The Ultimate Guide to Engineered Wood Flooring

Engineered wood flooring is quickly becoming one of the most popular flooring options for homes today. This versatile and durable flooring combines the warmth and beauty of real wood with the strength and stability of modern engineered materials. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about engineered wood floors.

What is Engineered Wood Flooring?

Engineered wood flooring consists of multiple layers of wood pressed together in a cross-grain configuration for stability. The top layer is a real wood veneer made from oak, maple, hickory, walnut or other wood species. This top layer provides the visible look of solid wood. Below the top layer are several plywood layers made from inexpensive wood like poplar or pine. The layers are pressed together under extreme heat and pressure, making engineered floors denser and more resistant to moisture and movement than solid wood.

Unlike laminate or vinyl, engineered wood contains real wood on the surface layer, providing an authentic look and feel. And because the plies are pressed in alternating directions, engineered wood resists expansion and contraction far better than solid wood. This makes it ideal for rooms prone to moisture and temperature fluctuations like basements, bathrooms and kitchens.

The Benefits of Engineered Wood Floors

There are many advantages to choosing engineered wood floors:

  • Stability: The plywood layers minimize expansion and contraction from humidity changes. This prevents gaps from forming in the floor during seasonal shifts.
  • Durability: Engineered wood is more scratch, dent and moisture resistant than solid wood. The dense layers make it hold up better to pets, kids, and heavy furniture.
  • Versatility: Engineered wood can be installed on, above or below grade. It works well with radiant heat systems too.
  • Affordability: Because it utilizes less expensive woods below the surface, engineered costs 25-50% less than solid wood on average.
  • Ease of Installation: Engineered wood can be floated over floors, nailed or glued down, making DIY installation straightforward. Prefinished boards simplify the process further.
  • Wide Range of Styles: From classic to modern visuals, engineered wood comes in a huge variety of wood species, colors, widths and finishes.
  • Eco-Friendly: Engineered wood maximizes use of wood resources by combining common and rare woods. And prefinished options avoid job site chemicals.

With all these advantages, it’s easy to see why engineered hardwood remains popular among homeowners, builders and designers.

How Engineered Hardwood Floors Are Made

The cross-ply construction of engineered wood sets it apart from solid hardwood. While solid wood consists of one continuous piece milled from a single lumber source, engineered planks are composed of several distinct layers:

Top Layer

  • The top layer (also called the wear layer or veneer) is made from solid oak, maple, hickory or various wood types. It’s typically 3-7mm thick.
  • This layer provides structure, shape and visible wood grain. Durable woods like oak are commonly used for resilience.
  • The width of the boards determines the length of the visible planks. Common widths are 3”, 5” and 7”.

Core Layers

  • The core layers form the inner structure of the engineered flooring.
  • These layers are typically made from plywood or high-density fiberboard (HDF).
  • Stacked in alternating grain directions, the core layers prevent expansion and shrinkage.
  • More numerous, thicker core layers add to the floor’s stability and strength.
  • High-end engineered wood may have up to 7 plywood layers, while entry-level options have 3-5.

Back Layer

  • The bottom layer provides a smooth, flat surface for installing the flooring.
  • Often made from inexpensive softwood or plywood, the back layer isn’t visible after installation.
  • Some engineered floors have pre-attached padding in the back layer for sound dampening.

Once the layers are stacked, they are pressed together under extreme heat and pressure. This fuses the wood grains and creates a single unified plank that’s more than the sum of its parts. The resulting engineered floor plank has greater structural integrity and stability than solid hardwood.

The Pros and Cons of Engineered vs. Solid Wood

Engineered and solid hardwood both have unique advantages:

Engineered Wood Pros

  • More Dimensionally Stable: Less affected by humidity and temperature changes
  • Can Be Installed On-Grade or Below-Grade: Resists moisture from basements and concrete better
  • Easier Installation: Floats over more subfloors or installs directly over concrete
  • More Durable: Multi-layer construction makes it resist dents and wear
  • Lower Cost: 30-50% less expensive than solid wood on average

Solid Wood Pros

  • Can Be Refinished Repeatedly: Solid wood can be refinished many times
  • Thicker Wear Layer: Solid wood wear layer is as thick as the board
  • Customizable: Solid wood can be site-finished in any color
  • Resale Value: Solid wood is valued higher than engineered
  • Unique Look: Solid wood exhibits more natural wood graining
  • Environmental: Solid is more eco-friendly since it utilizes fewer glues

In summary, engineered floors are ideal for anyone wanting added moisture resistance in basements or bathrooms, looking for easier installation over more subfloors, or seeking a more budget-friendly option. Homeowners who want the ultimate in customization, enduring beauty, and an eco-friendly floor will be drawn to solid wood.

What’s the Best Type of Engineered Wood Flooring?

With the many varieties available, it can be hard to determine the best engineered wood floor for your home. Here are some of the most popular options:

1. Oak Engineered Wood

Oak is the most common species used for engineered floors. Within oak, you’ll find:

  • Red Oak: Rich reddish-brown tones, most affordable oak option
  • White Oak: Subtle silver graining, more moisture resistant

Oak has a pronounced wood grain and warm, inviting hues. It wears well, making it ideal for families. Oak engineered flooring provides the beauty of oak for less cost than solid oak.

2. Hickory Engineered Wood

Prized for its dynamic coloring and rustic appearance, hickory engineered wood injects a cabin-like feel into any space. The wood’s swirling tan, brown and butterscotch colors deliver liveliness and texture. From a durability standpoint, hickory is second only to exotic hardwoods, with high densities and hardness ratings. Those qualities make it suitable for busy households who don’t want to sacrifice style.

3. Maple Engineered Wood

Known for its clean, uniform appearance, maple engineered flooring imparts a refined, elegant look. The fine, straight wood grains range from nearly white to rich amber brown. With few knots and mineral streaks, maple provides a smooth, seamless appearance. The hardness of maple makes it very durable as well. This is an excellent wood species if you like a classic, New England style.

4. Exotic Wood Engineered Flooring

For a truly unique floor, exotic woods like Brazilian cherry, tigerwood, cumaru and jarrah can create a dramatic impression. Distinguished by their rich red, chocolate and amber hues, these woods exhibit stunning color variation and graining. Their densities and durability compare to the hardest domestic species. Use exotic engineered floors to make a bold statement.

5. Distressed or Wire-brushed Wood

Engineered boards can be hand-scraped, wire-brushed or distressed to impart Old World charm. These techniques reveal the natural wood tones and textures, with dents, wear marks and softened edges for a reclaimed, timeworn appearance. Popular in farmhouse, cottage and industrial designs, distressed engineered wood adds character to modern spaces.

6. Wide-Plank Engineered Wood

Wide-plank engineered flooring has board widths of 5 inches or more. Often made of oak, walnut or maple, wide planks create a dramatic, expansive look. The lengthy boards enable you to highlight the wood’s sweeping grain patterns. Favoring longer boards over narrow strips makes a room feel more open and relaxed. Wide-width engineered flooring is easier to install than solid wide-plank floors.

As you can see, engineered floors come in a diverse range of styles, colors and materials to fit any decor. Consider the mood you want to achieve along with your budget, lifestyle and installation requirements as you shop for the ideal engineered flooring type.

How to Choose the Right Engineered Floor Thickness

Engineered wood floors come in a range of thicknesses, from thin 3/8” products to thick 1/2″ planks and beyond. The thickness you choose impacts cost, durability and installation methods. Here are a few guidelines for choosing the right thickness:

  • Thinner engineered floors: These measure less than 1/2″ thick and have thinner wear layers under 3mm. Well-suited to floating installation, they offer great affordability. Use them in low-traffic areas.
  • Medium engineered floors: Falling between 1/2″ and 9/16″, medium floors balance cost and durability. They have wear layers of 2-5mm. Durable for most rooms, they can handle moderate traffic.
  • Thicker engineered floors: Products 3/4″ thick and up have the thickest wear layers of 5mm or more. Providing enhanced stability and longevity in high-traffic areas, they mimic solid wood floors.

Additional factors like core layer thickness and number impact the floor’s strength too. More numerous, thicker core layers add stability and shock absorption. Consider your budget, expected traffic and subfloor type as you choose engineered floor thickness.

The Lowdown on Engineered Wood Finishes

One great advantage of engineered flooring is the huge range of finish options available. From natural oils to glossy urethanes, the finish plays a big role in the floor’s appearance and performance. Let’s look at the most common types of engineered wood finishes:

1. Oil Finishes

  • Penetrate into the wood grain without forming a surface coating
  • Provide a natural matte appearance, letting the wood’s texture shine through
  • Offer minimal protection on their own so they require frequent reapplication of oil
  • Best for low-traffic settings unless protected by a top urethane coat

2. UV Oil Finishes

  • Cured using ultraviolet light, creating a durable bonded finish
  • Retain the appearance of an oil finish with more scuff and stain resistance
  • Less upkeep than pure oil finishes
  • Well-suited to family spaces that want an organic look

3. Wax Finishes

  • Soften the wood’s appearance and feel with a low-luster patina
  • Allow the richness of the woodgrain to show through
  • Require frequent recoating to protect the wood from wear
  • Ideal for living spaces, dining rooms and formal areas

4. Urethane Finishes

  • Create a protective plastic coating over the wood
  • Provide the highest level of protection from scratches, stains and moisture
  • Allow for easy cleaning and maintenance
  • Offer different sheens from matte to high-gloss

5. Aluminum Oxide Finishes

  • Use aluminum oxide particles in the urethane for extreme wear resistance
  • Maintain the wood’s appearance despite heavy traffic
  • Prevent scratches and dents even with pets and active families
  • Work beautifully in kitchens, mudrooms and other high-use areas

6. Acrylate Finishes

  • Contain non-toxic acrylic polymers for durability and clarity
  • Resist staining, etching, sunlight fading and scuffing
  • Offer moisture protection ideal for basements, baths and laundry rooms
  • Provide crystal clear protection that won’t yellow over time

Factory finishes are the best choice for most homeowners. They deliver extra durability, consistent appearance and faster installation than site-finished floors. Consider your lifestyle, goals and setting as you select the ideal factory finish.

Engineered Wood Floor Texture Options

The textures of engineered flooring products range from ultra-smooth glossy surfaces to heavily wire-brushed and hand-scraped appearances full of character. Which route you take depends on your personal style. Here are the primary engineered wood textures to know:

Smooth/Gloss Finishes

The most refined engineered floors feature polished finishes. These highly shined surfaces showcase the wood’s natural colors and grain patterns seamlessly. Smooth gloss finishes include:

  • Satin: Subtly shiny with a soft glow, satin finishes provide sleek elegance.
  • Semi-Gloss: With medium reflectiveness, semi-gloss strikes a balance between luster and matte.
  • Gloss: Mirror-like shine creates depth and accentuates wood colors/grains.

Smooth glossy finishes work beautifully in elegant homes and formal spaces. They highlight the wood’s innate beauty.

Textured Finishes

For added vintage appeal, textured finishes impart noticeable texture and charm. Popular textured finishes include:

  • Brushed: Wire brushing creates fine scratches and subtle grain accentuation.
  • Hand-Scraped: Scrapers produce irregular grooves and depressions for a timeworn look.
  • Distressed: Artificially “aged” floors feature dents, worm holes, and cracks for a rustic vibe.

Textured finishes infuse traditional or rustic styles with loads of character.

Matte Finishes

Opposite glossy floors, matte finishes remove light reflections allowing wood’s natural colors to take center stage. Matte options include:

  • Oil Finish: Oils soak into pores producing an ultra-matte, raw wood appearance.
  • Wax Finish: Micro-wax layers create a smoothly worn, low-luster patina.
  • Matte Urethane: Urethane resins provide protection at a flat, non-shiny sheen.

Subtle matte finishes exude cozy warmth perfect for relaxed living areas.

Whatever finish and texture you fancy, there’s an engineered floor to match your personal taste and interior design theme.

How to Choose Wide Plank Engineered Wood Flooring

Wide plank flooring remains popular for its spacious, seamless look. But wide solid wood floors can be costly and tricky to install. This is where wide plank engineered hardwood offers big benefits. The engineered construction makes wide planks affordable and easier to use in homes. Here are tips for choosing wide plank engineered floors:

  • Look for a top layer wood type that’s very stable like oak, hickory or maple to prevent splits, checks and large seasonal gaps. Exotic woods are risky with wide planks.
  • Thicker is better – choose engineered wide planks that are 3/4″ thick or more. Thinner floors tend to feel flexy and creaky underfoot.
  • Pay attention to the core layers. More numerous, thicker plywood layers add crucial strength and rigidity to wide planks.
  • Consider using longer boards up to 8 feet in low-moisture areas for a seamless look. In baths and basements, limit board length to 6 feet max to account for humidity changes.
  • Distressed, wire-brushed or hand-scraped textures help conceal inevitable small cracks and seams in lengthy boards.
  • Expect to pay $4-10 per square foot installed for most wide plank engineered wood. Exotic species drive up the cost. Shop sales to save.

With the right engineered floor, you can enjoy the grandeur of wide-width flooring without the headaches and expenses of solid wood. Take time to find the perfect product for your project.

Engineered Hardwood Floor Grades Explained

Engineered wood floors fall into a few main grades defined by the appearance and origin of the top wood layer. The grades range from the most uniform Select & Better floors to the most varied character-filled Cabin grades.

– Select & Better Grade

This top tier grade has the most uniform colors and tightly-controlled grain patterns. These engineered floors highlight the wood’s natural beauty. Ideal for formal settings and open-concept designs.

– Select Grade

Select grade engineered floors may have minor mineral marks and knots while retaining their overall uniformity. Provides a refined single-tone look at a lower cost than Better grade.

– #1 Common Grade

Features a mix of grain patterns and tone variations for added interest. More knots and character marks are allowed but set in a pleasing natural arrangement. Offers a great value.

– #2 Common Grade

Displays a wide spectrum of graining and color shifts for a rustic vibe. May have knots up to 2 inches wide plus mineral streaks and checking. Perfect for cozy, relaxed spaces.

– Cabin Grade

Contains a bold kaleidoscope of knot sizes, wood tones and grain patterns. The allure is in the pronounced rustic character. Ideal log home or farmhouse ambiance.

While top grades provide consistency, lower grades infuse personality. Consider your decor goals and budget when selecting an engineered floor grade.

How Durable Are Engineered Wood Floors?

With proper care, engineered hardwood floors can provide decades of use. Their durability comes from:

  • Hardwood Top Layer – Durable woods like oak, hickory and exotic species are extremely resilient against wear and indentations when used as the top layer veneer.
  • Dense Construction – Many thin hardwood and plywood layers pressed together create a surface that resists scratches, dents and damage from furniture, pets, heels and toys.
  • Protective Finish – Factory finishes with aluminum oxide or acrylate make engineered floors exceptionally scratch, stain and moisture-resistant compared to site-finished solid floors.
  • Stability – The cross-ply layers prevent swelling, shrinking and distortion from environmental changes. This retains the floor’s shape and performance over time.

While no flooring is impervious to abuse, engineered wood’s layered design allows it to hide scratches and refinish well. Proper maintenance includes sweeping regularly, wiping spills quickly, using furniture pads, keeping humidity moderate and adding protective mats. With proper care, engineered hardwood floors

Laura Kassovic

Laura Kassovic, a former engineer at Intel SOC, now dedicates her efforts to mentoring startups in the realms of Wearables and AI. As a co-founder of New Tech Brake, she spearheads a wireless sensing solution enterprise catering to diverse applications including product development, research, location tracking, and people monitoring, as well as asset and cargo supervision. The platform empowers developers to craft an array of innovations such as fitness trackers, temperature-monitored cargo systems, medical trial tools, smart running garments, or even straightforward transmission of unprocessed accelerometer data to cloud-based repositories.

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