Solid vs. Engineered Wood Floor Facts & Misconceptions - Tamalpais Hardwood Floors

Many consumers are under the impression that solid hardwood flooring is superior to engineered hardwood flooring, They may even refuse to consider engineered flooring for their home. I have spent 25 years as a flooring contractor and the past 4 years as a retailer of both engineered and solid hardwood flooring. What I have found is that there are a lot of misconceptions about both types of floors. I would like to share the following information and my experience. So that you can make an educated decision about the best wood floor for your project.

Before I begin my comparison of engineered and solid floors, let us first clear up the first misconception. People think that engineered flooring is the same as laminate flooring (ie-Pergo.) More than a few people walk into my showroom with this idea, which is not true. Laminate flooring is not a real wood floor, engineered flooring is. The surface layer of laminate flooring is a photograph of wood grain on paper impregnated with melamine, not real wood. The top layer (wear layer) of engineered wood flooring consists of (real!) high-quality wood. Engineered hardwood floors have multiple cross-banded layers of wood for stability glued onto a plywood base.


Solid wood floor: Pro’s

Solid hardwood flooring is exactly what the name implies: a solid piece of wood from top to bottom. The thickness can vary but generally ranges from 3/4″ to 5/16″. Solid hardwood is certainly hardwearing and resilient. Its main advantage is that you can re-sand it several times. However, it is not necessarily superior to engineered flooring in this respect.

Solid wood flooring, like engineered flooring, has a “wear layer” or layer of wood that you san can sand. It’s only a fraction of the thickness of the wood floor. Solid floors are thicker than the wear layer of engineered floors. But you can only sand down so far before you would hit a nail with solid flooring. You may get one, possibly two, additional sandings with a solid floor compared to an engineered floor. This is the only possible advantage to solid flooring. In my opinion, it does not apply in every case and usually does not outweigh the advantages of engineered flooring.


Engineered wood floor: Pro’s

Engineered floors have several advantages. Solid floors are not a good choice in situations where there are high moisture levels or radiant heat systems. But the construction of engineered floors makes them stable enough to withstand certain changes in temperature and moisture. All of this might make a solid floor warp.

Engineered hardwood flooring resists wood’s natural tendency to change dimensionally over time. The grain of each layer runs in opposite directions, which makes engineered floors very stable. This means that the wood will expand and contract less than solid wood flooring during fluctuations in humidity and temperature. For this reason, engineered floors are a better choice for applications such as over radiant heat installations, in kitchens, bathrooms, and basements. It’s a good choice where you need a floor to span two differing sub-floors like plywood and concrete.

Another advantage of engineered floors is more flexibility of installation types. Whereas you can only nail down solid floors, you can nail or staple most engineered floors to a wood sub floors, or glue down to a wood sub floor or concrete slab. Only engineered floors can be floating. This is the only option when you cannot attach hardwood flooring to the sub-floor.

Lastly, compared to solid wood flooring, engineered flooring is a more environmentally sustainable choice. It can yield up to four times the amount of flooring using the same amount of high-quality wood.


Fine choice

Having said all of this, solid wood floors are certainly a fine choice for many applications. They just are not necessarily the superior choice in every case, as many people believe. When in doubt, a flooring contractor can evaluate your site conditions. It can advise you as to the best flooring type for your home.

Dermot Coogan owns Tamalpais Hardwood Flooring, a retail flooring/flooring installation and refinishing business in San Rafael, CA.  Please call 415.459.1800 if you have questions about hardwood floors, or contact us here. We at Tamalpais Hardwood Floor have more than 20 years flooring experience for your needs. Click here to find out what services we provide in the Bay Area and Marin.


by Dermot Coogan