Engineered Hardwood vs Hardwood: What’s the Difference?

Engineered hardwood planks in a kitchen and dining room

Ever wonder what engineered hardwood actually means? We’re getting down to the details on engineered hardwood vs hardwood to share what sets them apart and help you decide which is the best choice for you.

Nothing looks more polished and professional in your home than wood flooring. The classic rustic look (with great durability and more options than ever before!) makes your home charming and inviting. Previously, wood flooring was limited as far as options go but, these days, it comes in all types of colors, textures, and even installation methods.

Now, instead of just traditional, solid hardwood, manufacturers have developed an exciting new addition to the hardwood flooring family: engineered wood.

There’s been some confusion about the difference between solid hardwood and engineered wood. Like so many others, you may ask yourself, what’s the difference, and which is the best choice?

Well, we’re here to help! In this engineered hardwood vs. hardwood showdown, we’re going to compare these options head to head. Learn which is more affordable, more durable, and which is the best choice for kitchens and bathrooms.

Comparison chart showing the differences between engineered hardwood and solid hardwood

 

What’s the Difference Between Hardwood and Engineered Hardwood?

FlooringInc wood-look flooring in a living room setting

Engineered hardwood and solid hardwood look basically identical from the top, but there are big differences going on below the surface. While real hardwood is solid all the way through, engineered flooring comes with a genuine wood veneer at the top and artificial materials for the base.

The key difference between real hardwood and engineered hardwood is the construction: one is totally natural, and one is man-made. So what do these structural differences mean for each floor, and how do you decide which is best for you?

Let’s get into the details to learn more.

Engineered Wood

FlooringInc engineered hardwood in a living room

Engineered wood is made up of a thin veneer top layer of solid wood; however, the remaining base of the product is made up of plywood. Engineered wood is just as durable as traditional hardwood and provides the same classic, timeless look.

Construction of Engineered Hardwood

 

Cross section of a waterproof rigid core engineered hardwood plank showing the layered design

It used to be that engineered wood flooring was only made one way: with a solid wood veneer and then thick plywood underlayers. This construction has recently changed with the invention of rigid core engineered wood.

You can still purchase the traditional plywood base engineered wood, but you now have the option to buy this flooring with a rigid SPC core.

SPC, if you’re not familiar, stands for stone plastic composite. An SPC core is engineered to be incredibly durable and 100% waterproof.

Yep, that’s right! You can now purchase totally waterproof engineered hardwood and install it in bathrooms, kitchens, and other high-moisture areas where you never could before.

Let’s take a look at the layered construction of new SPC engineered hardwood.*

  • Solid wood veneer/wear layer. This is the top layer, where you’ll find a solid wood veneer showcasing the beauty of natural wood grains. The wear layer is also here.
  • Rigid SPC core. This thin core is made from a mix of limestone and plastic, which makes it completely rigid and 100% waterproof. Though it’s thin, this core is the most durable option out there.
  • Premium attached underlayment. Many rigid core engineered wood planks come with an attached underlay of cork or foam. This bottom layer meets the subfloor and smooths out imperfections on the surface. An additional waterproof underlayment is required in addition to this padding layer.

*Layers can vary between manufacturers.

Keep in mind, these great new benefits only come with rigid core engineered wood. Traditional plywood cores are still not suited to bathrooms or kitchens, and they’re not as durable as SPC. You still get that gorgeous hardwood veneer, though!

Related Content >> What is Engineered Hardwood? 12 Facts You Should Know

Pros of Engineered Hardwood

FlooringInc engineered hardwood vs. hardwood in a living room setting

  • Cost. Engineered hardwood is less expensive, since only the top veneer is real hardwood. With solid hardwood, you’re paying for an entire plank made up of that material, whereas with engineered, that expensive layer is on top where everyone can see it — showing you off, making you look fancy, but the less costly, durable plywood is holding it up.
  • DIY Installation. No contractor? No problem! It’s easy to install engineered hardwood with a tongue and groove system – the material can either be loose laid, nailed down or installed with glue. Some new versions also click-lock together as a floating floor.
  • Versatility. This isn’t Goldilocks here. Things do not have to be “just right”. Engineered wood can be installed on all grade levels, making the possibilities endless.
  • Less expansion/contraction. Compared to solid hardwood, engineered hardwood is less likely to expand and contract. However, upon installing the product, we advise that you leave about ½” space for expansion. That way if it does expand and contract, then it has “breathing” room.
  • Options. There are so many types of engineered hardwood. You can choose from tons of species to get the exact color and wood grain you’re looking for. It comes in hand scraped, textured, smooth and distressed surfaces, giving you the option of adding a bit of special touch to the product and complementing your decor.
  • Green. Engineered wood flooring is a more environmentally friendly product – that means Al Gore and all your recycle-loving friends will approve, and it looks just as good on your floor!

Cons of Engineered Hardwood

High variation engineered wood flooring in a living room

  • Cannot always be refinished. Unlike solid hardwood which can be refinished, engineered wood only has a thin wood veneer on top of the product. Always consult the manufacturer’s instructions before considering a refinish. Attempting to refinish engineered wood could potentially damage the product.
  • Mindset. Some people prefer to know their hardwood is strictly made out of wood, just like purchasing designer jeans, you want to make sure it’s authentic. Though engineered wood is not made out of 100% solid wood, it still gets the job done and, usually, at a lower cost. For me? I’d rather take a price cut and still have a stylish floor to show off rather than paying for those designer jeans with a higher price tag.

Where Should You Use Engineered Hardwood?

FlooringInc engineered hardwood flooring in a den

  • All levels. Basement, bedroom, entryway, you name it. This flooring will thrive wherever you put it.
  • Any climate. Engineered hardwood is a great options for installing over radiant heating system, and humidity is no issue for this beasty floor!
  • Bathrooms and kitchens. Finally! If you’ve been craving the look of real wood in a high-moisture area, you can have it with rigid core engineered hardwood. That SPC core is going to protect your floor from water damage, both from above and below.

Solid Hardwood

FlooringInc engineered wood flooring in a sitting room

Solid hardwood is just that: made up of solid wood through the entire plank. Hardwood flooring is made out of thick solid wood planks with a sealing treatment on top. All that fancy wording means the product is hand scraped and durable, making it built to last. Keep in mind, with solid hardwood, though its elegance preserves through the years, it can cost quite a lot depending on the color and style you prefer.  

Pros of Solid Hardwood

  • Refinish to look like new. Unlike engineered hardwood, solid wood can be refinished which means with just a bit of elbow grease you can rebuff the product to look brand new. Solid hardwood can be sanded down and refinished several times.
  • Bragging rights. Know what that means? It’s time to put on a show for your friends and family to show off your beautifully polished and elegant solid hardwood floors, and make sure they know it’s solid hardwood.

Related Content >> Wood Flooring Trends

Cons of Solid Hardwood

  • Cost. Solid hardwood is made out of 100% wood, making it a higher-cost product. If you’re looking for the consistency and appearance of solid hardwood without a budget in mind, solid hardwood may be right for you.
  • More challenging installation. Unlike engineered hardwood, solid hardwood has a more complicated installation process
  • Expansion/contraction. Solid hardwood can expand and contract with changes in temperature. We recommend to leave ¾” expansion space around the perimeter of the area.

Where Should You Use Solid Hardwood?

Engineered wood flooring in a loft setting

  • Entry and upper levels only. For peace of mind, only install solid hardwood at the ground level and upper levels of your home. Solid hardwood isn’t ideal for your basement due to moisture issues.
  • Humidity controlled environment. Some like it hot! Solid hardwood does not. Keep in mind that higher humidity increases the potential for expansion and contraction.
  • Rooms without a lot of water (no bathrooms or kitchens). Even though it’s treated on the surface, hardwood just doesn’t stand up well to moisture. Standing water can lead to costly damage.

Engineered Hardwood vs. Hardwood: The Showdown

Engineered hardwood flooring in a kitchen setting

Now that we know a little more about both of these flooring options, let’s compare them head to head in the Engineered Hardwood vs. Hardwood showdown.

Appearance

The hardwood look is the biggest trend in flooring right now, and nothing beats the real thing. Solid hardwood offers the warmth, natural color variations, and gorgeous wood grain textures that everyone craves. And so does engineered hardwood! That veneer layer does all the work to look just as beautiful as solid wood. In this case, it’s what’s on the outside that counts.

Winner: TIE!

Cost

Since engineered hardwood only has a real wood veneer, and the remaining plywood or SPC core and base layers costs less than wood. As a result, the engineered option is much cheaper than a plank of solid wood. 

Winner: Engineered hardwood

Resale

Solid wood flooring can last up to 100 years when treated properly, and it doesn’t become quickly dated like some trendier flooring. You can install hardwood with the assurance that it’s a great investment for your home. Engineered hardwood can also increase home value, but not as much as real hardwood.

Winner: Solid wood

Durability

FlooringInc engineered hardwood in a sitting room

Engineered hardwood now comes with the option for an SPC core, making it some of the most durable flooring on the market. Rigid core engineered wood is rated for commercial use, high traffic, and of course it’s completely waterproof. Solid hardwood is resilient, but it can’t hold up like rigid core flooring.

Winner: Engineered hardwood

Moisture Resistance

Rigid core engineered hardwood boasts a stone plastic composite core, meaning it’s 100% waterproof from top to bottom. You can install it in basements, laundry rooms, and anywhere else you might find some extra moisture. Meanwhile, solid wood soaks up moisture and is prone to water damage.

Winner: Engineered hardwood

Related Content >> Engineered Hardwood Vs. Laminate Flooring: What’s the Difference?

Maintenance

Hardwood requires frequent upkeep to maintain its beauty. Sanding, refinishing, sealing, waxing: these are all part of the routine solid wood. Engineered wood flooring doesn’t come with all that hassle, so it makes your life a bit easier.

Winner: Engineered hardwood

DIY-Friendliness

Engineered hardwood can often be installed without the help of a professional. With options for interlocking/floating or glue down flooring, this is a DIY-friendly option. Solid wood will require some nailing, so it’s usually a good idea to hire a pro for that. 

Winner: Engineered hardwood

Pet-Friendliness

Engineered hardwood in a dining room setting

Pet owners love engineered hardwood because they can choose a wear layer thick enough to prevent scratches from pet nails. Plus, if they opt for a waterproof core, they know any accidents won’t damage or stain their floor. Solid wood can’t offer those benefits.

Winner: Engineered hardwood

Eco-Friendliness

Engineered hardwood is better for the environment, simply because it requires less wood to make a plank. Plywood cores reuse wood scraps, and even SPC cores are made with some natural materials. Solid wood requires more resources, and is thus less sustainable.

Winner: Engineered hardwood

Radiant Heating

Radiant heat systems work better with floating engineered wood floors. This is because all the planks are locked together, making them more dimensionally stable, meaning they won’t expand or contract as much when the temperature changes. Solid hardwood will expand and contract more, sometimes creating gaps between the planks.

Winner: Engineered hardwood

Which is Better: Solid Hardwood or Engineered Hardwood?

Engineered wood flooring in a living room

As you can see, both flooring options have their place, and there is always an option to fit your needs. We recommend taking some time to look at the various selection of both engineered and solid wood flooring, ordering samples, and deciding what you like best.  You may be surprised that what may appear as solid wood is actually engineered wood. 

Solid hardwood is timeless and gorgeous but, let’s face it, high maintenance. Engineered wood flooring supplies the same, classic effect but, often, at a fraction of the cost. Either way, both products will provide a luxurious and polished finish to your space. And we promise, whichever wood flooring you choose, you can still knock on wood.

Ready to explore engineered hardwood flooring?

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What's the difference between Engineered Wood Flooring and Solid Hardwood Flooring? Discover the pros and cons of each type of wood and decide which choice is best for your home.

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Silas Knight
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It’s great to know more about wood flooring. I love the information you shared about solid hardwood and engineered wood. I like how you said that actual hardwood can be refinished to make it look like new again. That makes me think it would last longer.

Michelle Barichello
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Excellent!