What is Engineered Hardwood? 12 Facts You Should Know
| Fact Checked By: Lamont Robbins
Published: October 8, 2019 | Updated: September 16, 2020
Engineered wood flooring is an affordable alternative to solid hardwood flooring, featuring a real wood surface layer and an artificial core. With engineered hardwood floors, you get the warmth and beauty of genuine wood planks with the added benefit of durability and some water resistance.
That’s right! It’s basically wood flooring 2.0.
Discover what makes engineered hardwood different from laminate, the different styles available, plus discover the pros and cons, so you know exactly what to expect with your flooring.
Wait, isn’t Engineered Hardwood Just Laminate?
Though they might look similar, engineered wood floors are not the same as laminate floors.
This is a common misconception, and it can add confusion to your flooring search. To clear this up, we compared engineered wood and laminate head to head.
Before we dive too deep into this guide, discover the differences with our engineered hardwood vs. laminate video.
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What is Engineered Hardwood?
Part wood floor, part man-made materials, engineered wood flooring offers the best of both worlds. The real wood veneer layer offers the style and unique look of naturally occurring planks.
Meanwhile, the synthetic core delivers durability you can’t find with genuine wood flooring. This core can be made of plywood or particleboard or medium-density fiberboard (MDF).
Plywood and MDF cores can offer some moisture resistance that solid hardwood doesn’t have. These cores are also more resilient and durable than solid hardwood because the layers of the MDF are laid out perpendicular to each other to create a strong lattice structure.
I’m sure you’re excited to learn more about engineered hardwood, and I know I’m excited to tell you. So let’s jump in!
Layers of Engineered Wood Flooring
The moisture resistance of engineered hardwood comes from the layered design. This flooring will be more or less resistant to moisture depending on the composition of those layers.
Here’s where you find the veneer of genuine wood that gives your flooring its beautiful, unique look. The wood veneer can be almost any wood species you want.
The manufacturer will determine in their instructions if this layer is thick enough to refinish or not. Always check the manufacturer’s instructions before sanding or refinishing engineered wood.
This is the powerhouse of the plank. The artificial core increases the durability of your flooring compared to solid wood. Plywood and MDF cores offer some moisture resistance, especially if mixed with wax and other water-repellent materials. The layers of the plywood are oriented to create a lattice structure, which provides durability and stability.
This is the foundation of your floor. Before now, the backing layer was typically made of plywood, but new luxury engineered hardwood offers a premium pre-attached underlayment.
A pre-attached underlayment saves you some time and money on installation. Who doesn’t love that? Made of cork or foam, this underlayment will soften sounds and smooth out less-than-perfect subflooring. Please note: for any engineered hardwood product, you need to purchase a moisture barrier to install over the subfloor. This barrier will protect your flooring from any moisture that might seep up from below.
Can You Refinish Engineered Hardwood?
Never sand or refinish engineered wood unless the manufacturer’s instructions state that you can. Some wood veneers are too thin to refinish, and any attempts to sand them down can permanently damage your floor. You don’t want that!
If the manufacturer’s instructions are unclear, we recommend you get in touch with them, just to be sure. Once you determine that it’s alright to refinish your flooring, you can sand, stain, and refinish in moderation. Just remember, the top wood layer is only a veneer.
Pros and Cons of Engineered Hardwood Flooring
- More affordable than solid wood: You get the high-quality visuals of real wood without that big price tag, and nobody will be able to tell the difference. Score!
- Every plank is unique: Since this is a real wood veneer, you’ll never find a repeating pattern or an unconvincing texture.
- Moisture resistance: Thanks to the materials in the core of your flooring, your engineered wood could be moisture resistant.
- Install it anywhere: High moisture resistance means you can install it in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and even basements! No grade level of your home is off-limits.
- Not genuine wood: This is important to some people. No matter how great it looks, it’s not solid hardwood.
- Difficult to DIY: While some engineered hardwood offers a simple click-lock design, other styles might need to be nailed or glued down. That will take some more time and effort.
- Might not be able to refinish: Depending on what the manufacturer says, it might not be possible to refinish your engineered hardwood. While this cuts back on maintenance, you have less flexibility when it comes to redesigning.
Where to Use Engineered Wood Flooring
Engineered wood floors are so versatile that they work well in every room. They’re stylish, durable, and moisture resistant, so they have something to offer wherever you install them.
Here are a few places where you’re really going to love the option of engineered hardwood.
- Kitchens: Finally, you can have real wood in the kitchen. Well, a real wood veneer, at least! Engineered wood looks great and it holds up against moisture, so it’s going to thrive in a kitchen setting.
- Basements: Wave goodbye to all your worries about a flooded basement. Install engineered hardwood to benefit from a durable floor. It’s easy to take care of, too, so you won’t have a large area of high-maintenance flooring.
- Laundry rooms or mud rooms: The wear layer of engineered wood is easy to clean, making this flooring a great choice for places that are prone to messes. Tracked-in dirt and grime can easily be swept and mopped away to make your floor look like new again.
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Is Engineered Hardwood Right for You?
You know how engineered hardwood works and where it works best, but is it a good choice for you specifically? I’m going to take a wild guess and say, “Yes!”
But just in case you’re still not sure, here are some people who can really benefit from engineered hardwood flooring.
- Families: Large families with kids have a lot going on. Lots of traffic, messes from playtime, and of course the normal wear and tear of the daily routine. Engineered hardwood is the best friend of busy families, because it stands up to the challenge, looking effortlessly beautiful the whole time.
- Pet owners: Engineered wood offers a textured surface for better traction. Plus, with a thick enough wear layer, the floor can handle lots of wear and tear.
- Anyone: Everyone can enjoy the benefits of engineered hardwood flooring. What’s not to love?
Engineered Hardwood Styles
Just like real hardwood floors, engineered wood floors offer a broad selection of looks that can match any home. Discover how different species, textures, and finishes can give you a personalized, unique style.
Species and Colors
Whether you want the versatility of oak, the depth of birch, or the brightness of hickory, there’s a type of wood suited to you. You can also choose eco-friendly and renewable species like bamboo or cork.
Engineered wood showcases the beauty of natural grains and color variations. High color variation is making a big splash in the interior design world, and there’s no better way to attain that sought-after look than to achieve it naturally.
Here are a few different wood species options for you to consider:
- Hickory: Hickory planks are some of the hardest wood floors on the market. They’re lighter in color but can feature some high variation between light blonde to deeper tan. This species has a Janka hardness rating of 1820.
- Oak: The colors of oak planks depend on the subspecies. White oak is usually tan or light brown, while red oak has some pinker tones. This species has a Janka hardness rating of 1350.
- Acacia: Acacia wood has a deep reddish-brown color and bold, attractive wood grain patterns. This species has a Janka hardness rating of 1700.
- Birch: This is a very pale wood that ranges from white, to yellow, and even reddish. This species has a Janka hardness rating of 1210.
- Maple: Maple wood typically has very warm colors, often reddish-brown. This species has a Janka hardness rating of 1450.
The authentic look of rustic textures is really popular right now, and engineered hardwood delivers on that front. Take your pick of unique textures to enhance your space.
- Hand-scraped: This texture showcases long scrapes ingrained in the plank. Hand-scraping varies a lot between planks, giving the floor a rustic feel.
- Wirebrushed: Light, more uniform scratching from a wirebrush treatment creates a subtle antiqued look.
- Textured: Textured flooring adds a touch of personality to any space, giving you a unique look that will remain stylish for years to come.
- Distressed: Distressed flooring is meant to look aged and antiqued, like it’s been through a lot. You’ll find burns, knots, wormholes, and scrapes in distressed planks.
- Smooth: Not into all those wood flooring textures? No problem! You can choose a smooth surface for a more polished look.
And don’t worry about those intentional scratches getting messed up by the trials of everyday life. With a thick enough wear layer, your designer textures will remain intact and looking brand new.
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Most engineered wood comes to you pre-finished, which is great, because it saves you a step. However, you want to ensure you love the finish before purchasing any flooring.
Many designs are currently opting for a more subdued or matte finish, but you can still choose your desired finish. You want a glossy wood floor? You get a glossy wood floor. It’s all about doing the research before you click the “buy” button.
Installing Engineered Hardwood
There are four main ways to install engineered wood, depending on how the flooring is designed. For any method, you need to make sure your new flooring acclimates to its new environment for at least 24 hours.
Engineered hardwood floors offer more dimensional stability than solid wood floors, meaning they don’t expand and contract as much with changes in temperature. However, it’s still a best practice to let the planks get used to the temperature and humidity of the room.
Tongue and Groove
The tongue and groove design is the most common installation method for engineered hardwood. Insert the tongue of one plank into the groove of another to attach the planks. Planks can be nailed down, glued down, or even installed as a floating floor.
If you want to float tongue and groove planks, you will need to glue the planks together using tongue and groove glue.
This installation method isn’t as common as the others, but it’s the most popular among DIYers. Simply insert the tongue of one plank into the groove of another, and lay the plank flat to snap them together.
You don’t need to hire a professional for this installation, so you can save yourself some money. Interlocking floating floors don’t have to be secured to the subfloor, so they “float” above it.
Glue down installation is a permanent solution, and it’s well-suited for high-traffic commercial areas where you really want to make sure your flooring is stable. This method is best left to the pros.
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This is the most common installation method for genuine wood flooring, but it also works with engineered wood. You need to have a wood subfloor for this method. If you’re comfortable using power tools, then you might be able to install it yourself. We would still recommend hiring a professional to make your life easier.
No matter how wonderful engineered hardwood may be, it can’t be completely perfect without some accessories like underlayments, moldings, and moisture barriers. And who doesn’t love accessories?
Installing a moisture barrier over the subfloor is a must for any engineered wood floor. This barrier is crucial in protecting your floor, and you should never install engineered hardwood without a moisture barrier.
Underlayments allow for some comfort by providing a layer of padding under the floor. Typically made of cork or foam, this layer can cover up some smaller imperfections in the subfloor. Your underlayment will also reduce heat transfer, so the floor won’t get too chilly in the colder months.
Some high-end engineered hardwood comes with an underlayment already attached. That can make life a little easier when it’s time to install. If your choice of flooring doesn’t already come with an underlayment, there are plenty of options for you to explore.
Moldings add polish to the areas where your floor transitions to another room or meets another type of flooring. Depending on the height and type of floors that are meeting, different styles of molding may be necessary.
Does the Janka Scale Matter for Engineered Hardwood?
The Janka hardness test determines how well a wood product will hold up against dents and regular wear. As a standard of measurement, the Janka scale is determined by the force it takes to halfway lodge a .444” steel ball into a wood species.
The more force it takes, the higher the Janka rating, and the harder the wood species. The results are therefore measured as pounds of force (lbf) required to embed the metal ball. This test is most commonly carried out by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and the test itself is known as ASTM D1037.
Most people consider a Janka rating between 1,200 and 1,300 to be average. With a rating of 1,290, red oak provides a decent benchmark for comparing other wood species.
Even though engineered hardwood comes with just a veneer of real wood, the Janka scale can still be useful to you. By knowing the species of the wood veneer, you can determine the Janka rating for engineered flooring. If durability is a big deal for you, then you can choose an option with a higher Janka hardness.
Which is Better: Solid Hardwood or Engineered Hardwood?
Engineered hardwood looks just like solid hardwood, but it’s more affordable and more durable. The lattice structure of the fiberboard core provides stability, and the adhesives used in manufacturing even offer a small amount of moisture-resistance. Best of all, this flooring can be installed as an interlocking floating floor, meaning you can do it yourself!
If you can’t tell, engineered hardwood is kind of a big deal. Real hardwood planks are alright, but they just don’t come with all the bonuses.
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Why You Should Choose Engineered Hardwood Flooring
With so many flooring options out there, it can be hard to single out exactly what you want. Here are a few things to consider about engineered hardwood as you continue your search for the floor of your dreams.
And who knows? Maybe you’ve found your match.
- Durability: Compared to solid wood, engineered hardwood is much more durable. That man-made core is going to protect your flooring from dents and regular wear and tear. Depending on the thickness of the wear layer, it will prevent unsightly scuffs and scratches to your surface, so it stays beautiful.
- Stylish: Wood-look flooring is the hottest trend right now, but it’s also a classic look that ages well. With engineered wood, you don’t have to settle for the look of wood. You get the real thing!
- Affordable: Let’s face it – solid wood flooring is crazy expensive! In addition to the up-front cost, you have to consider resealing and maintenance down the road. Engineered hardwood spares you from those costs and hassles.
- Longer lasting: Plywood and MDF cores are typically water-resistant, which is great for moisture-prone areas. The lattice structure of the core is also more resilient than solid hardwood. If you really want to beef up your flooring, choose engineered hardwood.
- Easy to install: More and more engineered wood is being designed as interlocking flooring to maximize ease of installation. With the click-lock installation method, you can lay your flooring yourself.
- Versatile: With a huge range of wood types, finishes, and textures to pick from, you can be sure to get engineered hardwood that’s the right fit for your style.
- Increases home resale value: Engineered hardwood adds value to your home, because it’s durable and it looks great. This isn’t a flooring trend. This is the classy look of solid wood with the bonus of water resistance.
Ready to discover your next floor?