Engineered Wood Flooring vs. Hardwood

Beyond doubt, wood flooring graces any space with an ostentatious appeal. However, deciding between engineered wood flooring vs. hardwood flooring can push you into a quandary.

Despite being modish and genteel flooring options, they have some core differences ranging from materials and cost to durability.

Read on to find out how these two types of wood floors stack up against each other!

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Engineered wood flooring vs. hardwood

The crux of this comparison lies in the composition. Hardwood flooring has solid wood throughout the planks’ thickness and is milled from hardwood tree species like walnut, maple, or oak. Engineered wood flooring is made of high-grade plywood core in the middle and a thin layer of natural wood on the top and bottom.

If your main interest is longevity, you’d be wise to opt for hardwood flooring. Its solid wood nature allows occasional sanding and refinishing, granting it a notably longer lifespan than engineered hardwood.

On the other hand, engineered wood flooring beats hardwood in regards to pricing. It tends to be the cost-effective bargain of the two. However, refinishing engineered hardwood in an effort to prolong its lifespan is nigh impossible.

To help you have a handle on these two flooring options, let’s look at the individual features of each. This way, you’ll get the hang of how they contrast and get to make an astute move.

Engineered wood flooring vs. hardwood flooring differences

Hardwood flooring

Also known as solid wood flooring, hardwood flooring is a favorite, highly sought-after style for its naturalistic appeal. It comes in long planks made from hardwood species such as oak, maple, cherry, or walnut.

Softwood species such as cedar, pine, or fir are not ideal for wood flooring since they are less durable and denser. Installation of solid wood flooring involves nailing the wooden boards to the subfloor.

If you’re a neophyte, it is preferable to seek the services of an expert for the installation of solid wood flooring. The wood planks come with tongues and grooves on opposite edges, allowing interlocking and a seamless finish after installation.

Pros of Hardwood Flooring

  • Available as unfinished or pre-finished.
  • Remarkably durable as they are not prone to buckling or de-lamination.
  • Can be refinished over and over for a modernized look.
  • Give a classic and timeless look.
  • Allows staining and on-site finishing for a customized look.

Cons of Hardwood Flooring

  • Costly compared to engineered wood floors.
  • Requires installation by a skillful DIYer or professional.
  • It can be a tad demanding to maintain.

Engineered Wood Flooring

This popular flooring style is made to mimic the feel and aesthetics of hardwood flooring. However, contrary to popular perception, engineered wood flooring is also made of real hardwood. Its construction combines a high-quality plywood core and real hardwood veneers glued to the top and bottom of the plywood.

The thin hardwood layer at the top gives engineered wood flooring a natural appearance. 5 to 7 layers of plywood are pressed using a crisscross pattern, making the plywood substrate (core).

This ingenious style of core construction empowers it to withstand contraction, expansion, or shrinkage upon exposure to environmental variations in moisture, temperature, and humidity.

As a result, engineered wood flooring displays remarkable moisture-resistant properties. This means you can install the boards over existing vinyl tiles or other sub-floor types by floating, gluing, nailing, or stapling.

Pros of Engineered Wood Flooring

  • More resistant to damage by moisture and warping.
  • It can be floated over concrete or other sub-floor types.
  • Allows multiple installation methods, including stapling, gluing, or nailing.
  • Less expensive compared to solid wood flooring.
  • Come as ready to install; no need for staining.
  • Come in a wide array of colors, styles, and species.
  • Suitable for multiple applications; commercial, industrial, and residential.

Cons of Engineered Wood Flooring

  • Restrictions in refinishing; only once or twice in its lifetime.
  • More prone to damage and scratches.
  • Requires special maintenance.
  • Does not allow on-site staining.

Comparison features (Which flooring is best)

  1. Durability

Hardwood Flooring

Solid wood flooring has an edge over engineered flooring when it comes to durability. With spot-on maintenance and care, the lifespan of hardwood flooring ranges between 30 to 100 years. What’s more, you can sand and refinish hardwood flooring several times to give it an updated look over the years.

While solid wood flooring exhibits outstanding resilience in high-traffic areas, it is still prone to damage by moisture. This flooring features a top polyurethane finish that offers protection against water damage. Humidity underneath the planks can result in the formation of gaps and, eventually, buckling.

Engineered wood flooring

While this type of flooring does not match its counterpart, it can last between 20 to 40 years. All you have to do is ensure proper maintenance. However, it has limitations on how many times you can refinish (1 to 2 times). On the upside, you can easily replace damaged planks.

Also, you can count on engineered hardwood to decently hold out against moisture than solid wood flooring. You’d therefore be wise to choose engineered hardwood for areas prone to extreme humidity, temperature, or moisture over solid wood flooring.

  1. Appearance, size, and style

Hardwood flooring

Solid wood flooring comes in multiple variations in sizes, colors, and textures to enable you to achieve a custom look for your home. There’s a wide range of hardwood species you can choose from, ranging from Maple, Hickory, Oak, Walnut, or Cherry.

Even better, this flooring option allows you to choose between pre-finished or unfinished planks. Solid wood flooring also cuts above engineered hardwood since it offers a vast array of colors and species.

The planks have a thickness of about ¾ inches and a width range of 21/4 to 4 inches. The length of the panels ranges from 12 to 84 inches. It is important to note that the seams between solid wood boards are very tight for a seamless finish.

Engineered wood flooring

Aesthetically, engineered wood flooring assumes the look of solid wood flooring. This is attributable to the veneer layer on the top of the boards. Many folks think of it as ‘fake’ hardwood. This is not true. It only uses less hardwood compared to solid wood flooring.

Engineered hardwood flooring planks are a bit wider, ranging from 21/4 to 7 inches. The floorboards have a length range of 12 to 60 inches and a thickness range of 3/8 to 9/16 inches.

You’ll find pre-finished floorboards in a limited assortment of styles and colors compared to solid wood. Some panels come with slightly beveled edges, which form small grooves between panels.

Engineered hardwood may be your best bet if you’re looking for unique designs. This is because it provides styles that are only practical to engineered wood. Some of these styles include softer exotic species, extra-wide boards, particular surface treatments, and color effects.

  1. Price

Hardwood flooring

Regarding pricing, hardwood flooring towers over most types of flooring in the market. The average cost of pre-finished solid wood flooring is about $8 per square foot. Typically, the price ranges between $8 and $15 per square foot.

Note that pre-finished hardwood tends to be more costly than unfinished solid wood. It also would help if you considered purchasing extra supplies (about 5-10% more). This move helps in catering for mistakes and future repairs.

Engineered wood flooring

If you are living on a shoestring but still want to achieve a natural look for your space, this is the deal for you. Engineered wood flooring comes at a bargain price averaging between $2.50 and $10 per square foot. Usually, most designs range between $4 to $7 per square foot.

You should note that plank thickness influences the price. A case in point is engineered hardwood with medium-range thickness will typically cost between $6 and $9 per square foot. Those with several hardwood layers, usually the thickest, will go for around $10 to $14 per square foot.

  1. Stability against elements (Heat, moisture, e.t.c.)

Hardwood flooring

While solid wood flooring is sturdy, durable, and resilient to heavy traffic, it is more susceptible to damage by elements than engineered hardwood. Extremely humid conditions create a damp environment that causes swelling and warping of hardwood.

Engineered wood flooring

Conversely, engineered wood flooring exhibits slightly superior performance in damp conditions than solid wood flooring. This is attributable to its ingenious construction that features a stable plywood core.

Several layers of plywood are laid over each other in a crisscross pattern to achieve optimal stability. As a result, this flooring decently withstands expansion or shrinkage even in humid conditions. This means that engineered wood flooring is less prone to problems like warping.

In addition, it is common to find some bargains that feature a top protective layer included over the thin layer of real hardwood. This protective layer serves as a barrier against liquid spills.

Despite notable warping resistance, engineered wood flooring is not waterproof. It only has a better resistance against water than solid hardwood. Therefore, engineered wood flooring is preferable if you need installation over a concrete subfloor.

Here’s something worth noting. Both solid hardwood and engineered wood flooring can impressively withstand heat. However, both types of flooring are not ideal for really wet conditions.

  1. Installation (method and location)

Hardwood flooring

As a rule, solid wood planks have to be attached to a subfloor by nailing them down. Typically, a plywood subfloor will suffice. The preferred method for installing solid wood planks is by nailing them to the subfloor through the tongue located at the edges of the planks.

This way, the nails remain concealed for a seamless finish. Professionals can sometimes use the tongue-and-groove planks method to attach the boards. This tongue-and-groove configuration promotes a tight fit.

Regarding location, it is recommendable to install hardwood flooring in above-ground spaces. This includes bedrooms, living areas, and dining areas. You should avoid installing this flooring in highly humid locations such as laundry rooms or bathrooms.

Engineered wood flooring

The common method preferred in installing engineered wood flooring is a brilliant click-and-lock system. Simply put, this method utilizes tongue-and-groove panels to connect boards by creating a ‘lock.’ This system creates a ‘floating floor’ since it uses no adhesive, making your entire flooring float over the subfloor.

While floating floors are somewhat easier to install, they cannot be refinished. Another practical method for installing engineered hardwood is nailing the planks down to the subfloor. Gluing down engineered hardwood against a concrete subfloor tends to work well.

The resilient nature of engineered hardwood broadens its installation locations. Besides above-ground spaces, you can install them over radiant heat systems, directly onto concrete, and in basements. However, you’d still be wise to avoid installing this flooring in wet areas such as bathrooms.

  1. Resale value

Hardwood flooring

If you’re looking for something that can bump up the value of your house, hardwood flooring is a worthy investment. This is attributable to its outstanding durability, prime quality, and striking aesthetics. These traits make solid wood flooring a valuable resource that can mount up the resale value. This flooring is such a plus point that it can elevate the value of your house by almost 2.5%.

Engineered wood flooring

While engineered hardwood has almost identical appearances to solid wood, it rarely counts as a redeeming quality when selling your house. Note that engineered wood flooring does not drive prospective buyers away. It is simply not evidenced to boost the resale value of houses.

  1. Maintenance and Cleaning

Hardwood flooring

You can be sure to have an unchallenging time when caring for solid wood flooring. All you need to do is ensure regular cleaning and vacuuming to get rid of surface debris and dirt, as they can scratch your floors.

For occasional deep cleaning, it is advisable to use a recommended wood cleaner that is healthy for solid wood floors. Another practice that can make your floors look their best is using pads on the feet of furniture and bulky equipment.

For long-term upkeep, you can sand down your hardwood floor and refinish it several times to give it a contemporary look. In addition, you should clear spills immediately after they occur and avoid letting water sit on the surface.

Engineered wood flooring

Engineered wood flooring also matches solid wood flooring in terms of cleaning requirements. You simply need to sweep and vacuum it regularly for routine cleaning.

When damp mopping, use a unique engineered hardwood cleaner that effectively rids stains from your floor and rejuvenates the top layer. There are limitations to long-term upkeep through refinishing, as you can only refinish engineered hardwood once or twice over its lifespan. This is because of the thin hardwood veneer at the top.

  1. Sound and Comfort

Hardwood flooring

The method of installation, density, and rigidity of solid wood flooring all play a part in providing a solid underfoot feel and sound. The rigidity of solid wood floors facilitates uniform distribution of sound across the floor. The dense nature of hardwood planks enables them to absorb reverberation.

Solid wood boards are installed by gluing or nailing them down, creating a stable floor. It is common to hear your solid wood floor squeak and creak after the first installation. This is not a cause for alarm. The panels are settling.

However, if the creaking persists for months, you should suspect an installation problem or an unlevel subfloor. Solid hardwood has a harder underfoot feel compared to a floating engineered hardwood floor. It is, however, softer than other flooring types like concrete or tiles.

Engineered wood flooring

If you’ve installed a floating engineered hardwood floor, you will likely feel it sound somewhat hollow upon walking on it. This is because your flooring was installed over an existing floor without using nails or adhesives to bond it to the (sub)floor beneath. Technically, floating utilizes a click-and-lock system to snap the boards together.

Due to this installation method, you’ll discover clicking sounds or echoes when you walk on engineered hardwood floors. It simply does not absorb sound as well as solid hardwood floors do.

To mitigate this potential noise problem, you can incorporate a premium acoustic underlay beneath the floating floor. Alternatively, you can staple the planks down for an enhanced solid sound. For a solid sound, you can also opt for premium engineered wood flooring bargains which tend to be thicker.

  1. Environmental footprint

Hardwood flooring

Solid wood flooring is made from natural hardwood. This means that chopping trees down is part of the equation. However, hardwood flooring is eco-friendly if procured from a credible supplier. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies hardwoods acquired sustainably.

Also, in the event that hardwood flooring outlives its use, it can be safely discarded as it is biodegradable. Besides, it can be recycled to make engineered wood. The fact that solid hardwood has unparalleled durability gives it an upper hand. This is because refinishing it several times suffices instead of making occasional replacements.

Engineered wood flooring

If you’re looking for an eco-friendly option, engineered hardwood fits the bill. It is a greener and more sustainable option than its solid counterpart and many other flooring types. It utilizes by-products from other wood manufacturing procedures to create its panels.

It also utilizes less of the tree per board when compared to solid wood flooring. This is demonstrable by the thin hardwood veneer bonded on top of its plywood core. In an attempt to minimize by-product pollutants and sawdust, this hardwood veneer is prepared by slicing rather than cutting with a saw.

While engineered hardwood helps preserve trees, it is not biodegradable. This is because of the adhesives added during its construction. Also, its construction may involve the addition of resins and glues that may contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

How to Install Engineered Flooring Using the Glue-down Method

Materials Needed

  • Cleaning supplies, including broom, vacuum, and damp cloth
  • Tape Measure
  • Engineered Hardwood Flooring
  • Rubber Mallet
  • Trowel or Notched Trowel
  • Utility Knife
  • Flooring Spacers
  • Moisture Barrier
  • Chalk Line or Laser Level

Step 1: Prepare the Subfloor

The first step to installing engineered wood flooring is to prepare the subfloor. The preparation involves cleaning, drying, and leveling. You must remove all the flooring materials and effectively clean the subfloor using a broom to remove the dust, dirt, and other debris from the floor surface. Also, as part of the preparation process, check for cracks on the floor, repair or seal them, and level the surface.

If your floor is made of concrete, this is the stage to check the moisture levels and apply a moisture barrier. Consult the manufacturer’s manual and follow the instructions for moisture barrier installation and testing.

Step 2: Acclimate the Flooring

Bring the engineered hardwood flooring around the installation area and give it 48 hours to acclimate. The acclimation process also has certain conditions and instructions that you must follow. Respective manufacturers provide all these directives.

Step 3: Prepare the Layout Plan

The step involves special consideration of the direction of the planks and any transition areas. Begin from a straight wall and mark reference lines with a laser or chalk line level. The lines will ensure that you have maintained straightness during the installation process.

Step 4: Apply Adhesive

Start applying flooring adhesive to a small section of the subfloor from one corner of your Room using a trowel or notched trowel. The adhesives come with application instructions from their respective manufacturers, including the trowel size, spread rate, and the correct adhesive type to use on different floors.

Step 5: Install the First Row

Begin by installing the first row of the engineered hardwood along the reference line, guaranteeing a tight fit against the wall. At this point, you must also insert flooring spacers between the planks and the wall to maintain an expansion gap. Gently tap the planks into place using a rubber mallet, ensuring they are securely bonded to the adhesive.

Step 6. Install the Rest of the Row

Continue applying the adhesive and installing the subsequent rows of the engineered hardwood. Ensure you have used adhesive in every subfloor section before laying down the planks. Also, stagger the end joints between adjacent rows, maintaining a random pattern for a more natural appearance.

Step 7: Cut and Trim the Planks

You may need to cut and trim the planks accordingly, especially in places such as the doorways, to fit into place and create a uniform look. However, before you cut or trim the planks, use a tape measure to accurately measures and mark the planks before you make the needed cuts utilizing a utility knife or saw.

Step 8: Eliminate Adhesive Residue

Check for the adhesive residue between the planks that may have been left during the installation, and use a clean damp cloth to remove them immediately. Do not allow the adhesive residues to dry between the wood planks, as removing them is challenging.

Step 9: Allow the adhesive to cure

Once the installation process is finished, allow the adhesive to cure based on the instructions by the manufacturers. Often, most adhesive products will take between 24 and 48 hours to cure. However, other factors, such as the environmental conditions and the adhesive used, can influence the curing time.

Step 10: Remove the spacers and finish the Room

This is the last step in installing the engineered hardwood through glue down approach. Once the adhesive has completely cured, remove the flooring spaces and install any needed transition moldings or trim to complete the Room. Finally, clean the whole floor to remove any residue or debris that might have remained during the process. Give the floor around 24 hours to be ready before you bring in furniture.

The video below shows how to install engineered hardwood flooring using glue down method

Can you tell the difference between engineered wood and hardwood?

You can distinguish between the two wood types by picking up a loose plank. Then, examine the side of the plank. Solid hardwood will appear as a solid wood piece with a continuous grain. Engineered hardwood will appear to have different wood layers.

While engineered wood flooring almost resembles solid hardwood on the surface, they still have some inherent differences. Aesthetically, you might even fail to tell them apart.

There are instances when knowing how to contrast the two would be rewarding. For instance, when purchasing a house from an owner who claims that the floor is a specific type of wood, knowing how to differentiate can come in handy.

On that account, below are other tricks you can use to tell the difference between engineered wood and solid hardwood flooring. They include;

  • Using a fingernail

Typically, engineered wood flooring has baked aluminum oxide as its finish. Solid hardwood, on the other hand, will ordinarily have a polyurethane protective layer as the finish. Sometimes, denting this polyurethane layer using a fingernail is possible. The aluminum oxide finish rarely dents with a fingernail.

In that sense, you can tell the difference by locating an unnoticeable spot and pressing your thumbnail into the surface. Note that denting is not a sure indicator of solid wood flooring. However, it is unusual to come across engineered wood flooring with a polyurethane finish.

  • Using a mirror

This trick is handy when the entire flooring is intact, but you still need to determine the type of wood making the floor. Begin by identifying spots where installation would not be thorough. They include near baseboards, closets, and around cabinets.

Such spots would force the installer to trim the planks by hand in order to install them into compact spaces. This means finding a space between the floor and the wall is probable. If you locate the space, bring in a mirror and examine for different layers that point towards engineered wood flooring.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • Can you paint engineered wood?

Yes, you can. If you want to give your old engineered hardwood a modish update, you can apply a fresh coat of paint. You can rejuvenate your engineered wood floor after years of withstanding wear and tear, high foot traffic, and moving furniture through a paint job.

You should, however, focus on selecting the correct type of paint. Opt for water or oil-based enamels for desirable and durable results. Then, equip yourself with a polyurethane finish for a top protective layer. Consider using a primer if your floor has exposed wood or is bare. Remember to prep your floors well beforehand.

  • Which type of wooden flooring is the best?

It all narrows down to the wood species. It ought to be very hard and readily available to score as the best hardwood floor. Some species that fit this description include maple, oak, hickory, and cherry flooring. Other excellent choices include walnut, mahogany, ash, and bamboo.

However, it is essential to note that ‘best,’ in this case, is relative. This is because everyone has different preferences. For instance, some will opt for oak as it can display a variety of different stains and has a wide grain. Others will choose walnut because of its darker and redder base tone. Therefore, the math boils down to personal priorities.

  • How long does engineered hardwood last?

If well taken care of, engineered wood flooring can be decently durable with a lifespan of up to 30 years or more. It can last for decades since it is made of HDF, plywood, or softwood combined with a hardwood veneer. With proper care, you can bet on it to remain in shape for 25 to 30 years before the need to replace it arises.

The lifespan of engineered wood does not match that of their solid counterparts. This is because there are limitations to the number of times you can sand it down and refinish it. Also, you must ensure proper installation and good maintenance of your engineered wood flooring to achieve the quoted lifespan.

  • Does engineered wood flooring fade?

Exposure to heavy sunlight can make your engineered wood flooring change color. In light of this, selecting a light-color engineered wood for areas prone to heavy sunlight is advisable. Some of the lighter tones you can choose include maple and birch.

Such light-colored engineered hardwood will show less color change compared to darker woods. Another reason why the appeal of your engineered hardwood floor tends to slip away is because of heavy foot traffic. As a result, the hardwood veneer tends to weaken and wear down, causing the pigment to fade.

Final Verdict

The decision on what flooring to use in your home can be quite pertinent. If you’re solely interested in wood floors, the engineered wood flooring vs. hardwood discussion will surely come up. Which of the two is the best?

It must be said that the two options have a lot more in common than differences. The decision on which is better depends on your preferences, location, and budget, among other factors. A case in point is if the space you wish to install the flooring is a high-moisture location, engineered wood flooring is the better option.

If you want an incredibly durable floor with a touch of prestige, hardwood flooring will be your go-to option. Also, engineered wood flooring is the friendlier choice if you’re on a tight budget. Therefore, take into account the strengths and weaknesses of each flooring and make a judicious decision that fulfills your needs.

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