The Pros and Cons of Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Trying to decide whether engineered wood is for your home? Or wondering how to advise your customer?

Engineered hardwood flooring is a popular alternative to solid wood because it has the same beautiful appearance—but often with a lower price tag. However, this flooring material also has disadvantages you’ll want to consider: limited refinishing options, less durability in the long run, and potential off-gassing, to name a few.

In this article, we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of engineered hardwood and how it compares with solid hardwood. Here’s what you can expect to learn:

If you’re already a flooring installer and know about engineered wood, then skip past this first section straight to the disadvantages.

What is engineered wood flooring?

Hands holding wood floor samples and comparing them with colors

Engineered wood flooring is a flooring product that has multiple layers of wood rather than being made of one piece of wood, as solid hardwood is. The core layer is made of a composite wood material, and the top layer, known as the lamella, is a solid wood veneer. The core may be plywood, fiberboard, or oriented strand board (OSB), depending on the quality of the flooring.

The difference between engineered flooring and laminate flooring is that laminate, though it looks like solid hardwood, is synthetic. Engineered flooring, on the other hand, is real wood. It usually comes prefinished.

So how do its layers impact the way an engineered floor performs?

What are the disadvantages of engineered wood flooring?

Because engineered flooring has many layers (or plies), it performs differently than a regular hardwood floor.

When it comes to the advantages and disadvantages of engineered wood, quality makes a big difference. Low-quality flooring may be less expensive, but you’re much more likely to deal with the following problems:

  • Limited refinishing options
  • Less durability
  • Off-gassing of chemicals
  • Hollow sounds
  • Sensitivity to moisture

Limited refinishing options

A sander used for refinishing a hardwood floor

Engineered flooring can get scratches and dents, just like solid hardwood. But engineered flooring may end up being more expensive because it has to be replaced sooner.

Here’s why:

The wood veneer can’t handle as much sanding and refinishing as regular hardwood, particularly if the veneer is not much more than 1mm.

After all, you wouldn’t want to sand through the veneer to the core.

Kyle Hedin, a floor installer, says that anything with a 1.2mm veneer (or less) is a “one-and-done floor. The wear layer is so thin that you can’t do anything with it down the road. It is thick enough that the manufacturer gets to call the product hardwood, but the client gets a one-and-done floor.”1

If you find an engineered hardwood floor with a thick veneer (3–6mm), you can refinish it a few times if needed.

Possibly less durability

This next disadvantage, again, can depend on the quality of the engineered wood you choose.

If it has a low-grade plywood core, it can become damaged more easily. Because plywood “is designed to perform as a big sheet,” it may not handle the stress of moisture changes when attached to hardwood. The result is delamination.2

Off-gassing of chemicals

Chemicals in beakers in a lab

New floors can off-gas chemicals into the air for the first few months after installation. Many of them, particularly those produced in China, contain formaldehyde-based adhesives.

Scientists are not settled on whether formaldehyde in flooring impacts consumers, though. They are still unsure how much these amounts contribute to health issues like cancer. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has put in place more measures to decrease the allowed emissions.3

Still, the Environmental Working Group lists engineered hardwood under the category “Use with Care.” It suggests looking for flooring that is FSC certified, low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and made with formaldehyde-free glues.

Better yet, opt for solid wooden flooring.

Hollow sounds

Some engineered wood floors can sound hollow when you walk on them. This can happen especially if the floor is fairly thin or if it’s a floating floor. Since floating floors click into place rather than being glued or nailed down, the space between the floor and subfloor can result in noise.

Sensitivity to moisture

The door of a stucco home in a dry climate, where engineered flooring can more easily be affected

In some ways, engineered hardwood is more moisture resistant and less easily affected by changes in climate. But it also faces some unique challenges that don’t affect hardwood floors.

For example, engineered flooring is more sensitive to dry climates. Roy Reichow, the founder of National Wood Floor Consultants, explains:

“If a solid wood floor experiences very dry conditions, it may show some wide gaps. But if an engineered wood floor experiences dry conditions outside the parameters defined by the manufacturer, the product may delaminate, show face-checking, split and dry-cup—all problems that require board replacement or, if the problems are throughout the floor, total replacement.”4

End-lifting is another problem that is much more common in engineered flooring than in solid flooring. End-lifting occurs when the ends of the floorboards expand and push against each other, causing them to rise up.5

One other situation is when the core and the veneer “react differently to the moisture,” resulting in different moisture content levels.6 If the conditions are too dry, the floor can experience a type of warping called dry cupping as the veneer shrinks and pulls the core material upward from the edges. This can result in delamination—the separation of the layers.7

With these concerns, you may find it easier to deal with a hardwood floor.

Why hardwood flooring may be a better option

Though engineered wood has some benefits, its disadvantages may outweigh them and make it more valuable to choose solid hardwood flooring in the long run. Take a look at the following benefits of hardwood floors:

  • More refinishing options: Solid hardwood can be refinished many times during its lifespan, meaning it’ll last much longer.
  • Durability: Like engineered flooring, it’s affected by moisture, but it won’t delaminate. Problems caused by environmental changes, such as gaps or cupping, can be repaired.
  • Eco-friendliness: You won’t have to worry about VOCs in adhesives within the floor.
  • Added value to the home: A Remodeling Impact report showed that either refinishing a hardwood floor or installing a new wood floor led to the highest cost recovery from a remodel (147% or 118%, respectively).

But we would be remiss not to mention some of the advantages of engineered wood flooring. Let’s look at those next.

When engineered flooring is a better choice

A person making marks with a pencil while installing a hardwood floor

Engineered floors can handle moisture conditions better than solid hardwood in some cases. It may have a lower price tag, even with more exotic wood species, and it’s also easy to install.

When it comes to moisture, engineered flooring has been promoted as more stable than solid hardwood. For this reason, it may be a below-grade (basement) flooring option when solid hardwood flooring wouldn’t be.

But as pointed out by Jon Namba, editorial director at Floor Covering Installer, engineered flooring is “still a wood product that is going to expand and contract” based on ambient conditions.8 It still needs the right environment, just like hardwood, though it may be a little more stable.

Another reason people choose engineered flooring is that it allows them to have floors with more expensive or exotic kinds of wood without paying the price for that type of flooring in solid wood.

Here’s where you need to be cautious, though. A lower price can also indicate lower quality. Look for a high-quality floor with a thick veneer that can be refinished if necessary.

And finally, engineered wood has floating floor options that are very easy to install. This makes them great as DIY projects.

What matters for both engineered and solid hardwood

A hardwood floor in a living room

Engineered wood and real hardwood each have their challenges and their benefits. In the end, the bigger question is: Which challenges would you prefer to deal with?

What seems like an initial saving—lower-priced engineered wood—may end up being more costly because of the need for more frequent replacements. Engineered flooring may not be as low-maintenance as you hoped.

But regardless of the type of wood flooring you choose, we do know one thing: Both are susceptible to moisture and water damage. And both will do best in the right conditions and at the right moisture content.

So, when you install your flooring, be sure to have a quality moisture meter on hand. You can check the floorboards and have confidence that you or the homeowner ends up with a floor that isn’t damaged due to your mistakes.

Bessemeter offers pinless moisture meters—a tool for effortless, damage-free moisture measurement.

[1] Hedin, Kyle, “What’s Wear Got to Do With It? Quality Engineered Hardwood Is a Value-Add,” Floor Covering Installer, April 13, 2022. []
[2] Wahlgren, Kim, “Engineered 101: Understand the Fundamentals of Engineered Wood Flooring,” Wood Floor Business, January 29, 2015.[ ]
[3] Burn, Melinda, “Educate Consumers about Formaldehyde in Engineered Flooring,” Wood Floor Business, Oct. 4, 2011; Perratore, Ed, “Breathe Easier About Your Flooring,” Consumer Reports, July 28, 2016. []
[4] Wahlgren, Kim, “Engineered 101: Understand the Fundamentals of Engineered Wood Flooring,” Wood Floor Business, January 29, 2015. []
[5] Moisture and Wood, NWFA, p. 31. []
[6] Liewen, Catherine, “Engineered Enigmas: Know These Answers to Avoid Problems,” Wood Floor Business, Nov. 29, 2011. []
[7] Moisture and Wood, p. 30. []
[8] Namba, Jon, “Solid Vs. Engineered Hardwood Floors,” Floor Covering Installer, August 1, 2020. []