As the name suggests, solid wood flooring is made of solid wood throughout its thickness, usually a hardwood species, such as oak, maple, or walnut. Its significant advantage is that it can be sanded and refinished numerous times throughout its lifespan.
Engineered wood flooring looks very similar on the surface, but it is made from a relatively thin layer of hardwood bonded over a substrate of high-quality plywood. Engineered flooring is somewhat less expensive than solid hardwood, but most types can be sanded and refinished only once or twice since the surface hardwood layer is relatively thin. If you're looking for the disadvantages of engineered wood flooring or determining which is better, there is no clear advantage to one form of wood flooring over the other. Your choice depends on how much you value the relative merits of each.
Read on for a closer look at engineered vs. hardwood flooring pros and cons.
Watch Now: 7 Things to Know About Hardwood Vs Engineered Wood
Solid Wood Flooring vs. Engineered Wood Flooring Differences
Solid wood flooring comes in long planks, usually made of hardwood species. It is milled with tongues and grooves on opposite edges so that the boards interlock when installed. It is always nailed down to the subfloor, a process that requires some skill. Because it is solid wood, this flooring can be sanded down and refinished several times over its life.
Engineered wood flooring looks like solid hardwood, but its construction features a relatively thin layer of hardwood bonded over a premium-quality plywood layer that gives the flooring excellent stability. The best engineered wood flooring will have good flexibility and a durable plywood core with three to nine layers. You can count on a good-quality engineered wood floor typically lasting 25 to 30 years. It is less expensive than solid wood and more manageable for DIYers to install.
|Solid Hardwood||Engineered Hardwood|
|Lifespan||30 to 100 years||20 to 40 years|
|Cost||$8 to $15 per square foot||$3 to $14 per square foot|
|Sanding, Refinishing||Four times (potentially more)||Once or twice|
|Stability||May warp in humid, damp conditions||Good resistance to warping|
|Plank Thickness||About 3/4 inch||3/8 to 9/16 inch|
|Plank Width||2 1/4 to 4 inches||2 1/4 to 7 inches|
|Plank Length||12 to 84 inches||12 to 60 inches|
|Installation Method||Nail down, tongue-and-groove||Nail down, floating, or glue-down|
Solid Hardwood Flooring
Solid hardwood flooring boards tend to be narrower than engineered hardwood flooring. Solid hardwood generally has very tight seams between boards, and there is a great range of colors and species than is found with engineered hardwood flooring. Solid hardwood is available in both pre-finished and unfinished boards.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Floorboards tend to be wider with engineered hardwood flooring. Some pre-finished engineered hardwood flooring has slightly beveled edges, which creates slight grooves between boards, while solid hardwood flooring generally has very tight seams between boards. Engineered hardwood flooring is almost always sold pre-finished, and there is a narrower range of available colors and species than solid hardwood.
Best for Appearance: Tie
Which version of hardwood flooring you find preferable really boils down to personal preference.
Pre-finished solid hardwood averages about $8 per square foot, within a range of $4 to $12 per square foot.
Engineered hardwood flooring is slightly less expensive than solid hardwood. The typical range of engineered hardwood flooring is $2.50 to $10 per square foot, with most types falling in the $4 to $7 per square foot range.
Best for Cost: Engineered Hardwood
The edge here goes to engineered hardwood flooring, but the difference is not huge. For both types of flooring, installation labor can add $3 to $10 per square foot, depending on prevailing labor costs in your area and the complexity of the room layout.
Solid hardwood typically lasts at least 30 years and as much as 100 years, since it can be sanded down and refinished several times.
Engineered hardwood flooring generally lasts 20 to 30 years.
Best for Lifespan: Solid Hardwood
Because its solid wood construction allows it to be sanded and refinished several times, solid hardwood flooring comes out on top when it comes to longevity. If you're basing your decision solely on lifespan, longevity is one of the disadvantages of engineered wood. Although, 30 years is still a decent span of time.
Comfort and Sound
Solid hardwood has better acoustic properties than engineered hardwood. Its density absorbs reverberation while its hardness distributes the sound evenly around the room. Hardwood flooring is usually glued or nailed down, keeping it stable. When first installed, hardwood floors will creak and squeak as the boards settle. If you still hear creaking after a few months, you might have an uneven subfloor or poor installation issue.
As its name implies, solid hardwood is hard underfoot. It's softer than other surfacing, like tiles or concrete, but when compared to a floating engineered hardwood floor, a floating engineered wood floor is softer.
Engineered hardwood floors are usually "floating," meaning it was snapped together over an existing floor with no adhesives or nails holding them down. Floating floors tend to have echoes or clicking sounds, making walking on the floor a noisier experience. Engineered hardwood doesn’t absorb sounds as well as its solid hardwood counterpart, but it has a resilient surface, which means it still absorbs a significant amount of weight and noise, especially if you spend extra for a high-quality acoustic underlay to be placed under the floor.
Beware cheaper engineered hardwood floors made using a poor grade of plywood with hardwood veneer. They are prone to defects, such as the plywood splitting and separating. Plywood is not ideal for snap and lock flooring, since they sometimes break loose. Regular wear and tear may loosen the flooring causing squeaking.
Best for Comfort and Sound: Tie
It depends on what's more important to you—noise control or softness underfoot. Generally, solid hardwood floors are not as noisy as engineered hardwood floors; however, floating engineered hardwood flooring has a softer feeling with a little bounce.
Water and Heat Resistance
Both types of hardwood have good resistance to heat. Neither material is recommended for installation in truly wet locations. Although engineered hardwood has more water resistance, engineered hardwood is not waterproof.
Solid hardwood is not recommended for installation against concrete slabs, since humidity migrating through the concrete can cause solid hardwood to swell and warp.
Engineered hardwood has slightly better performance in humid locations since its plywood construction makes it more stable and less susceptible to warping. If installation against a concrete subfloor is necessary, engineered hardwood is the better choice.
Best for Water and Heat Resistance: Engineered Hardwood
Engineered hardwood flooring comes out the winner here since its plywood base is less susceptible to warping caused by moisture.
Care and Cleaning
This flooring is easy to clean with simple sweeping and vacuuming, and occasional damp-mopping with an approved wood cleaner.
Care and cleaning of this flooring look the same as for solid hardwood: sweeping or vacuuming, and occasional damp-mopping with a wood cleaner.
Best for Care and Cleaning: Tie
Both types of flooring are relatively easy to care for, requiring simple sweeping and cleaning with an approved wood cleaner. Avoid using water or steam to clean any wood floor.
Durability and Maintenance
Solid hardwood is slightly superior here, since it can be sanded down and refinished several times over its lifespan. Industry experts state that two to four times is the norm. Although, in some cases, flooring professionals claim they have resurfaced up to 12 times.
"The number of times a given floor can be sanded depends on the skill of the person sanding the floor, the type of equipment used, the thickness of the remaining wear-layer, and the flatness of the floor," according to the National Wood Flooring Association.
Engineered hardwood can be refinished only once or twice before the surface hardwood layer is exhausted. A plank of hardwood may be solid, but engineered hardwood may sometimes be stronger than a solid hardwood you might be considering. Engineered hardwood is made of several perpendicular layers that tightly bond the wood.
Best for Durability and Maintenance: Solid Hardwood
Solid hardwood flooring holds the edge here since it can be sanded and refinished several times over the course of its lifespan. Pre-finished forms of both floors are the most durable since they have a hard, factory-applied finish that holds up very well. All wood floors can benefit from a renewal of the surface varnish coat every few years.
Solid hardwood flooring is installed with a tongue-and-groove system, in which each board is blind-nailed to the subfloor down through tongues at the edges of the boards.
Some engineered wood flooring is also installed with the same nail-down methods used for solid hardwood, but there are also forms with "click-lock" edges that can be installed as a "floating floor." Engineered wood flooring can also be glued down against a concrete subfloor. Most DIYers find engineered wood flooring to be easier to install.
Best for Installation: Engineered Hardwood
DIYers find that the click-lock or glue-down forms of engineered hardwood are easier to work with than the nail-down methods used for solid hardwood.
Engineered hardwood flooring generally lasts 20 to 30 years.
Because its solid wood construction allows it to be sanded and refinished several times, solid hardwood flooring comes out on top when it comes to longevity.
Standard hardwood flooring planks are 3/4 inch thick, 2 1/4 inches wide, and sold in various lengths from 12 to 84 inches. Other thicknesses and widths are also available, though solid hardwood flooring is rarely more than about 4 inches wide.
Engineered hardwood boards are often thinner, with 3/8- to 9/16-inch-thick boards common. Engineered hardwood is available in much wider boards, up to 7 inches, and the lengths typically run 12 to 60 inches.
Best for Sizes: Tie
There is no particular winner here unless you have a particular preference for narrower boards (in which case solid hardwood will be preferable for you), or wider boards (in which case engineered hardwood flooring will be a better choice).
In appearance, solid hardwood is not noticeably different from engineered hardwood, but real estate professionals and potential home buyers may place a premium on a solid hardwood floor for its greater longevity.
Engineered hardwood flooring will rarely be a turn-off to prospective buyers, though they may recognize that these floors have a shorter lifespan.
Best for Resale Value: Solid Hardwood
Both solid hardwood and engineered hardwood are premium flooring materials that add good real estate value to your home. Solid hardwood may have the edge here since it lasts longer than engineered hardwood flooring.
Solid hardwood requires more trees to be harvested than its engineered counterpart. However, hardwood flooring is still an environmentally friendly option if it comes from a responsible supplier. Hardwoods sourced sustainably are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
The pluses of solid hardwood are it lasts longer than engineered wood and can be resurfaced more, not requiring replacement as frequently. Solid hardwood can be reclaimed and reused or recycled to make engineered hardwood. Also, when it needs to be discarded at the end of its lifespan, it is 100% biodegradable.
Engineered hardwood is environmentally friendly and sustainable when compared to most other types of flooring. Engineered wood uses less of the tree per plank than solid hardwoods. It uses the "leftovers" from other wood manufacturing processes to make its boards. Engineered wood only has a thin veneer of traditional wood on top of its plywood or fiberboard core. Also, the veneer is sliced rather than cut with a saw, reducing sawdust and by-product pollutants.
Composite wood flooring products like engineered hardwood are made using glues and resins that may off-gas or contain volatile organic compounds. Also, engineered hardwood is not as biodegradable at the end of its life due to the adhesives used to make the wood. It can be refinished, extending its life; however, it will end up in a landfill, adding to the mountains of garbage left behind for future generations.
Best for Environmental Impact: Tie
Engineered wood flooring saves trees. The trees used to make hardwood flooring take longer to grow than the trees used to make engineered wood flooring. Engineered wood flooring saves old growth and slow-growing trees.
But engineered hardwood's longevity and end-of-life are concerning. Since it's not as biodegradable as solid hardwood, it will end up in a landfill. Also, its adhesives may be a problem for air quality (although a recent push for less toxic adhesives may make its VOC off-gassing less of an issue).
Engineered wood flooring was once regarded as a pale imitation of solid hardwood, but improvements in the product quality have eliminated this perception. Solid hardwood may hold a slight edge in prestige for some people and continues to be a top choice among professionals for adding value and durability, but the lower cost and easier installation of engineered wood flooring gives it the edge over others. Furthermore, engineered wood uses less hardwood, a fact that appeals to environmentally conscious consumers.
- Carlisle: This company specializes in wide-plank solid wood flooring, and it also sells engineered wood flooring. These are expensive products, but extremely high-end in quality.
- Lumber Liquidators: This discount lumber supplier sells medium-quality solid hardwood and engineered hardwood flooring at very good prices. This is the brand to look into if you want affordable flooring.
- Bruce: Once owned by flooring giant Armstrong, Bruce is a brand of AHF Products. Bruce offers a very broad selection of solid hardwood flooring (more than 190 species and colors) and engineered hardwood (more than 150 options) at moderate prices.
"Increasing resource efficiency in the Swedish flooring industry through floor refinishing." IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.
"Wood flooring sand and finish guidelines." National Wood Flooring Association.