Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Wood

engineered hardwood vs solid wood

Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Wood

Flooring can be the finishing touch on a house that ties it all together or it can make a house seem like it is not living up to its potential. The good news with quality engineered and solid hardwood flooring is that both types are far more likely to do the former rather than the latter. However, the choice is not always clear between the two types of flooring. While solid hardwood floors have a certain amount of prestige and allure, engineered hardwood floors are no longer the second-rate option that they have been thought of in the past!

With that in mind, questions are likely to abound when deciding between solid and engineered hardwood and trying to determine the best option. In general, solid hardwood has great resale value and longevity, while engineered hardwood is highly versatile and durable. We get into that and more in this article.

What’s the Difference Between Solid and Engineered Hardwood?

The primary difference between solid and engineered hardwood is in their overall composition. Whereas solid wood is an unalloyed piece of wood without any layers, engineered hardwood contains a top layer of hardwood and bottom layers of plywood. With regard to engineered hardwood, it is important to note that engineered hardwood is not the same as laminate flooring, which is faux-hardwood.

A piece of solid hardwood flooring typically comes in long planks that are 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick, 2 1/4 inches to 4 inches wide and 12 inches to 84 inches long. In comparison, engineered hardwood planks are typically 3/8 inch to 3/4 inch thick, 2 1/4 inches to 7 inches wide and 12 inches to 60 inches long. Solid hardwood planks are milled around the edges with tongues and grooves so that each piece seamlessly fits together. Examples of solid hardwood species include oak, maple, hickory and walnut.

The top layer of an engineered piece of hardwood is a thin layer of hardwood, or veneer, usually made from the same species as solid hardwood and ranging from 1 mm to 3 mm thick. The veneer makes the engineered hardwood mostly indistinguishable from solid hardwood. Higher quality pieces of engineered hardwood will have a thicker top layer than inferior types. Beneath the top layer are several layers of plywood laminated together, usually constructed from medium or high-density fiberboard (MDF or HDF). The plywood layers are staggered to allow the planks of engineered wood to interlock.

Solid Hardwood: The Right Choice for Bedrooms and Living Rooms Above Ground, Families With Kids or Pets and Humidity-Controlled Environments

There are many advantages to solid hardwood and it is a popular choice. However, there are some instances where solid hardwood is more suitable than others. To figure out when and for whom solid hardwood is the best choice, it may be helpful to go through the advantages and disadvantages of this type of hardwood flooring.

Four Advantages of Solid Hardwood

There’s a lot to like about solid hardwood, and it offers several benefits.

1. You Can Repeatedly Sand and Refinish Solid Hardwood

Since solid hardwood flooring is all one piece, you can sand and refinish it as much as you like without worrying about wearing through the top layer. For this reason, solid hardwood floors are a great choice for families with young kids or pets, as it can sometimes be difficult to prevent scratches to the surface with pets and kids running around daily! Additionally, if you want to change the stain to a different color, you can easily do so with solid hardwood flooring without spending a ridiculous amount of money.

2. Solid Hardwood Is Usually Easier for Repairs and Renovations

This advantage is related to the first, as the ability to refinish solid hardwood creates less of a headache when repairing broken pipes, damaged appliances or getting rid of pet stains. Moreover, if a room in your house with hardwood flooring requires renovation or new flooring needs to be installed, it is easy to match new solid hardwood with old pieces, especially oak flooring.

3. Longevity

Despite having less durability, solid hardwood can last significantly longer than engineered hardwood floors since they can be refinished several times. Solid hardwood floors are known to last anywhere from 30 to 100 years. The longevity of solid hardwood flooring also provides excellent resale value if you are moving or looking to sell your home in the future. It can also be a selling point for future buyers!

4. You Can Take Pride in the Fact That Your Flooring is Hardwood Through and Through

Whether you want to show off to friends and family or simply enjoy the satisfaction of having thoroughly authentic hardwood flooring, solid hardwood flooring can be an added source of pride for you and your house. So even if you plan to stay in your home “till death do us part,” and have no plans of selling, solid hardwood flooring can still provide value, as you can be proud of the house you call home.

Four Disadvantages of Solid Hardwood

Of course, nothing is perfect, and there are things to consider before settling on solid hardwood as a flooring choice.

1. Solid Hardwood Is Often More Expensive

While this is not always the case, solid hardwood generally has a higher price range than engineered hardwood. Of course, you can find high-quality engineered hardwood that is more expensive than low-quality solid hardwood, but high-quality solid hardwood will usually be more expensive than engineered hardwood, since it uses more hardwood. An exception to this may be engineered hardwood that you can sand, which combines some of the benefits of solid hardwood with engineered hardwood.

2. Solid Hardwood Can Expand and Contract With Fluctuating Temperatures

If you live in an area with fluctuating humidity and temperature levels, solid hardwood flooring will likely expand in warmer, more humid months and contract in colder, less humid months. This expansion and contraction can create problems over time as the flooring shifts slightly, such as warping or breakage as the hardwood rises due to the pressure applied to the edges as it pushes against the wall.

As a result, expansion gaps are required for solid hardwood floors between the edge of the flooring and the baseboard to allow regular expansion and contraction to occur. In addition to warping and breakage, you can also run into problems with insurance if no expansion gap is left.

While the hardwood is no longer part of a living tree, the cells inside still react to moisture in the air, which is what causes expansion and contraction with solid hardwood floors. However, if you are set on solid hardwood floors despite living in an area with fluctuating humidity and temperature levels, you may want to consider going with hardwood species like live oak, walnut or cherry wood, as both types have higher moisture resistance than others, such as hickory or beech. You may also want to keep the width of each plank to less than five inches, as planks tend to expand and contract more the wider they are.

3. Soaks Up Moisture, Making It More Prone to Water Damage

Just as hardwood absorbs moisture from the air, it will also act as a sponge for any spilled water, burst pipes, sewer backups or groundwater. As such, solid hardwood is not a good choice for bathrooms, kitchens or basements, as installing it in such rooms increases the risk of water damage to the floor.

4. Not Ideal for Radiant Floor Heating Systems

The rising heat from radiant floor heating systems can cause solid hardwood to swell and warp. As a result, solid hardwood flooring is not recommended for rooms with such heating systems. It can also swell and warp when installed on top of concrete slabs from humidity rising through the concrete.

Engineered Hardwood: The Right Choice for Any Situation

If you are a purist, it may seem like solid hardwood is the obvious choice. However, you shouldn’t discount engineered hardwood before learning the benefits, as engineered hardwood could actually be the better choice for you! In many ways, engineered hardwood is the “jack of all trades” when it comes to hardwood flooring. It may not have the prestige that solid hardwood floors boast, but it is versatile and durable, making it a great choice for any situation or room in your house!

Four Advantages of Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood is specially designed for performance under varied conditions, and it has a lot to offer.

1. Engineered Hardwood is Usually More Stable and Durable Than Solid Hardwood

Due to its layered construction, engineered hardwood experiences less expansion and contraction and retains less moisture than solid hardwood. Beneath the hardwood surface layer, the layers of medium or high-density fiberboard are staggered in different directions, which keeps moisture out of the wood. Consequently, it will not expand, contract, swell or warp as much as solid hardwood from fluctuating temperatures, humidity or heat. As such, expansion gaps are generally not required for engineered hardwood flooring unless it is installed as a floating floor, which is a type of floor that is not nailed or glued to the subfloor.

2. Typically Less Expensive

Since engineered hardwood uses less hardwood, it is often less expensive than solid hardwood. The plywood material below the surface layer of hardwood typically comes at a lower price. However, the price differences between solid and engineered hardwood can have fairly slim margins. In general, solid hardwood ranges between $4 to $12 per square foot, while engineered hardwood typically goes for $2.50 to $10 per square foot, on average. The installation process for both solid and engineered hardwood will add another $3 to $10 per square foot to the total price. That price is subject to change based on average labor costs in your area and the complexity of the installation process. Furthermore, the added stability of engineered hardwood allows you to have wider planks, which can also be more cost-effective.

3. More Versatile

Since engineered hardwood floors retain less moisture, they can be placed anywhere in your house — in the basement, bathroom, kitchen, or wherever! With that in mind, know that engineered floors will require a protective moisture barrier for installations below ground, such as in basements, as they do not keep moisture out entirely. Likewise, they won’t be able to resist standing water without getting damaged either, but they will hold up much more effectively than solid hardwood flooring.

4. Looks Like Solid Hardwood

The hardwood surface layer with engineered hardwood flooring makes it virtually indistinguishable from solid hardwood floors to the naked eye.

Four Disadvantages of Engineered Hardwood

Knowing the limitations of engineered hardwood will help you make an informed decision.

1. Not Scratch or Dent Resistant and Most Cannot Be Sanded or Refinished More Than Once

Since the top layer of engineered hardwood is hardwood, it can be dented or scratched from objects falling on the floor or pets with claws. However, unlike solid hardwood flooring, engineered hardwood can only be sanded and refinished once or twice at most, depending on the thickness of the surface layer. So, you will want to be selective as to when you refinish engineered hardwood. Doing so too early may mean you have to live with scratches and other damage until you replace the flooring outright.

2. Can Be Difficult to Repair

For the same reason that solid hardwood is easier to repair, engineered hardwood can present various challenges when you need to repair the floor or structures below, such as damaged pipes or appliances. Since engineered hardwood has a limited refinishing capacity, if any, repairs to the floor itself sometimes require wholesale replacement. Furthermore, engineered hardwood is more challenging to match, which can create problems when you need to renovate or replace a section of flooring.

3. Engineered Hardwoods Do Not Always Sound As “Real” As Solid Hardwood

While engineered hardwood has superior acoustic properties to laminate flooring, it is inferior in that regard to solid hardwood flooring, which is heavier, provides a rich echo and has exceptional sound absorption. Floated engineered hardwood flooring that is uneven may shift while you are walking on it, as well, which can make the flooring sound inauthentic when compared to solid hardwood. However, the shifting floor and resulting inauthentic sound should not be an issue with engineered hardwoods that are nailed or glued to the subfloor.

4. Does Not Last as Long as Solid Hardwood

In general, engineered hardwood lasts between 20 to 30 years since it can only be refinished once or twice, in contrast to solid hardwood. However, with the right amount of care and maintenance, in addition to a thick veneer and high-quality wood, engineered hardwood can last as long as you need it to. Hardwood floors are classified in a grading system, with higher-grade floors consisting of decent length and fewer defects like knots and color variations. High-grade engineered hardwood floors will also contain premium quality glue for bonding the veneer with the plywood layers.

Overview of Differences

Feature Solid Hardwood Engineered Hardwood Verdict
Cost Between $4 to $12 (Average of $8) per square foot. Between $2.5 and $10 (average of $4 to $7) per square foot. Engineered Hardwood
Appearance While more authentic, solid hardwood does not look much different than engineered hardwood. The hardwood veneer puts engineered hardwood on equal footing with solid hardwood in terms of appearance. Tie
Versatility Due to greater moisture retention, solid hardwood should not be installed in basements or rooms with running water (i.e., bathroom or kitchen). The layered construction of engineered hardwood does not absorb as much moisture, allowing it to be safely installed in any room or grade. Engineered Hardwood
Longevity 30 to 100 years 20 to 30 years Solid Hardwood
Solid hardwood retains a much greater amount of moisture than engineered hardwood due to its simple construction, which causes expansion and contraction with changing temperatures and humidity levels. Since engineered hardwood has low moisture retention, it does not expand or contract as much as solid hardwood, eliminating the need for expansion gaps. Engineered Hardwood
Repairs Repairs and renovations are easier with solid hardwood flooring because they match well and can be sanded and refinished several times over. Engineered hardwood can only be refinished and sanded once or twice, which can present challenges with renovations and repairs. Solid Hardwood
Acoustic Solid hardwood is heavier, provides a rich echo and has excellent sound absorption. While superior to laminate flooring, it is inferior to solid hardwood. Solid Hardwood

Other Things to Keep In Mind When Deciding Between Solid and Engineered Hardwood Floors

  • Not all engineered hardwood floors are created equal — some will be made of significantly lower quality wood than others. It is best to avoid low-quality engineered hardwood floors for several reasons. First, some types of low-quality engineered hardwood are made with glue that contains formaldehyde, which can be released once it is installed in your home through an off-gassing process. Breathing in formaldehyde can cause both short-term and long-term health complications. Secondly, low-quality engineered wood is likely to wear out quickly, which may end up costing you more in the long run.
  • If you want an exotic species of wood for your flooring, such as Brazilian Walnut, but find that such species are out of your price range, it may be beneficial to consider engineered hardwood flooring as a cost-effective way to purchase an exotic species while staying within your budget.
  • In addition to the species of wood and general construction of hardwood flooring (i.e., solid or engineered), some other things to consider include whether you want prefinished flooring or not, as well as any added surface effects, such as hand-scraped for a distressed, rustic look or wire-brushed for a smooth, textured appearance. Prefinished wood usually comes with beveled edges and ends, as well, to minimize chipping during installation and smooth the seams where the planks meet.
  • You can choose from flatsawn, plainsawn or quartersawn wood, which has an impact on how the wood grain of your floor appears and refers to the way that the wood was initially cut from the felled log. Quartersawn hardwood has the nicest grain and is less prone to shrinking and swelling but is also the most expensive of the three options. Most standard hardwood floors are made from a combination of flatsawn and plainsawn wood, which are also the least wasteful type of cut.
  • Care and maintenance are basically the same for both engineered or solid wood flooring, including regular sweeping, as pet hair and dust will show more clearly than other types of flooring, using a damp (not wet) mop to avoid too much moisture absorption into the wood, applying a scratch concealer product to hide any scratches to the floor and occasional deep cleaning with cleaning agents designed specifically for hardwood floors. Avoid harsh chemicals when deep cleaning your hardwood floors.

Which is Better: Engineered or Solid Wood Flooring?

As you can see, the better option between engineered and solid wood flooring depends on various points, such as your personal preference, the room you are considering installing hardwood flooring in, resale value and other factors. Both options provide great value and benefits, while neither option is perfect.

Schedule a Free In-Home Consultation With Metro Flooring

Choosing between the various types of flooring, including whether you should go with solid or engineered hardwood, can be a dizzying and challenging decision to make! If you are finding you could use some assistance in that process, we at Metro Flooring would be happy to help. Our flooring contractors have been serving homeowners and buyers in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC for over 25 years with high-quality installation and consulting services. We would be delighted to help you make the right hardwood flooring choice for your house and personal preferences!

Schedule a complementary in-home appointment with us today to fill us in on your plans and concerns regarding hardwood floor installation. One of our professional flooring contractors will meet with you to discuss your ideas, provide flooring samples and take measurements to help you make the right choice.