First a few definitions:
Hardwood Flooring commonly refers to ¾ inch thick, tongue and groove solid wood planks. Most hard wood floors are installed by nailing through the tongue side of the planks into the sub floor. The nail is then concealed by the groove side of the next plank.
Engineered flooring is made of several layers of material. The substrate is either MDF (medium density fiberboard) or plywood with a top layer of real hardwood. These floors come in snap-together floating varieties (see definition below), as well as glue or nail-down tongue and groove types.
The quality of engineered flooring varies widely. Some have a very thin hardwood layer which can easily be damaged beyond repair. Others have a durable hardwood layer thick enough to refinish once or maybe twice.
Floating floors are floor systems that do not get fastened to the sub floor. With these systems a mat is rolled out and the flooring planks are set on top, fastened only to adjacent planks using a snap together or a glue together system. One Draw back to a floating floor is that if It gets wet, the water will soak through to the mat and spread over a wide area. There are advantages to the mat if you are trying to reduce sound transfer between floors.
Where engineered wood is suitable: The only time I would install an engineered floor for a customer is if they were dead set on having wood over a concrete slab, such as in a basement or a converted garage.
Pricing: If you’re having a professional install your floor, the price is going to be about the same whether you choose an engineered or solid hardwood floor. With the engineered floor the labor is less, but the product is more. With solid hardwood it’s the other way around. Since retailers get a bigger piece of the pie on the engineered floors, sometimes it seems that they’re inclined to push engineered wood over solid hardwood, even when it’s not the best choice for your project. Many floor shops don’t carry unfinished solid hardwood, so they will most likely present the advantages of what they sell. This is often the case even if solid hardwood flooring provides a higher quality for the cost.
For the DIYer: If a homeowner wants to save some money by installing their own floor and a floating system is all they feel comfortable installing, an engineered floor could be an acceptable solution. However, in this situation I would encourage the homeowner to stretch their comfort zone a little and consider renting a floor nailer and installing a pre-finished solid hardwood floor. This would save them from having to sand and finish the floor, which is what intimidates some DIYers when it comes to installing hardwood. When a pre-finished floor gets dinged up and scratched it can be sanded and refinished like any other solid hardwood floor. The drawback to a pre-finished floor is that the gaps between the boards do not get sealed and the floor does not turn out as smooth and even as it does if you sand it in place. This same drawback exists with engineered floors as well.
Consider hiring a consultant. If you’re installing a floor on your own and haven’t done so before, hiring someone for an hour or two could save you from some costly mistakes and improve the end result and the efficiency of the project. I was called in once to repair a botched homeowner job. In the end the bill was almost as much as it would have been for me to install the floor in the first place. Not only that, but there were a couple of quality issues that could not be remedied. It’s far easier to install a product right from the beginning, than it is to fix a problem later.
In closing: With all of the options out there for flooring today it can be a daunting task to make your selection. Before settling on your final decision, I always recommend checking with a trusted professional installer. Most of the time someone who works in the field is going to have a better and less biased grasp on how the products perform than a retailer. Besides it never hurts to get a second opinion.
Good luck with your home project.