Is Engineered Flooring Really Better Than Solid Plank Flooring?

First, let’s start with the definitions of Solid Plank and Engineered Plank. 

SOLID PLANK is pretty self-explanatory.  Boards are sawn from a log and as such are one piece of solid wood.  After air-drying and kiln-drying, that board is milled into a plank of flooring with a tongue and groove along the edges and ends and back-relief on the bottom.

ENGINEERED PLANK is a whole different thing – although it is actually, all wood.  It is just multiple layers of solid wood, all glued together to form a board.  The core (base layer) can be made up of a number of things.  Some have just 2 layers that can be the same or different than the top visible layer.  Our base layer is many layers (the 5/8” has 9 layers and the ¾” has 11 or 12 layers) of Baltic Birch.  Baltic Birch is a very stable diffuse porous wood that makes this “plywood” an ideal platform for the flooring.  The top layer – what you can actually see once installed – is called the Wear Layer.  This Wear Layer can be any wood at all, chosen for its aesthetic value and it is also sawn from a log like a Solid Plank.

Both types of flooring may be ordered Unfinished with a square edge so the planks can snug tightly together with no gaps, ready to be site sanded and site finished with the finish of your choice – or, may be ordered Pre-finished, with micro-beveled edges and a factory applied finish allowing it to be installed and lived on without further work.  I will discuss the relative benefits of buying flooring Unfinished or Pre-finished in a future blog – or, you can call me at (443) 280-1517 for my opinion any time!  😊  

HARDNESS is solely dependent on the species of wood chosen for the Solid Plank flooring or the Wear Layer of the Engineered Plank Flooring.

DURABILTY of Solid Plank wood flooring is also solely dependent on the species of wood chosen since there are no other factors to consider.  Durability of Engineered Plank flooring, however, depends on many things because there are a number of elements involved in its construction.  The quality of the core plywood, which includes the adhesive used and the quality of the manufacturing process is critical.  After all, if the Wear Layer is nice and hard and pretty – but, the planks delaminate in use, all is lost.

STABILITY is often the reason people decide to buy Engineered Plank Flooring instead of Solid Plank Flooring and in many cases that’s a wise plan.  The multiple cross banded layers of the core of Engineered Plank is inherently stable like plywood.  It makes for a good option in areas that are suspect for moisture infiltration like below grade applications.  (Although, I recommend that any possible moisture infiltration be corrected first for the overall benefit of the building process.)  All that having been said, however, I contend that Solid Plank (yes, of any width) may be just as stable as Engineered Plank in all but the most extreme circumstances.  The caveat here is that both the flooring itself be properly kiln-dried, kiln-conditioned – like ours – the site conditions be appropriately controlled and the flooring be site acclimated once the site is ready.  Of course, the control of site conditions is also important for Engineered Plank flooring.  That is also for another blog – or call me for my opinion on that, as well.

AESTHETICS is often a consideration when deciding between Solid Plank and Engineered Plank.  Nowadays, Engineered flooring like mine looks identical to Solid Plank flooring once installed.  This is due to the sawn nature of the wear layer rather than the peeled nature employed in plywood and the early iterations of Engineered Plank.  So, the only difference between the Solid Plank and Engineered Plank Wear Layer is its thickness.

INSTALLATION is also often a consideration.  Solid Plank flooring is most beneficially nailed down by blind nailing through the tongue into a wood substrate – whether plywood, OSB or other wood planks.  Engineered flooring offers more flexibility.  It can be glued down, nailed down or in some cases floated.  This extends its usability to installation over a slab.

LIFESPAN is another area of concern.  Both in terms of the construction of Engineered Plank flooring and the thickness of its Wear Layer, allowing multiple sandings over time.  Fist let me say that solid plank flooring has a 500 year history of successful installation – in fact, I have walked on solid plank flooring that was over 350 years old at the time (although, it was no longer looking its best!  😊).  Conversely, Engineered Plank flooring has maybe a 40 year history.  I’ll leave it at that.  But, in terms of the number of times Engineered Plank flooring can be sanded over time, I have to ask, really?  How many times would you really expect to have to sand it?  If it were me, I would pay attention to the finish and, if it looked like it was wearing off/losing its gloss/etc., I would employ someone to scuff it and recoat it.  That process over time results in never having to sand the flooring at all.  And, the same thing applies to Solid Plank flooring, as well. 

So, what’s the bottom line?  Is Engineered Flooring really better than Solid Flooring?  In some cases – maybe, but not necessarily always.  It still comes down to the quality.  If you stick with quality, you won’t go wrong with either Solid or Engineered Plank Flooring

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