Wood Flooring: Solid Hardwood, Engineered Wood, and Wood Substitutes

Custom home interior with wood flooring

David Papazian / Digital Vision / Getty Images

If you're remodeling a home, chances are you want wood flooring in at least one of your rooms. Wood flooring has a timeless look and it gives a house a warm feel.

For real wood flooring, you have two options: solid hardwood flooring and engineered wood flooring. Beyond that is a host of wood substitutes or faux-wood offerings that simulate real wood but contain little or no wood: bamboo flooring, laminate flooring. luxury vinyl flooring, and wood-look ceramic tile.

Solid Hardwood Flooring

Solid hardwood floor, as the name says, is solid wood all the way through, from top to bottom. It's similar to any other piece of lumber that's sawn straight off of the log—no additional materials added.

Hardwood flooring comes either unfinished or prefinished. Unfinished hardwood tends to be a little cheaper than prefinished but does require immediate light sanding, staining (optional), and sealing after installation.

With prefinished hardwood flooring, you can walk on it right after installation. With unfinished, you need to limit usage until it has been sealed. After sealing, you will need to wait at least 48 hours for the sealant to dry. Even then, additional coats may be required. With unfinished, the advantage is you can stain it and seal it to your exact specification. With prefinished, the advantage is the quick turnaround time.

Hardwood must be nailed to a wooden subfloor. Unlike the other wood flooring options, it cannot be installed straight on concrete or on top of your existing floor. Because of the nail-down requirement, it is recommended that you hire hardwood floor installers. If you wish, though, it is possible to rent floor staplers from home improvement centers.

Because hardwood is especially prone to scratches and dents, pay special attention to the Janka hardness rating scale and buy a species of wood appropriate to your lifestyle and your budget.

Hardwood flooring's greatest advantage is that it can be re-sanded numerous times, extending its life literally for decades. Its greatest weakness is that it cannot be installed in moist areas such as basements or bathrooms.

Bedroom with hardwood floors
The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Engineered Wood Flooring

Engineered wood flooring is an alternative to solid hardwood flooring that now has surpassed solid hardwood's sales. If you ask for real hardwood flooring from a local retailer, they will likely steer you to engineered wood flooring.

Engineered flooring is a sandwich of veneer wood and plywood. The finish wood is what you see and walk on, while the plywood underneath comprises 75-percent or more of the flooring.

It's the plywood that distinguishes engineered wood flooring from solid hardwood. Each ply runs perpendicular to its adjacent ply, giving dimensional strength to the sandwich. This means that engineered wood flooring stands up well to areas with light moisture, such as basements and bathrooms.

Another advantage of engineered wood is the range of installation options. Some versions can be nailed down, just like solid hardwood, while other versions can be installed as floating floors.

Floating floors require no nails or screws and usually need only minimal subfloor prep. As long as your existing floor is flat and stable, you can install the floating floor right on top.

Engineered wood flooring's weakness is its thin top layer. This 1/16- to 1/8-inch finish layer can be sanded, but only once or twice and each sanding needs to be light.

In any case, you should seek the advice of a reputable flooring company before sanding. Unlike solid hardwood, deep scratches and dents in engineered wood cannot be sanded out.

Engineered wood floor with side table
​The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Faux-Wood Flooring: Wood Substitutes

If you're not ready to commit to the high cost of real wood flooring, you have four faux-wood substitutes to choose from: bamboo flooring, laminate flooring, luxury vinyl plank, and wood-look ceramic tile.

Bamboo Flooring

One popular alternative to hardwood is bamboo flooring. While bamboo is grass rather than hardwood, it's usually classed as hardwood and is highly valued for its apparent green and environmentally friendly qualities.

Bamboo looks, feels, and behaves remarkably like real wood. It's easy to install, highly durable, and it adds to the home's resale value.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is not real wood, at least not in the way that hardwood and engineered wood are. It's comprised of a thin top layer of resin-infused paper, all on top of a wood-chip composite. So, technically laminate flooring is wood; or more precisely, laminate flooring contains wood.

Laminate flooring is a precise simulation of wood. The image layer is essentially a photograph of wood. With better brands of laminate flooring, you can look closely at the product and still be fooled.

Among the advantages of laminate flooring are its scratch resistance, ease of installation, and low cost. Some of the disadvantages of laminate flooring are that it is vulnerable to moisture damage, it's slippery, and it cannot be sanded or repaired.

Hallway with laminate wood floor
​The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring

Luxury vinyl plank flooring comes in versions that look remarkably like natural wood. Just like laminate flooring, LVP installs in long planks as a floating floor, so no need to attach it to the subfloor.

Luxury vinyl plank flooring differs from laminate flooring in that it is waterproof. LVP is safe to install in high-moisture environments like full bathrooms.

Paying a little more for LVP gives you thicker boards with deeper embossing for even more of a faux-wood look.

Wood-Look Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile traditionally has come in large squares from 4- to 16-inch square or in small tessarae in the form of mosaic tile. So, long and narrow planks of ceramic tile are newer on the market. But it's a necessary format if you want your ceramic tile to simulate real wood flooring.

Plank ceramic tile is like luxury vinyl flooring in that it is 100-percent waterproof. It's a less accurate simulation of wood than laminate flooring or LVP are.