Many people assume that engineered wood is cheaper than solid wood flooring, but that's not necessarily the case.
Only entry-level engineered wood products are less expensive than solid wood. The prices of engineed bamboo flooring are similar to those of bamboo flooring; the prices of eucalyptus engineered flooring are very similar to solid eucalyptus flooring, the prices of white oak engineered flooring are very similar to those of solid oak flooring, and so on.
Why then buy engineered wood instead of natural wood... you may ask?
Well... engineered wood isn't exactly an imitation of solid wood, with a picture of it at the top, as laminate flooring. That’s a bit different. And it has advantages of its own.
Engineered Flooring Layers
Engineered wood flooring involves a layer - typically 1/12" to 1/4" (2 mm - 6 mm) thick - of true hardwood and a core of several layers of plywood, or more exactly, thin sheets of wood glued together much like plywood (they amount to around 80% of the plank, or more).
Ok, you may say... It’s not exactly an imitation of wood, but what’s the point? What’s the advantage of engineered wood over solid hardwood flooring, if there isn't a significant difference in price?
Engineered bamboo floring vs. solid oak, bamboo, mahogany, hard maple, black cherry, Eucalyptus
There are many types of engineered hardwood flooring - as many as the types of wood. You can buy engineered oak flooring, engineered bamboo flooring, engineered eucalyptus flooring, hard maple hardwood flooring, and so on. You will have in each case a top layer of real oak, bamboo, eucalyptus, hard maple (say a quarter-inch-thick layer) and a core made from glued plywood, sawdust, wood scraps or other vegetal fibers.
Obviously, that't important to take into account the hardness of that wood. It doesn't make sense to consider Douglas Fir or Yellow Pine engineeed wood (these woods are too soft). It only makes sense to consider engineered hardwoods such as black cherry, eucalyptus, read oak, bamboo, ash, white oak, mahogany, hard maple...
In other words: be aware to the type of hardwood used in making the top layer of the engineeered flooring (hardwoods are not all equal; they hardness varies a lot). And also do not forget that the quality of any type wood can vary significantly: there are softer species, manufacturers may use dangerous chemicals (VOC's and formaldehyde), and so on.
The advantages of engineered flooring
There is a big advantage. Engineered wood flooring is structurally stable - a lot more than wood. In other words: it will not warp or budge like solid wood; natural wood flooring is more prone to problems.
Obviously, the fact that engineered flooring has only a top layer of solid wood has also disadvantages; engineered wood flooring is not as resistant to deep scratches - a drawback that should be taken into account.
It's true that engineered wood flooring is not as deep scratch-resistant as wood, and that is its big problem. But the idea that the thin sheets of wood at the core of engineered flooring makes it less strong or stable is largely unfounded. Quality engineered wood is a strong, stable and long-lasting product, far more resistant to moisture than solid wood. Engineered wood flooring offers higher dimensional strength...
Choosing a good engineered wood
If shopping for engineered wood, select a product with a well designed core and a thick enough top layer. Quality engineered woods can be sanded up to 3 times (many hardwood floors can be sanded up to 7 times).
That’s the top layer that determines the appearance and the wear-resistance of the flooring and makes re-sanding possible - hence the importance of selecting an engineered flooring with a thick top layer.
Also prefer engineered wood with a strong core (with three, four of five layers of cross-stacked substrate), and pay attention to the strip vs. panel issue. Tongue-and-groove engineered wood strips are stapled or glued to the subfloor, while long-plank panels are intended for “floating” installation, over concrete or below grade, with the boards glued to each other.
Consider, certifications by the FSE (Forest Stewardship Council) and the SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative), for wood coming from responsibly managed forests (check the package). Also look for certified engineered wood products and manufacturers.
Comparing engineered and hardwood flooring
Adding resale value to the house: very similar.
Durability: properly maintained engineered wood can last many decades, but hardwood products can last even longer (they can be sanded and fineshed a higher number of times).
Cost: very similar, for the same type of wood.
Use in kitchens, bathrooms: engineered woods are more water resistant, but it isn't advisable to use wood or engineered wood products in kitchens or bathrooms.
Damage from pets and children: it varies with the type of hardwood.
Manufacturers and brands: Bruce, Mohawk or Shaw are popular brands sold at Lowe's or Home Depot; Armstrong, Mannington and Tarkett are very large global corporations selling all types of flooring; Millstead, Home Legend, Tecsun, Mullican Flooring, Style Selections are also important engineered wood brands.
Engineered vs. Hardwood Flooring Quality and Prices
As mentioned earlier, choosing an engineered flooring instead of a solid wood flooring doesn't mean that you will save money. Laminate flooring yes, will save you a lot of money, but engineered flooring may not save you much.
Expect prices of about $5-$10 per square feet installed (quality engineered wood products). That's less than many solid wood flooring (prices up to $15 or more), but not less than the average solid wood.The hardwood layer of engineered wood comes in a wide variety of woods: red oak, white oak, maple, ash, bamboo, etc. The top layer involves also a finish, incorporating several coats of lacquer or oil.
Engineered wood flooring is sometimes cheaper because of smaller installation constraints in slab construction or in renovation projects where the flooring is installed directly over existing floors.
You can install engineered wood flooring directly over the cement, which you shouldn't with solid wood. You can also, in some cases, install engineered wood directly over existing floors, due to its smaller thickness, which is rarely possible with solid wood. And this is also a way of saving money.