Steve Vasconcelos (owner of THE FLOOR STUDIO INC.) gave an incredibly insightful presentation on flooring at our February Design Talk. The main point of the discussion was about the differences between traditional solid wood floors and engineered hardwood flooring.
Solid Wood Flooring
Solid hardwood is milled from solid lumber, and can be installed with nails or stapled to a wood subfloor. The main benefit that solid wood flooring has over engineered hardwood flooring is that it can be sanded and refinished several times more than its engineered counterpart in order to maintain its natural beauty. This means that solid wood floors can last for many years. How do you know when it’s time to replace a solid wood floor? Steve says that once the nail heads are exposed, the floors are expired and can no longer be refinished.
The number one enemy to solid wood flooring is moisture and excessive dryness. For this reason, it is NOT recommended to install this type of flooring below grade (in basements) due to the potential for damage from ground moisture. Another factor to consider in preserving your solid wood flooring: the relative humidity in your house or apartment. Most people are not aware that the need for heating during the winter months can create an environment that may be too dry for wood flooring. The relative humidity reading in your house or apartment should be between 30 – 50%. If your relative humidity is below 25%, you should have a humidifier. If you are thinking about purchasing a humidifier, keep in mind that the typical humidifier unit is only good for the room that it is placed in. If you have a need to control the relative humidity of the whole house, you will need to think about installing a whole-house humidifier system instead.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Engineered flooring uses multiple layers of wood glued together, with the grain of each layer running perpendicular to each other. This creates a more stable product that does not expand with moisture, as each layer is restrained by the other. This type of flooring is also more environmentally friendly due to the thin top layer (engineered hardwood flooring can get four times the yield of the same material it would take to produce solid wood flooring). However, because engineered flooring has a thinner wear layer (the top, solid wood layer) it cannot be sanded as many times as solid wood flooring. A standard wear layer of 3-6 millimeters should be able to get a minimum of two to three sanding’s over it’s lifetime. (Something to consider when purchasing – cheaper engineered hardwood flooring will have a thinner wear layer, which means fewer sanding’s and a shorter life span.)
Engineered flooring can be nailed, stapled or glued to a wood and/or concrete subfloor. This makes engineered flooring more versatile as it can also be glued onto a basements concrete subfloor.
Although humidity and moisture does not affect engineered hardwood flooring the same way it affects solid wood flooring, it is still important to maintain an environment with a stable relative humidity reading.
Installation Tips to Keep in Mind
Acclimating and moisture testing – make sure that before you install your new hardwood flooring (whether solid wood, or engineered) that you allow time for it to get used to the controlled indoor environment that you will be installing it in. This means letting the flooring sit in that environment for 5-7 days. You do not have to open the boxes the flooring comes in; you just have to make sure that it is in the same room or environment where it will be installed. Since many factors could cause the environment of one room or floor to differ from another within the same house or apartment, this is incredibly important.
Underlay is important! Do not cheap out on the underlay, as it is important for noise control.