Flooring is one of the most important decisions you will make for your interior. The foundation of your home’s look and overall feel, the experts recommend you consider a flooring’s aesthetic and function in equal parts. Enduring the most wear of any aspect of your home, you need to choose your product wisely based on your family’s lifestyle. You like the classic look of natural wood floors, but how do you choose between solid hardwood or engineered flooring? Modern Home Victoria spoke to Stefanie Watchman at Island Floor Centre Ltd to help take the mystery out of the two different products.
Right out of the gates Watchman states that “generally speaking, if you ask most flooring professionals what they would choose for their own homes, more often than not, engineered flooring wins hands down over solid wood.” However, a lot of consumers still refuse engineered flooring based on their own preconceived ideas of the product. Let’s examine both.
Solid Hardwood Defined: Solid hardwood is manufactured from a piece of solid wood. Simply put, in a three-inch live plank of maple, every molecule of that plank is maple, from its surface to its backing. Based on its thickness, solid wood can be sanded down and refinished multiple times. The most common profile is tongue-and-groove.
Engineered Hardwood Defined: Engineered hardwood is made of layers of wood bonded together with adhesives using intense heat and pressure. For example, an engineered piece of maple will have a maple veneer (on average 2-6mm) with a backing on it to give it dimensional stability. The backing is often made up of HDF (high-density fibreboard) board, plywood, or cross-oriented birch to give it more stability. Engineered flooring’s profile is most often either tongue-and-groove or click-locking technology.
Pros and Cons of Solid Hardwood: The benefit of solid hardwood is that it can be sanded and finished multiple times. There is a preconception that solid wood is a better value because there is more actual wood than in an engineered plank. However, the length of a hardwood plank is generally shorter than an engineered product and solid hardwood is humidity sensitive and therefore, prone to gaps and squeaks.
Pros and Cons of Engineered Wood: Moisture resistant and more dimensionally stable, engineered hardwood is a versatile product for any room in your home. Engineered flooring offers more choices starting at three inches wide to almost any width you need. Engineered flooring is humidity tolerant, and therefore, more stable. Engineered wood uses less actual wood than hardwood and is therefore, a more sustainable product. The backing is less costly and a more eco-friendly choice.
Pre-finished Flooring: Distinguishing between the two different flooring choices gets convoluted when we consider pre-finished products. Most of what is sold at the Island Floor Centre is a pre-finished solid or engineered wood. The advantage of a pre-finished wood is that when you install a plank, it is complete. Nail it in and it’s done. It has an aluminum oxide or a titanium oxide cured coat on the surface and it is pre-finished.
However, a pre-finished solid hardwood or engineered has seven to nine ultra-violet cured layers of a top coat making it very difficult to sand — labour intensive and messy. If you refinish it, it will have a less durable surface than it did when it was originally pre-finished.
Durability: Essentially a pre-finished product, whether engineered or hardwood, will perform exactly the same in terms of surface durability. The surface is exactly the same and will wear the same. In Watchman’s opinion, if a customer has a long term intent of refinishing solid wood floors, she would recommend an unfinished product, have it site finished and feel confident that refinishing will be a part of their long-term plan.
Installation differences: There are exceptions with new technologies and innovative glues but generally speaking, hardwood has to be nailed or stapled on plywood depending on the wood. Because hardwood responds to variances in humidity, the wood naturally expands and contracts which leads to squeaks and creaks. Squeaks are a result of nails or staples moving against bowed wood. Due to its natural expansion and contraction, hardwood installation is best left to the professionals.
Depending on the product, engineered wood has multiple installation techniques and can be installed on all levels of the home. Most engineered woods are tongue and groove like solid hardwood, but they can also click together and be floated.
Floating installation starts with a sub-floor — usually concrete, foam or felt underlay. Then the wood is glued together and not adhered to sub-floor in any way. Installation leaves expansion gaps at your perimeter to allow the wood to expand or contract independently of your sub-floor. Easiest installation is probably a click together floating engineered floor – installed like laminate.
Appearance: The top layer of engineered flooring is made of real wood so it has the look, texture and feel of solid wood floors. Both solid and engineered floors are available in the same range of finishes and stains, so there is virtually no difference in appearance.
Cost: People assume hardwood is more expensive, but this is not always true. On average engineered is a bit more expensive than solid wood because of the customization abilities. Adding milling plus science of the process adds to the cost. Plank size, cost and quality of the adhesives are all cost considerations.
Care: Watchman encourages realistic expectations of a natural product. You will never find a wood floor that doesn’t dent or scratch. Wire-brushed oak floors are most popular right now — they have grain and colour differentials without a high sheen finish, perfect for concealing dents and scratches. Piano smooth maple will show every scratch from twenty feet away.