Comparing Materials: 3 Tips for Choosing Between Hard and Engineered Wood

by Jason Brubaker

Wood floors say a lot about a business. Practical yet at the same time stylish and elegant, a well-chosen wood floor creates a warm, upscale ambiance that impresses clients and customers the moment they step through the door. A wide range of available materials, shades, textures and finishes give the architect or interior designer immense scope in creating the precise look and feel they want.

On the practical side, good reasons for choosing wood flooring are its durability and the ease with which it can be kept clean. Unlike carpet, dust is easily swept away and odors don't linger while spills can be quickly mopped. And a wood floor retains it's appearance long after after flooring starts looking shabby.

The Two Options

Wood flooring comes in two basic types: solid and engineered. Each has characteristics making it more suitable for one setting than another. Choosing between the two is best done with an appreciation of the differences.

Straight from the tree

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Solid wood flooring is exactly that. It's cut from the tree and planed into planks 3/4” thick. After finishing, these are nailed to a sub floor. Advantages of solid wood flooring include:

  • Can be sanded and refinished multiple times
  • Possible to change the color, finish or texture when remodeling

Against that, it's important to note that wood is of course a natural material. That means it expands and contracts in response to temperature changes, and also with humidity. In dry conditions it will shrink quite noticeably and leave gaps, while swelling in high humidity could lead to buckling and cupping. (When the sides of a plank are higher than the center.) In smaller areas this is handled by allowing gaps at the ends of a run which are usually covered by trim or molding pieces. In a large expanse of floor, accommodating dimensional changes becomes more of a challenge for both designer and installer.

Natural, but manufactured


Engineered wood flooring is still natural wood, but the planks are composed of layers of wood materials. Grain direction,thickness and particle size are chosen to add strength, stiffness and resilience, then the assembly is bonded under heat and pressure. This creates a wood flooring product with the appearance of a solid plank yet properties that are superior.

At Nydree, there's an additional manufacturing process to increase wear resistance and durability. Being a natural material, wood contains some air. This is drawn out and replaced with an acrylic polymer material. The resulting product is still natural wood, but with an additional harder-wearing compound that increases toughness.

(Please, never confuse engineered wood with laminate flooring. An engineered floor is still a natural wood product, unlike a laminate.)

The advantages of engineered wood include:

  • Superior dent resistance
  • Better resistance to humidity and temperature variation (so less gapping and cupping)
  • An almost unlimited range of woods and finishes to choose from

There however two points to be aware of. First, an engineered floor can't be sanded and refinished like a solid floor, simply because there's less of the top layer to work with. (However, better dent resistance means this probably isn't needed as often.)

Second, the bonding chemicals do give off an odor. This quickly dissipates but it can trouble some people when the floor is first put down.

Making the Decision

Having decided on wood flooring and leaving aside the choice of shade, finish and type of wood, (oak, maple and so on,) the next question is, solid or engineered? Here are three tips that should help in making that decision.

  1. Consider the installation location.
  2. Consider what use the floor will see.
  3. Decide what importance to place on refinishing.

Will it be refinished?

There are two reasons for refinishing a solid wood floor: to remove scratches, dents and other signs of wear, and to change its appearance. If used in a high or heavy traffic area, a solid floor could need refinishing in relatively short order, so there's also the cost of this to consider. However, if traffic is relatively light and the likelihood of changing the appearance of the space is high, solid flooring may be the better choice. An example might be the flooring used in a boutique art gallery, (not a public museum where the traffic could be quite high.)

Weigh the Pros and Cons

A wood floor is an excellent choice in many environments. It adds warmth and sophistication while still being practical. However, it is important to weigh up the merits of solid versus engineered wood. Used appropriately, solid wood flooring is an excellent choice. It is vulnerable to humidity and will wear, but can be refinished multiple times. Conversely, an engineered wood floor lacks the thickness for sanding but is more durable and offers better resistance to humidity changes.