There are two types of hardwood flooring: solid and engineered. Both of them are made of 100% wood. Both of them come pre-finished (with a factory applied finish), both can also be sanded and refinished on-site. From this point there are differences between the two. The following will define those differences, which will help you decide which product is better for your project.
Solid vs. Engineered Wood Flooring
Solid: Solid hardwood flooring comes as a ¾” thick piece of solid wood, either with a smooth, unfinished surface which can be finished on-site, or a factory applied, pre-finished surface. Solid hardwood can be installed on or above grade, but not on a slab. It is normally nailed into the plywood sub-floor. Because solid hardwood is a full piece of wood, it is going to react to moisture and humidity like any wood: it will expand when exposed to moisture and it will shrink when exposed to dry surroundings. Therefore, if you live in an area where the humidity tends to be extreme one way or the other, solid hardwood will likely not perform well.
Further, with wider plank (4”-8”) styles, gaps from shrinking will be larger (the wider the plank, the wider the gap) than with the thinner planks (2.25” -3.25”) which are more stable as a result.
Other things to consider with solid hardwood: if the floor is being finished on-site, it is difficult to show an exact match of what the finish will look like because the actual flooring being finished will be impossible to sample. However, if the flooring is pre-finished, samples are available that show the finish as it will appear. Also, on-site finishing commonly encompasses several coats (at least three) of oil-based polyurethane. We recommend the homeowner vacates the premises (or at least closes off the area if that is possible) during this process, to avoid the smell. Each coat takes overnight to dry before the next coat is applied, plus a day or two for the entire finish to cure, so plan on being out of the house for at least 5 days for the finishing process. Water-based polyurethane finish is also available for an upcharge, without the smell. Oil-based polyurethane will slightly yellow over time, water-based will not.
Solid hardwood floors can be sanded and refinished many times.
Engineered: Engineered hardwood flooring is a real wood floor manufactured using several layers of wood veneers (composite material), topped with a layer of quality wood that can be finished 2-3 times, depending on the thickness of the wear layer. The grain of each veneer layer runs in perpendicular directions from the next layer, so the effects of humidity or lack of humidity on engineered flooring is limited to each veneer thickness, resulting in a much more stable product: it will expand and contract much less than solid hardwood. Engineered flooring can be nailed or glued to a subfloor or to a concrete slab. It can also be “floated” depending on manufacturer’s specifications. So, it can be used on, above or below grade. Engineered flooring is almost always pre-finished, so the variables and conditions to consider with floor refinishing don’t apply until it is time to sand and refinish the engineered floor.
It’s as simple as that. This simple guide should help you to choose between solid vs. engineered hardwood flooring. Either way, wood floors are a beautiful choice and will add warmth and texture to any room in the house!