Solid vs Engineered Wood: Understand the Difference Before Buying New Flooring

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Go ahead. Put real wood floors on your home wish list. You’ve always loved the rich look and wanted that warm feel underfoot. While you know they’d be an asset if you ever resell, you may have held off, worrying that they wouldn’t hold up under the hard wear your family would give them.

You can stop worrying and start enjoying. Now you have real wood choices. No, we’re not talking about cheap laminate floors printed to look like wood. New milling and production techniques have raised standards for engineered hardwood floors to the point where they really are comparable in quality to solid wood floors. In fact, they could wind up being a better alternative for your family than solid wood. The prices of both solid wood floors and engineered hardwood floors can be very close. Both prices have come down to be competitive with over types of flooring, particularly when you consider their expected lifetimes. So if the price isn’t how to choose, what is? Let’s take a look at how both types of flooring are made. Then let’s compare when and where you might want to use solid vs engineered wood options.

Solid Wood Basics

Solid Wood is milled from a single, solid piece of wood. There are a number of species of trees that are suitable for flooring, so there’s naturally a very wide range of colors and grain patterns available. Wood species are primarily graded on their hardness. How easily they will scratch, or become dented are key to determining how long each type of wood can be expected to last.

The Janka test is the industry standard used to measure hardness. It measures the force required to embed a 0.444 in steel ball into a sample of wood. Balsa wood, ranking at 440 is not a suitable candidate for a wood floor, but Black Walnut with a ranking of 3,600 is one of the best. Most solid wood floor planks are cut 3/4″ thick. This means they can re-sanded and re-finished many times so it has a very long life (if cared for). Wood expands and contracts in hot or cold weather. Higher humidity levels will also cause wood to expand. That’s why solid wood is nailed to a wood subfloor and is not suitable for basements.

Care must be taken during installation as well to get the distance between planks just right. Too tight and the floor will buckle when the wood expands. Too loose and you’ll wind up with gaps when in colder weather. It is possible to find solid wood that has been sawed to 5/16″ thickness. The flexibility gained by this thinner cut means it can be glued to a subfloor even if that subfloor is concrete.

Engineered Hardwood Basics

Engineered hardwood is also made from the same hardwood species as solids. The difference is in how they are milled and manufactured. Instead of being sawed into planks, each tree is “shaved” into very thin layers. These layers are glued to several, less expensive layers of plywood. Thicknesses vary from 3/8 to 1/2.”They can be sanded so you can prolong their life. Because the real wood veneer is so thin, they can usually only be lightly sanded once and it is recommended the job be done by a professional.

Unlike solid wood, engineered hardwoods can be glued to concrete subfloors as well as nailed or stapled to wood subfloors. That means they can be installed in basements. Engineered hardwoods have two installation advantages over solid wood floors. First, their construction makes them more stable. They do not expand or contract as much as solid wood. They can also be “floated.” That means they aren’t nailed or glued to the floor beneath. That also means installation is much easier and faster than a traditionally nailed solid floor.

Solid vs Engineered Wood

There are two other variables that could help you determine whether a solid wood or engineered wood floor is right for you. You need to consider the environment where the floor will be laid and how your family uses that area.


Moisture is the enemy of both solid wood and engineered wood floors. Neither should be used in a bathroom, though both could be used in a powder room. Because of their construction, engineered woods are more resistant to moisture’s effects than solids. That’s why you will find them in basements and kitchens.It is possible to use solid wood in a kitchen with a good protective finish applied. Waterproof mats around the sink area are recommended for both floors in a kitchen or powder room. 


Do you have small children or pets? People often worry about surface scratches and how that will affect the floor’s appearance over time. Generally light scratches, however, can be masked by the grain and color of the wood you select in the first place. Engineered hardwoods have been manufactured to withstand this sort of daily beating. Two other factors play a bigger role in determining how durable your floor needs to be. The first is how “high” is your footfall and the second is how “heavy” is your footfall. Solid wood floors are frequently recommended for hallways because they are used most often and therefore have a high footfall. If you have someone in the family who uses a wheelchair or cane, you might have a heavy footfall in your living areas as well. Once scratches and dents become noticeable to you, you’re going to want to re-sand and refinish your floors. How often you believe you’ll reach that point (and it is a very subjective point) will help you decide whether you need a solid or engineered floor.

A Win Either Way

In the end, the solid vs engineered wood debate is a very personal and subjective one. As long as you respect that neither will work well in some areas, you should be very pleased with their appearance and durability in any room. Financially, there are long term benefits to both as well. When and if you go to resell your home, you can legally advertise an engineered floor as “real wood” which should help you attract the right kind of buyer for your home. If you still need help deciding between solid and engineered hardwoods and you live in the Washington DC area, you can contact the flooring experts at District Floor Depot for help. 

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