Solid v. Engineered Hardwood

Two terms you will run into when shopping for hardwood flooring is solid and engineered hardwood. In this blog we will educate you on: what solid and engineered hardwood is, what makes one better than the other, the finishes on each, what to look for when shopping for each and where both products can be installed.

What is solid and engineered hardwood?

Solid hardwood is just what it sounds like, it is ¾” solid wood milled into tongue and groove planks.  

Engineered hardwood is also “real” hardwood with a different construction. It is composed of multiple layers of wood laid in a cross-grain construction making it stronger and more dimensionally stable than solid hardwood. The top layer is your real wood species and it looks equally as beautiful as solid hardwood. Engineered hardwood typically ranges from 3/8” up to ¾” thick.

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What makes engineered hardwoods a better choice than solids?

Because of the cross-grain construction engineered hardwoods can withstand the natural expansion and contraction of hardwood in the different seasons. Wood grows in the warmer seasons that have higher relative humidity levels and wood shrinks when the air cools and the relative humidity lowers. Solid hardwood doesn’t have the same ability and will expand and cause cupping in the warmer seasons, and contract in the cooler seasons resulting in gaping. A study was done by the National Wood Flooring Association where they took an area of 5” solid wood flooring, and an area of 5” engineered wood flooring with 17% moisture content and the 5” solid wood experience 1/8” expansion on one board where the engineered hardwood showed no signs of growth in the same experiment.

 This is an example of a solid hardwood floor that has dried out and is experiencing gaping.

This is an example of a solid hardwood floor that has dried out and is experiencing gaping.

 This is an example a solid hardwood floor that has a high moisture content underneath it that is experiencing cupping.

This is an example a solid hardwood floor that has a high moisture content underneath it that is experiencing cupping.

What are the finishes on solid and engineered hardwood and which is preferred?

Solid hardwood can be installed unfinished and finished on the job site, or it can be installed pre-finished with a factory bevel. The factory finished hardwood is almost always a superior finish than the hardwoods that are finished on the job site. The reason the factory finish is superior is because in the factory there are more coats of finish applied, and each coat has a hardener, such as aluminum oxide, and the finishes are baked on to harden.

What should I look for when purchasing hardwood floors?

The finish is one of the most important elements to pay attention to when purchasing hardwood flooring. With hardwoods you get what you pay for, and cheaper products typically have cut costs in the finishing process. A good quality finished hardwood has aluminum oxide or titanium oxide, which is a hardener, and has between 6-10 coats of finish applied and baked on.

Where can solid and engineered products be installed?

Solid hardwood can only be installed in areas with low relative humidity; they can also only be installed over plywood and above grade.

Engineered hardwood can be installed in areas with a little higher relative humidity; they can be installed above and below grade, nailed or glued onto plywood, floated or glued over concrete and floated over particle board.