Basics Of Favorite Hybrid Engineered Wood Floors

Empty living room in modern apartment
Westend61 / Getty Images

When remodeling an older home, it is natural to want solid hardwood flooring.  Real wood provides a classic touch, a warm feeling 

But solid hardwood is difficult to install on your own--you almost always need to ​hire hardwood floor installers--and can be touchy when it comes to moisture.

And those other wood-substitute materials, laminate flooring, and luxury vinyl flooring cannot match the looks of real wood.

 Is there an alternative?

Engineered Wood Flooring is Real Wood (Sort Of)

Engineered wood is real wood.  But much of this depends on your definition of what "real wood" is.

The top-most, visible part is a thin layer of 1/16" to 1/8" veneer wood.  Everything below that is high-quality plywood.

By contrast, the laminate is a photo of wood on top of a wood chip composite base:  wood, but only in the most remote sense.  Solid hardwood is real wood, from top to bottom.

While it appears to be a "cheat" to have plywood under the veneer, this is not entirely true.  Plywood provides a dimensional strength that solid hardwood does not have.  

Plywood's cross-laid layers are superb at springing back from flooding.  Where solid hardwood will dry and then "cup" (bowing), engineered wood demonstrates a greater resilience to water.

Species Options

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

 A few of the most popular:

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

    Pre-Finished

    The top finish layer is pre-finished, which means that it is already sanded 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.

    To Some Degree, Engineered Flooring Can Be Sanded

    The advantage of engineered wood flooring versus laminate is that engineered wood can be sanded after scratches and dings develop. Two catches, though:

    • Limited Sanding - Engineered flooring cannot be sanded more than 1-3 times (depending on the thickness of the finish layer).
    • Professional Sanding Recommended - 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.

    What About Areas With Light Moisture?

    Engineered wood flooring works well in kitchens, basements, and bathrooms where light moisture might be present.

    It is not designed to hold up in excessively wet areas such as basements that flood frequently.

    There are gray areas, as well.  If you are highly motivated to install engineered wood in a full bathroom, it can be made to work with waterproof mats and solid shower doors (vs. curtains).

     But if the bathroom is for kids, no amount of precautions may be able to stop the damage.

    In the end, no wood flooring product is great for very wet areas (tile, concrete, vinyl, or any other non-organic product is best). But relative to other wood flooring products, engineered wood holds up fairly well.

    A Range of Installation Methods

    Unlike solid wood, which must be nailed to a wood sub-floor, engineered wood can be installed in a different number of ways. Depending on the type you buy, it can be either:

    • Nail-Down Floor. This is for the 3/8" thick floor--its thinness requires nailing to enhance stability;
    • Glue-Down Floor. The 1/2" thick floor can be nailed down; or
    • Floating Floor. The 5/8" planks are thick enough to act as a floating floor.

    Long-Term Resale Value

    Engineered flooring is more expensive than laminate, yet provides better value in the long-run because it can be periodically sanded to revive the wood grain and erase scratches.

    Read more about the value of engineered flooring on ConsumerSearch.