Engineered wood is the overall term used to describe any natural lumber product that has been manufactured by gluing together stands or veneers to create composite materials. Veneer is a composite material that has been layered, and pressboard is one that has been chipped and assembled. Hardwood and softwood scraps and wood waste of lumber mills are reclaimed and used for the purpose of engineered flooring.
A less expensive alternative to solid wood, engineered flooring has become the most common type of wood flooring used in the world. The exception to this, at least for now, is North America: it's the only part of the world that still has a larger solid wood market, although this fact is expected to change as engineered wood becomes even more popular. One of the greatest advantages of engineered wood is its competitive pricing at just $4 and $10 a square foot.
Engineered wood floors are not to be confused with laminate, vinyl, or veneer floors. Laminate uses an image of wood -- not real wood -- as its top layer which is glued over particleboard. Vinyl is a plastic product manufactured in tiles or large sheets to look like wood, though no real wood is involved. Veneer, on the other hand, is a real wood but very thinly shaved and glued onto fiberboard. Laminates and veneers cannot be sanded because the covering is too thin, and there is also a risk of peeling from moisture, inappropriate cleaning products, or wear and tear.
Engineered wood uses a similar process as laminate and veneer in that a supporting board gives the plank stability but that is where the similarities end. Engineered wood uses a thicker layer of real wood -- softwood or hardwood -- which can be sanded and refinished over the years as needed.
Engineered wood flooring has a number of advantages over solid wood including lower costs due, in part, to the use of less expensive lumbers from smaller diameter trees. Wood that could not be used in solid lumber because of aesthetical defects -- holes, knots, discoloration, and cracks -- can be chipped and used in engineered wood especially for particle and fiber-based boards.
An important disadvantage of engineered wood flooring is that it is more susceptible to warping due to moisture or humidity. This is especially true of engineered wood made of particle- or fiberboard as these can absorb a lot of water unless well treated with a sealant.
As engineered wood uses wood scraps, it is considered an environmentally-friendly product -- but only to a point. The types of chemical resins used in engineered wood include urea-formaldehyde, phenol-formaldehyde, melamine-formaldehyde, methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, and polyurethane (PU) -- all of which can have a detrimental effect on the environment and may release chemical fumes in the home. Engineered wood also requires more primary energy in the manufacturing process than solid lumber.