Hardwood is the top flooring choice for so many homeowners because it creates a rich, warm atmosphere that will never seem out of date. There are two main categories of hardwood floors used for residential projects: solid wood flooring and engineered wood flooring. Each of them have unique properties, and are differentiated by price, longevity, and ease of installation. In general, solid hardwood floors last longer, are slightly pricier, and are more difficult to install. Engineered wood floors are easier to install, usually more economical, but can vary widely in quality and durability.
This article will explain:
– What each type of floor is composed of
– The advantages and disadvantages of each
– How to find a high quality engineered wood
– When solid hardwood can actually be a better deal than engineered wood flooring
What are they?
A solid wood floor is constructed just as the name implies – with planks of solid wood. Solid wood floors have traditionally been considered the quality, higher end option for hardwood flooring. All types of fine hardwoods are sold as solid wood floors, and especially long or wide planks of certain species can only be found in 3/4” solid wood planks.
Engineered wood floors are the most popular alternative to solid wood. They are made up of thin layers of wood glued on top of each other like plywood. The top layer, called the ‘wear layer’, is usually the only one actually made of a fine hardwood. This is where engineered wood gains the price advantage over solid hardwoods; on average an engineered wood floor can be built with 1/4 the amount of fine hardwood as a traditional solid wood floor.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Solid wood is said to age better, and because of its thickness, can be sanded down and refinished for a completely new look many times over. A properly maintained hardwood floor can be refinished up to seven times and last over 100 years.
An important consideration in some situations is total floor thickness. Solid wood is usually 3/4 of an inch thick, and if installed on a concrete slab, solid woods need to be overlaid on a plywood or wooden frame subfloor, an expensive process which will add at least an additional 5/8 inch to the total height of the floor. This may not sound like much, but the height difference can be enough to eliminate the kick spaces under cabinets, or simply make the entire installation unfeasible.
In areas with high humidity, solid wood floors need to be installed and maintained with great care. Solid wood expands and contracts along with changes in temperature and humidity, and if not installed properly can bulge in a humid summer and develop gaps between the boards during a cold winter. A good contractor will leave a buffer zone around the edge the the floor to accommodate this fluctuation.
The idea of a composite, plywood style floor may sound cheap to some, but in many ways engineered floors perform better than solid wood ones. They are resistant to shrinking and swelling due to temperature and humidity changes. They can be installed directly on any sub-floor, including concrete slab. They can be as thin as 1/4 inch, which can be crucial instances where it is being used to replace an equally thin floor, such as laminate or vinyl. In the instance of replacing a laminate or vinyl floor, they can even be laid down directly on top of the existing floor.
How to Find High Quality Engineered Wood
Buyers should be wary when they are in the market for engineered flooring. The wear layer is a key indicator of quality on an engineered floor. Wear layers can range anywhere from .6mm to 6mm. A floor with a .6mm wear layer might seem like a good deal, but might only last a decade. One with a wear layer of 4mm (5/32 IN.), on the other hand, usually can be sanded and refinished 4-5 times, just like a solid wood floor, and should last on average between 60 and 80 years.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Plank durability can also vary greatly depending upon species, construction design, and climate. Thicker is not always better, so be sure to consult with a local professional before throwing down big money on the thickest wear layer you can find.
Some companies will treat their engineered woods with a finish that is guaranteed to last a certain number of years. This can be a good, cheaper alternative to buying engineered wood with a thick wear layer, but only accept these guarantees from reputable, well established companies. If a company has only been around for 15 years, what are the odds it will be around in another 25 to replace your floor if the finish fails?
When is Solid Hardwood the Better Deal?
Solid wood floors are usually costlier that engineered wood floors, but if you want a floor that will look great after 50 years of heavy use, solid wood can be the better deal. It all depends on your time-frame, and weather or not you want to be able to refinish your floor. An engineered wood floor that can be refinished 3-4 times could be just as expensive as solid wood. The farther ahead you look, the more economical solid wood becomes.
This article is just meant to allow you to begin thinking about which type of flooring might be best for your situation. There are exceptions to every rule, and choosing the optimal type of flooring should not be done without consulting an experienced professional in your area who knows your individual situation and needs. Call VanRossun at (512) 263-9244, and let us give you advice and a free estimate for your flooring project.
Check back in on our blog soon for more info on how to choose the right wood species and finish for your hardwood floor, and the reasons why laminate flooring could be a budget – smart choice that’s perfect for your family.