Engineered Floor or Solid?

I am often asked in my architectural presentations about my preference between engineered and solid wood floors.  In this blog I try to steer away from polarizing topics, but I decided to express my personal opinion on this question.  While there are different levels of quality in engineered floors as there are in any composite product, I always return to solid flooring as the best choice.  Naturally, I feel that quartersawn solid wood floors are the best choice for virtually any application, whether high traffic commercial or residential.

There are solid quartersawn white oak floors in chateaux in the Loire Valley that have seen many millions of visitors over 400 years and they are still there and quite serviceable.  I am working with an architectural firm on their design for a high profile museum.  They want to use quartersawn white oak next to terrazzo floors and expect 1.6 million visitors a year to walk those floors.  Their initial thought was to use engineered flooring, but I suggested solid flooring.  In my consultations with designers and architects my goal is to help minimize variables.  Engineered flooring represents a set of variables that are often not offset by significant cost savings.

One variable is the adhesives used in laminating the multi-ply substrate. Should any of those laminations fail, the floor begins to fail and every time someone walks over that spot it will click.  Additionally if you gouge an engineered floor, repair can be difficult.  With solid flooring the spot can be sanded out without revealing a substrate material. 

I simply look at history when thinking about this.  In my presentations I show slides of some McKim Meade & White mansions, notably in Newport, Rhode Island.  These are generally quartersawn white oak floors that were installed in the late 1800’s in an era before air conditioning.  The windows were raised in warm and humid conditions and they survived just fine and are as flat today as they were then.  There are solid wood floors that may not have survived in that humid environment as well as quartersawn white oak, and if there was engineered flooring in the 1800’s, perhaps that would have been a better choice for Plain Sawn Cherry and Walnut. 

There will always be debate over this question, with some saying that by using engineered flooring you extend the lumber by cutting multiple wear layers out of each inch of solid wood.  That is true, but the variables of substrate construction remain.  There is no need to worry about the lumber resource – we are growing twice as much hardwood in the U.S. as we are harvesting and ours is a sustainable forestry model for the world. 

In conclusion, high quality engineered floor can be the right choice for a variety of environments.  In my humble opinion, solid quartersawn white oak flooring is the highest quality, most durable American hardwood flooring available.