5 Proven Hardwood Flooring Thickness Categories
In this article:
- Installing the Wrong Thickness Can Cost You More
- The Difference Between Engineered and Solid Hardwood Floors
Thickness of Hardwood Floors and Why It Matters
Cupping, Durability and Refinishing
Floating Floor Types
- How Do Floating Floors Stay In One Place?
- There Are Three Levels for Flooring
- Basement Floor Thickness
- Types of Finishes For Solid Hardwood Floors
- Why Buy Pre-Finished When You Can Finish the Floor On-Site?
- Durability of Pre-finished White Oak Hardwood Flooring
- 5 Reasons to Choose Pre-Finished Versus On-Site Finishing
- Pre-finished Hardwood Flooring Manufacturers
Installing the Wrong Thickness Can Cost You More
If you’re considering installing a hardwood floor in your home, and want to do-it-yourself, you’ll need to make a lot of decisions. You must choose between hardwood, engineered or laminate flooring, the color, the wood, the installation method, and the thickness of the material. Will you install the flooring below grade, at grade, or above “grade”? We’ll explain what this means in a moment.
We’ll look at the two types of flooring, what’s appropriate for the kind of installation you want, and their pros and cons. Where a hardwood floor's thickness matters is whether you plan on flipping the home or one you’ll pass down to your great-grandchildren.
First, let’s look at your two choices for hardwood flooring.
The Difference Between Engineered Hardwood and Solid Hardwood Floors
If you enter a room with a beautiful hardwood floor, can you tell if it’s engineered or solid hardwood? Probably not by standing on it. But when it comes to installing it for yourself there is a big difference in difficulty.
What Are Engineered Hardwood Floors
They make engineered hardwood flooring by laminating a solid hardwood veneer on top of a plywood base or similar material. The veneer is a slice of wood, usually about a 1/8-inch (3.18 mm) thick, glued to the plywood base. They can make the veneer from almost any species providing a wide array of colors and looks for any décor.
Engineered hardwood reduces the amount of expansion and shrinking due to the layers bonded with adhesive under heat and high pressure.
The most significant drawback, at least with some brands, is “outgassing.” These are toxic fumes that can emanate from the stains, adhesives, and finishes from some of the engineered floors. Volatile organic compounds and harmful substances like formaldehyde have been known to accumulate from these products. You’ll need to check if your brand has any issues with this before installing in your child’s bedroom or anywhere in your home.
What Are Solid Hardwood
Solid hardwood floors are boards cut straight from the tree. They can be narrow strips or wide planks. The widths and lengths vary because they can only produce so much lumber from one tree. The boards become thinner and shorter when cutting from the rounded outside pieces.
Here’s what Mike Holmes, home remodelling expert from HGTV says about solid hardwood,
“But the main problem with solid hardwood is that it shrinks and expands depending on the humidity in your home. In the winter when it’s drier, hardwood floors will shrink. When there’s more moisture in the air, like in the spring or summer, hardwood expands.
Whoever installs solid hardwood floors must have enough experience to leave the right amount of space for hardwood’s natural expansion and contraction. The individual boards can’t be too tight or too loose. If they’re too tight, your floor will buckle. If it’s too loose the gaps between the boards will get too wide in the winter.”
Wood is a natural product subject to expansion and contraction. However, what Mike was unaware of at the time, is that there is one manufacturer of solid hardwood floors who solved that problem for DIYers (and professionals). Easiklip devised a patented clip to join the boards instead of glue and nails. The clip has silicone beads that allow for natural movement of the floor without buckling.
Mike also says about engineered flooring,
“It can also be sanded and refinished — not as much as hardwood, but a few times over a couple of decades is fine, depending on the quality.”
And this is where the thickness of flooring comes into play. It’s about durability and longevity. Look for the thickest, solid hardwood you can find if you want your floor to last more than a lifetime.
If you only plan on flipping the home, you can get away with a thin engineered floor with a hardwood veneer and still legally say the home has hardwood floors.
The difference is that with solid wood, you can sand and varnish a wooden floor multiple times, unlike a lower grade engineered floor.
Hardwood Flooring Thickness Chart and Why It Matters
Most manufacturers use inches instead of centimeters or millimetres, but we’ve provided a small conversion chart to help you.
How Thick Is Real Wood Flooring?
If you’re shopping for solid hardwood floors, you’ll find three thicknesses of boards.
- 5/8 inch (15.88 mm)
- 3/4 inch (19 mm)
- 7/8 inch (22.23 mm)
The best and most common thickness of solid hardwood is 3/4 inch (19 mm). The thicker the board, the more it costs, but the longer it will last.
How Thick Is Engineered Wood Flooring?
The two most common thicknesses are:
- 1/2 inch (12.7 mm)
- 5/8 inch (15.88 mm)
However, you can find engineered with the top veneer of 3/4 inch (19 mm) and even as thick as 33/32 (26.16 mm) which is just over an inch thick in rare instances.
For engineered floors, there are two components that make up the thickness:
- The base layer or core and
- The veneer, (the thicker the veneer wears longer)
We add the total height of the board when comparing to solid wood.
(Photo from http://www.sawmillflooring.com/engineered.html)
What Is Better? Solid Hardwood Or Engineered Hardwood?
The choice depends upon how long you plan on staying in the home and if you need to sand and varnish the wooden floor every ten years or so to change the color or remove wear scratches.
A standard 3/4 inch solid wood floor board has roughly 3/8 inch of wood before you start seeing the tongue. While you might be able to sand it three times before wearing out the veneer, a pro can probably do it up to 5 times before the floor needs replacing. You’ll need at least a 1/4 inch (5 mm) wear layer of wood veneer on engineered to wear like a 3/4 inch (19 mm) solid floor.
Cupping, Durability & Refinishing
Thinner wood is more susceptible to warping and cupping. Thicker wood will withstand heavy traffic and can be refinished multiple times. There is more wood to wear down before exposing the tongue.
Typically, solid hardwood floors usually only need to be buffed and polished to last for generations unless you buy wood that’s too thin. Here is a comment from a flooring forum that should warn you against thin hardwood floors.
“I speak from experience on this. I installed 3/8" solid ash floors 16 years ago in my house. I just refinished them. They look great, although I have a few boards that are cupped and may need replacing.
Typically, if you get any moisture such as under sinks and refrig, around doors, you will get some cupping. I won't be able to sand the floors again. If I had it to do over, I would have used the 3/4" material. I did save a lot of money with the 3/8" which I installed and finished myself, but I will eventually have to replace or go over these floors down the road.” - Daniel M Martin, Architect LLC, Houzz Forum
When you install a floor, it can be permanent or floating. With a permanent installation, the floor boards are nailed or glued directly to the subfloor which can be concrete, tile or plywood. A floating floor sits on top of the subfloor.
What Is A Floating Floor And What Are The Advantages?
Is it like Aladdin’s Magic Carpet? When we talk about “floating” floors, it has to do with the installation. It means that the floor surface is not permanently attached to the sub-floor. It merely lays on top or floats.
You’ll see four floating floor types on the market, laminate, engineered, hardwood and cork. For our discussion, we’re only interested in engineered and solid hardwood because the other two options are not as durable or nearly as beautiful. And, if you’re installing over radiant heat, you’ll want a floating floor.
The most significant advantage with these floors is their ability to expand and contract evenly. Permanent wood floor installations use glue or nails to attach the flooring to the subfloor. There is no place for the wood to move creating dangerous tripping hazards with bumps, and cupping.
Both engineered, and solid wood can be floating floor types. You can install solid hardwood right over concrete, porcelain or vinyl tiles if the surface is level.
However, the Easiklip system has another advantage in that it can be removed and taken to another location if you move, or preserved to prevent damage if you’re remodelling. No special tools required. This video shows you Easiklip's easiest hardwood flooring to install:
You don’t have that option with permanent flooring and other floating floor types which are permanently glued together making it impossible to remove without damaging them.
Worried about paying someone else TOO MUCH MONEY to install your hardwood floor?
Do you want to know how much it REALLY costs to install hardwood? Check out this case study of a DIY hardwood installation with costs, timeline and list of materials:
How Do Floating Floors Stay in Place?
Floating floors are not bathroom rugs. The individual boards join to create a room-sized floor that can weigh hundreds of pounds or kilos. The combined weight keeps the boards in place without attaching it to the subfloor. The underlayment, a thin foam sheet creates friction and keeps the floor from sliding. It also provides cushioning and reduces sound.
To give you some idea, a single box of flooring weighs 43lbs and contains 15.069 sq ft of flooring. So a floor in a small-sized room of 15ft x 15ft would weigh about 650 lbs. Remember too that the surface of the floor is smooth and hard to grip. In other words, if you're worried about your floating flooring slipping around, don't be!
Here's a picture of a floating solid hardwood floor:
It looks and feels no different that a nailed or glued floor, it's just a heck of a lot easier to install.
There are Three Levels for Flooring
Earlier, we mentioned ‘grades.’ No, we’re not talking about school. In the world of floors, there are three levels that you need to know. ‘Above Grade,’ ‘On Grade,’ and ‘Below Grade.’ For you and me, that’s either above the ground, at ground level or below it. Where people have the most issues with floors is below grade, also known as your basement.
The biggest problem with below grade installations is the moisture that seeps up from the ground and through basement walls. Wood flooring sitting in lots of moisture is always a bad combination. That’s why below grade installations take special precautions. Typically, any hardwood floor is not suitable for basement applications, solid or engineered. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it.
Basement Floor Thickness
If you install flooring below grade, you’re going to run into issues of uneven floors, cracks, and moisture. Basement floor thickness can be a problem if the concrete is too thin.
For example, if you happen to move into an old house where the basement floor was an afterthought, they may have poured the concrete too thin. It may not have reinforcing mesh resulting in cracks or an uneven floor. Look for a minimum basement floor thickness of at least 3.5 inches (8.9 cm). And, if you need to level the floor first, that’s a major project on its own.
It’s not advisable to install most hardwood flooring in basements due to the moisture conditions. You can, if you have the humidity under control, your basement is always dry, you use proper moisture barriers and underlayment. But, if your basement leaks, or is damp, it will ruin the floor.
(Hardwood floors buckling from basement moisture leakage)
Installing below grade will also void the warranty on most flooring if you proceed. It’s a risk, and you must decide if the conditions at your location are worth the reward.
Easiklip is one of the few manufacturers of prefinished white oak flooring who say it is suitable for basement installation. It is a floating floor, so there is no gluing required or nailing into concrete.
Types of Finishes for Solid Hardwood Floors
There are four common finish coats to protect wood floors. These are not stains and are clear finishes.
Of these, only hard-wax oil and polyurethane are DIY- friendly. Aluminum oxide requires a manufacturing process and used mostly for engineered flooring. UV-cured also requires high intensity UV light and multiple coats. It works very well for prefinished white oak flooring giving it a soft, warm sheen instead of the “bowling alley” look of polyurethane.
Why Buy Pre-Finished When You Can Finish the Floor On-Site?
There are many reasons pre-finished flooring is the best choice. Finishing a floor, as a DIYer is a huge job. You may not have the experience or time to do it right. Here’s what you’re looking at to finish a floor from unfinished wood.
- Sanding – You need to rent a large, heavy floor sander and multiple grits of sandpaper because you’ll sand anywhere from 4 to 8 times reducing the grit each time.
- You must carefully vacuum EVERYWHERE, from the ceiling lights to the window blinds, or risk dust dropping onto your newly sealed floor later on.
- Wipe the floor with dry towels. Don’t use tack cloths because they can leave a film that will mess up the final finish.
- Adding Stain? – Allow 2 to 3 days between coats.
- Final Finish – There are a variety of polyurethane finishing products. Most take at least 48 hours to dry and may need additional layers which require light sanding in between each coat.
If you don’t mind staying out of the room, or the entire home for about a week, go for it. But, if you have kids, dogs and need to live in your home, pre-finished flooring is the way to go.
Another advantage with solid prefinished white oak flooring is there is no outgassing because there are no adhesives. The coatings have had time to dry and dissipate before shipping.
In an article from Consumer Reports, “Breathe Easier About Your Flooring,” they said,
“Prefinished solid-wood flooring seems to be a better choice than engineered wood or laminate, according to our small test sample. The prefinished solid-wood flooring had consistently lower formaldehyde emissions—near or less than our level of concern—than the widely variable levels we found from the engineered-wood and laminate flooring we tested.”
Prefinished white oak flooring is some of the most durable, beautiful and least expensive flooring options you can buy. It works better over radiant heat systems than exotic woods because, over time, the exotics tend to discolor in the pattern of the underlying heat tubes.
Durability of Pre-Finished White Oak Hardwood Flooring
Manufacturers have systems in place for applying finishes and coatings. They can use stronger chemical sealers than on-site contractors can use. As a result, you’ll find that most pre-finished floors have high UV protection and warranties up to 25 years compared to 3 or less for onsite finishes.
The better protection makes the wood more resistant to stains, spills, and other discolorations than on-site finished floors.
Another protective finish is the UV-Cured Oil Finish. This oil finish penetrates the wood, nourishing it as it protects, unlike polyurethanes that stay on top.
Oil finishes give a gentle luster and more natural appearance than shiny polyurethane finishes. The factory uses UV (ultra-violet) light to cure the oil, sealing the wood. They usually apply 3 to 4 coats, and the UV light helps the process go much faster than site-applied finishes.
Installing pre-finished white oak flooring avoids the mess and delays of multiple sanding, cleanings, and coatings. Plus, the finish is already dry, so there are no residual odors.
5 Reasons to Choose Pre-Finished Versus On-Site Finishing
Here’s 5 advantages of pre-finished white oak flooring:
- Prefinished boards expand or shrink individually, leaving the floor smooth. Site finished floors can stick together with the overlapping finish. This is called “side-bonding” and can create unsightly gaps as the floor naturally moves with the changes in temperature and humidity.
- You don’t have to move your family out of the house while the floor is drying.
- You don’t have dust from sanding and there are no odors or hazardous fumes from stains and sealers.
- Less installation time.
- You’re ready to walk on prefinished floors the moment the last board is down. No drying or curing time needed.
Prefinished Hardwood Flooring Manufacturers
There are over 87 manufacturers of hardwood floors in the U.S. and Canada (source -ThomasNet.com). Most of them have factories near the source of naturally growing hardwoods from eastern Canada to the central and eastern parts of the U.S. Other sources include Eastern Europe and China.
However, most of them make only unfinished hardwood floors, and very few make pre-finished flooring. Only Easiklip offers solid prefinished white oak flooring that is a full 3/4 inch (19 mm) thick requiring no special tools to install it. It has one of the most extended warranties in the business, 25 years. Most manufacturers offer shorter warranties, typically 20 or less and only 15 years or less for 1/2 inch (12.7 mm) thick boards.
Because all Easiklip floors come prefinished, you can easily install them now and walk on them right away. Should you or the subsequent homeowner decide to change the look, you can sand and varnish the wooden floor onsite, or easily remove it altogether and use it elsewhere.
Easiklip is the only manufacturer to combine the beauty and durability of UV-oil pre-finished white oak hardwood flooring with the ease of aluminum clip installation. This is the first choice for DIYers looking to increase the beauty and value of their home.
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