I work with all of Fasse bldgs.' clients on all sorts of interior finishes...from plumbing fixtures to tile, paint colors, lighting, countertops, appliances, cabinetry/vanities, and of course flooring. The debate between hardwood and pre-finished engineered flooring seems to be a big one with a lot of clients, so I wanted to take some time to explain the differences between the different types of flooring, as well as pros and cons of each.
First, let me clarify....engineered floors are NOT the same as laminate floors.
Laminate flooring is a multi-layer synthetic flooring product fused together with a lamination process. Laminate flooring simulates wood (or sometimes stone) with a photographic applique layer under a clear protective layer. Laminate floors have come a long way, and I have helped countless homeowners pick out many lovely laminate options that looked beautiful installed. Newer homes that have a lower price point, or remodelers sticking to a budget that still want the natural look of wood often use laminate.
Unlike laminate floors, engineered and hardwood floors are both made from genuine wood. Now let's differentiate between hardwood flooring vs. engineered...
Engineered wood is real wood flooring that’s built in layers and bonded together. The top hardwood layer shows all the natural characteristics and beauty of the selected wood species, just as you would see with any genuine wood floor. Below the surface layer are multiple layers of high density fiberboard (HDF) that create a board with greater strength and stability than a solid wood board.
Solid hardwood is manufactured from a single piece of wood, the most common thickness of a solid hardwood plank is ¾”. The most widely used profile is tongue-and-groove (T&G). Hardwood floors are sanded, stained, and finished on site.
Engineered hardwood is more suitable in high moisture areas or in areas with frequent temperature changes than solid hardwood due to its “multiple-ply plank” construction. Engineered hardwood is also constructed to be more dimensionally stable through multi-ply design. This allows greater resistance to temperature changes. Solid hardwood is believed to add some structural strength to the building in which it is installed. The degree to which this is true depends upon the species. On the other hand, solid hardwood is prone to expansion, warping, and cupping to a significant degree if exposed to temperature changes.
Engineered hardwood is more resistant to moisture and heat compared to solid wood. Solid hardwood is unsuitable for applications at any location with increased moisture or high temperatures. These could be areas which are not environmentally controlled, damp areas such as below-grade installations, and over radiant heating systems.
It is also often easier to get a more uniform color with engineered flooring, vs. hardwood floors which are sanded, stained and finished on site. Solid hardwood’s uniformity definitely tends to vary depending on grade. Some grades allow for multiple knots, for example. Also when stains are involved, their tends to be a wide range of color/character due to the natural state of the hardwood product.
Engineered hardwood does not warp or cup during climatic changes, and is more resistant to higher moisture levels than solid flooring. Engineered floors tend to be a better choice for installation over radiant heat sources, damp basements, and locations in wetter climates, or areas like our region, which have a very high humidity level. Solid hardwood generally expands and contracts a lot more than engineered wood during climatic changes, especially during extremes in heat, cold, precipitation, and high humidity. In our area of eastern NC where the humidity levels tend to be pretty high, engineered wood can often be a better option, depending on the location and the amount of maintenance you want to take on.
Choosing engineered flooring considered more environmentally friendly than traditional hardwood for a few reasons. Veneer is sliced rather than cut with a saw. This process produces no sawdust, which means that all of the tree's wood can be used. The sawdust produced making hardwood boards is wasted wood, and can often add up to a significant amount. Also, hardwood trees grow slower than the trees used to make engineered flooring cores. Because more surface area is produced making veneer, installing traditional hardwood uses many times the amount of slow growing tree. This makes the replenishing time much longer.
BUDGET & MAINTENANCE
As we explained above, engineered flooring will not swell or warp, making it very low maintenance. In addition to reducing upkeep costs, engineered flooring is less expensive from the start. This becomes even more true as the type of wood gets more exotic. Rare hardwood is very expensive. Since engineered hardwood flooring requires only a thin slice of the desired wood, the cost decreases dramatically. Hardwood floors are also difficult, timely, and expensive to install, which raises the associated labor + materials costs.
Some homeowners think that engineered flooring is not as good as solid flooring because they are under the impression that it's cheaply made, or made of synthetic wood. Although engineered hardwood flooring is not made of solid hardwood, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a genuine hardwood floor with all the warmth, beauty, and lifetime value it brings to a home. Do keep in mind, as with all consumer products, manufacturers do make products at all levels of quality, each to fit a certain price point within the market.
This is also true with engineered flooring options, therefore you should consider the quality and thickness of engineered options. The cheaper engineered floors are usually 3/8 IN. thick, have a paper thin wear layer and they are usually made overseas (China). At the other end of the price point spectrum, you will find very high end engineered floors that have an incredibly thick real wood wear layer that can, later on if ever needed, be sanded and refinished.
Because the look and feel of solid and engineered hardwood are very similar, the decision on which one to purchase and install should not be a matter personal preference, but rather a question of budget, climatic factors and other practical considerations. Both types offer a beautiful finish and will increase the value of your home—as long as they are selected carefully, installed correctly, and maintained properly over the duration of your ownership.
Happy Floor Hunting!