Solid vs. Engineered Hardwood Floors: What’s the Difference?

Dec 17, 2023

When considering new hardwood floors, homeowners face an important decision – whether to go with traditional solid hardwood or modern engineered hardwood. While both have the beauty and warmth of real wood, they have key differences in how they are made, installed, and maintained.

Keep reading as we break down exactly what sets solid and engineered hardwood apart to help you determine the best choice for your home.

What is Solid Hardwood Flooring?

Solid hardwood flooring, also called solid wood flooring, is made from planks milled from a single piece of timber. It can come from various wood species like oak, maple, cherry, etc. The most common thicknesses are 3/4″ or 5/16″, though it can be milled thinner or thicker for custom jobs.

Solid wood floors have been used for centuries and remain popular today due to their classic, timeless beauty and longevity when properly maintained. The rich grain and natural variations of solid wood create a unique look that is difficult to replicate with non-wood materials.

Pros of Solid Hardwood Floors:

  • 100% natural wood product
  • Can be sanded and refinished many times, often lasting 100+ years
  • Increases home resale value
  • Wide range of wood species, colors, grades available
  • Traditional appearance perfect for period homes

Cons of Solid Hardwood Flooring:

  • More expensive upfront cost
  • Prone to gapping as boards expand/contract with humidity changes
  • Not suitable for below-grade or moisture-prone areas
  • Needs seasonal maintenance and recoat every 5-10 years
  • Extensive sanding/refinishing required approximately every 10-25 years

What is Engineered Hardwood Flooring?

Engineered hardwood flooring was invented in Europe in the 1960s as a more stable and versatile alternative to solid wood. It features a structural layered construction with a top layer, called a veneer, made from solid wood. This layer is bonded to underlying plies of plywood running in opposing directions to resist swelling and shrinkage.

Composition and Construction

Many different wood species can be used for the top layer like oak, walnut, exotic woods, etc. While thinner than a solid wood plank, the multilayer build gives engineered floors enhanced dimensional stability and strength. Overall thicknesses range from 1/2” to 9/16” or thinner for special applications.

Engineered hardwood has grown exponentially in popularity for its durability, ease of installation, and suitability for basements, apartments and homes with radiant heat. Homeowners can enjoy the appearance and feel of real wood with added versatility.

Pros of Engineered Hardwood Flooring:

  • Resists moisture damage and ideal for basements/condos
  • Stays flatter with less noticeable seasonal gapping
  • Easier installation for do-it-yourselfers
  • Can be glued directly to concrete or floated over foam
  • Costs less than most solid hardwood options
  • Lighter weight puts less stress on structural framing

Cons of Engineered Hardwood Floors:

  • Cannot be refinished as many times as solid wood
  • Marginally less valued by some home buyers
  • Multi-layer buildup is not considered as “natural”
  • Veneer layers under 3/16” thick cannot be sanded
  • Not all products can be nailed/stapled during install

Head-to-Head Comparison

FeatureSolid HardwoodEngineered Hardwood
Material100% natural solid woodTop veneer layer bonded to plywood base
Thickness3/4”, 5/16”, custom1/2” to 9/16” typical
Cost Per Sq.Ft.$3-15$2-12
Moisture resistancePoor, avoid wet areasGood, suitable for basements
Refinishing CapabilityUp to 10+ times1-2 times for thin veneers
InstallationNail or staple downGlue, float, staple, nail
Lifespan100+ years30-80 years
RepairabilityVery goodLimited due to engineered layers

Key Takeaways:

  • Solid wood is a single, natural wood layer making it the most beautiful, longest-lasting wood flooring available. It also has the highest upfront cost per square foot.
  • Engineered wood floors are man-made with multiple layers. The top veneer layer gives the appearance of solid wood. Engineered floors are more affordable, stable and suited to problematic install areas but cannot be refinished as often.

Which is Right for You?

With a grasp on what sets solid and engineered hardwood floors apart, now we can turn to helping you analyze which is the smarter choice for your particular home and lifestyle.

Those wanting to emulate old-world craftsmanship with the beauty and legacy of natural solid wood flooring may determine it’s defects – higher cost and installation limitations – are offset by its virtues of unmatched aesthetics and longevity. Home chefs and pet owners drawn to wood’s welcoming feel underfoot may also gravitate toward traditional solid oak or hickory planks.

Hardwood Floor Resurfacing vs Refinishing

For cost-conscious homeowners wanting wood’s warmth at a budget price point, engineered hardwood’s range of subspecies can mimic solid at less per square foot installed. The added versatility of engineered wood to go in challenging spaces like basements and over concrete enables homeowners flexibility during renovation projects. Those needing to accommodate radiant heating, high-moisture areas or condo living should definitely explore this option.

Conclusion

Solid and engineered hardwood both add beautiful wood grain, texture and appeal to residential spaces when properly selected and cared for. Whether you value ultimate customization in a wood species, the legacy of natural materials or require budget flexibility and construction versatility, understand your options to make the optimal choice you won’t regret.

Consult with flooring specialists to ensure the product type, specifications and maintenance needs align with your home’s conditions and lifestyle expectations.

FAQ’s

What’s better, engineered or solid hardwood?

There is no definitive “better” option. Solid hardwood is better in terms of customization, ultimate longevity (100+ years), and refinishability. But engineered offers advantages in cost, installation ease, stability, and options for challenging areas like basements. Evaluate what performance traits matter most to your home when deciding.

Can you refinish engineered hardwood floors?

Engineered wood can be refinished 1-2 times depending on thickness. Floors with veneer layers under 3/16” cannot be sanded without exposing the substrate. Consult manufacturers’ recommendations but expect engineered will last 30-80 years with periodic recoating and spot repairs versus full refinishing.

Which is more expensive, engineered or solid hardwood?

On average, expect solid wood to have a 15-30% higher cost per square foot compared to similar looking engineered wood options. However many factors like species, grade, width, availability and current market trends can sway pricing in either direction. Certain exotic engineered species imported from overseas can exceed domestic solid wood pricing at times.

How thick should engineered hardwood be?

The standard engineered hardwood thickness range spans 1⁄2” (4 ply) to 9/16” (3 ply). Thinner engineered products like 3/8” (2 ply) can be used in special applications but may not last as long or feel as sturdy underfoot. Thicker does not equate to better performance however, as the multilayer base is the key stabilizing component versus total thickness.

Does engineered hardwood add value to a home?

Yes, both solid and engineered hardwood floors boost resale value significantly over carpet, vinyl or laminate. On average, homes with hardwood floors sell 20% faster and for 20% more. Yet some home buyers may marginally value engineered wood below a comparable solid wood floor. Opting for thicker veneers when possible and selecting enduring wood looks can maximize engineered’s value perception.