Entering a home with beautiful hardwood floors, it may not be immediately obvious what kind of material was used. A casual eye can fairly quickly tell laminate wood floors from real wood, but what may escape a layman is the difference between solid wood and engineered wood.
While both are made of real wood fibers, there are some significant differences. One is not necessarily higher-quality than the other — it truly depends on customer preference and the individual situation. It’s important to know the benefits and drawbacks of both before deciding which type of wood would be the best fit for your home.
What is engineered wood?
Unlike solid wood flooring, which is cut and shaped as solid planks, engineered wood is composed of layers of wood plies topped by a hardwood veneer, called the wear layer, for aesthetics. The plies are stacked together in opposite directions and connected with adhesive. Some engineered hardwood floors are made of high-density fiberboard as well.
That doesn’t make it any less dependable than hardwood — and it has some advantages. For one, because of the way the plies are stacked, it’s more dimensionally stable than conventional wood, so it may expand or contract less with moisture. The same is true of fiberboard.
Solid wood flooring is traditional, beautiful and can last years with proper care. The most popular woods include oak maple, hickory, walnut and cherry, and can be stained any color of the buyer’s choosing. However, engineered wood is gaining popularity among homeowners, in part because of the ability to do wide planks. Because it’s fabricated, it’s easier to get wider planks of engineered wood than solid wood. Because of the blends of wood and textural effects, it can also create unique, subtly distressed looks that homeowners love.
Installation and Care
One item to check when deciding on a type of flooring is your home’s subfloor — the surface the hardwood floor will be mounted on. Solid wood flooring is nailed in, while engineered wood can be stapled, glued or floated. If the subfloor is concrete, for example, a solid wood flooring may not be the best choice — it could still be done, but it might cost more, as you’d have pay close attention to managing moisture and minimizing wood floor expansion and contraction when preparing for wood installation.
Engineered wood tends to be more durable than solid wood — it’s less likely to scuff, scratch or dent. However, solid wood may have a longer life in the long run.
Both types of floors can be sanded and refinished. However, while solid wood floors can be sanded and refinished 10 times in their lifetimes, the number of times engineered wood can be refinished depends on the thickness of the wear layer. The layer, composed of solid wood veneer on top of the plywood layers, can vary from just a millimeter thick to several.
A round of sanding and refinishing can shave about .75–1 millimeter off a wood floor. If a floor’s wear layer is only 2 millimeters thick, it won’t last many refinishes. The thinnest types of engineered wood floor wear layer cannot be sanded at all — they can only be recoated with urethane. Some wear layers run up to 6 millimeters, allowing multiple sandings and refinishings, which can extend the life of the floor. Consider how much damage there is to the floor before refinishing if you have a thinner wear layer — sometimes a light scuff sanding will do the trick, according to Angie’s List.
You may also want to buy a little more than you need, even after wastage, of the engineered wood flooring you choose. There can be inconsistencies from batch to batch, so it’s best to buy all the wood flooring you’ll need at one time, according to Consumer Reports.
Both types of flooring can be beautiful. But the specific design you’re looking for may be better suited to one type or the other.
Generally, engineered wood tends to be less expensive than hardwood as well. However, high-end engineered wood can be on par with solid wood, in part because the higher-end types have thicker wear layers, meaning they can last through more refinishings.
Both types of floors can be long-lasting and beautiful and add value to a home — the choice often just depends on your preference. Asking for advice on your particular project can help narrow down the choices, too, so you wind up with the best product for your home.