Solid vs Engineered Hardwood: What’s the Difference?

Times have changed from when manufacturers, marketers and even some homeowners considered engineered wood to be sub-par. Now, engineered wood comprises a majority share of the wood floor market. Truthfully, neither can be called the outright “best.” Each type of wood flooring has its strengths and weaknesses, and deciding which is best for you really depends on your needs and circumstances.

Here’s a breakdown of the main differences between solid hardwood and engineered hardwood flooring.

The Basics of Hardwood Floor Types

Engineered wood flooring is a layered product made of actual hardwood sliced very thinly on top of a base of high-quality plywood.

Solid hardwood is nothing but hardwood, a homogeneous product from top to bottom and side to side.

Thickness & Width

Engineered wood flooring: Thickness can range from 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch. Standard widths are 3 1/4-inch, with plank sizes starting at 5 inches wide.

Solid hardwood: Thickness typically is 3/4-inch. The standard width begins at 2 1/4 inches wide. Plank width begins at 5 inches and can go up to 11 inches wide.

Pre-finished vs. Site-finished

Engineered wood flooring: Most engineered wood floors are pre-finished, though some companies do make site-finished engineered wood flooring.

Solid hardwood: Pre-finished is increasingly the finish of choice for solid wood floors. Site-finished (also called unfinished) accounts for about 25-percent of solid hardwoods today.

Sanding

Engineered wood flooring: Sanding is one of the greatest differences between engineered and solid wood flooring. Engineered wood can be sanded but only once or twice lightly, before the thin upper layer wears away.

Solid hardwood: Solid wood can be sanded numerous times. Eventually, solid hardwood will become too thin after years of sanding, compromising its structural integrity.

Installation

Engineered wood flooring: Engineered wood is easier than solid hardwood as you have a greater range of installation methods, including stapling or nailing, fold-and-lock, or glue.

Solid hardwood: Solid wood flooring is nailed or stapled down. It is never installed on a floating basis.

Resale Value

Engineered wood flooring: Because engineered wood floors are real wood, they can be advertised as such in real estate marketing materials, making them more attractive to buyers.

Solid hardwood: As long as the floor is in good shape, it is on equal terms with engineered wood flooring in terms of resale value.

Durability

Engineered wood flooring: Engineered wood floors are durable, but not comparable to solid wood. Because the surface is thin, it can become chipped or de-laminated if stressed beyond normal conditions. Yet its ability to hold up to limited moisture helps bring up its durability rating.

Solid hardwood: While well-maintained solid hardwood flooring will last for decades, this organic product is very susceptible to damage from moisture that isn’t removed quickly. Wood floors can sometimes be salvaged after flooding, but they will never perfectly return to their former shape.

Moisture Tolerance

Engineered wood flooring: Engineered wood is better than solid hardwood at dealing with moisture. Its plywood base is dimensionally stable, meaning that it warps and flexes less easily upon contact with moisture than solid wood. Fibers in plywood run in cross-wise layers, a far more stable structure than solid wood’s parallel fibers.

Solid hardwood: Solid hardwood is never recommended for bathrooms, basements, or other areas where moisture is prevalent or even expected. Still, solid hardwood can resist some moisture. For example: Site-finished wood flooring (as opposed to pre-finished) has a sealed top layer that can shed some moisture.

Hardness

Engineered wood flooring: Hard hardwoods are the most durable, including many of the South American or Indonesian exotics, as well as birch, maple, and walnut. Soft hardwoods such as pine will not be found in engineered wood format.

Solid hardwood: Solid hardwood encompasses a greater range of wood hardness than engineered wood. Hardness ranges from extremely soft and appropriate only for utility areas (such as Douglas Fir for workshops) to extremely tough hardwoods (for example, Brazilian Walnut).

Installation Areas

Engineered wood flooring: While it is best to avoid any kind of organic material in kitchens, engineered wood can be made to work with proper precautions. Powder rooms are fine. Engineered wood can be installed below-grade with a proper subfloor and as long as the basement has absolutely no moisture problems.

Solid hardwood: Solid wood works best in living areas, bedrooms, hallways, dining rooms. While it’s wise to avoid solid wood in kitchens, wood flooring can work there if waterproof mats are placed near the sink and dishwasher. You should avoid installing solid wood flooring in bathrooms. Never install solid wood flooring below grade, in basements.

Which Should You Buy?

Engineered wood flooring: Engineered wood is for those who want the look of wood but who have a practical bent. Engineered wood lets you install it in a few more rooms of the house than you can with solid wood. It will return value, but will not have the longevity that solid wood has.

Solid hardwood: Solid hardwood is for purists who have long-time prospects in mind, yet do not mind installing different types of flooring in different parts of the house, according to need. Solid wood will return value many years down the road.

Have Questions? We Can Answer Them!

Davis Floor Covering has thousands of samples and swatches of carpet, vinyl, hardwood, laminate, stone, and tile in our Fort Smith showroom at 3401 S. 79th St. (behind Vic’s Tires Goodyear on Rogers Avenue). Stop by anytime, or contact us now for more information and to request a free quote!