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Lynette E., Minnesota

Engineered vs. Solid Hardwood: Eight Essentials You Must Know

If you’re worried about making the right hardwood flooring choice, you aren’t alone. Most of the calls we get every day are from people asking us to explain the differences between solid and engineered hardwood. So, today, I thought I’d list for you the benefits of each type of flooring in order to help you discover for yourself and choose the floor that is just right for you.

In the final analysis, whether you end up with an engineered floor or a solid hardwood floor, the ultimate beauty, amazingly, will be quite similar. After your floor has been installed, you’ll never see more than the top surface anyway. Here are eight criteria to use in making your decision:

  1. Refinishing: This is the first question most of our callers ask. Solid hardwood flooring can generally be refinished many times because it can be sanded and re-sanded nearly all the way down to the tongue and groove of the boards. That could be as much as 1/4" or about one third of the thickness of the board and believe me, that’s a lot of sanding. But, most engineered floors can be sanded too, especially if you choose one with a thicker saw cut face. As a practical matter, for most residential uses, and for most of the brand name floors offered by Efloors.com, the new factory finishes are so durable that you will get a lifetime of carefree use before a new finish is ever needed. Refinishing, therefore usually becomes a secondary consideration in the selection process.
  2. Flexibility: Versatility is always an important issue in choosing flooring. Today, engineered hardwood flooring is really quite versatile. It can be installed using either glue or staples, and as a result of recent developments in locking systems, now it can even "float". It can also be installed over all types of sub-floors from suspended wood to concrete slab. Engineered hardwood flooring, given proper conditions, can be used below grade. Solid hardwood flooring, on the other hand, has the limiting requirement of needing to be stapled down over suspended floors - above grade. In order to fasten solid hardwood flooring over a concrete floor, plywood or firing strips would have to be installed first. It can be done, but it is time consuming and expensive.
  3. Thickness: Engineered hardwood flooring is generally thinner than solid hardwood. That means it can be used in many remodeling projects where a solid 3/4 inch solid floor would create a height problem. Engineered floors range in thickness from 1/4 inch to 3/4 inch
  4. Stability: For the most part, hardwood flooring is quite dimensionally stable over time. Solid hardwood may, under certain climatic conditions, be subject to swelling or shrinking. Engineered hardwood flooring, on the other hand while still subject to slight movement is the better choice where extreme seasonal climate changes may cause problems. The plywood-like construction of an engineered floor gives it more dimensional stability.
  5. Cost: Typically engineered hardwood flooring will cost you less than solid hardwood flooring for the same look because less of the valuable tree is used than with solid wood. Also, freight costs are lower because engineered flooring is lighter in weight and therefore less costly to transport. These factors also help make engineered flooring friendly to the environment.
  6. Prestige: If there is no limit to your imagination and no limit to your pocket book, then there is no limit to the variety of beautiful floors that can be created from custom patterns, exotic species and fine finishes. Some of the most expensive custom floors around the world are made from combinations of solid hardwood species, usually 3/4" thick. Solid hardwood floors do a better job of minimizing "bounce" over suspended floors. They convey a lasting sense of value and permanence to your home.
  7. Choose a Known Brand: It is recommended that you choose from major brands such as Bruce, Armstrong, Mannington, Shaw, Mohawk, BR-111, etc. Avoid off-brand floors. It is easy to find unknown brands at "bargain prices", just make sure that the hardwood has been properly graded otherwise your installer will end up with a lot of waste having to cull boards that aren’t straight or otherwise have milling and finishing irregularities. You can also find "bargains" in engineered hardwood, where the layers or plies of wood are made from inexpensive soft pulp woods and the valuable surface is just a very thin slice of wood as opposed to a properly sawn floor.
  8. Follow The Installation Instructions: Finally, your finished floor, in the long run, is only as good as the installation. If you are contracting with an independent installer, it is always smart to verify that he is licensed and that he has good references before you go to contract.  For more information on this topic, be sure to read our blog entry on Hiring An Installer