When we think of wood flooring most people think of the 3/4" thick, solid hard wood floors, but there are really 2 types of wood floors sold in the USA today. Engineered wood floors have become a popular alternative to 3/4" solid wood flooring and in many parts of the country are the floor of choice. Engineered wood flooring has really helped increase the popularity of wood flooring used in homes because it can be installed in areas where solid wood floors are not recommended. While in some parts of the country solid wood floors is still the floor of choice.
Once installed it really doesn't matter which type of wood floor your choose because most people cannot tell if the wood floor is solid or engineered. Since both types of wood floors are offered in the same wood species, widths and finishes it is near impossible for the untrained eye to tell the difference. Besides, both solid and engineered wood floors add distinctive beauty, charm and real value to any home.
But there are situations where one type of hard wood flooring is better suited than the other. So let's look at these two types of wood floors more closely.
Like it's name implies, solid hard wood flooring is made from a solid slab of wood cut from a log after a tree is harvested and cleaned up. All plank edges are tongue and grooved to help lock all sides of the adjoining planks together. The top of the solid planks are sanded smooth and either stained and finished at the factory, or on the job site. Like any solid wood products the planks are susceptible to changes in moisture and humidity -- meaning the planks will contract and expand along the width of the planks with changes in air humidity and moisture content in the wood. This is why solid hard wood floors are not recommended to be used: in high moisture areas, below grade level (ie: basements), or over concrete slabs. Also, 3/4" solid wood flooring has to be nailed down to a wood type sub-floor.
Although engineered wood floors look just like solid wood flooring from the top, but they are manufactured very differently. Engineered wood floors are actually made up of several thin wood plies that are laminated together with glue, heat and under pressure. This makes the thin wood plies as durable as a solid plank. Engineered wood planks are generally 3, 5, 7 or 9 plies and range from 1/4" thick to 9/16" thick. Plank widths can vary from 2-1/4" to 12" wide longstrip planks, Thicker engineered wood planks are the better because there are more wood plies which makes the planks stronger and more stable.
During manufacturing the wood plies are laminated together with the grain going in opposite directions which make the planks much more dimensionally stable than solid wood. With each ply facing the opposite direction the plies counteract the natural force of the wood plies wanting to grow or contract with changes in moisture and humidity. This is why engineered hardwood flooring can be used in many areas where solid wood floors are not recommended to be installed, such as over concrete slabs, or basement rec rooms. Engineered wood floors can generally be used any where in the home, including above grade, on grade, and below grade over dry concrete basement slabs.
Most engineered wood floors can can be glued-down, stapled-down or floated (meaning never secured to the sub-flooring) over many different types of sub-floors, including: concrete slabs, plywood, OSB and some types of existing flooring. Also, more and more engineered wood floors are being offered in a glueless, click-lock tongue and groove system, which is great for the homeowner who wants to install their own hardwood floor.
Be aware of buying boxes of wood flooring that are unmarked or are marked "cabin grade" or "seconds". Most hardwood flooring manufacturers at times have bad runs or finished products that do not meet their standards. This might be because of too much graining, knots or character marks in the wood. It can also be from unevenness in the tongue and grooves causing what is called "overwood", or "over bite". If you decide to buy cabin grade or seconds be sure you know what you are buying and that the discounted price more than offsets all the blemished planks and cut pieces you will have to throw away. Cabin grade can make a great looking rustic wood floor and at considerable savings. Just make sure you buy enough to throw away the bad stuff and leave you enough to cover your floor. Also be aware of the fact that cabin grade or seconds never come with any kind of warranty.
If you live in a high humidity area (such as along the ocean) or are installing the flooring over a concrete slab it is best to choose an engineered wood floor. Regardless if you choose solid or engineered wood flooring make sure the store you buy the flooring from, or installer, allows enough time for the boxes of wood flooring to acclimate to your climate in your home.