Getting the Look
Hardwood floors lend warmth and natural color to your rooms. Prefinished hardwood planks are available in oak, ash, maple and other hardwood species. They come prestained and with your choice of high gloss, satin or rubbed wood finish. Alternately, you can install unfinished planks and stain them for a custom look.
Engineered flooring is always prefinished, but you have a wide array of colors, wood grain patterns and topcoat finishes to choose from. Whereas you may find grain disparities in natural wood planks, since the wood comes from different trees, an engineered floor maintains a uniform look from plank to plank.
Paying the Price
Quality and demand play a role when comparing the cost of nail-down hardwood to floating engineered planks. Expect to pay the most for exotic or select prefinished hardwoods, such as cherry, Brazilian walnut and teakwood. If you want the feel of an exotic hardwood without the high price tag, choosing the engineered version will give you the look for less.
Unfinished hardwood planks are less expensive, but factor in the cost of buying wood stain and wood finish plus the tools and supplies required to apply them.
Engineered flooring runs the gamut in price, and quality is the determining factor. In addition to buying the planks, you'll have to purchase a cushioning underlayment on which the engineered flooring rests. Some planks come with the cushioning layer attached to the bottom of the board, and this feature increases the cost of the product.
The cost of labor for professional installation may be cheaper for an engineered floor since the installation process is usually quicker than required to install hardwood, which requires nailing.
Installing the Floor
While both types of flooring planks install with basic tongue-and-groove assembly, you'll insert nails through the tongue of the hardwood planks, securing them to the subfloor or the joists beneath. You can drive the nails by hand, but installation goes much quicker if you use a flooring nailer that shoots a headless nail into the tongue at a predetermined angle.
A floating floor does just that -- it floats. Held in place only by a deep tongue-and-groove system, you will not nail or glue the floor down anywhere. You will leave a 1/4-inch gap around the edges of the floor for expansion. Baseboard covers this gap. A mallet and special rubber blocks allow you to tap the planks tightly together without damaging their edges.
Remodelers may prefer engineered flooring, which is typically thinner, at about 3/8-inch thickness, as compared to hardwood that averages 3/4-inch thickness. The thinner engineered planks do not raise the floor level as much, reducing the need to cut off the bottoms of doors, which may rub on a higher floor surface.
Durability and Repair
A hardwood floor, when cared for, can last for decades or even longer. When the floor finish dulls, you can refinish the wood for a fresh new look. If a few planks suffer damage, you can replace, stain and finish the boards to match the rest of the floor.
Like a wood floor, the surface coat on an engineered floor will eventually dull, but you can't refinish the floor because it isn't solid wood. You can't sand away the surface without revealing the fibrous laminated layers beneath.