Wood flooring boasts a stylish, timeless look that makes it immensely popular. Many homeowners opt for hardwood flooring as their number one choice, while others go for the closest substitute, like engineered wood floors. But is this flooring material as good as solid wood?
Engineered wood floors are stylish, versatile, durable, affordable, and structurally stable. They also resist temperature swings and are easy to maintain. However, the floors are prone to water damage and scratches. They dent easily and often lose their sheen over time.
If you’re considering installing engineered wood floors, read on to learn more about how they differ from solid hardwood floors, their advantages, and disadvantages.
What Is Engineered Wood Flooring?
Engineered wood flooring is a high-performing variant of hardwood flooring whose classic natural beauty resembles that of a solid hardwood floor. Although it doesn’t contain 100% solid wood flooring, there’s nothing fake about an engineered wood floor, and the top layer comprises genuine wood.
The flooring features 3 layers with multiple layers of thin plywood glued to the top layer. Each plywood layer faces a different direction, which helps prevent the engineered hardwood from warping if subjected to moisture. After installation, the top layer remains visible. As a result, most people can’t tell that your floor isn’t purely hardwood.
Engineered wood floors come in several formats:
- Three-ply: This flooring offers better resistance to cupping and over-expansion, making it ideal for use where subfloor joists sport short spans between supporting columns.
- Multi-ply: This engineered wood is closest to solid wood. Its multi-layered design prevents over-expansion, while the plywood core gives additional strength and stability.
- High-Density Fiberboard (HDF) Core: Instead of plywood, the flooring’s core comprises recycled hardwood and resin for improved stability, strength, and moisture resistance.
The Difference Between Engineered Wood Floors and Solid Wood
The primary difference between the two floorings is in their construction. While an engineered wood floor features both hardwood and plywood layers, solid hardwood has no layers since it’s a solid piece of wood.
Also, the top layer on an engineered wood floor has a thickness ranging between 2-6 mm (0.07-0.23 inch), creating a hardwood much more robust than solid wood.
Other notable differences include the following:
- Engineered wood floor construction allows for installation in most of your home’s grade levels, including underground (add a moisture barrier for protection).
- Unlike solid hardwood floors, engineered wood flooring doesn’t warp or bow when it comes into contact with moisture.
- Engineered flooring thickness ranges between 3/8 to ¾ inch thick (9.5-19 mm), while solid wood is typically 1/2 to ¾ inch thick (12.7-19 mm).
- Engineered hardwood is generally more affordable than hardwood flooring.
- Unlike engineered wood, you can sand and refinish solid wood multiple times, making it easy to repair.
The Pros & Cons of Engineered Wood Floors
Engineered wood floors are a great addition to your home for many reasons. They’re aesthetically pleasing, easy to install and maintain, and they provide a nice transitional or accent piece between other types of flooring material.
Pros of Engineered Wood Floors
Engineered wood floors have both upsides and downsides. Let’s start by examining the advantages.
They Come in Multiple Styles and Finishes
If you desire a stylish home, then look no further than engineered wood floors. They come in a wide variety of styles, designs, wood species, and finishes to suit different tastes. You can get them in maple, birch, hickory, oak, or cherry.
You can also choose between high-gloss, semi-gloss, or matte finishing or go for classic, contemporary, or ultra-modern styles. Also available are exotic woods like tigerwood and mahogany.
But that’s not all. It’s possible to add visual interest to make your flooring look more appealing. In this case, you can choose your flooring from a wide variety of surface effects and specialty looks, including:
- Sleek and smooth
- Hand-scraped—for that time-worn look
- Distressed—for a rustic appearance
This wide variety extends to plank width too. Thus, you can get both slim and wide planks. And because it’s available in more options than solid wood, engineered wood is well-suited, for instance, when you need to use thinner wood or wider planks—like the ones used in farmhouses.
A slimmer design also means you get more floor-to-ceiling height with engineered wood.
Engineered Flooring Is Versatile
This flooring boasts innovative manufacturing techniques, making it suitable for any room in your home. This means you can have engineered wood floors in the living room, kitchen, even bathroom, and basement. Though for the latter two, you might want to add a protective moisture barrier and ensure there are no significant issues with moisture.
Additionally, you can install engineered wood floors at any level. Thus, you can float the flooring over a pad, glue it to the cement, or nail it to a subfloor.
TIP: Check my posts: Plywood VS OSB Subflooring & Is underlayment for hardwood floors necessary?
Engineered Wood Floors Are Long-Lasting
Depending on plank thickness, engineered hardwood can last anywhere between 20 and 30 years or more. This makes the flooring durable, reliable, and good value for money. That said, your floors’ longevity will depend on various factors, including:
- The quality of engineered flooring used.
- The foot traffic in areas with the flooring.
- How well you clean and maintain your floors.
- The thickness of the veneer that sits atop the flooring surface.
Engineered Wood Floors Are Relatively Affordable
Compared to solid hardwood flooring, engineered wood flooring is inexpensive. Fortunately, it looks and feels very similar to hardwood; hence you can get the same look at a lower cost. Besides, since it’s relatively cheaper, you can use it in more areas than just your living room and kitchen.
Having said that, premium products sporting thick top layers, enhanced durability, and artistic designs can bear price tags similar to—at times even more than—solid wood.
Engineered Wood Floors Resist Moisture and Temperature
Unlike hardwood floors, engineered wood floors are fairly resistant to temperature changes. They also resist moisture rather well; thus, the wood doesn’t shrink, warp, or swell as much as traditional hardwood, which tends to leave unsightly gaps. And since the floors are suitable for use with water-fed underfloor heating, they’re the ideal choice for home renovations.
What makes engineered wood flooring more structurally stable than solid wood is because its core has multiple layers. This makes the flooring less likely to contract, expand, or shift when exposed to humidity, moisture, or temperature shifts. And because it doesn’t warp, it’s also ideal for use over concrete floors and radiant heating systems.
The Floors Are Easy To Care For
Engineered wood floors are easy to clean and maintain. Daily sweeping helps to improve performance while eliminating dirt and debris, which can be abrasive, leading to floor damage.
- Once a week, vacuum cleaner or mop the floors with a slightly damp cloth.
- For a more thorough clean, use a cleaning solution made specifically for engineered wood floors.
- Make sure you don’t use harsh detergents when cleaning or a vacuum cleaner with a beater bar, as the bristles could wear down the floor’s veneer finish.
- For best results, wipe your floors in the direction of the wood grain. This technique helps to get rid of stubborn dirt lodged within crevices in the flooring.
- if you have a busy household, young kids, or pets, you’ll need to do more regular maintenance.
- avoid cleaning with a drenched mop, using excessive water, or leaving spills unattended for long as the moisture can seep into the underlayment, causing warping.
Cleaning engineered hardwood floors is similar to cleaning traditional hardwood flooring since the top layer comprises natural wood. Here’s a short video showing you how to go about it:
Engineered Wood Flooring Can Add Value to Your Home
If you’re thinking of putting up your home for sale, investing in engineered wood floors can be one way of raising its value. The flooring’s unique and stylish appearance goes with any decor, while its sheen and luster will appeal to anyone looking to buy a new home.
The Cons of Engineered Wood Floors
Engineered wood floors are excellent flooring options, but they also have their downsides. Most of the cons are pretty similar to what you’d experience with traditional hardwood flooring. Here are some of them:
The Floors Are Susceptible to Scratches
As mentioned earlier, the top layer of engineered wood floors features a veneer made entirely from wood. This makes the surface highly prone to scratches, mostly caused by debris, pets, or furniture. Fortunately, you can avoid scratches marring your beautiful floors by installing flooring with a scratch-resistant top layer.
If your engineered hardwood floor has minor scratches already, you can repair the damage by using a wax repair kit and rubbing alcohol. Cotton cloth is ideal too, but a microfiber mop is best since it doesn’t leave behind excess moisture.
Engineered Wood Floors Are Difficult To Repair
Engineered wood floors resist moisture, but they can still suffer water damage. Excessive water can easily mess up your floors, leading to warping, cupping, and problems with microbes. Unfortunately, to repair damaged engineered flooring, you might need to replace an entire floor even if only a small section requires repair.
NOTE: With solid wood, it's easy to fix small sections because you can match the wood, sand, and refinish the area.
Engineered Wood Flooring Fades
Constant exposure to sunlight and UV rays can cause your flooring to fade. Unfortunately, if you leave the floors this way for long, they might prove challenging to repair. Luckily, keeping your blinds closed or using rugs to protect vulnerable areas can minimize the damage.
TIP: Read How to Remove Haze from Hardwood Floors?
Engineered Wood Floors Could Become a Health Hazard
Some engineered wood products contain adhesives and resins, which might give off potentially harmful gasses. Toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde or VOC might also be present in hardwood floors manufactured using composite core materials.
Moreover, the flooring can soak up considerable amounts of moisture with time, which might create favorable conditions for mold or fungi. Mold spores are harmful to your health since they could trigger asthma attacks.
TIP: When buying the flooring, look for products designed not to emit toxic gases to avoid compromising your health.
The Floors Might Offer Poor Resistance To Wear and Tear
If you buy engineered hardwood flooring with a thin veneer, it might not offer strong resistance to wear and tear. Besides, since you cannot sand and refinish thin veneers (with a thickness below 3/16 inch (0.47 cm), you’d have to replace them once they suffer damage. This could end up increasing your flooring maintenance costs.
How To Look After Your Engineered Wood Floors
Engineered wood flooring is not created equal. Therefore, before you buy your flooring, shop around to ensure that you select high-quality engineered wood flooring from a reputable manufacturer. This will help you avoid purchasing engineered wood flooring made with weak or substandard materials.
Besides, some manufacturers might produce a top layer and plywood core with less than ideal thickness for your needs. While the industry standard is a thickness of 2-6 mm, (0.2-0.2 cm), a thicker wear layer means a more premium product. Ultimately, the flooring thickness will depend on the manufacturer plus the style you choose.
Suitable engineered flooring should look and feel like solid wood. However, if yours sounds hollow, the installation method could be the culprit. To ensure this doesn’t happen, staple or glue your planks to the subfloor. But the best thing is to first check with the manufacturer on what they recommend as an ideal installation method.
Once you install the engineered wood floor, you’ll need to take good care of it so that it can last long while maintaining its quality look. Here are tips on how to do that:
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on cleaning and maintenance.
- Keep your floors looking neat and free of dust and debris with regular cleaning.
- Avoid subjecting your floors to excessive moisture, as this can damage them.
- When moving furniture, lift it off the floor instead of dragging it across your flooring.
- Place coasters or felt pads underneath furniture and potted plants to prevent nicks and scratches.
- Avoid using ammonia, scouring pads, steel wool, or harsh detergents to clean your floors since they can cause irreversible damage to the veneer surface.
Engineered wood floors offer an excellent way to create a classic, timeless, and stylish look in your home. No matter where you install the flooring, it has the unique ability to deliver eye-catching and long-lasting beauty. Also, if you purchase your engineered wood flooring from a high-quality manufacturer and take good care of it, your attractive flooring will last for years.
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