Solid hardwood floors are better quality than engineered hardwood floors, right? No, not necessarily. It depends. Let’s take a closer look at some basics for each and at how to decide between them.
Many homeowners assume that solid hardwood is higher quality and more authentic than engineered hardwood. That’s a mistake. There’s a big misconception that engineered wood is “fake” wood or not that it is an impostor of lesser quality than “the real deal.”
Let’s start with a few basics and what you’ll realize is that engineered hardwood is real wood just like solid hardwood -- and it it even has distinct advantages over its predecessor.
What’s the difference?
Solid hardwood flooring is comprised of solid planks of wood usually ¾ of an inch thick. The solid planks are nailed down to the subfloor, which means they should only be installed in parts of the home that are at or above grade (ground level) and only over a subfloor made of plywood or oriented strand board (OSB). Solid planks cannot be installed on concrete subfloors. Solid hardwood floors can be refinished and sanded many times over (usually between 3-5 times) and typically have a useful life longer than engineered options.
Engineered hardwood is also real wood. Its top layer is solid wood sawn or shaved from the exact same material as its solid wood counterpart - whether it’s red oak, white oak, maple, birch, or any other species. So the surface of the floor will have the same finish and hardness whether it’s solid or engineered wood. In fact, engineered hardwood was developed in the 1960s in part to help solve some of the installation challenges and limitations posed by solid wood.
So what’s the primary difference between solid hardwood and engineered hardwood?
In the picture above, you can see that the top sample has numerous layers pressed together (the engineered hardwood), whereas the bottom sample is a single slab of wood all the way through (the solid hardwood). The top layer of engineered flooring is real wood but it’s affixed atop several layers of composite, which is usually wood-based, whereas solid hardwood is just the solid planks of wood.
Solid or engineered hardwood: which is right for me?
Now that you’ve read the above, if you find an option in your desired species with the color, plank width, style and grain pattern that you love, then go with it with a clear mind knowing it’s actual real wood regardless if it’s engineered hardwood or solid hardwood!
Let's come up with a quick process to help pick between solid and engineered wood if an option hasn’t caught your eye.
Start by considering where the floor will be installed. If you’re renovating a floor that’s below ground level, and/or if there’s a concrete subfloor, and/or if the room is exposed to a lot of humidity, engineered wood will likely be your best and sometimes your only option.
As we mentioned, engineered wood can be installed on any level of the home and can be nailed down or glued to the subfloor. Neither type of wood will be able to tolerate standing water, but engineered hardwood will stand up to moisture better, whereas solid hardwood could potentially expand and contract more severely from changes in humidity and temperature.
Next, consider useful life and refinishing. The big factor is the number of times you can sand and refinish. With an engineered hardwood, you have a thinner top layer of wood to work with if you want or need to sand and refinish. A ¾ inch piece of solid wood flooring can typically be sanded and refinished three to five times or more compared with once or twice for a piece of engineered wood depending on the thickness of the top layer. If you’re renovating a home that you plan to live in for a long time, solid wood may be the ideal option but really both can last decades.
Installation method: Engineered hardwood can be easier to install as it can be glued down or left to “float” without being directly attached to the subfloor. It can also come with a “tongue and groove” construction which is easily snapped together without nails.
Cost: It’s hard to make a general statement that is true in every instance. But, engineered wood typically cost a bit less than directly comparable solid options in the same species. As you’d expect, there are lots of exceptions.
Plank width: With wider planks of 4 to 5+ inches, there is a greater chance of gapping after changes in humidity and temperature. If you love the look of wide planks but want to reduce the possibility of cupping or gapping, choose an engineered hardwood.
Plank thickness: You may want or need a thinner piece of wood to help smooth transitions between existing flooring types. Solid wood is typically ¾ inch thick, whereas engineered wood can provide thinner plank options and potentially better match existing flooring.
Environmental & Health impact - Engineered wood can be a more sustainable choice, especially for an exotic wood species, because it uses a smaller amount of wood as the top layer. But more glues and materials can be used during its manufacturing, and there are recent reports of certain engineered flooring products emitting formaldehyde at levels that exceed state regulations. If this is a concern, consider one of Renoviso’s many eco-friendly options like Mercier engineered hardwood, which carries a Greenguard Gold certification for its low chemical emissions.
The bottom line
Many homeowners assume that engineered hardwood is always a second choice to solid hardwood. In reality, engineered products provide the same real wood surface sometimes with advantages in strength and durability. You should now have peace of mind that both engineered and solid hardwood floors are made from the same real wood species.