When my husband and I moved into our home, we ripped up three layers of laminate flooring in search of the beautiful hardwood that filled the rest of the house. We got lucky—there it was, under layers and layers of white, faux brick, and green vinyl. Despite a few nail and staple holes, the floor was salvageable; we were thrilled and wondered why anyone would have ever covered such pretty, natural materials.
Of course styles change—at one point in time this engineered flooring seemed like a better option. And, as it turns out, the tides are changing once again. According to a recent survey by Houzz, today only 24 percent of those renovating their kitchen flooring opt for natural hardwood—a significant decline from previous years (32 percent and 30 percent in 2017 and 2018, respectively). Instead, 40 percent of homeowners want engineered flooring. This category includes engineered wood (17 percent), vinyl/resilient (12 percent), and laminate (11 percent).
Why? “Engineered floors are much easier to install and are more durable than hardwood floors,” says interior designer Neffi Walker. Installation of engineered flooring is much faster and cleaner, because the product comes ready to install and installers do not need to sand and finish the material, adds Anne Michaelsen, an interior designer in Southern California. Additionally, manufactured flooring can be easily installed onto a concrete subfloor, whereas natural wood requires a plywood base.
And when it comes to aesthetic, there’s rarely a sacrifice to be made. “Engineered surfaces, like porcelain tile, are so much more durable and can replicate the look of pretty much any material, including a whole range of wood grains and textures,” says Cecilie Starin, an interior designer in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In areas like a kitchen, a bathroom, or even the basement, engineered flooring is a particularly smart choice, because it doesn’t expand and contract as much from humidity and temperature changes, says Hagop Imasdounian, a designer for Apico Kitchens. This helps ensure the floor stays tight and flush over time.
There’s also a financial benefit to installing engineered flooring. “If someone is looking for a cost savings, engineered floors are often the better option,” says Walker.
But there is one big downside. Although pre-finished engineered floors are very durable, they do not have the long-term durability and flexibility of natural oak floors that can last 100 years and can be sanded and refinished many times, says Leslie Saul, an architect and interior designer in Massachusetts.
“Some engineered floors are better than others,” adds Saul. “Check the thickness of the top wood layer, the type of top coat protection, and the warranty. Also check whether it needs to be installed as a floating floor or whether it can be glued down—both methods have pros and cons.”