If you've been considering a hardwood floor and already looked at some options, you may have already run across a few references to engineered hardwood. I recently had engineered hardwood installed in a bedroom and I like it as a compromise between the high price of some natural hardwoods and the unrealistic appearance of laminate. It uses a thin exterior layer of real hardwood over an internal layer of cheaper hardwood, plywood or high-density fiberboard.
Pros of Engineered Hardwood
All other things being equal, it's cheaper than natural hardwood.
If you like the look of a rare hardwood but the price tag is a turnoff, you might be able to find an engineered hardwood alternative that is cheaper because it uses less of the real hardwood. You're still getting the good look of the more expensive natural hardwood. You're just paying less for it. This is especially true if you are looking at options that make use of an exotic or rare hardwood that can get incredibly expensive.
It's relatively eco-friendly.
Engineered hardwood is created in a way that loses less of the wood to sawdust, meaning that there's less waste involved in creating the flooring. This means that the wood portion of the engineered hardwood requires fewer trees to produce the same square footage.
It uses real wood and not an image of wood.
This is what makes engineered hardwood different from laminate. Laminate uses very little, if any, actual wood and won't fool anyone who looks closely at it. Once engineered hardwood has been installed, it's hard to tell that there's a component made of a different type of wood, plywood or fiberboard just by looking because the top layer is natural hardwood.
It has lower maintenance needs.
Exposure to moisture is hard on most types of flooring. However, engineered hardwood is less vulnerable to the swelling and warping caused by long-term or repeated exposure to spills and humidity. You may be able to find a cleaner that is easy on engineered hardwood, but it'll also do fine with just being cleaned with a damp mop even if you occasionally miss a couple of spots when drying it off.
Minor damage can usually be sanded.
While it is better to prevent damage to your floor as much as possible, most dents and scratches can be sanded out. It's like erasing a mistake you made with pencil and paper – you're removing the mistake from within the tree-based product and taking a little of the tree-based product out of it too. Once that's done, you won't be able to tell it was there unless you look closely. This is one of the biggest benefits of having an engineered or natural hardwood floor because the ability to sand out damage increases the life of the floor.
Cons of Engineered Hardwood
It's more expensive than laminate, tile or carpet.
When compared to the cost of these three options, the price of quality engineered hardwood may be a turnoff if a consumer is looking for a new floor on a tight budget. The thing to keep in mind when considering engineered hardwood as an option is that it usually costs $8-12 per square foot.
Some engineered hardwood may be of lower quality.
This is especially true of some cheaper engineered hardwoods that use a thinner layer of hardwood or use low quality materials under the hardwood layer. If possible, choose an engineered option that makes use of a quality hardwood center from a manufacturer that has a good reputation for not taking shortcuts. The thickness of the exterior hardwood layer should be about 1/8 inch to allow for sanding out dents and scratches.
Hiring a contractor to install your floor is recommended.
While this is not necessarily a con, you may have already chosen a high-quality, slightly pricier engineered hardwood floor and don't want that ruined by improper installation. If you're pretty handy around the house and have installed flooring before, you may be fine with installing it yourself. However, you definitely want to make sure you aren't overreaching your skills. Many problems with flooring are caused by improper installation that makes the flooring crooked or leaves gaps between the boards that dirt, debris and liquids can fall into, which could cause damage to the floor. So if you've never installed a hardwood floor before, you may be better off hiring a reputable contractor.
Is an engineered hardwood floor what you've been looking for? I recommend it for people who don't want to overspend on a new floor but like the look of a rare or exotic hardwood. With the right options, you can get a floor that looks just as good as natural hardwood.