Hardwood flooring tends to come in two basic varieties: solid and engineered. Solid hardwood planks are exactly what they sound like; they’re planks of solid hardwood. Engineered hardwood planks are made from several layers of wood that are glued together. So, a solid maple hardwood plank will be ¾ of an inch of solid maple. An engineered maple hardwood plank will be a top layer of maple with several thin layers of other wood beneath it. That could be thin layers of hardwood, plywood, or medium density fiberboard. Engineered hardwood tends to be a little bit more affordable if you’re picking an expensive wood; that’s because there’s less of the expensive hardwood. But is there a functional difference?
Hardwood cupping occurs when the edges of the wood lift up to form a bowl shape in the plank. This happens when the moisture in the wood changes after it’s been installed. The wider the plank, the more likely it is to cup. Solid hardwood is also more likely to cup. Engineered hardwood plies are laid so that the grains line up perpendicular to one another; this reduces the likelihood that stress applied in one direction will cause the wood to cup. Because engineered hardwood is less likely to cup, it can be used for wide plank flooring in applications that might not work for solid hardwood. For example, engineered hardwood might work best in a humid basement.
Sanding your hardwood floor is the most effective way to repair damage to the wood. If it’s scratched, stained, or dented, you can sand away the imperfections to get down to bare wood again. However, the top layer of an engineered hardwood plank can be as thin as ⅛ of an inch. That means that you might be able to sand it once or twice but you have to be careful not to sand through the top layer. It’s probably best not to sand your engineered hardwood at all and just replace the damaged planks.
You can sand and refinish solid hardwood several times. Some manufacturers say that a solid hardwood plank can probably be sanded and refinished as many as seven times. In terms of repairs, solid hardwood gives you many more options.
Lastly, most engineered hardwood is stained and finished by the manufacturer. That means you can install it and walk on it the same day, but you’re limited by the manufacturer’s offerings. Solid hardwood can be stained and finished in dozens of different ways.
If you are considering new hardwood floor installation, think about which of these types are best for your situation.