Softwood, hardwood and engineered flooring - what’s the difference?
Ever heard the saying ‘buy cheap, pay twice’? Well, softwood typically grows at a faster rate than hardwoods, making it a more affordable flooring option, at least initially. However, it is also more prone to dents, scratches and knots than hardwood and engineered flooring - making it a less preferable option for those with long-term use in mind.
Wooden floors are also fairly low maintenance once installed. They are easily vacuumed or cleaned every so often; an ideal product for this perhaps being Sylva Cleaner. In its lifetime, only very occasionally would a wooden floor need to be refinished.
Solid hardwood is exactly what it says it is - wood all the way through, with no other components. Solid hardwood presents a better option than softwood for flooring; it will withstand daily wear and tear - dents and scratches won’t be as big of an issue - whilst also providing more fire-resistance and a much longer lifespan.
Several species of Duffield’s solid hardwood flooring: No plywood here, and notice the grooves underneath? These relieve stress in the planks, preventing some of the movement of boards.
Engineered flooring, not to be confused with laminate and vinyl flooring, is also an incredibly durable option. Because it is made from a core of plywood with a layer of hardwood veneer on top, it can come in a range of finishes, styles and grades, achieving a stunning, natural look. Though aesthetically similar to hardwood, different grades of engineered flooring can differ slightly from solid hardwood flooring.
Price differs according to the quality of the engineered flooring, typically between £30m² and £90m². There are three main different qualities of engineered flooring; this is based on the amount of plywood layers it carries as well as the thickness of the hardwood layer is has on top.
• 3 plies: This is the the lowest - and cheapest - grade of engineered flooring. It has a base consisting of 3 layers of ply and a hardwood layer around 1-2mm thick.
• 5 plies: The mid-range grade. This has a base of 5 layers of ply and a hardwood cap of 3mm.
• The top of the range in terms of engineered flooring is usually 9 or 10 layers of ply in the base and a hardwood top between 6-7mm. The Reeve flooring that supplied here at Duffield, for example, consists of 10 plywood layers and a cap of 6mm. We also offer Reeve flooring on a 5-ply base.
Some of our 20mm thick Reeve engineered flooring planks: Note the 6mm hardwood cap sitting on top of the layered plywood core.
In terms of practicality, engineered floorboards excel. Their uses are numerous, such as with underfloor heating, as well as in areas of a building that may be prone to moisture (such as a kitchen or conservatory) where engineered wood won’t be affected. However, solid hardwood flooring may contract or expand, especially when used above underfloor heating and in moist conditions - so factor this in. We do not recommend that you use either solid or engineered flooring in your bathroom!
In areas of high footfall, such as in a commercial property or a well-used area of the home (hallway or living room), solid hardwood flooring may be a better option. It can withstand much more use, packing a higher density. However, 5-ply and 9-ply engineered flooring, which we pointed out earlier, may still be suitable; they have a thick enough hardwood cap allowing the planks to be sanded and refinished.
Considering the environmental impact
In comparison to other flooring options such as carpeting, which will need to be replaced every five to ten years, all types of timber flooring represent an environmentally friendly option as wood is a renewable resource.
Top-tip: to ensure the wood you’re buying is eco-friendly, be mindful to use an FSC-certified timber merchant (ahem, like us!).
As engineered flooring only has a layer of hardwood on top, it proves a more environmentally friendly option than solid hardwood, where the whole floorboard is solid timber. Having said that, if you have your heart set on traditional solid hardwood flooring, why not choose a more sustainable type of timber such as oak or pine, instead of more exotic options like Wenge or Zebrano (whilst potentially saving a pretty penny, too)?
What about cost?
Wooden flooring can quite usually be sorted into three pricing tiers: low price range in the region of £25-£35m², mid-range £35-£45m² and high range £45-£90m².
The 3-ply engineered flooring is yours at the lowest price. In the mid-range are 5-ply engineered and the more usual solid hardwood floor species (e.g. Ash, Oak, Elm). Towards the higher end of the range, you will find the 9-ply engineered floors and the more exotic species of solid hardwoods (think Zebrano, Wenge, Black Walnut).
For the keen DIY-ers out there, or those looking for a cheaper installation fee, engineered flooring is a better option. This is because it lends itself to numerous methods of installation, including stapling, nailing, gluing or even floating - it can also have a click together system!
The choice is yours...
Putting it simply, there really is no right or wrong answer. Your choice, however, may be influenced by your budget, practical needs and aesthetic vision.
Looking for a floor that guards itself more against moisture and frequent changes is temperature, perhaps in a kitchen with underfloor heating? Opt for the engineered wood. Want the classic look that will last a lifetime? A traditional solid hardwood floor could be the right fit.