So, what are benefits of engineered hardwood flooring? There are two main areas in which to consider when it comes to engineered flooring…
Solid hardwood flooring is as the name suggests, one solid piece of wood that is ¾” thick and varies in width from 2 ¼” to 5”. All the grain runs in the same direction in solid hardwood which is usually in the direction of the length of the plank. This means that as the solid hardwood is exposed to heat and humidity in the summer months, the whole plank is going to expand width-wise as the fibers in the wood expand. This expansion usually happens along the width of the planks more than the length of them. The wider the width of the board the more susceptible it becomes to changing shape, gapping, and cupping. Solid Hardwood is structurally stable in widths up to 4 ¼”. Any wider planks will perform better in an engineered format than solid.
Engineered hardwood floors on the other hand, are made up in layers. The top layer, which is the species you see and use, is called the “wear layer”. Then there is a core that can either be made of solid wood fillets (called solid core), or plywood in multiple layers (called a ply-core), or an HDF core similar to that of laminate flooring. In this case the flooring is a floating floor with a click installation. This type of flooring comes in a variety of thicknesses which makes this category more versatile to install on a variety of subfloors.
The advantage of an engineered hardwood floor is in its structural stability. Since every layer of the engineered hardwood has its grain perpendicular to the layer above and below, they stabilize each other’s movements with expansion and contraction. Therefore, in simplest terms, engineered hardwood offers longer lengths, wider widths, and structural stability superior to that of its solid counterpart.
Not all engineered hardwood is made the same however. The quality of any engineered hardwood flooring option, and therefore its price, is dependent upon the thickness of this wear layer, the construction of the core, and the species of both the wear layer and the core. The wear layer can either be solid sliced (2mm and thicker wear layers), or rotary peeled. A solid sliced wear layer will wear more like solid hardwood as the integrity and the strength of the grain is sustained. A rotary peeled wear layer is usually thinner, about 1-2mm thick and it is more susceptible to checking and shows other signs of wear.
Solid hardwood flooring is always installed on a wooden subfloor, and it must be nailed to the subfloor. Solid hardwood floors cannot be glued or floated. Therefore, solid hardwood floors are not suitable for installations below grade, or in condos and for commercial spaces that have a concrete subfloor.
Engineered hardwood floors by contrast can be installed just as the solid counterpart can be, but they can also be installed as floating floors and glued down on concrete surfaces, making them suitable for installations below, at, and above grade, and also in basements and commercial offices with concrete subfloors. Installation instructions are readily available from each manufacturer.
Written by: Mary Amini, M Squared Flooring & Design Centre In-house Design Consultant