Solid Wood vs. Engineered Wood Comparison Guide

Learn the key differences

Solid hardwood flooring vs. engineered wood flooring

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Solid wood flooring, as the name suggests, is made of solid wood throughout its thickness. It usually made of a hardwood species, such as oak, maple, or walnut, and its major advantage is that it can be sanded and refinished many times over the course of 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 since the surface hardwood layer is relatively thin. 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.

Solid Wood Flooring vs. Engineered Wood Flooring

Solid wood flooring comes in long planks, usually made of a 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 very much like solid hardwood, but its construction features a relatively thin layer of hardwood bonded over a premium-quality plywood layer that gives the flooring very good stability. A good-quality engineered wood floor typically lasts 25 to 30 years, and it is both less expensive and easier 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 2 or 3 times over life of floor 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

Appearance

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 with solid hardwood.

Best fo Appearance: Tie

Which version of hardwood flooring you find preferable really boils down to personal preference.

Water and Heat Resistance

Both types of hardwood have good resistance to heat. Neither material is recommended installation for truly wet locations.

Solid Hardwood

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

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 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

Solid Hardwood

This flooring is easy to clean with simple sweeping and vacuuming, and occasional damp-mopping with an approved wood cleaner.

Engineered Hardwood

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

Solid hardwood is slightly superior here, since it can be sanded down and refinished several times over its lifespan.

Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood can be refinished once, or at most twice, before the surface hardwood layer is exhausted.

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.

Installation

Solid Hardwood

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.

Engineered Hardwood

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.

Cost

Solid Hardwood

Pre-finished solid hardwood averages about $8 per square foot, within a range of $4 to $12 per square foot.

Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood flooring is slightly less expensive than solid hardwood. The typical range 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.

Lifespan

Solid Hardwood

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

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.

Sizes

Solid Hardwood

Standard hardwood flooring planks are 3/4 inch thick, 2 1/4 inches wide, and sold n 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

Engineered hardwood boards are often thinner, with 3/8- to 9/16-inch-thick boards common. Engineered hardwood is often sold 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).

Resale Value

Solid Hardwood

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

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.

The Verdict

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, but the lower cost and easier installation of engineered wood flooring give it the edge for others. Further, engineered wood uses less hardwood, a fact that appeals to environmentally conscious consumers.

Top Brands

  • 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, the Bruce brand was recently sold to American Industrial Partners (AIP). Bruce offers a very broad selection of solid hardwood flooring (more than 200 species and colors) and engineered hardwood (more than 150 options) at moderate prices.