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Wood: Solid still has its advantages over engineered

Nov. 18/25 2013; Volume 27/number15

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 2.39.07 PMEven as engineered hardwood flooring gains in market share, solid remains a strong and viable portion, with some executives saying the selection enjoys the perception among consumers of offering greater value than engineered.

“The typical homeowner, if you asked them to choose between engineered or solid in markets that have both, will prefer solid,” said Milton Goodwin, vice president, Armstrong World Industries.

Harry Bogner, who oversees the Mohawk, Columbia and Century brands as Unilin’s senior vice president of hardwood, also commented on consumers’ requests. “In those markets such as the Northeastern United States, there is a much greater demand for solid hardwood flooring,” he said. “Because solid hardwood flooring was the ‘original’ hardwood floor, there is a higher value placed on it in the minds of many people.”

According to Bogner, solid hardwood also relates to American heritage, allowing customers to connect tradition and family values with the product. “There is a definite emotional attachment to hardwood flooring for many Americans,” he said. “Many of us grew up with solid hardwood floors in our homes or the homes of our grandparents, so we have fond memories of time spent in homes with solid hardwood floors. For many people, hardwood floors definitely help make a house emotionally feel like home.”

Based on footage, the industry consensus is that solid accounts for roughly 50% of the hardwood flooring market, between prefinished and unfinished. A decade ago, solid made up closer to two-thirds of the market. While engineered continues to make inroads due to attractive price points and improved visuals, solid has its own legion of supporters, and is particularly strong in the densely populated Northern markets as well as the Pacific Northwest.

A solid advantage

Compared to other wood flooring types, solid provides increased structural support for homes built on wood subfloors.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 2.40.21 PM
This wire-brushed hickory from Shaw is intended to meld the warmth of fabric with the strength of wood.

Goodwin said a solid floor can be manipulated, sanded and refinished hundreds of times over its lifetime. “You can refresh solid floors, whereas with engineered there is a limit as to how often you can do that,” he explained. “When someone is buying a house in markets where they have solid and engineered, a solid wood floor carries more value than an engineered floor. A solid piece of wood adds structural integrity to a floor, making it, pardon the pun, a much more ‘solid’ product than engineered.”

Bogner said because of its construction, an engineered hardwood plank does offer the benefits relative to width. “However, on a 5-inch-wide solid hardwood plank floor, you can apply all of the same surface treatments that can be done on a wider engineered plank. So, there is no advantage relative to the surface visual. Solid hardwood floors can bring the beauty of every desired surface treatment into a home, i.e., soft-scraped, hand-scraped, chattered, wire-brushed, etc.”

The growing popularity of wider planks favors engineered, as its products are able to go as wide as 8 to 10 inches and can still be installed in most U.S. homes. Solid, on the other hand, generally reaches about 5 inches, executives said.

However, Armstrong’s Homerwood division goes as far as 8 inches wide on solid, and Armstrong- and Bruce-branded products are 5 and 6 inches wide, according to Goodwin. “But you can go to 8 if you are willing to spend the money; you could go as far as 12 inches depending on the species.”

Brian Greenwell, vice president of sales and marketing for Mullican Flooring, added, “Wider planks are definitely more stable in engineered floors, however solid planks have been successful in 10- and 12-inch widths under the proper circumstances.”

Price comparisons

Prices of solid hardwood have increased at unprecedented rates this year given supply shortages. As well, the escalation in lumber prices has a greater affect on solid material.

Greenwell explained when it comes to pricing, much depends on the wear surface of the engineered floor. “Thinner engineered flooring is less expensive while thicker wear surfaces can actually be more expensive. The price of both solid and engineered flooring has gone up this year due to increases in raw materials.”

Solid price points are typically higher than engineered because solid utilizes more of the tree, whereas engineered is built on a plywood or HDF platform, Bogner added. “Because of this difference, you are not really comparing apples to apples when looking at the price of solid in comparison to engineered. Although the face can be the same species in both solid and engineered, underneath the face you usually have lower-cost species in engineered, so it is really not a good comparison.”

Supply issues caused the alteration in price for engineered and solid, but the latter was hit a bit harder. However, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. “We have seen raw material price increases in both solid and engineered,” Bogner said. “Both were driven in part by poor logging conditions this past season. Because sawmills have been slower to react by adding more capacity, solid has probably felt a bit more of the pinch than engineered. The good news is these raw material supply issues are not permanent. Improved logging conditions in the future, coupled with suppliers inevitably catching up to demand, will positively impact raw material cost over time.”

Developments, innovations

Many hardwood manufacturers have invested heavily in technology and automation to improve efficiency, cost, safety, material yield and waste reduction at its facilities. Shaw’s $26 million investment in its manufacturing plant has produced numerous innovations in solid hardwood, according to Kevin Thompson, hardwood category manager at Shaw Industries.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 2.42.13 PMHe cited Shaw’s ScufResist Platinum as one new development. “Though hardwood flooring is durable, over time all hardwood floors scuff. It’s part of their charm, but Shaw’s patented finish helps keeps flooring looking younger longer. There is now an assortment of textures and surface treatments never before seen in solid wood flooring. In particular, a more scuff-resistant finish has been introduced as a significant product innovation.”

For Armstrong, American Scrape in hickory and oak warrants discussion as a major solid launch this year. “It’s doing phenomenal in the market,” Goodwin said. “We like where we are with it and will be expanding it with new products at Surfaces.”

For the Mohawk family of brands that include Mohawk, Unilin, Columbia and Century, additional character looks, specifically hand-scraped and wire-brushed, are adding more visual styling options in solid.

Mohawk recently introduced ArmorMax Finish, known for its superior wear resistance; Scotchgard Advanced Repel Technology, which protects against stains and everyday messes, and Superior Shield Surface Technology, helping protect against grime, allowing for easier cleanup and retaining the floor’s finish.

Bogner said Columbia’s solid products have been robust sellers in 2013. “The Pembridge Collection in particular offers multi-width planks, soft-scraped surface texturing, a multi-step staining process and prominent graining.”