Engineered Hardwood vs Cork Flooring

Engineered Hardwood vs Cork Flooring

Let’s compare engineered hardwood vs. cork flooring. Which is better? Both are beautiful natural surface options for your home. Here, we will look at the pros and cons of both engineered hardwood and cork floors.

Engineered hardwood is a great choice if you would like the look of a solid hardwood floor with more installation versatility and at a more affordable price. Cork may be your best option if you are seeking an eco-friendly floor that is soft under foot, provides excellent insulation, and is easy on the wallet.

Taking on any type of home remodeling project involves a lot of work, time, and money. You want to make sure you are getting the best return on your investment and a floor covering you will be happy with.

In this guide, we’ll explore:

Side-by-Side Comparison

 Engineered HardwoodCork
Construction & AppearanceRoto peeled or sawn face attached to HDF or 5-ply core. Many styles and species, available in single or multi width options. Prefinished or site-finish. High variation pattern and color.Bark of the Cork Oak tree bonded together with resins. Attached to HDF or 5-ply core. Available in tile or plank. Prefinished or site-finish. High variation pattern and color.
DurabilityDependent on species and finish type. More durable than cork.Soft and not scratch or dent resistant. Water, mold, and mildew resistant.
WaterproofNo.Water resistant, not waterproof.
Pet-FriendlySomewhat. Depends on finish type. Not ideal for pet accidents.No
Acoustics & InsulationCan be noisy. Doesn't insulate.Provides some noise reduction and insulation.
Eco-Friendly?No.Yes.
CleaningAvoid wet mops and steam mops. Sweep, vaccuum, and spot clean. Do not saturate.Damp mop ok, do not saturate.
RefinishingCan be refinished if its has a thick veneer. Can be refinished if solid or is engineered with a thick veneer.
Installation TypeClick, float, glue, nail, stapleClick, float, glue
Ease of DIY InstallClick and float is easiest for DIY. Other methods may require professional installation.Click and float is easiest for DIY. Other methods may require professional installation.
Cost$$$-$$$$. Can be mid range to very expensive depending on species and type.$$-$$$. A more affordable wood product option. Costs less or the same as a lower end engineered hardwood on average.
Flooring GuideEngineered Hardwood Flooring GuideCork Flooring Guide

Construction and Appearance

Engineered hardwood comes in two main types.

The first type features a sawn-face veneer attached to a multi-ply wood core. These types are identifiable by viewing the plank from the end. It kind of looks like a layer cake.

The second type features a roto-peeled veneer attached to an HDF core. This type is clearly fiberboard when viewed from the side. Or to continue with our analogy, it looks like a dense pound cake.

You may also see hybrids of these two main types.

Engineered hardwoods are available in a variety of species, stains, finishes, as well as single and multi-width planks. Endowed with natural beauty, these floors are high variation in pattern and color. There is an engineered hardwood to suit any taste or décor.

Cork flooring is made from harvesting the bark of the Cork Oak tree. The bark is bonded with natural resins and formed under high pressure.

Cork flooring is also manufactured in two main types.

The first is a solid tile. These are cork all the way through.

The cork tile option offers more versatility for layout and creative designs as it is installed with glue.

Cork is also offered as an engineered product. It is similar in construction to the engineered hardwood types as we discussed earlier. Typically, cork is only available in single-width and single length options.

Cork floors can come prefinished with colored stains as well as unfinished or site-finished options. These distinctive floors feature high variation in both color and pattern. Cork can have a very “busy” look and may not be a great choice if you prefer your floor to look more uniform.

Back to Top

Durability

Cork is a very soft material. It is springy underfoot and great for places you might stand for long periods of time, such as a kitchen. Cork scratches quite easily and will gouge if something is dropped on it.

However, cork is somewhat resilient in that small dents may pop back up over time. It is still recommended that you use furniture coasters as well as boards under heavy appliances to distribute the weight.

Whereas engineered hardwood is, as its name implies, much harder. In fact, the overall hardness of the wood species will provide some protection from impact and indentation.

However, not all hardwoods are created equal. Some are tougher than others.

Some examples of commonly used softer woods are maple, elm, birch, and pine.

Examples of harder woods are hickory, walnut, and acacia. Oak is middle of the road for hardness.

While the species is important, the floor finish is the first line of defense for everyday wear and tear.

Engineered hardwoods are either finished with urethane, wax, or aluminum oxide. These finishes are quite durable, but aluminum oxide comes out on top as being the most scratch and scuff resistant.

However, there are those in the flooring industry that swear by a urethane finish. Unlike aluminum oxide, urethane does not cloud or distort the color of the word when you apply it. Urethane allows the natural beauty of the wood to shine through.

It’s a close match, but when it comes to durability, engineered hardwood wins this round.

Back to Top

Waterproof

If you have an open floor plan in your home, you may be very tempted to install the same flooring throughout your home. People put hardwood in their kitchens all the time, right?

Yes, they do. It looks amazing, but it may not be the best idea.

Engineered hardwood is not waterproof. It isn’t even water-resistant. A stray ice cube or a forgotten spill can cause the floor to swell, warp, and split.

Cork, on the other hand, is naturally water-, mold-, and mildew-resistant. Many people enjoy cork floors in their kitchens.

However, cork is not waterproof and not recommended for areas with excessive moisture such as a bathroom.

Keep in mind that with both engineered hardwood and cork floors, a leak from an ice maker, sink, or other appliance will not only damage your subfloor, it will also damage your flooring beyond repair.

A full floor replacement is costly, so it is important to understand this risk should you choose to install a non-waterproof floor in a wet area.

If you absolutely must have engineered hardwood or cork in your kitchen, it’s a great idea to buy a few extra cases of flooring to keep on hand for repairs.

They discontinue flooring styles frequently. So there is no guarantee that you will be able to order a matching replacement in the future.

Back to Top

Pet-Friendly

Many pet owners choose hard surface flooring because it is easy to vacuum pet hair, dander, and clean the occasional accident. Engineered hardwood and cork will perform similarly.

Engineered hardwood is more protected from pet nails due to the hardness and finish. However, you can badly damage it if your pet has an accident when you aren’t around to clean your engineered floors up right away. If left to sit, urine can seep into the wood and continue to smell long after it’s been cleaned.

Cork is not the most pet-friendly, either. Cat and dog nails can scratch and damage the soft cork floor. Keeping nails trimmed can help, but it is not recommended for large or heavy dogs.

Cork is more moisture-resistant, but pet accidents could still pose a problem. Cork can be somewhat tougher to clean. It has a lot of texture and sometimes pet accidents can be difficult to remove from the dips and divots.

Back to Top

Sustainability

When it comes to eco-friendliness, cork is the clear winner.

Cork is unique in that it is naturally zero VOC. When they install it in your home, it has no harmful off-gassing.

Unlike other hardwood species, they do not cut down the cork tree when they harvest the bark. You can safely strip the bark every 7-10 years for the lifetime of the tree.

The eco-friendliness of engineered hardwood is debatable. Some are more sustainable than others.

To make engineered hardwood flooring, they must cut down trees completely. However, in recent years, efforts have been made to manufacture products in a way that is better for the environment. Some of these efforts include replanting and using recycled material for the engineered cores.

When selecting engineered hardwood, look for the Forest Stewardship Counsel (FSC) label. The FSC has clear standards that define sustainable harvesting and manufacturing processes for these tree-based products.

Back to Top

Cleaning

Many people choose hard surface floors because they are easy to clean. Engineered hardwood and cork floors are no exception.

To remove dirt and debris, you can either use a hardwood vacuum, a microfiber sweeper, or a regular broom.

If you choose to use a vacuum, take care that debris does not become embedded in the wheels or stuck in the beater bar. This can scratch or gouge your floor. Many manufacturers also publish lists of approved vacuum models for their flooring products.

When mopping, you can use a slightly damp microfiber mop and spray bottle for extra soiled areas but do not to saturate the floor. Standing water or cleaning products left too long can damage the floor.

Make sure to only use PH-neutral cleaning products designed specifically for your type of floor. It’s good practice to test the product in a corner of the room or closet as some cleaners may damage the finish beyond repair.

Back to Top

Ease of Installation and Repair

Engineered hardwood is available as a click-lock or as a tongue and groove.

A click-lock engineered hardwood is a great option for a DIY install. It does not require any special tools or adhesives. However, you will need a saw that can make both horizontal and vertical cuts that will accommodate the length of the plank.

Tongue and groove engineered floors can be installed with nails, staples, or glue, depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations. This can be a more challenging installation and you may want to leave it to professional installers.

Like engineered hardwood, cork is made in click-lock as well as tongue and groove engineered formats and installed the same way. Solid cork tiles are also available.

If you are planning to put your cork in a kitchen or laundry room, you should consider a glue-down cork tile. This will prevent moisture from becoming trapped underneath the floor.

Interestingly, cork is a natural insulator and has superior sound dampening qualities. People have used it as an underlayment and soundproofing material. Cork may be an excellent choice if you have vaulted ceilings or upstairs areas that might otherwise be noisy with other types of flooring.

If needed, you can refinish both types if they are solid or engineered with a thick veneer. Note that refinishing will void manufacturer warranty if they sold the floor as a product that was prefinished. Keep in mind that if you choose to refinish your floor, the finish will not be as durable as the one applied in the factory.

Back to Top

Cost

The average cost for engineered hardwood is variable. Price factors include: species, core type, veneer and plank thickness, plank width, and finish.

For example, a budget-friendly engineered hardwood might have an HDF core, thin roto-peeled veneer of a softer wood such as birch or maple, finished with aluminum oxide, and have a click-lock format. This product is cheaper to make, and they can make a lot of product with minimal raw material.

Whereas an expensive engineered hardwood might feature a 5-ply wood core, a thick sawn-face veneer of a hardwood such as hickory or acacia, finished with polyurethane or wax, and have a tongue and groove format. This product is more expensive to manufacture and uses up more material made from slower-growing trees.

Cork, on the other hand, is less expensive on average than some hardwood species. This is largely due to its status as a renewable resource.

Both cork and engineered hardwood may increase the value of your home. However, due to its unique look and softness, cork may not appeal to the average homebuyer.

Another cost factor to consider is installation. If you plan to hire a professional to install your floor, you can expect to pay less for a click-lock installation and more for direct glue, nail, staple, or glue float.

The overall cost between engineered hardwood and cork is comparable. Click-lock cork and hardwood would be your most budget-friendly option.

Back to Top

The Verdict

The differences between engineered hardwood and cork flooring really comes down to durability, sustainability, and acoustics. In other categories, they are very comparable.

If you want the look and feel of a solid hardwood without the price tag, durable, and has wide-appeal for potential buyers, engineered hardwood is a great choice.

Cork might be a better option if you are looking for something that is eco-friendly, a superior insulator, and is somewhat better for a kitchen.

When comparing engineered hardwood vs. cork flooring, both are very similar, but engineered hardwood continues to be the more popular choice among homeowners for its durability and wide appeal.

Back to Top

Sarah Williamson

About Sarah Williamson

Sarah is a self-described “flooring nerd” with over a decade of building industry experience including installation, estimation, and sales. She thrives on finding unique solutions to interior design challenges and sharing her love of creating inspired spaces through writing.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *