Engineered hardwood flooring makes it possible for you to experience the ambiance of sophistication wooden surfaces provide with additional benefits of durability, long-term cost-effectiveness, ease of installation, and an impressive range of choice.

In this article, you will be able to find out what engineered hardwood flooring is and what qualities set it apart from solid hardwood and laminate flooring. As a result, you’ll be able to make an informed decision as to whether it is just right for your home or not.

What Is Engineered Hardwood Flooring?

Engineered hardwood flooring is a product that has been manufactured from a core made from softwood which covers a base layer usually made from plywood. This softwood core is covered by a veneer or wear layer made from hardwood which is also covered in a finish.

How Is Engineered Hardwood Made?

The Top Layer

Also referred to as the wear layer or veneer, this part of the flooring is made from selected trees that have been cut and divested of their bark and undergone one of the following three processes:

  • Sawing: The logs are cut directly through to reach the material which will form the top layer. The veneer obtained will closely resemble a solid wood floor.
  • Slicing: In this instance, the topmost layer of the engineered hardwood floor is obtained from a log which is sliced into sections that are then also cut at an angle to produce the veneer. It is worth noting that this procedure can cause stress to the wood fiber. As is the case with sawing the veneer or wear layer will closely resemble a solid wood floor.
  • Rotary peeling: This process involves the production of a single large but thin wear layer by peeling a log against a sharp blade. It is an economical process that minimizes waste and the veneer produced will have a pronounced grain pattern.

The Middle Layer

This part of the flooring surface is also known as the core. It is made of layers of plywood or softwood. 

However, certain manufacturers actually use veneers to form this middle layer. This part of the floor is formed by gluing each hardwood, softwood, or plywood layer, at a right angle to the one below it. 

This practice enables the core to lend an impressive degree of stability to the hardwood floor.

The Bottom Layer

The final layer of the engineered hardwood floor, this base layer serves to provide additional stability to the overall structure. It is often manufactured from plywood or high-density fiberboard.

Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood 

Engineered Hardwood

This category of flooring consists of a hardwood topmost layer or veneer, a core consisting of plywood or hardwood layers set at 90 degrees to each other, and a base layer.  

Engineered hardwood sounds hollow when tread upon, however, if stapled down, it will sound somewhat solid. The exception is premium engineered hardwood which gives off a similar sound to hardwood floors under foot, due to its increased thickness, compared to standard engineered hardwood. 

While floors in this category can also be sanded and finished, they are not capable of undergoing these procedures as many times as solid hardwood floors.

Due to their construction, they are more resistant to changes in temperature or humidity, since they are less likely to contract or expand as a result of any changes in these factors.

Engineered hardwood comes with a greater variety of plank widths, textures, treatments, and colors.

Solid Hardwood

This variety of hardwood flooring is manufactured from a single solid section of pure hardwood and is considered to be especially durable. It is usually the more expensive of the two options.

Due to its manufacture, it feels and sounds solid when you tread on it. 

Quite frequently, solid hardwood is manufactured using trees which provide the most wear-resistant woods. These include hickory, maple, or oak. 

The thickness of these floors makes them suitable for sanding and refinishing several times. 

Engineered HardwoodSolid Hardwood
ManufactureMade from multiple layers of wood.Made from a single piece of wood
CostIs often less expensiveIs often more expensive
FinishingCannot be sanded and finished as often as solid hardwoodsCan be sanded and finished several times
Resistance to HumidityMore resistant to changes in temperature and humidityProne to issues with humidity
SoundGives off a more hollow sound when walked onGives off a solid sound when tread upon

Engineered Hardwood vs. Laminate Flooring

Engineered Hardwood

The natural appeal of engineered hardwood is due to its veneer. However, because this topmost layer has been made from hardwood, this category of flooring is susceptible to damage when exposed to sunlight. It is also unsuitable for high traffic areas since it is susceptible to scratching and denting from furniture.

While engineered hardwood is considered to bestow rooms with an authentic classical appeal, it lacks the versatility of laminate flooring and is also more expensive.

It is however considered to be an excellent choice for homeowners interested in more sustainable flooring and is impressively durable compared to laminate flooring (although solid hardwood surpasses it in this regard).

Laminate flooring 

Surfaces in this category can take the appearance of hardwood or stone making them rather versatile. Unlike engineered hardwood which consists of three layers, laminate flooring consists of four: a wear layer, a photographic layer, a core layer (which may be water-resistant), and a base layer.

Flooring in this category is also more resistant to sunlight, scratching, and denting and as a result is ideal for high traffic areas.

It is also cheaper compared to hardwood floors and is easy to clean compared to engineered hardwood since it is water-resistant. However, it is less durable compared to engineered hardwood.

Engineered HardwoodLaminate Flooring
LayersConsists of three main layersConsists of four main layers
CostIs expensiveIs often less expensive
FinishingIs especially durable compared to laminate flooringIs not as durable as hardwood flooring
Resistance to HumidityIs more susceptible to damage from sunlight, water, and scratchingIs more resistant to damage from sunlight, water, and scratching
SoundCan be sanded and refinishedCannot be sanded

Advantages

  • Cost:  Engineered hardwood is often cheaper compared to solid hardwood.
  • Enhanced resistance to changes in humidity: Engineered hardwood is less susceptible to contraction and expansion due to changes in moisture levels compared to solid hardwood floors.
  • An environmentally friendly option: Unlike solid hardwood, every part of a tree can be used in the manufacture of engineered hardwood leading to a reduction in waste.

Disadvantages

  • Difficulty of maintenance: Engineered hardwood cannot be mopped like concrete or tile floors and requires special cleaning products. 
  • Susceptibility to sunlight and water damage: Engineered hardwood flooring is especially susceptible to sunlight which can cause it to fade. It is also especially susceptible to water damage and must not be placed in rooms with a high risk of leakages and spills such as kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Cost in comparison to other flooring options: Engineered hardwood is more expensive than other flooring options such as carpets, laminate flooring, or tiles.
ProsCons
Often a cheaper option compared to solid hardwoodSomewhat demanding in terms of maintenance
Enhanced resistance to humiditySusceptible to sunlight and water damage
Is an environmentally friendly optionCosts more compared to laminate, tiles or carpets

Types of Engineered Hardwood

SPF 

This type of engineered hardwood is named for the use of spruce, pine, and fir used in manufacturing its core.  It is resistant to expansion and contraction due to the manner in which the softwoods are cut and the manner in which they are arranged to run at right angles to the veneer of the hardwood. This type of flooring is likely to have a high strength to weight ratio and is dimensionally stable.

Plywood 

This term refers to engineered hardwood flooring which has a plywood core.  The degree to which the flooring will be able to resist moisture will depend on the quality of the plywood used in its manufacture. Birch which has a Janka rating of 1200 is often used although poplar which has a rating of 500 is also a popular choice as well.

However, it is worth noting that plywood cores have a glue line at each layer and are more prone to expanding and contracting, as a result, compared to standard hardwood flooring.

MDF 

Medium-density fiberboard engineered hardwood refers to flooring with a core that has been manufactured using wooden fibers, chips, and flakes, which are glued together with the aid of wax and synthetic resin and then subjected to elevated temperature and pressure levels to shape them into flat sheets.

MDF has a density of 600-800kg/m3 and is the most widely used variety of fiberboard. Although it is cost-effective, it is not water-resistant.

HDF 

This variety of engineered hardwood is one in which high-density fiberboard has been used in constructing its core which is then attached to a veneer.  HDF is more robust and durable than MDF; it has a density of 600-1450kg/m3.

Like MDF, it is cost-effective and has high load bearing and weight resistance capabilities. 

Hardwood 

Flooring in this category features hardwood cores. The wood which is most popularly used in this regard is poplar due to the fact that it is one of the cheapest hardwoods available.

Price of Engineered Hardwood 

Engineered hardwood can be slightly cheaper compared to solid hardwood flooring in terms of the materials used. Figures relating to their cost and their installation have been provided below for both categories of flooring surfaces. However, it is worth noting that they are estimates and costs will ultimately depend on the retailer selling the flooring materials and the professionals handling the installation.

Engineered Wood Flooring

Materials: $4 – $10 per square foot.

Installation: $3 – $8 per square foot.

Solid Wood Flooring

Materials: $5 – $15 per square foot.

Installation: $3 – $8 per square foot.

Common Misconceptions About Engineered Hardwood

Is engineered wood fake?

No, engineered wood is not fake. It is simply a composite product made from different components which are all made from wood.

Is it possible to sand and finish engineered hardwood floors?

Yes, it is. As long as the veneer layer is above 2mm in thickness. It is actually possible to sand and finish hardwood floors as many times as solid wood floors if you happen to have installed premium engineered hardwood floors.

Are engineered hardwood floors completely immune to cupping or buckling?

No, they are not. However, engineered hardwood floors are more resistant to these issues compared to solid hardwood surfaces.

How durable is engineered hardwood?

High-quality engineered hardwood can be pretty durable and can generally last between 20 to 40 years.  (It is actually possible to obtain warranties on engineered hardwood flooring covering periods between 30 to 50 years.)

Commonly Asked Questions About Engineered Hardwood Floors

Can engineered hardwood floors be restained?

Yes, depending on the variety you have purchased and the thickness of the veneer. This topmost layer will need to be more than 2mm thick, for you to be able to do so, although you will need confirmation from the manufacturer that the flooring is suitable for the procedure.

Do engineered hardwood floors emit volatile organic compounds?

Certain engineered hardwood floors will contain volatile organic compounds or VOCs, however, it is also possible to obtain those which do not contain any due to growing consumer demand for safer products.

Can engineered hardwood floors be used over radiant heat?

Yes, they can. As a matter of fact, they happen to be one of the best options due to their dimensional stability.

Can engineered hardwood floors be installed over concrete?

Yes, they can. However, you will need to ensure that there are no issues with moisture before doing so. We explain this in further detail in our article on installing engineered wood flooring on concrete.