This or that—choosing the perfect flooring material is filled with these decisions. And if you’ve decided to welcome wood floors into your home, then you have one more decision to make: engineered or solid hardwood?
Engineered hardwood and solid hardwood look identical on the surface, but the difference starts just below it. Instead of using solid wood throughout, the engineered variation features a plywood core and a thin layer of hardwood on top. Engineered hardwood is more affordable but has its shortcomings as well.
So, engineered hardwood vs solid hardwood—which one is better? Join us as we dissect these two across all the “good flooring parameters” to put this question to rest.
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What is Solid Hardwood?
Solid hardwood flooring is crafted from a single piece of natural wood. It’s available in an array of species like oak, maple, or walnut. Solid hardwood boasts distinctive grains and rich hues, making each plank a unique work of art. Beyond aesthetics, its resilience stands out—allowing for refinishing, ensuring a floor that not only withstands the test of time but ages gracefully.
What is Engineered Hardwood?
Unlike solid hardwood, engineered hardwood comprises multiple layers. The top layer is authentic hardwood, offering the same aesthetic appeal as its solid counterpart. Beneath lays high-density fiberboard or plywood layers, enhancing stability and moisture resistance.
Engineered hardwood provides a more versatile flooring solution, adapting well to various environments and installation methods. Its layered construction minimizes the expansion and contraction issues associated with solid hardwood, making it a practical choice for those seeking both style and resilience.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Quick Comparison
Before pitting these two equally popular flooring options in a ring, let’s get a quick comparison for those in a hurry.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Which is Better?
Now that we’re familiar with engineered and solid hardwood, let’s compare them head-to-head to see which is better.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Which looks better?
Engineered hardwood floors offer a consistent and sophisticated appearance. The top layer, composed of real hardwood, mirrors the natural beauty of solid hardwood. However, the layered construction provides a more uniform look, minimizing variations. But they offer more width options. This makes engineered hardwood an ideal choice for those seeking a refined aesthetic with a touch of modern versatility.
Solid hardwood floors flaunt a natural appearance with staggered planks of varying widths. Each plank showcases distinct grain patterns and rich hues that come in both prefinished and unfinished versions. The solid planks typically have tighter seams once installed. The consistency and depth of solid hardwood’s visual appeal add a touch of elegance to any space.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Which one is easier to maintain and care for?
Regular cleaning and maintenance for engineered hardwood is similar to its solid counterpart. Regular sweeping and vacuuming, with occasional wet mopping, will get the job done. Engineered hardwood tolerates water better than solids, so you will have more time to clean up spills before water damage sets in.
However, the veneer hardwood on top of engineered floors is quite thin, so they can only be sanded and refinished a handful of times. So, you need to be careful not to create deep scratches that need sanding to remove.
Whether you’d consider solid hardwood easy to maintain or not depends on how you look at it. On the one hand, yes, you can get away with just sweeping and vacuuming with occasional damp mopping to clean hardwood floors. Also, you don’t need to worry about scratches and scuffs much as they can be sanded and refinished repeatedly, making long-term maintenance easier.
However, water is the biggest nemesis of solid hardwood. You cannot mop it with water or even run a steam mop over it. You also need to clean up spills immediately, making it questionable whether they are truly easy to maintain.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Which is cheaper?
Engineered hardwood is more affordable compared to solid hardwood—averaging at $3 to $11. The upper range of this price bracket consists of designer options. Most common engineered hardwood costs around $8 and $15 per square foot.
Solid hardwood has a wide price range starting all the way from $2.50 to $3 per square foot for unfinished ones suitable for building cabins or outdoor purposes. But for household flooring, prefinished hardwoods are preferred, which average at $3 to $10 per square foot, depending on the wood species. Typical solid hardwood ranges from $8 to $15, with red and white oaks being the cheapest and Teak, Brazilian walnut, and acacia being the most expensive.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Which one is more durable?
Engineered hardwood showcases notable durability. Its layered construction enhances stability, minimizing the risk of warping or cupping. While the top hardwood layer can be sanded and refinished, this is limited compared to solid hardwood. The engineered option offers resilience and longevity, particularly in environments where moisture fluctuations may pose challenges for other flooring types.
Solid hardwood floors are hands down one of the most durable flooring options out there. And the fact that they can be sanded and refinished over and over in their lifetime adds to their stubbornness even more. The actual durability of a solid hardwood floor depends on the wood species and the finish.
Generally, exotic wood species such as hickory, Jatoba, Cumaru, and Teak score highest on the Janka hardness scale and, hence, the most durable. As for the finish, prefinished hardwoods tend to be highly sturdy as they receive a hard, factory-applied aluminum oxide finish, while site-finished floors are less sturdy.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Which lasts longer?
Although engineered hardwood cannot be refinished as many times as solid hardwood, it still offers quite a good lifespan, typically ranging from 20 to 30 years or more, with proper care. The longevity mainly depends on the thickness of the top hardwood layer and the quality of the core materials. Regular maintenance and avoiding excessive wear contribute to maximizing the lifespan of engineered hardwood flooring.
One great thing about engineered hardwood is that although they limit sanding and refinishing, they can be easily replaced. You can simply replace the damaged plank (or planks) if it is damaged.
There is one thing that solid hardwood boasts most about, and that is its lifespan. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since they can often be seen in century-old castles almost as good as new. They can last anywhere from 30 to 100 years with proper maintenance and care. The wood species dictates the lifespan of hardwood floors—the more durable ones lasting the longest.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: What sizes do they offer?
Engineered hardwood is typically thinner than solid hardwood. Standard thickness ranges from 3/8 to 1/2 inch, with widths typically ranging from 3 to 7 inches. Lengths vary, typically from 12 to 60 inches, accommodating design choices. This versatility allows homeowners to select dimensions that align with their aesthetic preferences and installation requirements, providing a range of options within the engineered hardwood category.
Solid hardwood flooring planks typically adhere to a standard size of 3/4 inch in thickness and 2 1/4 inches in width. Lengths can vary from 12 to 84 inches. While other widths and thicknesses are available, solid hardwood planks generally do not exceed four inches in width, maintaining a classic and widely accepted standard in the industry.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Which one is easier to install?
Engineered hardwood floors are typically installed using a click-and-lock mechanism, with the exception of nailing down to the subfloor. It also allows floating installation, which is extremely DIY-friendly. The average charge for installing engineered hardwood by professionals is $3 to $10 per square foot.
Solid hardwood planks are almost always nailed down to the subfloor. They can also be installed using a tongue-and-groove method but must always be attached to the subfloor. Floating options are not available with solid hardwood. It is better to go with professional installation, which, in this case, costs around $3 to $10 per square foot.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Which is more water resistant?
Engineered hardwood isn’t technically waterproof but performs better in humid conditions. Its layered plywood construction makes it less susceptible to warping. But still, it is not suitable for wet areas. If you spill water on engineered floors, you need to clean it up as soon as possible, but you get more leeway before water damage sets in when compared to hardwood floors. However, keep in mind that leaving standing water for too long will cause the planks to disintegrate.
You probably know this already, but water and solid hardwood—that’s a big no, no. Any liquid spills need to be cleaned up as soon as possible. You might also need to fan-dry the floor. Hardwood is highly sensitive to humidity changes, causing the floorboards to crack or warp under extreme humidity. They cannot be used in laundry rooms, basements, bathrooms, or other humid areas. If you live in areas where there are large humidity fluctuations, you might need to use humidifiers and dehumidifiers to keep your hardwood healthy.
Click here to learn more about the ideal humidity level for hardwood floors.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Which one has better resale value?
The impact engineered hardwood has on resale value is minimal. Since it looks identical to hardwood, the buyers usually appreciate it from an aesthetic point of view. However, it doesn’t increase resale value, primarily because of the limitation to refinishing and sanding.
Investing in hardwood floors will surely pay off at the time of resale. Hardwood flooring is often considered a premium add-on in real estate. The longevity and timelessness of hardwood flooring are a great selling point for potential homebuyers. Hardwood floorings can boost the price of a home by as much as 2.5% on average.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Which is less noisy?
Engineered hardwood offers moderate sound insulation due to its layered construction. The additional layers, including high-density fiberboard or plywood, reduce impact noise. However, floating installation can reduce sound absorption significantly.
While it provides some acoustic benefits, it’s advisable to use rugs or additional underlayment in specific areas for enhanced sound absorption, especially in multi-story residences or spaces where sound control is a priority.
Solid hardwood, by nature, provides minimal sound insulation. Its single-layer structure lacks the inherent sound-dampening qualities found in some other flooring options. Yet solid hardwood generally excels in acoustic properties compared to engineered hardwood. Its highly dense material absorbs reverberation, and its hardness ensures even sound distribution throughout the room.
Also, being directly attached to the subfloor enhances stability. While initial creaks and squeaks may occur as the boards settle, persistent noises after a few months are not an inherent quality but an indication of an uneven subfloor or installation issues that may require attention.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Which one is more environmentally friendly?
Engineered hardwood can be a more environmentally friendly option compared to solid hardwood. The layered construction often uses less hardwood for the top layer, minimizing the impact on natural resources. Additionally, some manufacturers utilize recycled or fast-growing wood species for the core layers.
Choosing engineered hardwood with recognized environmental certifications ensures responsible sourcing and manufacturing practices, contributing to a more sustainable flooring choice.
The environmental friendliness of solid hardwood depends on sustainable sourcing practices. Ideally harvested from responsibly managed forests, solid hardwood can be a renewable resource. Certification from organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) confirms adherence to eco-friendly standards.
However, concerns regarding deforestation and habitat disruption highlight the importance of choosing suppliers committed to ethical and sustainable practices when opting for solid hardwood flooring.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Where can you install them?
Engineered hardwood’s versatility makes it suitable for various installations. Its layered construction provides enhanced stability, making it compatible with areas prone to moisture fluctuations, such as basements.
Additionally, engineered hardwood is well-suited for installation over concrete slabs and radiant heating systems. This adaptability extends its use to different levels of the home, including below-grade spaces, ensuring homeowners have flexibility in choosing where to install this resilient and stylish flooring option.
Solid hardwood is best installed in controlled environments. While it’s well-suited for main living areas and above-grade spaces, it’s not as ideal for areas prone to moisture, such as basements and bathrooms.
Subfloors must be flat and moisture-resistant to prevent issues like warping or cupping. Installation on concrete slabs may require additional measures. Considering environmental conditions and subfloor suitability when opting for solid hardwood is crucial, ensuring longevity and performance.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Which is more scratch-resistant?
Engineered hardwood, featuring a top layer of real wood, shares similar scratch susceptibility with solid hardwood. The protective finish applied during manufacturing, such as aluminum oxide or polyurethane, contributes to scratch resistance.
While engineered hardwood can withstand moderate wear and tear, the durability of the top layer can vary based on its thickness. Choosing an engineered hardwood with a thicker top layer enhances its ability to resist scratches, making it a practical consideration for households with high foot traffic and the potential for occasional impacts.
Solid hardwood is susceptible to scratches and dents, as its surface is entirely natural wood. The hardness of the wood species can influence its resistance to scratches, with harder woods generally offering better durability. While regular maintenance, such as using furniture pads and avoiding sharp objects, can reduce scratches, it’s essential to acknowledge that solid hardwood may exhibit signs of wear over time. Applying protective finishes can enhance scratch resistance to some extent.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: Which one is better for pets?
Engineered hardwood can be a pet-friendly flooring option, offering a balance of style and durability. Its layered construction enhances stability, reducing the susceptibility to scratches from pet claws. Opting for a thicker top layer further reinforces resistance to wear and tear caused by pets.
However, spills and accidents should be promptly addressed to prevent moisture damage. While engineered hardwood provides a stylish and pet-friendly solution, choosing a wood species with a natural resistance to scratches can enhance the flooring’s longevity in homes with furry companions.
Solid hardwood, while providing a classic and stylish flooring option, may present challenges in homes with pets. The natural surface is susceptible to scratches from pet claws, and the finish may wear over time. Choosing harder wood species and applying durable finishes can enhance scratch resistance.
Promptly cleaning up spills and accidents is crucial to prevent moisture damage. While solid hardwood offers timeless elegance, pet owners should consider the maintenance involved and explore additional protective measures to ensure the longevity of their flooring in a pet-friendly environment.
Click here to learn how to dog-proof hardwood floors.
Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood: The winner
So, it’s time to announce our winner, engineered hardwood vs. solid hardwood—who will take the crown as the better flooring choice? Well, if we put these two head-to-head, engineered hardwood wins in most categories, especially for an affordable price, better moisture and water resistance, and ease of cleaning. However, let’s not forget that our good ol’ solid hardwood remains, and will continue to remain, one of the most classic flooring choices that nothing can beat.
So, at the end of the day, whether you should go for solid or engineered hardwood depends on your preferences. Consider your individual needs and check them against our assessment to make an informed decision.