Comparing Solid Wood vs Engineered Timber Flooring: A Technical Insight

The choice between solid wood and engineered timber flooring is vital for homeowners and professionals. This article integrates technical details from recent industry manuals to offer a deeper understanding of these two popular flooring options.

1. Composition and Structural Differences:

  • Solid Wood Flooring: Made from single pieces of hardwood, solid wood flooring is known for its robustness and susceptibility to environmental changes like humidity.
  • Engineered Timber Flooring: Comprises a hardwood veneer over a core layer, often plywood or fibreboard. Engineered flooring offers enhanced stability against humidity changes due to its cross-laminated structure.

2. Installation and Environmental Adaptability:

  • Solid Wood: Requires careful installation, taking into account factors like moisture content and subfloor conditions. It’s sensitive to environmental changes and needs acclimatisation before installation.
  • Engineered Timber: Adaptable to various subfloor conditions and can be installed as floating floors. Its layered construction minimises dimensional changes due to humidity.

3. Durability and Maintenance:

  • Solid Wood: Can be sanded and refinished multiple times, extending its lifespan. It requires regular maintenance to counteract environmental effects.
  • Engineered Timber: The ability to refinish depends on the veneer thickness. It typically requires less maintenance and is more resistant to moisture and heat.

4. Aesthetic Variations and Customisations:

  • Solid Wood: Offers a timeless, natural look with inherent grain and colour variations.
  • Engineered Timber: Provides a wide range of aesthetic options and can mimic rare woods. Veneer quality and construction type can influence its appearance and performance.

5. Environmental Impact and Sustainability:

  • Solid Wood: Utilises more hardwood, impacting forests unless sustainably sourced.
  • Engineered Timber: More sustainable, using less hardwood. The impact depends on core materials and the manufacturing process.

Both solid wood and engineered timber flooring have unique attributes and technical considerations. Your choice will depend on factors like installation environment, maintenance preferences, and sustainability concerns.

What is Engineered Timber Flooring?

At Vienna Woods we often find that there are some misunderstandings about what is commonly called Engineered Flooring.  In the following article we will outline exactly what engineered flooring is and clear up any misconceptions.

The concept of engineered timber has been around for some time.  It wasn’t until the early 20th century when engineered timber began to be used for flooring.  See our article on The History of Engineered Flooring for more information.

Engineered flooring is term used to describe a flooring board comprising of layers of timber glued together to form a robust “engineered” plank.  The top layer is usually a species of hard wood.

Fusing the layers together in this way is also called laminating.  builders frequently work with laminated timber for everything from various ply wood application through to ceiling beams.  Laminated timbers are often used for their added spanning properties (think thick laminated beams) and also their structure stability (think of sheets of plywood).  However, some confusion  exists when using the term “laminated” with flooring.  There is a category of flooring named “laminated” which refers to a synthetic top layer laminated to a high density fibreboard backing.  Engineered timber flooring is technically laminated, but it does not fall under the category of laminated flooring.  Even builders (who commonly use and discuss laminated products) will sometimes refer to engineered timber flooring as “laminated”.

The Key Features of Engineered Timber Flooring:

  1. Layers: The typical engineered timber floor plank is made up of three or more layers. These layers are laid at right angles to each other to improve strength and resilience.
  2. Top Layer (Wear Layer): The topmost layer is a veneer of the desired hardwood. This could be oak, maple, or any other type of wood. This layer provides the look and feel of solid hardwood flooring. The thickness of this layer can vary, but it’s generally between 2mm to 6mm. This layer can be sanded and refinished, depending on its thickness.
  3. Core Layers: Beneath the top layer are several core layers, usually made from plywood, hardwood, or high-density fiberboard. These layers provide stability, reducing the wood’s natural tendency to expand and contract with changes in humidity and temperature. This makes engineered wood flooring more suitable for areas with varying climate conditions or for installation over underfloor heating systems.
  4. Bottom Layer: The bottom layer of engineered wood flooring is usually made from the same material as the core layers. It helps balance the board and prevent warping.

Engineered timber floors include a top layer of hardwood; typically 2.5 to 6mm, and a backing board which will sometimes be multi layered ply and some times solid core.  The backing board is usually made from a fast growing softwood.  The benefits of this construction are;

  • Stability: The cross-layer construction provides high stability compared to solid wood, making it less prone to changes caused by humidity and temperature.
  • Versatility: Engineered wood can be installed over various types of subfloors, including concrete.
  • Sustainability: Since the top layer is a thin veneer, less hardwood is used compared to solid wood flooring. This can be more sustainable if the wood is sourced responsibly.
  • Compatibility with Underfloor Heating: The construction of engineered wood makes it suitable for use with underfloor heating systems.

There are a number of different engineered timber types with connection systems, thicknesses and construction types varying a great deal.  The more common architypes are pictured below;