Whether you’re building your retirement home or you’re simply renovating your old mansion to give it a new look, one area of concern you can’t afford to shy away from is the type of flooring you’ll need. At a glance, this topic doesn’t seem to create debate as there are myriad options available. But, if you take a closer look, you’ll realize that a floor isn’t just a floor. You need a floor that will make a statement and above all, a floor that’s sleek, durable, breathable, and dynamic enough to blend with your home’s interior acoustics. For this reason, a hardwood floor is a perfect option you can ever rely on. But, there’s one huge preposition you need to think of; do you know how to install hardwood floors?
You see, the reason why I’ve asked this question is because most homeowners love the idea of installing hardwood floors to enjoy its myriad benefits. Unfortunately, one look at the cost of installing hardwood flooring professionally scares them away forcing them to drop this option right at the bottom of their home improvement wish lists. What they don’t realize actually is that this dream can be made a reality if you can consider taking the DIY route.
How to Install Hardwood Floors: Step by Step Guide
If you’re tired of having regular floors that can’t keep up with the test of nature, then a hardwood floor is the way to go. Since the installation prices demanded by professionals are likely to ruin your home improvement dreams, this guide has come to encourage you to take the gun into your own hands by offering a detailed step-by-step procedure on how to install hardwood floors.
But, before we begin, I would like to highlight some warm-up steps you’ll need to follow during your initial preparation. These steps will help you distinguish the different types of hardwood floors including the patterns and the plank width. Please read on to learn more.
How Do You Choose Hardwood Flooring?
Since you’ve chosen to take the DIY route, there are a couple of factors you need to familiarize yourself with before you commence the project. These factors are key throughout the project and can affect the overall outcome of your flooring if you fail to follow them keenly.
- Solid vs. Engineered Flooring
When choosing hardwood flooring, you’ll always come across two major options which are solid flooring and engineered flooring. Solid flooring on its side is quite expensive and has a thickness of around ¾ inches. This type of flooring comes in the form of planks that are quite easy to install. Since these planks are thick, sanding this type of flooring at least once in a while is perfectly allowed as you won’t damage the planks.
On the other hand, there’s engineered flooring. While solid wood comprises a block of natural wood, engineered flooring comes in the form of layered wood and plywood combined to form a thin sheet of plank. This type of flooring can come at varying prices depending on how creative the manufacturer is in designing the planks.
Some planks have quality core layers sandwiched together while others have a laminated top to block moisture away. These floorings are easy to install though sanding them is not recommended.
- Prefinished vs. Site Finished Planks
The second choice you’ll need to make is to decide whether you’ll go for prefinished or site finished wood planks. Again, there are pros and cons of choosing either of these hardwood planks. However, since you’ll be installing the floor by yourself, you need to take the route that you’re confident will favor your level of experience without costing you a lot.
In most cases, the prefinished route tends to favor most DIYers as the planks arrive when they’re already laminated. Therefore, all you need to do is to pick your favorite patterns, texture, and color palette which you’re confident will complement your interior décor. Besides, prefinished planks take the least time to install as you won’t need to apply any color or sealant.
On the other hand, site finished planks have their own distinctive benefits that seem to favor a particular class of designers and homeowners. For instance, if you’re planning to customize your flooring with something a bit more unique, then site-finished planks will offer you that freedom as they’re not laminated.
Secondly, site finished planks tend to be smoother as the floor has to be sanded when the installation process is done. When you’re through, you have to apply the polish to customize it depending on your home improvement dream.
- Oil vs. Polyurethane Polish
Other than the wood, another important consideration you need to think of is the type of finish you’ll be applying on your floor. Although there are myriad options available, these finishes melt down to two main categories which are oil and polyurethane polish.
Now, if you consider an oil finish, this one will cost you less. Another benefit of oil is its low density which means it will penetrate deep into the wood giving it a soft, matte, and natural appeal. However, its low density means that oil is more impervious to stains, scratches, and other damages. The good thing about it, however, is that these scratches will be less noticeable and it will be much easier to top up the finish on a spot-by-spot basis.
On the other hand, there’s polyurethane. Since it has a high density, polyurethane creates a thick and hard top coat on top of your flooring that’s resistant to wear and tear. It also doesn’t scratch easily making it a perfect option for homeowners with kids and pets. Although oil is easy to apply, the fact that it has a low density means that you’ll need to service it more regularly. With polyurethane, you don’t have to conduct regular maintenance.
- Wood Grain Patterns
Before I discuss the grain patterns, you first need to consider the type of wood you’ll be working with. For instance, if you live in North America, you can consider planks made of Oak, Walnut, Ash, Maple, Cherry, and Hockey. The reason why it’s best to work with what’s available locally is to avoid spending a lot of money.
About the grain patterns, there are three main variations available. These are the plain-sawn, quarter-sawn, and rift-sawn. Plain-sawn produces undulating patterns that are commonly known as cathedrals. Rift-sawn planks feature long consistent grains while quarter-sawn planks feature linear grains just like rift-sawn only that they have additional irregular figuring that resemble 3D rays.
So, depending on the type of flooring design you wish to achieve, you can choose any of these grain patterns.
- The Planks’ Width
The last factor you’ll need to consider before you get started is to determine the width of the planks you’ll be working with. Now, this is a very important consideration that can have a direct impact on;
- The time you’ll take to install the planks.
- The amount of money you’ll spend.
- And the level of difficulty of the entire project.
For instance, if you’re installing the flooring on a standard room, then you should choose planks that measure around 4-5 inches. On the other hand, if you’re installing the flooring on a more expansive room, then picking much wider planks from 6-7 inches will be good. However, you need to understand that wider planks are usually more expensive than thinner planks.
Now that we’ve discussed some important factors you’ll need to peruse through before you can get started, our next part is to commence the installation process.
Gather Your Tools
- An ordinary hammer
- Electric chop saw
- Framing square
- Pry bar
- Measuring tape
- Flooring nailer
- Wood to concrete glue
- Moisture meter
Part One: Prepare Your Working Area
The first step you need to take before you install your new flooring is to remove any item that isn’t nailed on the floor. This includes furniture, decorations, and hanging pictures to prevent them from collecting dust during the process.
Step 1: Remove the Existing Flooring
When installing your floor, you need to note that the subfloor is the foundation of your new flooring. Therefore, before anything else, you need to consider the type of subfloor you’re working on to avoid ruining your new flooring.
If the subfloor is a carpet, then you have to remove it entirely. If the subfloor is an existing sheet of vinyl, ceramic tiles, or marble, then you can opt to lay your hardwood flooring on top of it provided it doesn’t raise the height too far that it will make it impossible to open or close the doors.
If the height is likely to compromise the doors or the ceiling, then you have to remove a few layers of the subfloor to lower the floor. If that’s the case, then you need to make sure that the final subfloor you’ll be working on is flat without any holes, bumps, or rough texture.
Step 2: Bring in the Materials
Once you’ve repaired any damages on the subfloor, the next step is to bring in the flooring materials. I’ve already discussed how you’re supposed to choose the right planks so I won’t talk about that again. Always remember to measure the floor to determine the amount of materials you’ll need to buy. You can do this by multiplying the length and width of your floor then add about 10% to that figure to compensate for warped or flawed planks.
When the boards are delivered, remove them from the delivery boxes and spread them across the floor. This is a very crucial step that will allow the wooden boards to acclimate to room temperature and humidity. Acclimationwill allow the wooden boards to dry any residual moisture preventing them from bulging upwards or creating gaps on the floor later after installation. Leave the boards to settle for a minimum of 72 hours.
Step 3: Map the Floor
Since the installation process is quite complex, you need a strategy that will help you all the way through. This is how you can plan your progress.
First, pick a measuring tape and measure the floor to determine the center. You can use chalk to mark the subfloor to simulate how the wooden boards will join together. When marking the floor, remember to leave a small gap (about 12mm) on the perimeter of the wall to serve as the expansion gap. Since hardwood tends to expand and contract in response to temperature changes, this will help to prevent the floor from bulging or creating gaps later in the future.
Next, you need to determine the number of full flooring planks (boards) you’ll be using. To do this, simply measure the length of the subfloor then divide the figure with the width of one single board. This will tell you the number of full boards you’ll be using. In case there’s any extra space left, divide it by two to determine the proper width of the first and last planks.
To help you understand better, imagine your floor is 12 ft. wide after you’ve subtracted the expansion gaps. This means that if your planks are 5 inches wide, then you’ll have (12 ft. ÷ 5 inches = 28 planks). Since there will be 4 inches more to spare, dividing it by 2 means that both the first and last planks should be 2 inches wide.
Part Two: Installing the Flooring Planks
Now that everything is well prepared, this part will now focus on installing the flooring. To make this guide an insightful one to all DIYers, I’ll discuss three installation methods that most professionals use depending on the hardwood planks they’re installing and the type of subfloor they’ve got. These are the floating, nail-down, and glue installation methods.
If you’re installing flooring planks for the first time, this is the simplest method you can consider. It’s usually the best for installing engineered hardwood floorings as it doesn’t involve nailing the planks to the subfloor.
- Step One: Start by placing spacers between the first row and the wall to maintain the expansion gap. If you’re using the tongue and groove planks, then you can go ahead to apply glue on the groove side then link it with the tongue side for them to flash together.
- Step Two: Once each row is complete, pick a mallet and use it to hit a piece of scrap wood against the newly installed row. By gently hitting the scrap wood, the glue between the pieces will settle and allow the planks to hold tightly against each other.
- Step Three: Continue to lock and glue the pieces together until you get near a permanent obstacle. In such a situation, you’ll need to cut the hardwood planks to fit around the obstacle. Remember to maintain the expansion gap.
- Step Four: When you get to the final row, you will need to first measure the distance between the second last row and the wall. With this measurement, pick a new plank and mark this measurement. Trace a line using a pencil and use an electric saw to cut the plank along the grid. Use a hammer to lock the last row into place and don’t forget to maintain the expansion gap.
- Step Five: Once you’re through, restore the baseboard so that it flushes with the top of the wooden planks on the last row and against the wall.
Nail Down Method
The next method is the staple or the nail-down method. While the previous floating method is specifically intended for engineered hardwood flooring, this one is perfect for both engineered and solid hardwood flooring. Here’s how the process goes.
- Step One: As usual, use your spacers to maintain the expansion gap. Next, start face nailing the wooden planks about ½ an inch from the edges while maintaining a spacing of 6 inches apart.
- Step Two: When you’re done, use an air nailer to blind nail the head of each nail. This will allow you to create a countersink on each nail head so that it rests evenly beneath the surface of the planks. The reason for countersinking the nails’ heads is to prevent them from interfering with the grooves when connecting the rest of the planks.
- Step Three: To make the project move a bit faster, you can use a nailer or a stapler from the third row moving forward. Here, you only need to line up the planks’ grooves and tongue then hit the trigger as you move forward.
- Step Four: As you get close to the wall, you’ll need to use a pry bar instead of a pneumatic stapler as there’s no more space available. So, as usual, measure the distance from the wall to the plank then cut the last piece using an electric saw. Fit the last row using a pry bar then hand nail it just as you did at the beginning. Don’t forget to countersink the nails’ heads and also, don’t forget to maintain the expansion gap.
The Glue Method
The glue method is recommended when you’re working on a concrete subfloor to install engineered hardwood planks.
- Step One: Begin by scrubbing or vacuuming the floor thoroughly to remove any debris or impurities that may prevent the glue from sticking.
- Step Two: Next, apply the glue a little at a time enough to complete one row. Place your hardwood planks on the glued subfloor then use a mallet to hit them gently. Continue setting the planks one after the other while hitting them gently to ensure that they lock against each other while still being attached to the floor.
- Step Three: Just like in our previous methods, ensure that you maintain the expansion gap at any cost. When you get to the last row, measure the remaining distance, and subtract the expansion gap. Cut a new board and fit it in the remaining gap. Once you’re through, restore the baseboard and ensure that it sits flush on the new floor and against the wall.
Part Three: Doing the Finishing Touches
Now that you’re through with the project, the final part is to conduct the final touches. If you’re dealing with solid hardwood flooring, sanding the floor can help to smoothen it and remove any imperfections that might be present on the surface. If you’re dealing with engineered hardwood flooring, then sanding can be tricky as the planks consist of a layer of wood sandwiched on top of a plywood core.
Once you’ve sanded the surface, reinstall the baseboards then install molding to cover the expansion gaps. Next, fill the nail holes with some wood putty to give the floor a professional finish. Allow the floor to dry up for 24 hours before applying your favorite polish which can either be oil-based or polyurethane-based.
There you have it. In case you’re struggling to gather reliable information on how to install hardwood floors, then this insightful guide has offered you everything you need to know from the very start to the end. As you can see, installing hardwood flooring isn’t a complex endeavor. What makes it sound difficult are the multiple steps you must follow to avoid making major errors.
Since the slightest of errors can also be costly, I would recommend you to work at your own pace and convenience to avoid them at any cost. Also, make sure that you prepare your working area perfectly such as cleaning the subfloor. Lastly, choose a method that will be convenient for you depending on your level of experience and the type of hardwood flooring you’ll be installing.