Are wider planks better?

This is a question I hear pretty often about wood flooring.  The answer is going to depend heavily on whether or not we’re talking about an engineered floor or a solid wood floor.

With engineered wood floors, you should experience very good stability no matter how wide the planks are.  Engineered wood floor planks typically start at 3-inches wide and go to 4, 5, and 6.  With the advanced construction of engineered floors, these planks should remain very stable with very little cupping, bending, or twisting.

Solid wood flooring comes in standard plank widths of 2-1/4-inch, 3-1/4, 4, 5, and 6.  And stability can be a problem with the solid planks.  The wider the plank, the less stable the floor.  My general rule is to install flooring that is no more than 4-inches wide.  I’ve seen too many floors with “wide plank” issues.  What kind of issues?  Gapping during the winter time (cold and dry), squeaking, and other minor annoying issues.  BUT major issues can come up that can only be fixed with a refinish.

If you plan on leaving the home for months with no temperature control (HVAC), expect to have issues as the wood expands with heat and shrinks with cold.  Temperature control in the home is by far the biggest factor that plays against solid flooring.  I would never advise a homeowner to simply turn off the HVAC and let it go for months.  Not only is it hard on your floors but on everything else too.

The science of stability: Engineered wood floors are built with a very stable, rigid plywood core attached which offers the benefit of stability.  Wood is an organic material with non-uniform density.  When this material is heated, it expands.  When it is cooled it contracts.  When it’s exposed to humidity it will swell and when it is dried out, it will shrink.  The non-uniform nature of the solid wood means that the wood will be subject to deformation like curling, buckling, or cupping when exposed to changes in the environmental condition.

In my own home, my wife and I have 3-1/4” wide, solid red oak plank floors and I’ve been diligent to keep the temperature and humidity within a reasonable range.  The result has been a stable floor with only a few minor squeaks here and there.

If your heart is set on engineered floors, you shouldn’t have any issues.  But if you really want a wide plank solid floor (5-inches or more) I recommend that you reconsider or expect to have issues over the life of your floors.

HSW Floors works directly with homeowners, skipping the retail markups, and providing only the highest quality floors and installations in Dallas, Allen, Plano, McKinney, Coppell, Flower Mound, and Frisco, TX.

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