Engineered hardwood isn’t for everyone. Some people may question the idea of spending thousands of dollars to install a product that straddles the line between authentic and industrial.
- Pricing Guide
- Finding Quality Engineered Hardwood
- Engineered vs. Solid Hardwood
But for those who see the benefits of flooring their homes with a versatile and timeless covering, engineered hardwood is the perfect solution.
Right now, you may be wondering which group you belong to. If so, we’re happy to help.
In fact, we’ve dedicated this entire section to hashing out the details and demystifying the debate surrounding engineered hardwood.
Ready to find out more? Then dive right in. In the spirit of remaining neutral, we’ll start with the pros and cons.
Engineered Hardwood Pros
- Installs over concrete
- Multiple installation methods
- Less sensitive to moisture
- Improves resale value
- You can refinish engineered hardwood
- Easy finishing
- Radiant-heating compatible
1. Installs over concrete
If you have hardwood floors throughout your home and want to continue the theme on a lower level, hybrid flooring combines the best of both worlds. It’s stylish yet practical.
Due to its multi-layer construction, engineered wood flooring stands up to moisture and resists humidity much better than solid hardwood. Therefore, you can glue or float this product over a concrete slab. If you choose this route, be sure to waterproof the subfloor and fix any cracks before installation.
Remember to install a moisture meter to monitor humidity levels. Even though engineered boards have a higher tolerance to temperature fluctuations, they still contain natural wood. This means that engineered wood floors can buckle or warp in extreme conditions.
2. Multiple installation methods
Want to install your new flooring without the help of a pro? You’ll have an easier time using an engineered product. It’s the perfect DIY for experienced weekend warriors.
Unlike solid hardwood, you can float, stable or glue engineered wood. You can even find planks with locking mechanisms.
Besides variety, you’ll also have a bit more wiggle room for minor mistakes. And because engineered wood isn’t as sensitive to moisture, your expansion gaps don’t have to be exact.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t pay attention to the spacing. Quite the opposite. But if your measurements are a bit off, it won’t be as noticeable.
3. Less sensitive to moisture and humidity
Engineered floors are dimensionally stable. Unlike solid hardwood, manufacturers assemble these products in layers. The top layer is a wood veneer, while the core layers are composed of plywood, particle board or fiberglass.
These layers are then stacked in a criss-cross pattern and glued together in opposing directions. Then, when the floor is exposed to high humidity, each layer counteracts the other’s natural tendency to swell or shrink.
4. Improves resale value
Here’s some great news for those considering engineered wood. The resale market makes zero distinction between engineered hardwood and solid hardwood. So, if you’re concerned about the return on investment; don’t be.
In fact, if you have engineered wood running throughout your home, you may be able to command a higher price than those who have solid hardwood in just a few key spaces.
5. You can refinish engineered hardwood
Contrary to popular myth, you can refinish engineered wood. As long as you’ve invested in a high-quality product, it won’t be a problem sanding and restaining your floor.
There is a caveat, though.
If you plan on refreshing your floors every few years, hybrid flooring isn’t the way to go. You can only refinish veneer so many times before it wears too thin.
Unlike solid wood which can be sanded an average of 7 times, engineered planks become less durable after 2-3 refinishes.
6. Sanded, stained and sealed
Want hardwood floors with a factory finish? Take a look at engineered flooring. Unlike messy site finishes, prefinished boards look consistent out of the box. High-quality finishes will have tonal variations, but no bubbles or blemishes.
Plus, you can walk on them the same day they’re installed. And if that’s not enough, consider the smell factor. Stain and protective sealers give off toxic odors.
If the factory stains your boards, off-gassing will be minimal. So not only are you saving a figurative headache, you’re preventing a literal one.
7. Engineered hardwood is trend-proof
Whether you’re planning on staying in your home forever or selling when the market heats up, wood flooring is an excellent investment.
Yes, it can be pricey at first. However, unless you experience fire or flood, it will last for decades. Not only are these floors durable, but they stand the test of time.
Let’s face it, today’s hot decorating trend will be old news by tomorrow. (Think shag carpeting or avocado-colored appliances.)
However, hardwood will never go out of style. (Maybe the color, possibly the pattern, but never the material.) Have you ever seen a century-old home with original carpeting? Probably not.
8. Compatible with radiant heating
Want wood floors but hate the idea of stepping onto a cold hard surface in the morning? Invest in radiant heating. Not only is it cost-effective and comfortable, but it’s also compatible with engineered wood.
While it may be a challenge to find a solid wood that’s safe to install over in-floor heating, most engineered products are durable enough to withstand the temperature change.
However, before you dash off to the store, remember there are exceptions to this rule. Always check with the manufacturer before installing engineered wood over radiant systems.
Engineered Hardwood Cons
- Scratches & dents
- Priced comparably to solid
- Low quality core construction
- May have thin veneer
- Not moisture-proof
1. Engineered hardwood fades
Like any flooring, engineered hardwood will fade if exposed to sunlight and UV rays.
Unfortunately, covering your space with an area rug or large piece of furniture will make things worse. Your floor will still fade, but only the exposed area. So aside from lightened wood, you’ll also have noticeable spots.
The lesson? Treat engineered wood like any hardwood floor. Use blinds and curtains to minimize the amount of direct sunlight beating down on your floor.
2. Susceptible to scratches and dents
Engineered hardwood is not maintenance-free. Far from it. Like cork & other solid varieties, it will still dent, scratch and scar.
If you have pets or a fondness for heels, understand that your floors will scratch. And while some people feel these blemishes show character, others may cringe at the first site of scarring. If you’re part of the latter group, wood-look tile might be a better choice.
3. Comparable price to solid hardwood
Think you’ll save money on engineered hardwood? Not so fast. In truth, quality engineered hardwood costs about the same as solid hardwood (and even laminate); sometimes more.
Pricing varies by location and manufacturer. But on average, expect to pay between $4-7 per square foot.
4. Low-quality core construction
Some manufacturers try to cut production costs by using low-quality core material such as oriental strand board or fiberboard. This action results in flooring that is unstable and prone to damage.
When shopping for engineered wood, be on the lookout for cheap imitations. High-quality engineered floors have plywood cores that are dimensionally stable and built to withstand temperature fluctuations.
As with all flooring products, it’s wise to research the manufacturer and the construction process before deciding on a purchase.
5. Manufacturers may use thin veneer
Veneer should be at least 3/16” thick to ensure a durable wear layer. While a thinner surface may be cheaper, it will cost more in the long run. If the surface layer is too flimsy, you won’t be able to sand and refinish your flooring.
In addition to thickness, remember to check how the wood is cut. Believe it or not, this makes a difference. Rotary cut veneer uses a blade that peels the top layer off the log resulting in a wide grain appearance.
On the other hand, sawn-cut veneer is sliced from the log, like solid wood. Because it mimics the same color and pattern variations as solid hardwood, most homeowners prefer the look of sawn-cut veneer.
Many manufacturers still use formaldehyde and other carcinogens in the construction of their composite products. Often, they are found in the adhesives and sealers used to assemble the flooring.
These chemicals, known as volatile organic compounds, convert to a gas form when heated to room temperature. This process is called off-gassing.
While the government regulates the use of these chemicals, even trace amounts can cause health issues. If you or someone in your home has a compromised immune system, look for flooring that is certified formaldehyde-and VOC-free.
7. They aren’t moisture-proof
And while they can stand up to a change in humidity, even the best engineered boards are not waterproof. That means mold and bacteria can grow underneath them, and if they get wet, they will buckle and shift.
If you are thinking of using these floors in a basement, bathroom or other potentially wet area, please reconsider. You will be sorely disappointed. Why not scope out a beautiful wood-look tile instead?
8. Engineered wood is still high-maintenance
Don’t let the engineered part fool you. Keeping engineered floors clean is no easier than maintaining solid hardwood.
You will still have to sweep or vacuum away dust particles daily with a hardwood vac. In addition, you must be careful what cleaning products you use. Heavy wax or oil can be detrimental to your floor’s top coat.
Never flood your engineered wood with water, it will result in bacteria growth and decay. Instead, remember to invest in a quality microfiber mop, and if you must use chemicals make sure they’re safe for your type of surface finish.
Ready to talk numbers? Ok, let’s break down the total cost to purchase and install these floors.
So, what does engineered hardwood cost? Alas, it depends. I know that’s not the most helpful answer, but it’s an honest one.
What are your must-haves? Are you willing to compromise quality for price, or vice-versa?
On the budget end of the spectrum, you can find engineered floors for $2-3 per square foot. Understand that unless they’re part of a promotion, these floors will be low-quality, mass-produced imports. If you go this route, make sure to get proof of health and safety compliance.
A little higher on the price scale, you’ll find the mid-range products. These boards are better quality but may not offer a wide range of style or installation choices. Priced at $4-6 per square foot; mid-range boards come with decent warranties and meet minimum quality standards.
If you’re serious about quality, expect to pay $7-$12 per square foot for high-end flooring. Yes, it’s expensive, but it can be cost-effective in the long-run.
High-end products have the thickest wear layers and sturdiest cores. They can be refinished multiple times, and last 50 years or more. You’ll also have your pick of colors lengths and finishes.
And for this price, you’ll have no trouble finding the installation method that works best for your space.
Speaking of installation, let’s discuss the difference between a DIY and a pro install.
First up, the DIY method. If you’re installing a click-lock or floating floor, why not save some cash and forego hiring an expert?
If you’ve tackled similar projects, installing engineered floors may be easier than you think. There are excellent online tutorials that can guide you step-by-step. Sure, it may take a bit of creativity and motivation on your part, but the bragging rights are priceless.
Not up for an adventure? You’re not alone. There are several concrete reasons to hire a pro. The number one reason? Accountability.
If you make a mistake installing your engineered wood, it could cost you thousands. Plus it may even void your warranty. If an installer makes a mistake, it’s on them to fix it.
Another benefit to hiring a pro is that you’ll get an experienced professional that knows what they’re doing. If you have a complicated floor plan or want to install engineered wood below grade level, a pro can tackle this with ease.
They can measure moisture levels, decide which waterproofing substance to use and keep costs down by purchasing install materials at contractor rates.
All this skill comes with a price. Depending on your location and needs, you can expect quotes ranging from $4-10 per square foot. If your contractor prefers hourly wages, the average going rate is $30 per hour and up.
Keep in mind this may or may not include extras such as demo, or disposal. It’s best you settle on these services up front, so you and your contractor can negotiate terms before the work starts.
Now that we’ve covered the costs, let’s explore quality.
First, let’s recap how engineered wood is produced.
Most engineered floors are made of multi-ply construction. Manufacturers typically laminate 3-5 sheets of plywood together to form a plank. Each layer is stacked on top of the other but crisscrossed in opposite directions.
Often called cross-ply construction, this method ensures that the plank is dimensionally stable. In addition, it counteracts the woods natural tendency to expand and contract with changes in the temperature or humidity level.
So how many layers should you look for? Most experts advise a total thickness of 5/8”.
Cores should be made of 9-11 layers of real plywood, not OSB or fiberboard. And when it comes to veneer, don’t settle for anything less than 3/16” thick.
These are the minimum requirements for a dimensionally stable and renewable engineered flooring product. There are manufacturers out there that may disagree, but unless they can show concrete proof of the floor’s durability over time, be wary of their claims.
In addition to thickness, you’ll want to ascertain what chemicals are used in the boards, and whether or not they may off-gas. Remember to ask for proof that the product meets or exceeds air quality regulations.
Last but not least, is the warranty terms. These days, most engineered floors come backed by a 50-year or limited lifetime warranty. Look for guarantees that cover both construction and surface layer defects.
One more word of advice.
Do your homework. Go online and research the company and the product. Order free samples.
See what people are saying in the online forums. Look at the common complaints. If something doesn’t sit right, there’s usually a reason for that.
There are plenty of reputable engineered wood suppliers and manufacturers. You may have to hunt around, but if you’re diligent, you will find a reliable company to do business with.
Survived Sticker Shock Alley? Good for you. Let’s keep going.
Here’s a list of online favorites to jumpstart your search for the perfect engineered hardwood product.
- Hurst Hardwoods
- Hosking Hardwoods
- Tesoro Woods
- Somerset Hardwood
- Regal Hardwoods
- From the Forest
- Hallmark Floors
- Harris Wood
Hurst Hardwoods are one of the few online retailers that offer both unfinished and prefinished engineered flooring. In addition to your pick of styles and sizes, you’ll also find a wide variety of wood species to choose from, including Tigerwood and Brazilian Teak.
Hurst Hardwoods have a stellar reputation as one of the most trusted retailers in the business. If you do a bit of research, you’ll find that both homeowners and contractors are satisfied with Hurst’s products and services. The company is a family-owned business and a member of the National Wood Flooring Association.
Pricing is competitive, and if you hunt around a bit, you’ll spot incredible deals on both exotic (like acacia) and domestic (like oak) hardwood. In addition to great pricing, the company offers fast, reliable shipping at reasonable rates.
If you’re one of the many fans of the PBS show “This Old House” you may recognize the name, Jeff Hosking. Known as an expert in the wood flooring world, Mr. Hosking got his start as an apprentice in his family’s woodworking business. And while Hosking Hardwood has been selling flooring since 1932, it wasn’t until 1997 that the company began offering products online.
Hosking carries both engineered and solid hardwood. The site offers top quality products from big-name manufacturers as well as small independent mills. If you’re looking for a combination of wholesale pricing and knowledgeable sales assistance, look no further than Hosking.
While you’re researching the company, make it a priority to check out their blog. The company maintains an active social presence and regularly replies to questions or comments.
Looking for eco-friendly engineered wood? Check out the Tesoro Woods brand. This company makes living green easy, with FSC certified and zero VOC products, which fit well in any environment.
Although you won’t find any unfinished boards, Tesoro woods carries a wide variety of colors and tones to meet any style. Product pricing edges on the upper tier of the spectrum, with most boards costing an average of $6-8 per square foot.
What makes this company most interesting, is that it uses recycled wood from old building timber and industrial waste to construct high-quality engineered boards.
If you’re interested in learning more about the brand, check out their website for a list of certified retailers.
Somerset Hardwood Flooring
Started more than 20 years ago, Somerset Hardwood is one of North America’s leading suppliers of Appalachian Hardwoods. The company offers both solid and engineered hardwood in various textures, tones, and sizes.
All products are made in the USA and adhere to strict quality guidelines.
Unfortunately, this manufacturer doesn’t sell direct, which means you’ll have to travel to the nearest distributor for pricing. But, if you’re looking for quality, it’s well worth the trip. Somerset offers some of the thickest engineered flooring in the business and backs their boards with a generous 50-year warranty.
Regal Hardwoods specializes in providing consumers with hand scraped engineered floors at affordable prices. Based in Texas, the company carries eight lines of flooring, all engineered with solid birch cores.
The American Backroads collection features weathered planks in floating and nail-down varieties. While the Walla Walla Valley line spotlights modern, artistic boards with high sheen finishes.
Regardless of which Regal Collection you prefer, rest assured you’re buying a superior product. This company has an excellent reputation and stands behind their flooring with lengthy finish and construction warranties.
From The Forest
From The Forest is a small Wisconsin based manufacturer of American-made engineered hardwood. They offer several lines of flooring, for both price-conscious and high-end shoppers.
While a few products feature fiberboard, don’t let that deter you. The company’s Choice collection utilizes a 9-ply birch core. Sold in 15 prefinished styles, prices for this line hover close to $8 per square foot.
Even if you choose to buy elsewhere, it may benefit you to look at the company’s website. They provide detailed explanations of how to evaluate the tone, grade, and grain patterns of engineered floors. In addition to guidance, From the Forest also offers samples and discounts by email.
If you’re looking for quality and convenience, Hallmark Floors offers both. The company sells a wide array of engineered wood in varying sizes, styles and design patterns.
Hallmark products can be a bit pricey. However, their quality is second to none. Their Organic 567 Series features thick ply construction, sawn-cut veneer, and a multi-layer oil finish that resists staining better than hard wax.
The company does not sell direct, so if you are looking to buy online, you may need to get creative. However, if you’re up for a trip to the local floor store, you can find a list of authorized resellers on Hallmark’s website.
Harris Wood is a 120-year-old American hardwood manufacturer based out of Johnson City, Tennessee. On top of solid hardwood products, the company offers a vast selection of engineered hardwood floors.
If you’re looking for click-lock engineered hardwood, Harris Wood should be your first stop. In fact, the company carries more than 19 varieties of snap-together floors in several fashionable colors and finishes.
In the market for a hand scraped finish? Harris has you covered. Take a look at their Contour line.
At 6 ½ feet wide, these planks sport an aluminum oxide finish, random lengths, and a broad choice of installation options. Pricing is a bit of a mystery. Harris only sells through authorized retailers.
However, if you’re willing to forgo the ease of online ordering, you won’t be disappointed. Harris Wood is a long-time customer favorite. You can find countless reviews attesting to their quality and service.
We’re almost done but hang in there a bit longer. We‘re about to tackle the elephant in the room.
Engineered Vs. Solid Hardwood
Years ago, “engineered vs solid hardwood” wouldn’t be a topic up for debate. Most homeowners and experts would advise against engineered flooring, citing inferior construction and durability.
Oh, how the times have changed. Nowadays, quality isn’t a factor. Technology has caught up with the naysayers, and engineered floors are more attractive than ever.
So, what are the major differences? Let’s go through them one by one.
Solid wood planks are 100% hardwood, made with a single solid piece. In contrast, engineered wood is comprised of several layers of plywood, and a thick veneer surface laminated and fused to form a plank.
Which is better? Only you can decide.
Engineered hardwood has the advantage in below-grade spaces and turbulent climates.
However, solid wood is the gold standard. It’s hard to argue with centuries of architects and designers. If you’re looking for unfinished wood or a wide choice of species and color options; solid flooring takes the gold.
Let’s compare installation options.
Solid hardwood must be attached to a subfloor using a pneumatic nail gun. Engineered wood can be glued, nailed or floated, even on concrete.
Next up: durability.
Depending on the species, solid hardwood can withstand years of abuse without extensive surface damage. Most products come protected with resilient finishes for supreme scratch resistance.
On the flip side, engineered products also have resilient coatings. Species selection isn’t a factor as engineered floors come in both exotic hardwoods and domestic favorites.
The main benefit to solid hardwood is its thickness. Over your floors lifetime, solid wood can be sanded and refinished a total of 7-8 times without damaging the boards.
In contrast, engineered hardwood lacks in the renewability department. Even the highest quality engineered floors will display signs of wear after the second refresh.
Let’s discuss our final differentiator: price.
Truth be told, there’s not much of a difference between the cost of engineered and solid hardwood. They both range between $3-$10 per square foot depending on quality, species, and location.
On one end you can save money by installing an engineered floor by yourself. But that depends on your skill level and complexity of the job.
On the back end, solid hardwood has a longer lifespan. Which means if you are staying in your home for the next 60 years, or hope to pass it to heirs; solid hardwood is the obvious choice.
As far as resale value, engineered wood rates the same as solid. It’s not easy to spot the difference. Technically it is a real wood floor, and that’s what matters. Most realtors or prospective home buyers wouldn’t think of questioning its authenticity.
Now that we’ve cleared the air, it’s time for our wrap-up. Before we leave you, let’s recap what we’ve discussed.
Engineered hardwood can be an excellent choice for those that appreciate the value of wood flooring but crave the versatility of laminate or vinyl. No, it’s not the cheapest floor covering on the market. But to some, it’s the best of both worlds.
While solid wood or bamboo connoisseurs may balk at the price tag, many renovators see this material as a smart long-term investment in their home. After all, when properly cared for these floors will last decades.
Plus, engineered hardwood allows for multiple installation methods. You can install it using glue, nails or even locking mechanisms, which gives you the freedom to explore a DIY solution. As an added benefit, engineered hardwood can go directly over concrete slabs.
While there may be some drawbacks to this material, it’s worth a closer look. Unlike solid hardwood, engineered flooring is the perfect compromise for those wanting a combination of timelessness and versatility.