If you follow our site, you know there is a flooring style for everyone no matter your price point or tastes. While we’re big fans of traditional hardwood and laminates, engineered wood flooring is the top option for most consumers today.
If you’re unfamiliar with this type of flooring, have no fear. Our guide to engineered flooring will explain what makes it special, and we’ll even tell you where you can find the best quality flooring as well. From contractor costs to the different types of species, we are going to provide you with all the information you need to make a well informed buying decision.
Pros and Cons of Engineered Wood Flooring
There are dozens of types of flooring you can use in a residential property, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. As popular as engineered wood is, there are a few drawbacks you’ll want to be aware of after we take a look at the advantages. You will also want to know how engineered wood it gets its name.
Engineered wood lives up to its namesake as it is a product that has been “engineered” by man, not planed down from solid boards. The best way to think of an engineered flooring board is in layers as they all have a bottom, middle, and top. A thin slice or veneer of real hardwood is placed on the top of each plank and covered by a finish or topcoat for protection.
The middle layer is known as the “core,” which is usually made from plywood, although it can vary from depending on the brand and price point to a degree. The same goes for the bottom layer. Again, it’s usually wood, but some manufacturers have experimented with cork and other alternatives.
Engineered Wood Flooring Pros
Have you ever dreamed of having exotic hardwood floors throughout your home? Well, Brazilian Cherry hardwood flooring isn’t exactly cheap, but the price drops considerably when there is only a sliver on top, not a completely solid piece of wood. Needless to say, if you want something tropical, engineered flooring is cheaper.
You also get a wide variety of options with engineered flooring and more accessibility. Sourcing hard to find building materials can be a real headache, but it won’t be if you go with engineered products. This type of flooring is also easier to maintain over time and deal with humidity better than solid hardwood flooring.
Are you looking for a type of flooring that’s easy to install? That’s another huge advantage of engineered wood considering you can snap some floors while others only require a bare minimum of glue. We feel a floating click-lock style floor is the easiest to install by yourself, glue-based systems are far from difficult – just a little messy at times.
Engineered hardwood throughout your home can increase its resale value as well, although it won’t have the same impact as solid wood. It does give consumers the ability to change their flooring out with relative ease, however, and thicker planks can even be refinished, which increases their lifespan. You can also install these planks in below grade rooms and with radiant heat systems more often than not.
Engineered Wood Flooring Cons
One negative to engineered wood flooring is its cost compared to domestic or common hardwood species. You can pick up cheap solid hardwood for the same price as budget-friendly engineered flooring, but it all depends on the species.
It doesn’t feel quite as solid underfoot as other forms of flooring, and the veneer can be a problem if it’s too thin. It’s not easy to replace a damaged board that’s been glued down in the middle of your floor, and chips are impossible to hide well. Scratches can also be a problem with subpar products, especially if you have large dogs.
Quality control, in general, can be an issue as well. Depending on the method of construction, the core of a poorly produced engineered wood flooring board can give you issues. It can decrease the stability of your flooring, which can become a major problem over time or with minor spills. Again, it’s not something you’re likely to encounter with the top brands, but it pays to look before you leap.
Engineered Wood vs. Laminate Flooring
One of the biggest competitors for engineered wood, solid wood flooring aside, is laminate. It’s a flooring material we covered at length in our laminate flooring guide, and it does have several things in common with engineered wood.
Both styles come in plank form and can closely resemble real wood. They are also easier to install than other forms of flooring and have a protective layer, but only one is actually made from real wood – engineered flooring. Laminate has a realistic image that looks like wood (or other materials) on top, followed by a core and backing layer on the bottom.
As there’s no wood in laminate flooring, it can handle water better than engineered flooring, but that’s about the only major advantage aside from cost.
Engineered flooring is more durable, brings more value to your home, and “feels” more like real wood. High-quality laminate flooring can be textured, but you won’t mistake the two as it’s glossier. It’s not as eco-friendly and won’t last nearly as long as the best engineered flooring either.
Engineered Wood Flooring Buying Guide
Understanding what engineered wood is, and the advantages it can bring to your home are just half the battle. Before you start measuring square footage or set your mind on a particular style, you need to consider the following areas.
If you’ve been blown away by solid hardwood in someone’s home that had a distinct look, we’ve got good news. Almost any species that’s available in solid hardwood form has an engineered counterpart. A few exceptions are cheaper like Pine along with softer woods, but there are several species to choose from whether you prefer domestic or exotic wood.
Oak, Maple, and Hickory are three of the most popular domestic species and should be readily available anywhere in the continental United States or abroad. Walnut and Cherry are a little more expensive, and you will have to deal with darkening over time with the latter. Beech and Birch engineered flooring are less common, but an excellent choice if you want something light.
Things get interesting when you choose exotic wood, even if they are more expensive. Acacia has risen in popularity in recent years while IPE or Brazilian Walnut provides excellent durability. Tigerwood and Brazilian Cherry are colorful alternatives, while Bamboo offers some unique properties you won’t find elsewhere. Bloodwood and a few others species from South America are in the mix as well, but can be much harder to find.
While you could put most of the exotic species in the specialty class, none are quite as special as Heart Pine. It’s difficult to acquire due to its age and generally falls under the reclaimed banner. On that note, there are companies that use veneers from reclaimed boards as well if you prefer flooring with a bit of character.
Eucalyptus is another unique wood, that’s fairly priced but troublesome to track down at times. It’s an excellent choice for humid areas and ranks high on the Janka hardness scale as well. If you truly want something unique, Cork could be the ideal solution for you. While it’s generally sold in tiles, a few companies like WE Cork and Wicanders carry engineered cork flooring.
When you’re buying solid hardwood flooring, it can come prefinished or unfinished depending on your preference. Engineered flooring is mainly available prefinished for ease of installation, but if you look hard enough, you can find a handful of companies that offer unfinished engineered flooring as well.
As for those finishes, Aluminum Oxide is the best from a durability standpoint and found on flooring in the budget and premium classes. Floors with this finish generally carry a 25-year guarantee, but it’s not something you can do yourself, so it’s a “factory” finish that’s built to last. Acid-cured and Moisture-cured finishes are also extremely durable, but something professionals handle, and materials that produce high VOCs. That means you’ll have to evacuate your home for a week or more, whereas a hard-wax oil isn’t as toxic and allows you to stay put.
Oil-based Polyurethanes are cheap, easy to apply, and popular. They can yellow with age, however and like many finishes, release VOCs. Water-based polyurethanes are much easier to deal with all-around but aren’t quite as durable as the other options.
In a nutshell, if you plan to finish the floors yourself, you’ll want to look into each type of finish and consider its durability compared to the amount of VOCs it releases. Prefinished boards are highly recommended, as the savings from going the DIY route may not be as significant as you think.
Clear finish is a great way to show off the natural beauty of your wood flooring. It doesn’t alter or change the tone of the wood but can highlight grain patterns and color streaks while providing protection. You can also get textured, distressed, or smooth wood – something we covered in our ultimate hardwood flooring guide.
One easy mistake beginners make when purchasing engineered hardwood flooring is dealing with dimensions. When you lay a run of flooring, you never want the joints or ends to line up, unlike tile, which gives you a nice uniform pattern. That’s where the term “variable length” comes into play, and it’s something you are going to hear often when you are dealing with engineered boards.
Widths vary from one manufacturer to the next, although there are standards companies stick to. Planks measuring 5 1/8” common, but you can also pick up wider boards at 7 1/2”. Narrower boards closer to 3 inches are also available, and you’ll find more variance when it comes to thickness.
While the width is more of a design preference, thickness affects the durability of your flooring. As you’d expect, thicker floors are better but just because a board is thick doesn’t mean the wear layer is 4mm. On average, you can expect engineered flooring to range between 5/16” all the way up to a ½” in thickness with 3/8” and 9/16” being two of the more popular options.
Engineered Flooring Grades
Another area you will encounter when shopping for flooring are grades. If you want the best engineered wood flooring, this area is particularly important considering the grade of lumber tells you a lot about what to expect from the boards. Keep in mind, some manufacturers use their own terms, and the grade has nothing to do with finishes and applies to all species.
Eco-Friendly Engineered Wood
By design, engineered flooring isn’t quite as green as solid wood. Bamboo and a few other kinds of wood are exceptions, but binding agents and adhesives are two things you don’t have to think about with solid hardwood flooring. If you’re concerned about those areas, there are several agencies set up to ensure consumers can enjoy their flooring without inhaling VOCs.
Looking for products with FloorScore certification is one way to find green products, and you may even qualify for LEED credit in some cases. Things are more difficult if you plan on buying exotic engineered flooring, but it’s still possible to find products that are harvested responsibly through agencies like the FSC. It may not be as easy to pick up a green product locally depending on where you live, with the rise of eco-friendly building products, it’s not hard to source green flooring online.
Warranty and Durability
Warranties are fairly straightforward in the wild world of engineered flooring. On average you can expect somewhere between 15 – 30 years although you always want to read the fine print. Commercial usage of a residential product decreases that number significantly. While not a concern for most folks, it is something to keep in mind depending on your needs.
Part of the variance with warranties is the reason you can find Brazilian Koa engineered flooring with a 100-year warranty while you might only get 10 – 20 years with domestic Maple. The grade plays a part, but so does the species as harder woods will naturally last longer. The coating or finish and the amount of foot traffic you get are things to consider as well.
This is also an area where veneer comes into play. Thicker veneers allow you to refinish and sand your floor a handful of times, which can further extend its lifespan. If that’s important to you, look for flooring with a wear layer at least 2mm thick. Anything thinner cannot be sanded, but you can get 1 – 2 sandings out of flooring that’s between 2 – 3mm thick. When in doubt, check with a manufacturer as your board is shot once the veneer is gone.
When pricing engineered wood, you’ll see that most is sold by the square foot even though it’s sold by the case, pallet, and box. Cost is also something that varies wildly depending on whether you plan to go the budget route or want the best engineered flooring money can buy. Our table will give you a rough idea of what to expect from both domestic and exotic species…
$3.50 - $6.76
$4.85 - $9.00
$4.02 - $9.88
$3.69 - $7.09
$3.59 - $9.88
$4.32 - $7.56
$6.50 - $9.55
$3.72 - $10.05
$4.69 - $7.49
$4.19 - $6.49
$5.02 - $5.68
$6.75 - $12.40
$4.12 - $8.42
$6.09 - $8.09
$4.19 - $5.79
$5.02 - $5.68
$9.00 - $10.00
$6.09 - $8.09
$5.39 - $5.79
$6.08 - $6.70
$5.19 - $6.46
Exotic and Specialty Woods
DIY or Hire a Pro
We’re not going to spend much time here as it all comes down to your budget and how much free time you have. The ability to use a saw and a few other simple tools is also a bonus, although not a requirement for engineered planks.
If you want to install the flooring yourself, floating floors are the easiest, but you may still have a lot of prep work to deal with. Do you really want to pull up carpeting?
That’s something you need to ask yourself, but you should also consider the condition of the floors beneath your current flooring unless you are working with new construction. You will also need to pick up a few additional supplies as well, including underlayment and glue if required.
Hiring a contractor can also be a headache, but only if you don’t do your research beforehand. Whether you are using a family friend or a pro from Home Advisor, check their references and work beforehand. If you want to get an idea of how much a contractor in your area charges to install engineered flooring, check out our pricing tool below.
Best Engineered Wood Flooring Brands
Compared to solid hardwood or linoleum, engineered wood flooring is something you can find with ease. Local hardware stores may have it in stock, and you’ll be blown away by the varieties available through larger shops like Lowes and Home Depot. With that in mind, here are a few quick reviews on some of the top brands that specialize in producing engineered flooring.
Somerset Hardwood Flooring
Somerset Hardwood Flooring’s products carry the Manufactured in the USA label, and they specialize in Appalachian hardwoods. While you won’t find any exotic species of trees in their lineup, they have an excellent range of engineered flooring if you prefer Oak, Hickory, and Maple.
This company currently has six collections to choose from with Hand Crafted, Classic, Character, Specialty, Wide Plank, and Color Plank. Each collection is a little different from the rest, so there is something for everyone. If you like the look of hand scraped wood with lots of texture, the Hand Crafted lineup may suit your needs. It’s available in Oak, Maple, and Hickory while the Classic collection only uses Oak and is textured, but not scraped.
Consumers that want a rustic vibe will like the Character collection, which shows the natural beauty of knot holes in Hickory, Maple, or Oak. The Wide Plank series is self-explanatory as is the Specialty class with its random width boards. There are well over 30 colors between all the collections, and their SolidPlus engineered boards are suitable for below grade rooms as well.
All of Somerset’s engineered flooring has a 50-year finish warranty along with a lifetime structural guarantee. Commercial usage cuts that number to only 5 years which is standard, and you can sand their flooring at least once thanks to a thick wear layer on top.
Harris Wood Floors
Harris is one of the older companies on our list. Founded in 1898, they have been dealing with wood for a long time, and have churned out engineered flooring since the 80s. With over a dozen series available, they should be one of your first stops when you prefer design and colors over exotic species.
Harris’s hardwood flooring is available in two styles with Tongue & Groove or Engineered Click. Their selection is easy to navigate as well as you can shop by species, color, treatment, or width. Treatments vary by series but include smooth or textured finishes while the available widths range from 3” to 7.5” wide planks.
You won’t find any IPE or Bloodwood at Harris, but they do have all the popular domestic species including red & white Oak, Hickory, Maple, and Walnut. They also have some harder to find wood like Cherry, pecan, and yellow birch. Colors range from light and natural to dark hues and smoky greys. In addition to hardwood, the company also carries a small line of engineered cork flooring.
Whether you prefer the Hickory Shadewood from the Aspen collection or Yellow Birch Wheat from SpringLoc TODAY, Harris has a solid selection of flooring and plenty of colors to choose from. The warranties vary by line, but you can expect a 25-year finish warranty at a minimum, and all their boards come with a lifetime structural guarantee for residential use.
This Canadian company is one of the leaders in hardwood flooring and one of the greener brands as well. They use sustainable forest management and selective harvesting practices with all of their products, which includes domestic species along with a few exotic kinds of wood.
Lauzon decided to keep things simple, so there are only three collections, although there are 12 series overall. The Designer collection is their top product and features both domestic and exotic species in a variety of shades. Hard Maple, Hickory, and Oak are present along with Brazilian Cherry and Santos Mahogany. You also get the best warranty from all the tiers at 35 years.
Ambiance is their mid-range tier with a 30-year guarantee, but it also happens to be their largest collection with the widest variety of shades. It’s all domestic species, however, and the same goes for the Essential collection. It’s their budget tier, and one with some interesting choices like Character grade Cape Code red Oak and Chai Tea hard Maple. While we don’t have a price on these planks, they come with a 25-year warranty and an aluminum oxide finish.
Lauzon has some of the more unique colorways, and we like the fact they have grades like select & better or character on some of their products as well if you are looking for something different. Their top two lines are treated with a Titanium finish, and some series feature their Pure Genius tech, an air-purifying material built into the finish.
While those are just a few companies that produce engineered flooring, you can expect to find products from most of the top flooring manufacturers as well. Shaw, Armstrong, Mullican, and Mohawk all have at least one engineered wood lineup, but they also make everything from carpet to linoleum instead of focusing on wood.
Another company that falls into that category for different reasons is Miseno. They have everything from cabinet hardware to lighting but also carry a very nice array of engineered flooring featuring some of the harder woods. Are you partial to Bamboo? Well, Cali Bamboo is the best place to look into that style of flooring, but they also carry eucalyptus, Hickory, Oak, and Maple.
US Floors is another company that carries Bamboo and cork, along with some interesting products like COREtec. You can find both their products and Cali Bamboo’s through Lowes along with brands like Bruce and Shaw. If you prefer Home Depot, you can find a massive selection of engineered hardwood from Heritage Mill, Home Legend, Bruce and Malibu Wide Plank.