What to Choose: Solid or Engineered Wood Flooring?
When homeowners are buying wood flooring, one of the important questions is: engineered or solid?
The answer depends on where in the house the wood flooring is to be installed. Solid wood flooring should be installed above grade, meaning on ground level or higher. Engineered wood flooring is the choice for a basement, and also can be installed above grade.
And, in the case for most homes in Colorado, whether to choose engineered or solid wood flooring depends on the home environment (relative humidity) and the homeowners’ awareness and willingness to maintain that climate.
Definitions of Solid + Engineered Wood Flooring
Solid wood flooring typically is manufactured to be ¾ inches thick. Like the name implies, each board is a solid piece of wood milled to be installed tongue-and-groove by nail and/or glue.
Engineered wood flooring often is less than ¾ inches thick, and is made of several layers. The top, or wear, layer of engineered flooring is the species you are buying. The layers beneath might be of different species. Those layers are applied in perpendicular directions, adding stability to the floor. Engineered wood flooring is installed by staple and/or glue.
What is Wood Flooring Stability?
Wood flooring stability refers to the floor boards’ reaction to changes in the environment.
Engineered wood flooring usually is considered to be more stable. That means the floor responds less to changes in humidity. Usually.
In Colorado, for example, the climate is exceptionally dry year-round. That affects the flooring differently than if that same flooring was installed in a wetter region of the country. (We explain the Colorado exception below.)
Solid wood flooring typically is considered to be less stable, because it expands sideways more than engineered wood flooring does when humidity increases. And when humidity decreases, solid flooring contracts more than engineered does. The length of the boards is not affected.
Wood Flooring + Colorado’s Climate
Across the U.S., engineered wood flooring often is chosen because of its extra stability. To the homeowner, that often means the impact of seasonal and home environment changes is not as noticeable.
In many parts of the country, excess humidity is more of a concern. So engineered wood flooring, which tends not to expand like solid wood flooring, is thought to be more of an “install it and forget it” option in the minds of many homeowners.
But in Colorado, a climate zone that is dry on a constant basis, wood flooring usually needs more humidity.
Proper Humidity Levels for Wood Flooring
Proper relative humidity in wood flooring’s environment, and the moisture content of wood, can’t be overemphasized. That’s why we recently posted “Water + Wood Basics” and “Humidity Matters” on this blog.
The standard range of relative humidity in a home should be between 30% and 50%, according to the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA).
Some wood flooring manufacturers’ instructions call for 35% to 55%. The manufacturer’s guidelines trump the NWFA’s, because they are talking about a specific product. The floor product’s warranty requires following those instructions.
Incorrect Humidity + Engineered Wood Flooring
Because the humidity level in Colorado often is only 10% to 25%, wood flooring requires humidification in the home to properly maintain the environment for optimal floor performance.
When relative humidity in the home is kept below the acceptable range, engineered flooring can:
- Split: Openings that go through the board, top to bottom
- Face-Check: Long cracks in the veneer that run length-wise
- Dry cup: The top layer of wood shrinks across the board’s face, pulling the edges upward while the layers beneath shrink less
- Delaminate: The top layer separates from the layers beneath
Delaminate: The top layer separates from the layers beneath
While similar results can happen with solid flooring, the most common result of an overly dry environment for solid wood flooring is gapping between floor boards due to contraction, or shrinkage. The gaps can be closed again by using a humidifier to restore proper humidity in the environment, causing the boards to expand.
Unlike in other regions of the U.S., engineered wood flooring in Colorado faces challenges that require humidification to prevent problems. Once the problems listed above start occurring in engineered wood flooring, humidification is unable to restore the engineered flooring.
Bottom Line: Engineered vs. Solid Wood Flooring
Both types of wood flooring are worthwhile options. Of course, there are other variables a homeowner likely will consider in the decision-making process, including: location in the home for installation, design, brand, and price. To help you make an educated decision, check out our Ultimate Guide to Hardwood Flooring.
Whether choosing engineered or solid wood flooring, the bottom line is a homeowner needs to understand:
How humidity impacts wood flooring, and …
Using a humidifier is an easy step for making your wood floor last for generations.