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What Is Engineered Wood?


Oct 05, 2020 by Lena Katz

Like many construction materials, engineered wood is a midpriced, more all-purpose substitute for an expensive natural resource -- in this case, hardwood. Engineered wood is still wood, which means it can not only pass for the more expensive material but shares many of the same qualities. And it's usually quite easy to find (unlike lumber these days).

In fact, if you're redoing your flooring or cabinets or even buying new furniture in your renovations, you'll likely consider engineered wood as a substitute for hardwood. And in some situations, it's the better choice.

So what is engineered wood?

Engineered wood is composed of "derivative wood product" layers bonded together, with a hardwood top layer. The middle layers are crisscrossed for greater stability. Building material companies refer to the composite as a "sandwich" because if you look at a side view, the different layers look like bread and filling. The top layer, the only one visible in a finished project, looks like whatever type of hardwood the veneer is made from.

Common uses for engineered wood

Engineered wood is used for flooring, as well as siding and roof construction. Certain types can be used for beams and joists. Engineered wood is also often used to make furniture. In pretty much all midpriced wood furniture, if you look closely, the piece is made of engineered wood, not solid hardwood.

Price of engineered wood vs. hardwood

Solid hardwood varies greatly in per-square-foot price, depending what type of hardwood it is. According to HomeAdvisor (NASDAQ: ANGI), maple hardwood begins at $6.50 per square foot, while white ash starts at $9 per square foot and red oak ranges from $8-15.

Engineered wood, on the other hand, is priced according to its thickness, so a composite/engineered wood might cost from $4.50 to $16 per square foot, depending on thickness of the veneer, number of layers underneath, and the rarity of the top layer.

Worth noting if you're price shopping: Wide-plank wood flooring often costs less than or equal to engineered wood, while wood-look tile -- which isn't even wood at all -- is up to three times more expensive.

Benefits of engineered wood

Beyond the lower price and variety of different wood types, other benefits of engineered wood include the moisture-resistant properties of the many crisscrossed, bonded layers and the versatility of where it can be installed. In particular, builders appreciate that engineered wood can be laid directly over concrete subflooring, whereas if installing hardwood over concrete flooring, you'll still need to install a layer of composite wood to begin.

Types of engineered wood

Most of the wood materials on the market that aren't hardwood are some type of engineered wood. These include:

  • Plywood.
  • MDF.
  • Strand board.
  • Particleboard.
  • Glulam.
  • Laminated veneer lumber.
  • Fiberboard.
  • Cross-laminated timber.

The bottom line

While the word "engineered" may trigger negative connotations among those who strive to be extremely environmentally conscious, traditional, or high-end, the fact is it's both expedient and more sustainable to use engineered wood for some parts of construction. After all, many of the inner layers are made from wood scraps put to use as a composite wood instead of discarded as waste. This type of wood is also easier and quicker to come by than hardwood, especially in a lumber shortage.

So whether you're using it because it's cost-effective, conscientious, or unavoidable, assume engineered wood will make its way on to your construction site many times in the foreseeable future.

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Lena Katz has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.