Comparing Solid Vs Engineered for Long-Term Viability

When choosing a new hardwood floor, one of the biggest decisions you’ll make is whether to go with solid or engineered hardwood. Both have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to cost, installation, and durability over the long run. This comprehensive guide examines all the key differences between solid and engineered hardwood flooring to help you decide which is better suited for your home.

What is Solid Hardwood Flooring?

Made from a Solid Piece of Wood

As the name implies, solid hardwood flooring is milled from a single solid piece of hardwood lumber. Red oak, white oak, maple, cherry, hickory, ash, and walnut are common solid hardwood species. The tongue-and-groove planks typically measure 3/4″ thick and 2-1/4″ to 9″ wide.

Solid wood floors are available in either unfinished or prefinished options. Unfinished wood flooring needs to be sanded and stained on-site after installation. Prefinished solid floors come with a protective coating already applied in the factory, reducing dust and fumes during the installation process.

Durable and Can Be Refinished

The main benefit of choosing solid floors is durability, as they can last 100 years or more with proper care. Solid wood floors can also be refinished and restored multiple times, allowing them to retain their beauty and function for decades before needing full replacement.

More Expensive and Prone to Expansion/Contraction

On the downside, solid hardwood is more expensive than engineered options. Prices range from $3 to over $13 per square foot installed. Solid wood flooring is also prone to expansion and contraction issues related to moisture and humidity changes. This can lead to gapping between boards or cupping if the floor was not properly acclimated before installation.

What is Engineered Hardwood Flooring?

Plywood or HDF Core with a Hardwood Veneer

Engineered hardwood consists of multiple layers of wood pressed together in a cross-grain configuration. The top layer – known as the veneer or wear layer – is a thin slice of solid hardwood, usually ranging from 1/16″ to 1/2″ thick.

The core layers underneath are typically high-density fiberboard (HDF) or plywood, lending added stability to the flooring. This clever design minimizes natural wood movement to prevent gaps or cupping issues.

More Stable and Easier to Install

The multi-layer build of engineered flooring provides moisture resistance and dimensional stability unmatched by solid wood. This allows engineered floors to be installed on concrete subfloors or below grade areas where solid floors should not be used. The added stability also makes engineered suitable for floating installations and other applications where solid wood may fail.

Most engineered flooring has a standard 3/4″ thickness, making it a direct replacement for solid hardwood. No additional alterations are needed during installation because it fits seamlessly with existing baseboards and transitions.

Cheaper but Cannot Be Refinished Extensively

Due to the thin veneer layer, engineered floors cannot be refinished more than 1-2 times. When the veneer wears down, the entire floor must be replaced. However, engineered is significantly cheaper than solid hardwood, with prices ranging from $2 – $12 per square foot installed. The more affordable cost makes it easier for homeowners to replace engineered floors when needed.

Durability Comparison of Solid vs. Engineered Floors

When evaluating solid vs. engineered wood for longevity, there are a few key factors that determine how well each flooring type will stand the test of time:

Veneer Thickness

Engineered products with thicker veneer layers will better emulate the lasting quality of solid floors. Look for engineered planks with a veneer thickness of at least 1/4″ – though 1/2″ is ideal. Remember that sanding is limited to 1-2 times total due to the thin veneer layer.

Core Composition

Floors with a plywood core offer greater rigidity and screw-holding power than those with HDF cores. Plywood cores are less likely to swell and delaminate when exposed to moisture over time. HDF provides adequate stability but is more vulnerable to damage issues.

Finish Durability

The aluminum oxide or ceramic-infused coatings applied to hardwood flooring greatly affect wear resistance. More durable finishes maintain their protective qualities longer before needing resurfacing. With engineered floors, also ensure the veneer and core layers feature a water-resistant adhesive.

Solid Wood Thickness

Solid wood flooring that is 3/4″ thick can be refinished at least 2-3 times with plenty of wood left. Thinner solid floors (5/16″ or 1/2″) provide less sanding allowance before reaching the tongue layer underneath. Keep thickness in mind if refinishing is important to you.

Traffic Type and Volume

Homes with kids, pets, parties, and heavy foot traffic do best with more durable solid hardwood. The thicker boards and deeper refinishing capacity allow solid floors to better withstand heavy daily wear. Engineered is great for most residential needs but may dent or fail sooner in extremely active households.

Solid Hardwood Flooring Pros & Cons


  • Can be refinished many times
  • Thick boards stand up well to heavy traffic
  • Can last 100+ years if maintained properly
  • Retains value well if home is sold
  • Wide variety of wood species/colors


  • More expensive upfront cost
  • Prone to gaps & cupping with humidity changes
  • Not suitable for some installations (concrete, below-grade)
  • Requires acclimation before installation

Engineered Hardwood Flooring Pros & Cons


  • Lower upfront cost than solid floors
  • Dimensional stability minimizes gapping
  • Can be installed on concrete or below grade
  • Easier overall installation than solid
  • Wide variety of visual looks


  • Cannot refinish more than 1-2 times
  • Thin veneer can dent or scratch easier
  • Less value retention if home is sold
  • Not as thick or durable as solid floors
  • Veneer layers may delaminate over time

Tips for Prolonging Life of Engineered Hardwood

While engineered floors cannot match the longevity of solid hardwood, the following tips can help maximize the lifespan of your engineered flooring investment:

Choosing a Durable Engineered Product

Opt for an engineered floor with:

  • Thick veneer layer close to 1/2″
  • Plywood core for moisture resistance
  • Ceramic-infused finish for added wear resistance
  • Water-resistant veneer/core bonding

Handle Carefully During Storage and Installation

  • Acclimate floors properly before installation
  • Keep planks in original packaging until ready to install
  • Avoid dragging planks across one another
  • Use pry bars to tighten joints, not hammer

Protect Floor After Installation

  • Add felt pads underneath furniture legs
  • Place mats at exterior doorways
  • Sweep regularly to remove gritty debris
  • Clean up spills quickly to avoid veneer damage
  • Consider area rugs in high-traffic zones
  • Maintain indoor humidity between 30-50% year-round

Following these simple engineered flooring care guidelines will help safeguard quality and longevity even with thinner veneer layers. Preventative maintenance is key!

Engineered Hardwood Flooring FAQs

Still have some questions about choosing engineered vs. solid hardwood? Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:

Does engineered hardwood add value to a home?

While solid hardwood generally offers greater value recapture, engineered floors can also increase resale value. The key factors are the floor’s condition and whether buyers desire hardwood floors. Well-maintained engineered floors in desirable colors can boost value.

Can engineered hardwood be installed in bathrooms?

We don’t recommend engineered flooring in bathrooms. The thin veneer can fail quickly with repeated moisture exposure. Porcelain tile or luxury vinyl plank flooring are better bathroom flooring options.

Is engineered suitable for commercial use?

It depends on the specific engineered product and expected traffic. Many commercial sites require floors warrantied for commercial use, which have thicker veneers and special surface treatments. Residential engineered flooring generally won’t withstand heavy commercial foot traffic.

Does engineered need an underlayment?

Underlayment is highly recommended under engineered floors to prevent noises, smooth minor subfloor imperfections, and add a bit of moisture protection. Cork, felt, or rubber underlayments work well.

Can engineered flooring be installed over radiant heat?

Yes, engineered hardwood pairs excellently with radiant floor heating systems. Just ensure the product is rated for radiant heat on the manufacturer specifications before installing. Additional expansion space may be required.


Solid and engineered floors both can work beautifully in homes – offering years of beauty underfoot. Solid hardwood provides exceptional thickness, refinishing potential, and long-term durability. But engineered flooring offers greater affordability and stability against humidity fluctuations.

Ultimately the right choice comes down to your budget, lifestyle, and priorities around longevity, maintenance, installation options, and overall value. Now that you understand all the key similarities and differences between solid vs. engineered hardwood, you can decide which fits your home best!

I hope this comprehensive comparison guide better informs your decision and sets realistic expectations around performance. Please feel free to reach out with any other questions!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *