Hardwood floors have long been revered for improving the look, function, and value of a home. Their natural beauty and durability is unrivaled, with a versatility that fits almost any design. While solid hardwood floors have long been the gold standard, advances in production technology have seen the meteoric rise in popularity of engineered hardwood as a quality and often cost-conscious alternative.
But what are the differences between solid and engineered wood floors? What are the pros and cons of each? Most importantly, is one simply better than the other?
Let’s take a moment to explore hardwoods.
When comparing solid vs. engineered wood, one common misconception is that solid is real wood while engineered is fake. In fact, both types are made of natural wood, with the key difference lying in how they’re produced. Solid hardwood flooring is just that: a solid piece of wood from top to bottom. Each plank is created out of a single piece of wood and typically measures 5″wide by 3/4″ thick. As the graphic above illustrates, engineered hardwood flooring is comprised of layers of wood. The top is a solid hardwood veneer with substrates of high quality plywood layers. Like solid wood planks, engineered wood planks usually measure 5 inches wide, but are generally thinner with a depth of 3/8″ – 1/2″.
Put simply, solid wood flooring is a true classic and for good reason. It has a well-earned reputation for its durability and longevity, with a wide variety of dent and scratch resistant species to choose from. And since the planks are solid from top to bottom with a thick wear layer, they can be sanded and re-finished a number of times over its lifetime. The flooring is permanently installed by nailing it to the subfloor, resulting in that solid feel underfoot. This durability makes solid hardwood perfect for a wide range of low to high trafficked areas, from dens to dining rooms, foyers to bedrooms.
The feature that makes this type of hardwood so appealing to homeowners – its solid wood construction – also results in its biggest shortcomings. Being that the planks are single pieces of wood, they are more affected by factors like temperature and humidity, which can cause them to expand, contract, and shift. For this reason, its rarely recommended that solid hardwoods be used in rooms that are subject to higher moisture like bathrooms and kitchens. Because they planks are nailed down to a plywood subfloor, it is somewhat limited in where it can be installed.
The biggest drawbacks of solid wood – issues with moisture, limited installation areas, and price – are some of engineered hardwood flooring’s biggest selling points. Although all wood products are prone to damage from water, the many layers that make up the core of engineered wood make it a far more stable flooring material in rooms subject to higher moisture, temperature, and humidity. And because engineered wood can be installed with a number of different methods, be it nailing, stapling, gluing, or floating, it can be laid on any manner of subfloor, including concrete slabs and radiant heating systems (like a heated bathroom floor). Like solid wood, engineered wood can be had in a variety of wood types and stains. Wider planks are also more readily available than in solid wood, which is typically confined to widths of 5″. The thinner planks of engineered wood are also beneficial when trying to match the height of an adjoining floor. Engineered wood can be cheaper than solid wood, though more premium collections with thicker hardwood layers, designs, and enhanced durability can have price tags comparable to solid.
Though certainly durable in its own right, engineered wood flooring has a thinner wear layer than solid wood. It can still be sanded and stained a number of times, but isn’t quite as long-lived as its solid wood cousin. One of the biggest complaints about engineered wood is the somewhat hollow sound and feel underfoot. Some brands feel more substantial than others. Also, nailing the planks to the subfloor as one would with a solid wood installation can result in a much sturdier underfoot feel.