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Solid or Engineered Wood Flooring: Which Floor is Right for You?
One of the most common questions we hear is, “Should I use solid or engineered hardwood flooring for my project?” We sat down with Michael Harde, our Director of Technical Services and a National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA)-Certified Floor Inspector, to discuss this topic.
Wood Flooring Changes with its Environment
Wood is “hygroscopic,” which means it is constantly influenced by the moisture in the environment around it. Wood flooring will continually absorb or release moisture in concert with its surroundings. If the atmosphere has high humidity, the wood will swell as it absorbs moisture from the air and expands. If the atmosphere is very dry, the wood will give off moisture and shrink.
The easiest way to determine if your environment is humid or dry is to purchase a hygrometer, or humidity monitor, to measure the humidity levels within your space. Relative humidity (RH) levels that fall below 30% would be considered “dry.” Low humidity may be seasonal (common where heating systems are used during winter months) or it might be a year-round condition common in deserts or high-altitude locations.
What Happens to Quality Wood Floors if Humidity Drops?
For an engineered floor installed in an environment with a sub-30% relative humidity level, the decorative hardwood veneer (the “wear layer”) may be subject to damage as the wood of which it is comprised tries to shrink as it dries, but is restricted from doing so by its dimensionally more stable plywood base. This may result in unsightly fractures (splits) in the surface of the plank that are often numerous and may follow the full lengths of the boards. This type of damage is permanent and although its appearance may improve during more humid periods of the year, the fractures are never healed or repaired.
Conversely, solid wood flooring in an environment below 30% relative humidity is more elastic and can shrink without damage when dry conditions occur. Solid wood planks will reflect the seasonal influences of drier environments by forming gaps along the longer edges where two boards meet. These gaps are temporary and will vary in width based on the extremity of the dry conditions. And when sufficient RH is once again present, these gaps will close, returning the floor to its initial state with no permanent damage.
Which Type of Wood Flooring Should I Use?
If relative humidity levels tend to fall below the 30% threshold, solid wood flooring will be the hands-down optimal choice. The physical effects, such as splits or fractures, that result from extreme, dry ambient conditions cannot be prevented in engineered flooring if the relative humidity cannot consistently be held above 30%.
If RH levels are consistently maintained between the recommended 30-55% range, then either engineered or solid hardwood floors would be appropriate. In the best-case scenario, the wood floor would able to act naturally (as is the case with solid wood plank flooring) and adjust with the environment as needed.
See How Our Wood Floors Exceed Industry Standards
At Carlisle, we are proud to craft both our engineered and solid wood floors from scratch. We control the process and quality of material from start to finish no matter which platform you choose. Download our Solid vs. Engineered Guide today and find out how our custom wood floors stack up against industry standards as well as the important questions to ask when shopping for an engineered floor.
About Our Wood Flooring Expert
Michael Harde has 25 years experience in the floor covering industry, with the past 14 years as an independent inspector, consultant, and expert witness for floor covering issues with specialization in wood flooring (IAWFP & NOFMA Certified Wood Flooring Inspector). Director of Technical Services at Carlisle Wide Plank Floors since 2016. He lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida and enjoys boating and fishing along with a wide range of sports. He is a competitive carver/artist and has been recognized two times as “Best in World”.