Engineered Hardwood vs Tile Flooring

Engineered Hardwood vs Tile Flooring

A common question renovations or builders consider when they are planning a flooring project: engineered hardwood or tile flooring?

Whether you are looking primarily at cost or considering only design elements; that question can be an immense consideration for many different reasons. This article will take an in-depth look at both flooring options, in the hopes of offering an impartial view for consideration.

In this exposé, we will consider both products and weigh the pros and cons of each product, while we look into the different options engineered hardwood and tile flooring afford the consumer.

In this guide, we’ll explore:

Side-by-Side Comparison

 Engineered HardwoodTile
OriginMan-made - First manufactured in the 1960'sMan-made - First manufactured in ancient times
Ingredients/CompositionThin layers of manufactured wood (plywood plus high-density or medium-density fiber-wood) soft or hard plywood inner core glued and pressed together in a criss-cross fashion with a thicker hardwood veneer layer. Thin layers of clay molded and let dry (for ceramic and terracotta) or baked to ensure dryness; glazed and baked to create porcelain; or cut from mineral and stone deposits.
Design OptionsDozens of wood styles and finishes. Different board widths, and parket styles. Dozens of color styles.Unlimited.
DurabilityCan show surface scratches. Can absorb moisture and warp or cup.Can crack and chip under harsh conditions.
Waterproof/Water ResistantMore water resistant than hardwood, but still made from wood so will absorb moisture and can become saturated, or grow mould.Water resistant used in pools and bath houses.
CleaningIndustrial cleaners can remove finish. Standing water can harm flooring. Dry sweeping and damp mopping when necessary.Dry sweep and dry or wet mop cleaning.
Stain ResistantDifferent wood species used in engineered hardwood can be somewhat stain resistant if the wood's protective finish is entact. However liquids or other staining substances may stain the wood if left unattended for a length of time.Most tile is stain resistant, and if the tile and grout has been sealed, most industrial strength cleaners can be used to remove staining.
LongevityAverage lifespan manufacturers suggest is 100 years, since it has only been around for going on 60 years, lifespan is yet unknown.Some tile lifespan is said to be over 2000 years, so longevity is so-far timeless.
Pet-FriendlySurface scratches from pets - several comments from customers. Manufacturers state the flooring consumer purchased was not a high enough standard to not be affected by pets running on the surface and creating "nail strikes". Consumers advised to purchase and install higher quality engineered hardwood.With the exception of glazed tile, most tile flooring is pet-friendly and does not show scratches from nail-strikes.
Environmentally-FriendlyUses less "prize" wood than traditional hardwood. Can be sanded down and refinished two or three times over the lifetime of the product.Ceramic, porcelain and terracotta tile are eco-friendly because no natural ingrediants are used. Stone and mineral tiles are less eco-friendly in the sense that they use deposits. But are eco-friendly in the sense that they can last several lifetimes before they have to be replaced.
Installation ChallengesMoisture is an issue, but less than hardwood.Messy during installation, but can be installed anywhere.
Installation SurfacesAny flat, hard and level surface (can be installed over cement as long as the cement has less than 4% moisture) Can be installed over any surface as long as the surface is level and hard. After installation and sealing moisture is not relevant.
Heat TransferHigh heat transfer ability and can be installed over radiant in-floor heatingCold, but can be installed over in-floor radiant heating systems
ManufacturersOwens Plank Flooring, Vintage Solid Sawn, Vintage Northern Solid Sawn, Somerset Engineered CollectionAlysEdwards Tile & Stone, American Olean, Arto Brick, Crossville, Daltile, Eleganza, Emser Tile, Interceramic
Purchasing OptionsSpecialty Flooring Shops and Big Box Stores - Lowes and Home DepotSpecialty Flooring Shops and Big Box Stores - Lowes and Home Depot
Other DrawbacksCheaper flooring has a thinner "wear layer" which is the layer using the "prize" wood. Poorer quality flooring manufacturers are mostly in China.Messy install, and cold flooring. Warm tile options are vinyl and leather - not spotlighted in the article.
Flooring GuideEngineered Hardwood Flooring GuideTile Flooring Guide

Engineered Hardwood Flooring

This is a man-made product consisting of layered wood in a crossed fashion and held together by epoxies and adhesives, then pressed under tremendous pressure and heat. The top layer of engineered hardwood is a thick hardwood – veneer stained and sealed.

The core of the engineered hardwood consists of other wood materials pressed in layers. The core can contain up to ten different plywood and pressed composite wood layers. Layers have the wood grain laid perpendicular layer, by layer.

The cores of the engineered hardwood planks are designed in such a way that the layers deter twisting because of the opposing grain placement.

Engineered hardwood, like real hardwood, comes in many different hardness types, thickness types, and colors. Among the common hardwoods available are walnut, hickory, oak, maple, and bamboo.

Bamboo is available only in an engineered hardwood as bamboo is not available in a full hardwood plank flooring.

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Tile Flooring

This is also a man-made product. Made of thin slabs of clay, tile products date back to the construction of man’s earliest buildings. Tile is available in many base materials and may come in a glazed or unglazed finish.

It is available in porcelain, ceramic, terracotta, and stone. In addition to the types of tile flooring available, tile comes in different hardness options. Porcelain tile comes in six tile types: matte or unglazed; glazed; polished; double charged; full body; and textured or stone finish.

Ceramic tile is offered in hardness ratings from zero to five, where zero through two hardness are great for wall tile applications; three hardness is optimal for most residential applications; finally, four and five hardness are the correct hardness for commercial flooring applications.

You can custom create this flooring in different styles to resemble wood grain and other hardwood styles. You can even mold it to resemble hammered copper tile.

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Nature’s Tile

Tile flooring is also available in natural marble, slate, sandstone, and granite, to name a few. Mineral and stone materials such as marble and slate tiles are not man-made but rather man-finished. Cut from mineral and stone deposits; these materials are then finished into tile through cut and polish.

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Leather and Vinyl Tile

Tile flooring has “warm” options available for the consumer. For this article, I have only made comparisons to only include “cold” flooring tiles. Vinyl, leather and other “warm” flooring tile options will be a topic for another time.

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Similarities Between Flooring Types

Both engineered hardwood and tile flooring options are available at most flooring specialty shops and renovation outlets, as well as big box stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. Both options can be purchased as inexpensively as $2 per square foot and higher.

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From the Experts

Flooring and renovation experts have different views when it comes to which product is the best for both new construction and renovation flooring products. However, every expert will advise a client to research each product before deciding on which product is best for their use.

Looking at a few various styles of engineered hardwood flooring, a consumer would note that each has a timeless essence and promotes a warm and inviting feeling. Equally, to most renovators and builders, marble or porcelain tile flooring is rich and elegant and can look as timeless and classic.

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Advantages & Disadvantages

Both tile and engineered flooring have their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at the many benefits and the difficulties of engineered hardwood. After that, we will look at the pros and cons of tile flooring.

After reviewing many articles and comparisons, and following manufacturer site product comments and other various professional and personal views, I have noted something. Consumers who have installed engineered flooring either personally or had a professional flooring installer come in have excellent things to say about their engineered hardwood flooring.

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The History of Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood was first invented and manufactured in the 1960s. Since its invention, manufacturers have made many advancements in both quality and finish of the product. The performance of the product alone has advanced tremendously.

In the 1960s, engineered hardwood was known as “brittle”. Therefore, it was difficult to install without the product easily chipping away. Today’s performance shows engineered hardwood to be strong and durable without that same “brittle” texture.

When manufacturers first produced it, engineered hardwood was known for an issue called “off-gassing” – the odor produced by the toxins in the resin and adhesives, pressed into the wood and also found in the stains and topcoats of engineered hardwood. Today, manufacturers maintain that most engineered hardwood does not off-gas, but it is always something consumers should research for themselves by contacting the manufacturer and assessing their green initiatives.

When it comes to the appearance of engineered hardwood, in the 60s the product had only two or three finish options, whereas today’s engineered hardwood comes in dozens of wood species, colors, surface effects, and plank widths.

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Advantages of Engineered Hardwood

Let’s start by assessing the consensus of benefits of engineered hardwood flooring:

  • Eco-Friendly – Engineered hardwood requires less “prize wood” and thus helps to conserve the forests all over the world. While hardwood flooring is made from solid “prize wood” wood planks, engineered hardwood has a core made from layers of plywood and includes a top layer of “prize wood.” Considering the difference: engineered hardwood flooring is between 3/8” to ¾” thick, of layered wood; solid hardwood planks are between ½” to ¾” of “prize wood.” Engineered hardwood uses less “prize-wood” per plank and is, therefore, more eco-friendly.
  • Sustainability – Engineered hardwood flooring (like hardwood flooring) can last several lifetimes. Most engineered hardwood flooring consists of a thick top layer of wood, which can be sanded down and refinished many times. Customers should ask suppliers to ensure the supplier provides a product which has a thick top wood layer. Some inexpensive products do not have a thick top wood layer, which in turn would prohibit sanding and refinishing more than two or three times over the lifetime of the product.
  • Moisture Vulnerability – Like hardwood flooring, engineered hardwood flooring is made from wood, which still makes it vulnerable to moisture. However, unlike hardwood flooring, engineered hardwood flooring has been explicitly manufactured to resist moisture. Manufacturers maintain that engineered hardwood construction processes include enough heat and pressure force to limit the room for moisture. That is not to say that it cannot become ruined by access moisture or by flooding.
  • Installation Over Concrete – As with any installation, engineered hardwood still has manufacturer’s recommendations when installing over a concrete slab. Moisture in the concrete must be less than 4% before an engineered hardwood should be installed over concrete. Though it may seem obvious, many customer issues noted in my research revolved around engineered hardwood flooring mounted on top of a concrete slab not previously dried to less than 4% moisture. As a result, the moisture from the concrete slab became absorbed by the engineered hardwood, which in turn, caused the engineered hardwood to buckle and cup.
  • Easy-CareWell-maintained engineered hardwood flooring should only ever require hardwood vacuumingsoft-cloth sweeping and washing. It should never require wet-mop washing. If a liquid is spilled on engineered hardwood flooring, you should never use a wet mop and bucket to clean the floor. All liquids should be absorbed quickly with towels or paper towels to ensure the liquid does not have a chance to the seep into the flooring. Although the surface time is longer for liquids to absorb into engineered hardwood, in comparison to hardwood planks; both are still wood products, and fluids will eventually seep into them.

One of the secondary qualities consumers found with engineered hardwood is that the heat transfer ratio was outstanding, and consumers found the flooring to be a warm medium. Because engineered hardwood is a stable medium, you can custom order it in wider board widths. You can order some planks up to 10” wide.

Another advantage with engineered hardwood is the range of ways you can install the flooring. Floating engineered hardwood is an appropriate option for consumers with level subflooring. Other installation types for engineered hardwood include glue-down or nail-down options.

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Radiant Heating and Engineered Hardwood Flooring

You can install in-floor, radiant heating systems in a flooring area prior to engineered hardwood flooring installation. You can install engineered hardwood on any flooring surface, so long as the surface is secured well, flat and hard.

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External Applications for Engineered Hardwood

You can also use engineered hardwood in external applications such as decks, if the application area offers decent drainage and the decking is not in a predominantly wet climate. You can use engineered hardwood as outdoor decking anywhere you would use normal hardwood planks.

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Engineered Hardwood Complaints

I came across only two major complaints about engineered hardwood during my research:

  • The first complaint I encountered was various consumers stating how their engineered hardwood flooring faded in spots where the daily direct sunlight hit the flooring.
  • The second complaint I encountered was various customers stating that their engineered hardwood flooring showed scratches from pets or shoes. One customer even stated that scratches from practicing the “foxtrot” showed up on her flooring after the first time she and her partner danced on the floor.

I looked to the manufacturer’s comments for solutions for these issues. There, I discovered manufacturers recommending that customers look into the quality of the product the customers had purchased. I can only recommend that consumers looking to install engineered hardwood in their home, first look into the quality of the layers of the engineered hardwood and also follow any manufacturer’s recommendations for use.

My research showed that there are differences in manufacturer specs. Some layers of the plywood used in the construction can be made from soft woods, while others are made from hardwoods. With this in mind, it is up to the consumer to choose the right flooring composition for the project.

As with engineered hardwood, my research into tile flooring yielded many pros and few cons.

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Advantages of Tile Flooring

Consumers realize that as with wood flooring, tile flooring is a great selling feature for homes on the market. I even came across many consumers who described ceramic tile flooring as being “the most versatile flooring product on the market, with applications for use in every building or renovation project.” High praise, indeed; I found that research into tile flooring supported this praise.

  • Longevity – If you were to visit the Isle of Pompeii, you would view many fantastic ceramic tile sites, which are still in near perfect condition, even after almost 2,000 years. People have made various and similar other tile discoveries in China, Mongolia, Italy, Rome, and England dating back hundreds and even thousands of years. People consider tile – virtually any type – to be timeless. Glazed tile is both stain- and water-resistant. Unglazed tile requires sealant to become stain and water resistant, which in turn, improves the tile’s longevity. Terracotta tile is one of the oldest forms of tile in existence, yet it is still a leading tile style people use in floor construction today.
  • Versatility – From my research, I have found that tile is the only flooring type that people can install almost anywhere. You can install it in every room of a house. People use it in practically every commercial application. You can install this flooring in high traffic areas, high humidity areas, cold climates, warm climates and every area or climate in between.
  • Water-Resistant – When you properly seal, dry and install unglazed tile, glazed tile and sealed grout, they become water-resistant. People have used tiles to surface swimming pools and bathhouses dating back to the times of the Greek and Roman Empire rule.
  • Easy Maintenance – When the grout and unglazed tile surface are sealed, maintenance of a tile floor should consist of sweeping or vacuuming with a tile vacuum, or a soft brush and damp-mopping the surface. If stains should happen to set into the tile surface, most home and industrial tile cleaning products will clear the stain without damaging the tile surface. As in the case of a glazed tile, you must seal only the grout to keep out water and dirt, because of the glazed tile’s special treatment (glazing) during manufacture.
  • Designability – Unlike every other flooring style, only the designers dreams limit tile flooring’s design. Custom creations have been in production since tile was first manufactured and from the days where kings and pharaohs have had their masons create their every design desire. Today, manufacturers carve tiles out of marble slabs in different shapes, both small and large. They make ceramic and porcelain tiles in molds which resemble wood planks etched with the wood’s grain, or in molds which have icon shapes etched in the surface. The manufacturer can make molds to look like stone with all different sizes of pebble curves. They can also make tiles look like small parts of a greater picture, like water tumbling over a mountain cliff or pieces of a grand mosaic.

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The History of Tile Flooring

As mentioned, people have produced tile flooring as far back into history as the recorded word. As ancient kings and pharaohs had the masons of the time produce many tile masterpieces for both floor applications and wall applications.

Through the ages, tile has represented prestige and wealth. However, in this day and age, tile flooring is a common application available to all classes, because tile flooring can be an inexpensive flooring option, or it can be an indication of wealth and prestige by the use of more expensive tiling materials or more expensive molds and custom cuts of natural stone and minerals.

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Disadvantages of Tile Flooring

During my research adventure, I discovered only a couple “downsides” to installing tile flooring. Other than the mess during installation, the only other main drawback to tile flooring I came across happened to be the temperature of the product.

Tile flooring is “cold”. However, you could easily install tile over in-floor radiant heating. Given this easy fix, can we even call the temperature of tile flooring a “drawback?” I will leave that assessment to the consumer.

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Flooring Conclusions

Like almost every consumer product, buyers need to research the exact product they intend to install when it comes to flooring. Only your project designer can decide whether your project calls for engineered hardwood or porcelain tile.

Your research should include not only color, texture and width of the engineered hardwood or the size of the ceramic tile. It should also include the manufacture of the product in addition to the cost per square foot.

No two design projects will be the same. Every consumer should be aware of the goal they are fulfilling when they choose the project’s flooring type. By defining and establishing your project’s flooring goal, and keeping in mind the limitations or special requirements of the type of flooring you intend to install, your flooring project is sure to become the solid footing you want it to be.

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Lori Hamm

About Lori Hamm

I have been writing in one form or another since I was 11 years old and won my first national poetry contest. Now, at almost a half century young, I have over 200 published poems to my name and at least as many feature articles created and published in the last few years.

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