What is the difference between solid wood floors and floating engineered wood floors? Most people would assume that solid wood flooring lasts longer, given that a worn hardwood floor can be sanded and refinished. The good news is that quality floating wood floors made with a sandable wear layer can also be refinished to stretch the lifespan of the floor significantly.

Contrary to common myths spread around the flooring industry, quality engineered wood flooring can last up to 80 years. The lifespan depends on a number of factors, but wear layer thickness is key.

What Is a Wear Layer?

Engineered wood flooring is made by pressing or laminating multiple layers of ply together, and generally comes in thicknesses between 3/8-inch to 3/4-inch. A hardwood veneer on top provides the look and feel of solid hardwood. This top layer - called the wear layer - is made from real wood, and is either a sliced cut (thick slab cut with a saw from the side of the log) or rotary cut (thinner wood peeled off the outer layer of the tree with a lathe) veneer.

Sliced cut veneers range in thickness from 1mm to 6mm. Rotary cut veneers often create wear layers of only 0.6mm to 1mm in thickness.

Benefits of Sandable Wear Layers

Floating wood floors that boast a wear layer 1mm thick or more are deemed sandable. The thicker the wear layer, the more times that floor can be sanded and refinished. For example, floors with a 6mm wear layer can be refinished 5 to 6 times, creating an 80-year lifespan.

Standard solid hardwood floors run around 3/4-inch thick. The wear layer on solid wood floors is about 5/16-inch thick – sanding beyond that point reveals the nails used to fasten the planks down. You can refinish this style of flooring between 5 and 7 times, which is similar to a top quality engineered flooring brand boasting a 6mm thick wear layer. These high end lines provide the same level of quality, value and adaptability as solid hardwood, while also offering the benefits of engineered wood flooring products.

Sandable engineered floors have better moisture resistance than solid wood flooring, perfect for installation in the basement or in areas with higher levels of humidity.

What Are Unsandable Wood Floors?

Unsandable wear layers – those with a thickness less than 1mm – cannot be sanded, although they can still be recoated with lacquer or stain. This cuts their lifespan significantly. You can still expect to get about 20 years, depending on the traffic.

For projects that must fall within a limited budget, and in applications where lifespan is not an issue, this type of engineered wood floor provides the desired look for a good price. Remember that floating wood floors with an unsandable wear layer are still made with real wood, as opposed to laminate products that only simulate the look of wood.

If you’re looking for a durable, attractive wood floor that will last for decades, shop for quality floating wood floors with a wear layer 4 to 6mm thick. Be prepared to spend a little more for this product. If longevity isn’t an issue, look for engineered wood floors with a thin wear layer in the finish and color you want.