed forests that are beneficial to the environment as well as the economy. You could also search for solid wood planks that are produced from reclaimed or salvaged lumber or engineered wood that is made with no- or low-formaldehyde glue.
How Long Do You Want Your Floor to Last?
If you’re hoping your great-great-great-great-grandchildren will one day walk on your new floors, solid wood flooring is really the only way to go; because solid wood floors can be refinished countless times, they can easily last for generations. Engineered wood flooring can always be refinished at least once—usually twice—but whether it can be done again depends primarily on the thickness of the wear layer. It’s a good idea to make sure engineered wood floors are professionally refinished; it can be either very easy or very difficult to sand through the thin top layer, depending on the hardness of the original finish. Engineered wood flooring generally lasts for ten to twenty years.
With proper maintenance and care, both solid and engineered hardwood floors can add tremendous value—both monetary and traditional—to your home.