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Solid Wood vs. Engineered Wood

Is there anyone who doesn’t love the natural beauty of a real hardwood floor? Apparently there aren’t many: according to the National Wood Flooring Association, Americans buy about 900 million square feet of wood flooring every year.

engineered hardwood flooring

The difference between solid and engineered hardwood.

Since that means, statistically, you are likely someday to be one of them, it might be useful for you to have some basic information.

Wood flooring comes in dozens, if not hundreds, of styles, colors, species (the kind of tree), and sizes. But they all fall under one of two basic categories: solid and engineered.

“Solid” is just what it sounds like: each plank is milled from a single piece of solid wood. “Engineered” means a laminated plank made of three or more pieces of wood glued together (they are both realwood). Which works best for you will depend on several factors, but most important among these is installation (ease of) and the type and condition of your subfloor.

Solid Hardwood Flooring

Solid wood flooring is available in strips (1.5″ – 3″ wide), planks (3″ – 7″ wide), and parquet squares, strip flooring being by far the most popular among homeowners. Thicknesses range from 5/16 to 3/4 inch, and all come finished or unfinished.

Unfinished means you can choose your own color, but it requires sanding, staining (or it can be left natural), and a topcoat finish. Prefinished wood is more expensive, but for most people this is more than offset by not having to sand, stain, and finish. Prefinished floors are also typically available in thinner planks, which facilitates installation.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Engineered wood flooring has been the most popular type of do-it-yourself wood floor since its introduction to the market in the mid-eighties. Its laminated construction makes it much more stable than solid wood flooring, so it’s less likely to cup, split, shrink, or warp.

Most engineered planks are 3 – 7 inches wide and 7 or 8 feet long, and range in thickness from about 3/8″ to 3/4″. Unfinished engineered wood can be found, but it’s rare. The vast majority of engineered flooring comes prefinished.

The big reason for its popularity among DIYers is installation: the planks snap together without nailing or gluing, and can be allowed to “float” over most existing floors, as long as the surface is flat and in good condition.

One caveat: when shopping for engineered wood flooring, be sure the top veneer is at least 1/8″ thick. This allows for sanding and refinishing when and if that becomes necessary for your floor.

And one more: wood is by definition a renewable resource, but some species of trees grow so slowly and are being harvested so quickly that they’re no longer considered sustainable. If you want to be sure you’re buying responsibly harvested wood, look for certification by the Forest Stewardship Council or similar environmental agency.

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