Occasionally we get people who ask us; "am I better off buying solid or engineered wood flooring?" Because of this, I have decided to add this section to our site. Listed below is a cross section of a piece of both solid and engineered wood flooring. While engineered wood floors can vary in overall thickness, the basic concept is the same. Look at the pictures and then read on.
Solid (Left) , Engineered (Right)
In looking at these pictures, what's your first reaction? Like a lot of people, you probably said to yourself, "the solid wood must be better because it's twice as thick". Well, guess what, you're not correct. Before I go into why, let me explain the black line drawn on an angle on the picture of the solid wood. This represents where a nail would be driven into the floor during installation. Now allow me to explain.
When comparing solid wood to engineered wood, we tend to think about resurfacing or "refinishing" the floor years down the road. This of course is directly related to the longevity of the flooring. Thinking about resurfacing the floor sometimes is the reason we may be misled into believing that the solid floor is better or will absolutely last longer. This is not so. Let's refer back to the pictures above. While there is no question that the solid wood floor is much thicker, take a look at where the nail is. When doing your resurfacing, maybe on the second or third resurfacing about 60 to 80 years from now, you are going to run into (literally) one of two things. It will be the nails with the solid wood floor, or the plywood core on the engineered floor. So, with that statement, now do you believe that the solid wood will really last longer?
There are also other important factors to consider. A solid wood floor is usually less stable than an engineered wood floor. When I say less stable, I am referring to moisture and expansion related to that moisture. When you get climate changes in your home, which you absolutely will, wood flooring expands and contracts. With solid wood flooring, it generally expands and contracts a lot more than the engineered wood. Engineered wood flooring is constructed to be dimensionally stable, while most solid wood floors are simply cut pieces of wood from a tree. Considering solid wood floors are cut pieces of wood, there is a lot more room for error or "cabin grade" type wood to be used. What we're saying here is that if you happen to see a solid wood floor real cheap, you are probably getting exactly what you are paying for, junk. While the same holds true for engineered wood floors, there is a lot less cabin grade around.
As we mentioned, the solid wood floors expand more than the engineered, and they expand vertically as well as horizontally. While you get little to no vertical expansion with most engineered wood floors, you may get a lot of this vertical expansion with the solid floors. Vertical expansion is when the boards will actually grow up and shrink down in addition to the side to side or horizontal expansion and contraction. The end result of this can be raised boards that sometimes catch your shoes and become a trip hazard. When looking at wood flooring samples, you will notice that most solid, pre-finished wood floors have beveled edges. These beveled edges counteract the raised boards that can become trip hazards, and sort of act as a smoother for the joints. The down side to this is the appearance. The beveled wood floors are not as natural looking. Also, when you get horizontal contraction, when the boards may shrink slightly, unfortunately the bevel edges tend to accentuate these gaps or basically make them look bigger. We have also heard complaints from customers who have had this type of wood flooring, that the bevels seem to hold the dirt when trying to clean the floor. This could be true depending on the depth of the bevel.
We are not saying that solid wood floors are bad or of lesser quality, but here are some facts you should know when considering what to buy. Unless you spend serious money on a solid wood floor, be it pre-finished or raw, you will most likely get a wood floor that will have characteristics as we described above. In some cases, with certain species, you may have no choice because solid wood is all that particular species is available in. But, if you are looking at Oak, Maple, Cherry, Hickory, Pecan, Brazilian Cherry, or one of the other somewhat more popular species, you can most likely find it in an engineered floor, and it will probably be a better value. Engineered wood floors are available in styles that have different installation methods. They include floors that can be installed using staple down, glue down, or free float methods. Over the past five or more years, the free float method seems to be the method of choice and we'd have to agree with that. Since the free floating wood floors do not actually touch the sub-floor, there is a near zero chance that you will have any problems with this floor. Additionally, with other installation methods you get those uneven gaps due to the standard expansion and contraction that we talked about previously. With floating engineered wood floors, when they expand and contract, they do so as one whole unit, not as individual planks so you see no change.