One of the most popular flooring materials for centuries, hardwood (and softwood) has endured due to its versatility, availability, and undeniable beauty. Wood floors require minimal maintenance, are fully recyclable and do not trap dust, dander, pollen or allergens. Broadly appealing, wood adds visible charm and a unique character to any setting.
Softwood flooring is derived from species that tend to mature quickly and be readily abundant. Pine, fir and cedar are quite common, and the rapid growth of these species leads to the wood being less dense and somewhat less durable. More susceptible to dents and scratches, softwoods also tend to be more challenging to refinish. Despite these drawbacks, softwood floors, especially old ones, are prized for their patina and character. And being locally sourced and relatively quick growing, the flooring is far more eco-friendly than its hardwood counterparts.
Hardwood flooring is harvested from slow growing trees like Oak, Walnut, and countless other species, resulting in a more dense and durable material. Prized for their rarity, color, and grain, many hardwood species are not not native to the United States and sourced internationally. Their slow growth and limited availability contribute to their higher price, but their relative exclusivity and unique characteristics are still coveted by designers, builders and homeowners with adequate budgets.
Solid Wood vs. Engineered Wood
Nearly all wood flooring falls into one of two categories; solid or engineered. As the name suggests, solid wood flooring is made of one species throughout its thickness. It can be sanded and refinished numerous times throughout its lifespan, yielding real advantages over engineered options.
Engineered wood flooring looks like solid wood flooring but it manufactured by sandwiching a thin layer (veneer) of desired wood over a less-expensive substrate of plywood. By reducing the amount of precious wood used to manufacture engineered flooring, it is typically less expensive than solid wood. The thickness of the surface veneer varies greatly between manufacturers and has a direct impact on how many times the floor can be sanded and refinished.
Solid wood flooring is available in long planks milled with tongues on one side and grooves on the opposite edge, allowing the boards to interlock when installed. Most solid wood flooring is .75” thick and available in a variety of widths and lengths. The flooring can be prefinished or unfinished and is typically nailed to a subfloor, requiring some skill and knowledge.
Though engineered flooring can have the same look as solid wood, the base-layer of plywood provides excellent stability and minimizes the swelling and contraction you get with solid wood. They are designed to install without nails and can be floated or glued in place, making them easier to install for most DIYers.
To learn more about solid wood and engineered would, check out this great article on The Spruce.