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I am looking to replace the existing floor because I was told by the inspector that it is engineered and can't be sanded. But while I had the contractor came, he said it is solid which we can sand instead of replacing.

How do I tell if it is solid hardwood or something else?

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You need to find an area where you can inspect the side of the boards. If there are floor registers, remove one and inspect. If you don't have those, look for areas around doors other areas where you might be able to easily remove a trim to inspect. Worst case, you will need to remove a floor molding to inspect.

Also height will give you a clue. 1/2 to 5/8 is the typical heights of engineered. 5/8 to 7/8 is the typical height for solid.

And some engineered floors can be sanded once or twice depending on the thickness of the finish wood.

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Both may be correct:

"Engineered" floors often have a fairly thin, yet substantial, amount of hardwood laminated over a base of cheaper wood. This section can be as much as 3/8" thick, and can be sanded (carefully!) several times before hitting the laminated section.

Apart from the methods suggested previously, you can wait for winter, when solid floorboards will shrink substantially, allowing you to get a knife through and pry them apart. "Engineered" floorboards don't shrink quite as much, and are typically 'lighter' colored on the tongue and groove section.

Finally, you might also be able to drill through the subfloor from underneath to look at the bottom of the boards, or, if you have a cutout for a floor-mounted electrical outlet, that can be used as well.

As an FYI: a floor can often be refinished without sanding; the technical term is 'screening'.

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I would take out a baseboard and see if you can pull a board up a little or use a small mirror to see the side of a board. They should be spaced away from the wall enough to see.

Engineered hardwood usually has 1/8" or less of said wood with backing. You cannot in almost all cases sand engineered hardwood. I have never ran across engineered that can be sanded so I would assume no. If you sand any part to the backing it with look awful.

Most engineered floors or at least the higher quality ones have a "perfect" finish and protective layering on them - not poly. Also if it is a wider plank probably engineered. I could probably tell if you had a picture. Now laminate and engineered can be hard to decipher but engineered and hardwood are usually easy to tell until you get into the $10 sq/ft variety.

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  • Old engineered floors (before the metal oxide finishes) had a lot of finish wood on top since they needed to be refinished like solid wood floors. Just engineered floors you could only refinish them about 3 times max before the finish wood would get too thin. – diceless Oct 16 '14 at 15:37
  • @diceless - I understand that but I would assume you can't since I have done a ton of houses and have never ran across this type of engineered flooring. It's not hard to figure out. You can definitely tell where the backing starts on engineered wood. – DMoore Oct 17 '14 at 21:23
  • Definitely not an expert but growing up these were the engineered floors I was used to. historicwoods.com/images/CrossSectionComparison.jpg I assumed these where normal until I did my house a couple of years ago and found they pretty much all just have a 1/8 inch now. – diceless Oct 18 '14 at 20:44
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Best way to tell whether it's engineered hardwood is to pull up the metal floor registers and inspect the rough cross section (the cut end) of the board to spot the veneer construction. Running a damp cloth along the cut-end of the board will clarify the separation of composite material and the veneer to which it's attached. The moisture will magnify where the composite material ends and the veneer begins.

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