Engineered Wood Floors: What to Know Before You Buy

Engineered wood flooring

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When improving a home, it is natural to want solid hardwood flooring. Real wood floor covering provides a classic touch, a warm feeling that is difficult to match with wood-substitute materials like laminate flooring and luxury vinyl flooring. Wood flooring returns a high resale value, feels warm underfoot during the cold months, and can easily be refinished.

But along with solid hardwood flooring's many benefits do come a few catches. Hardwood is difficult to install on a do-it-yourself basis. For best results, you almost always need to ​hire hardwood floor installers. Solid hardwood flooring is expensive. And solid hardwood flooring should not be installed in areas where moisture is prevalent.

One popular alternative to both solid hardwood flooring and artificial wood flooring is engineered wood flooring. This material is finding its way into more homes than ever, and for a good reason: It looks just like solid hardwood flooring but it has far better durability than solid hardwood.

Engineered Flooring: Hardwood and Plywood Hybrid

On its top, engineered wood flooring is real hardwood. This part is a thin layer of 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch veneer wood. The veneer is peeled or cut directly from hardwood logs; it is not composite wood. Veneer has been used for centuries for furniture. Lower-grade wood is used as the base, with veneer glued to the top for appearance.

This top finish layer is almost always pre-finished. This means that the floor has already been sanded, stained, and sealed. As soon as the floor has been laid, you can walk on it. By contrast, unfinished solid hardwood must be sealed, and this requires waiting time before use. Note: solid hardwood is available pre-finished, as well.

Sample Veneer Options

Whatever type of solid hardwood flooring you like, there will likely be an equivalent form of engineered wood flooring.

  • Hickory: Rich, hand-scraped hickory gives your house a timeless feeling.
  • Oak: Traditional red oak is inexpensive and always looks great. Red oak is usually the least expensive hardwood you can buy.
  • Bamboo: Bamboo is a grass that provides immense strength when cross-hatched with other strands of bamboo.
  • Maple: Maple is an elegant finish, appropriate for dining, living, and family rooms.

Flooring's Plywood Base

Everything below the veneer top is high-quality plywood. This plywood usually ranges from 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch thick.

Plywood provides stability and dimensional strength that solid hardwood does not have. Plywood's cross-laid layers are superb at maintaining size after major water events like flooding. Solid hardwood flooring will eventually dry and either bow or cup. Once this has happened, the only cure is to vigorously sand down the bows or cups until the floor is once again flat. Thin solid hardwood flooring usually cannot be sanded that far down. By contrast, engineered wood flooring's base demonstrates a greater resilience to water.

Engineered Wood Flooring Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A chief advantage of engineered wood flooring versus laminate flooring, luxury vinyl plank, or tile is that engineered wood can be sanded after scratches and dings develop.
  • Engineered flooring is expensive yet provides excellent value in the long-run. Resale value for engineered flooring is high.
  • Some engineered wood floorboards can fit together as a floating floor, without the aid of glue, staples, or nails.
  • If you want to install radiant heating under your flooring, engineered wood is a good choice because of its stability against heat.

Cons

  • Engineered flooring cannot be sanded more than a few times due to the thinness of the top veneer.
  • Because of the low tolerance for failure with sanding engineered wood, it is recommended that a professional do the sanding. It is very easy to gouge your wood floor, revealing the plywood underneath.
  • If you have large dogs, engineered wood flooring may not be a good choice because dog claws can gouge into the thin veneer layer.

Engineered Wood Flooring and Moisture

Engineered wood flooring is definitely better at standing up against moisture than solid hardwood. But this does not mean that engineered wood is the best choice for high or even moderately moist areas.

Engineered wood flooring works best in areas that stay dry, such as bedrooms, living rooms, and hallways. This type of flooring also works moderately well in kitchens, basements, and bathrooms where light moisture might be present.

Engineered wood flooring is not designed to hold up in excessively wet areas such as basements or laundry rooms that flood frequently.

If you are motivated to install engineered wood in a full bathroom, potential damage can be mitigated with waterproof mats and solid shower doors.