Engineered wood flooring is a type of flooring composed of a thin hardwood top layer, called a veneer or wear layer, over core layers of strengthened composite plywood. In some cases, the plywood may be replaced by oriented strand board (OSB), which is made of wood strands glued and then compressed together. Engineered wood allows a homeowner to achieve the look of a solid wood floor at a cheaper price point and with an easier installation process.
In comparison, solid wood flooring—the other common type of wood flooring—is composed of solid wood the entire way through. This type of flooring is typically more expensive than engineered wood flooring, but also lasts longer as it can be refinished over and over and over again.
Compared to solid wood flooring, everything related to engineered wood flooring costs less, from materials to labor. Note this is only true for the same wood species; for example, an engineered oak floor may be less expensive than a solid oak floor, but an engineered teak floor may be cheaper than a solid oak floor.
Temperature and Moisture Resistant
Due to its composite core layers, engineered wood flooring is not as sensitive to changes in temperature or to moisture as solid wood flooring. Though there still may be some warping—typically if moisture issues are left unaddressed (as in the case of a standing pool of water)—the overall amount of swelling and shrinking is far less than that seen in a solid wood floor.
If you’re concerned about the environment, engineered wood floors may be the way to go. These floors use less hardwood per plank than solid wood floors, which may be a deciding factor if you are interested in exotic or rare species of wood. Combined with a reduced need for toxic glue (to adhere layers together) and little to no sawdust; these floors are eco-friendly and sustainable. That being said, this does vary from company to company, so make sure to look at the environmental certifications of the manufacturer you buy from.
Because of the veneer layer, an engineered hardwood floor can only be sanded and refinished a few times—and sometimes only once—before the hardwood erodes to reveal the core layers. How many times you can resurface is dependent on the thickness of the veneer layer. A 1/6-inch layer, for example, will last much longer than a 1/16-inch layer.
High Level of Maintenance
Since the surface layer of an engineered wood floor is made of hardwood, you will need to actively maintain your floor in order to retain its quality—exactly like you would for a solid wood floor. Fading, scratches and dents are all common issues with wood floors but can be reduced and prevented by taking proper protective precautions.
In an effort to cut down on time and money, some manufacturers may use cheap materials in their flooring, leading to floors with poor structural integrity. Make sure to research carefully before choosing a manufacturer.
The final cost of your engineered wood flooring will depend on the species of wood veneer you choose, number of core layers, veneer thickness and the amount of coverage you require. Floors are typically priced at the following price points:
- Low-grade ($2 – $9): Three core layers, with a veneer thickness of 1/16 to 1/12 of an inch
- Mid-grade ($6 – $12): Five core layers, with a veneer thickness of 1/12 to 1/8 of an inch
- High-grade ($9 – $16): Seven core layers, with a veneer thickness of 1/6 of an inch or more
Other factors like varnishing, staining and labor costs for installation can adjust this range.
Maintenance and Care
Taking care of your engineered wood floor is much the same as taking care of a solid wood floor. Sweep regularly, lightly mop periodically and try to prevent scratches and dents as much as possible (pro-tip: attach felt to the leg bottoms of your furniture to stop them from scratching up the floor every time you adjust a chair).
Avoid harsh chemicals and excess water, and use doormats or rugs in areas of high traffic—you do not want the finish to come off your floor. That being said, do not sand and refinish your floors unless you are confident that the veneer layer is thick enough to handle it; otherwise, you may end up revealing the core layers.
An engineered wood floor can achieve the same look and surface feel as a solid wood floor, including the species of wood and the floor design. Classic styles like horizontal stripes and herringbone or chevron parquet are common. Bespoke floors are also possible, though these designs will cost more and may benefit from the additional assistance of an interior designer.
For the veneer layer, a wide variety of wood species are available. These include U.S. hardwood staples like oak, maple and hickory. Exotic wood species—those that are rare in or imported into the U.S.—include Brazilian Cherry, mahogany, bamboo and Brazilian Teak. In general, expect to pay more for these exotic species and less for domestic wood.
Engineered flooring is quite easy to install and DIY-friendly. Most engineered floors can be installed as “floating floors.” This is when individual planks are fitted together like a puzzle over an existing sub-floor instead of being nailed or glued down. Depending on the room size, if you buy prefinished planks and have prepared your subfloor beforehand, it is entirely possible to install your engineered floor—and perhaps even get the baseboards done as well—within a day.
The installation process can become much more complicated if you choose to glue down your floor, are covering a large space within a limited timeframe or are finishing your floors yourself. Consider hiring a professional to speed up the process; otherwise, give yourself anywhere from three days to a week to finish the installation.
If you properly maintain your engineered hardwood flooring, it can last around 20 to 30 years. High quality, durable floors can last even longer—up to 50 years—as long as they are diligently maintained and nothing has been done to significantly compromise the veneer.
Engineered wood flooring comes from companies all over the world, including in the United States, China, Canada, Norway and Sweden. Depending on what you’re looking for—in terms of type of wood, style, price and eco-friendliness—at least one company will more than likely be able to meet your specifications.
While we recommend searching around for a manufacturer that will best meet your needs, some popular high-quality brands include Mohawk, Kährs, Harris Wood, Anderson Tuftex and Bruce.
Both engineered wood floors and solid wood floors require about the same level of maintenance, though the former is more resistant to temperature and moisture and the latter usually lasts longer. Engineered wood flooring is a good choice if you are on a budget and want to be environmentally conscious without sacrificing the stylish, timeless aesthetic of a nice hardwood floor.
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