Engineered Hardwood vs Hardwood Floors

Let’s take a moment to compare engineered hardwood vs hardwood floors. When shopping for wood floors for your home you need to consider the best option for your particular space. There are two types of hardwood floors to consider. Each has their own characteristics that are important to consider. They differ not only dimensionally and structurally but they also differ in how they react to moisture changes. The two types are solid and engineered.

Solid wood floors have been around for centuries and can last for well over 100 years and longer depending on their thickness, environment and maintenance. They can be purchased as a pre-finished wood or unfinished to be finished on site. Whether you chose the former or the latter will depend on your budget and timing of your project but that is an entirely different subject to discuss.

Solid hardwood floors are typically 3/4” thick with a 6 millimeter wear layer. The wear layer is the usable surface on a solid wood floor. The wood floor is milled with a wear layer on top, below that is the tongue and groove and then the bottom. Each layer is 6 mil or 1/4” thick. The wear layer is important to know in both solid and engineered flooring because that is the measuring stick of how long you should expect your wood floor to last. 

Solid hardwood floors are actually less expensive than engineered hardwood floors because it is more of a process to manufacture engineered wood floors. Solid hardwood flooring installation on or above grade. You should never install solid wood below grade. Solid wood floors should never be adhered directly to concrete without a proper moisture barrier.

If you want to install solid 3/4” hardwood over concrete it is best to first install 6 mil plastic as a moisture barrier and then 3/4” plywood over the plastic. You can then lay a permeable moisture barrier and nail your solid 3/4” wood to the plywood. Solid hardwood floors are very susceptible to moisture changes in the substrate, whether it is wood or concrete and in the air. Moisture in the air is the relative humidity in the air. 35%-55% is the desirable RH for hardwood flooring.

Engineered hardwood flooring consists of the wear layer and base layer or core. The wear layer can range from less than 1 millimeter to 5 millimeter. The tongue and groove are typically in the base of the plank. The base can be made of plywood or fiber core. They can be made with a varying amount of layers.

The more layers the more stable the engineered wood is. This is because each layer of plywood is turned in a direction perpendicular to the one below it. Wood swells and contracts parallel with the grain therefore each ply in the plywood is moving in a perpendicular direction to the layer above and below it. This limits how much each floor plank will expand and contract. This makes engineered wood floors twice as stable as solid wood floors.

You can install engineered wood on, above and below grade. It is always best to check with the manufacturer before purchasing. Engineered wood floors can be purchased as a pre finished or unfinished product. Engineered wood floors can be adhered directly to concrete with out a moisture barrier providing that the moisture readings in the concrete meet the manufacturer’s specifications.

Engineered floors with a 4 millimeter wear layer will last 100 years or more depending on environment and maintenance. Engineered floors with a 2 mil or less wear layer can not be sanded and re finished so keep that in mind when shopping. The better value is to purchase an engineered floor with at least a 3 mil wear layer. Engineered floors range from 5/16” to 3/4” in thickness.

Whether you are purchasing solid or engineered hardwood floors will depend on the environment in which you plan to install them. Whether you chose pre-finished or unfinished it is always best to chose quality. Cheap pre-finished floors may seem like a good choice while shopping, but in reality, will cost you more in the long run.

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