Solid or Engineered: Which Floor is Right For You?
One of the most common questions we hear is, “Should I use solid or engineered wood?” 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 better understand when one should be used over the other.
Wood Moves with Its Environment
Wood is “hygroscopic”, which means it is constantly influenced by the moisture in the environment around it. A wood floor 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.
Is My Environment Humid or Dry?
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 If the Relative Humidity Level Drops Below 30%?
For an engineered floor installed in an environment with a sub-30% RH 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, a solid floor in an environment below 30% RH 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.
So Which Platform Should Be Used? And When?
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 30-50% range, then either engineered or solid wood 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.
Here at Carlisle, we are proud to craft both our engineered and solid wood floors from scratch, so we’ve got the floor for you no matter which platform you choose. If you want to learn more about how our woods compare, download our Solid vs. Engineered Guide today to see how our floors stack up against industry standards and learn some important questions to ask when shopping for an engineered floor.