A Hardwood Floor Installation Guide for Both Engineered and Non-Engineered Wood Flooring
Patterned Bamboo Flooring
Hardwood Flooring Installation Guide
Hardwood flooring installation is not particularly difficult, but there a few tips that many will find valuable and this guide will hopefully give you the information you will need to install such flooring. Perhaps the first question is whether you want engineered or non-engineered flooring; i.e., hardwood or laminate flooring.
Technically, both terms apply to most flooring, but the difference is considerable. Hardwood flooring usually implies a plank about 3/4" thick with a tongue and groove on the sides and ends. It will need finishing when the flooring installation is complete, which can be the most difficult and time consuming part of the entire job. It also requires that each plank be nailed to the subfloor, usually with a special nailer. The nailers can be either strictly a manual operation or air assisted; the air assist, or pneumatic type is preferable. Either type are usually available for rent at home improvement stores; a good thing as the nailers are quite expensive to purchase.
Laminate, or engineered, flooring is a built up composite to form planks with a specialty tongue and groove assembly also on the sides and ends of each plank. Laminate flooring is much cheaper to purchase and the installation of the flooring is much easier with no finishing of the installed product. It is not normally re-finishable; damaged pieces must be replaced entirely, and they are not as durable as the regular hardwood floor. A floor installed with engineered hardwood flooring is not amenable to patterns as each planks must be installed just like all the other planks. See the picture for a patterned hardwood floor; this type of work is not possible with an engineered hardwood wood floor.
Preparation for Hardwood Floor Installation
Some floor preparation is necessary prior to hardwood floor installation. Old flooring material must be taken up and the sub floor thoroughly cleaned and repaired or covered with a new layer of subfloor if necessary. It is imperative that the floor be smooth and even; even a slightly protruding nail can harm or ruin your new hardwood floor. I have seen people install a hardwood floor over old linoleum or tile, but do not recommend it - take it up if at all possible but at the same time beware that if tile removal is started it must be completed. If the removal is only partially done the difference in height from where tile is left and where it is removed will not be acceptable.
An underlayment is used for both hardwood and engineered hardwood flooring, although they are different. Regular hardwood floors get a red rosin paper underlayment while the engineered hardwood floor uses a thicker plastic underlayment—make sure you are using the correct type.
Remove the baseboard from around the room; the hardwood flooring will be installed under the baseboard to cover the edges of the new floor. Care should be taken during the removal as it is usually possible to re-use the same baseboard trim. If shoe molding has been used, it is possible to remove only that, but realize that the effect on the baseboard will be that it will appear shorter by the thickness of the new floor if the flooring is not installed under it.
Door jambs can pose a problem if the jamb is not removed. Test fit a piece of flooring to see if it will fit under the jamb; most work will require the new wood flooring to be installed under a jamb somewhere. If it does not fit, the jamb can be trimmed with an ordinary hand saw after removing the baseboard, but be careful to only remove only the section necessary for the flooring. Optionally, an oscillating tool can be used; one of these makes quick work out of cutting a jamb off just a little.
Install the underlayment, tacking it down with staples. It should be placed near the wall, but it is not necessary to get the final 1/8" or 1/4" of floor covered as the flooring will not actually touch the wall in any case.
It is time for layout; perhaps the most critical phase of installing a hardwood floor so take your time and get it right. Most walls are not perfectly square with other walls, nor are they perfectly straight. Find the straightest wall in the long direction of the installed floor and measure across to the opposite wall. This measurement will not equal an even number of planks; it is normal to split the difference in the first and last planks to be equal on both sides. Example: for a room 127" wide and with planks of 7" (be sure to measure the finished size of the plank and not include the tongue) it will take 127" / 7", or 18 full planks plus a 1" plank. This is not acceptable as a piece of flooring that is 1" wide will look very strange and be very hard to work with. The solution is to use 17 full planks plus 8", or two 4" wide planks. Note that 17X7 + 4 + 4 = the 127" you need. As hardwood floors are placed 1/4" from each wall, a further deduction of 1/4" on each cut piece from 4" to 3 3/4" is necessary as well. Check that the chosen start wall is square to the adjacent walls; a small imperfection is easily taken care of by the 1/4" gap between the flooring and the wall, but larger angles may require an angled end to be cut into the flooring. I like to snap a chalk line on the floor to install that first piece against the wall; even with a crooked wall the new hardwood floor will look good.
Installing Your Hardwood Flooring
Regardless of which type of hardwood flooring you have chosen to install, the first piece is critical and will determine the placement of all of the rest of the floor, so again take some time and get that first row right. Start by checking the length of the boards against the length of the room - similar to the width measurements done above you don't want just a very short length of planking against the far wall and the length of the first one may have to be cut down. Try to keep both ends to about 1/3 or more of a full plank length. If you are using an engineered hardwood floor test fit a couple of pieces together as described below; you will want to find the easiest way to "bend" the pieces together and orient this first row so that subsequent rows are easy to install. The photo shown of an engineered plank shows a tongue arrangement on each side and the tongue on the wall side will need to be cut off. I used a miter saw for cutting length measurements, but a circular saw will work quite well as the ends will normally be hidden and a slight imperfection in cut will not be visible.
The first row is put into place and the regular hardwood flooring is nailed down, usually by face nailing as most flooring nailers will not get close enough to the wall to do the job. Do not nail engineered hardwood flooring - it is intended to float free on the floor. This can cause a problem as the installed flooring will tend to move about while installing the next few rows. Precisely cut shims between the plank and the wall, or even tacking down the first row with tacks to be removed later can help here. If you use tacks, be sure to place them so that the baseboard trim will cover the holes left when they are removed. Be sure on both types of hardwood flooring to leave 1/4" between the plank and the wall.
Regular hardwood flooring is installed using the flooring nailer and while this tool helps a great deal to eliminate gaps between planks individual planks should nevertheless be placed tight to the previous plank before nailing; a scrap board with the proper tongue or groove will help considerably here and can be used to tap the next plank into place. A rubber hammer is also useful and can be used in place of the scrap board or in conjunction with it.
Engineered hardwood flooring is installed by placing the tongue into the groove while holding the new plank at an angle, and then "bending" it down, thus snapping the tongue into the groove. Again, a small piece of scrap wood is useful to tap the new board lengthwise into the prior plank. Alternatively, an entire row of planks may be assembled end to end and then the entire row placed into the preceding row at one time - I have never found this procedure to work very well, but others may, and the type of tongue and groove may facilitate this method on some flooring.
After the first row is installed succeeding rows need to be staggered; you don't want the end joints to line up across the floor. A good rule of thumb is that the initial board in the second row is to have the first (and make sure it is the first not the last) 1/3 of the plank removed. The piece cut off can usually be used on the far end, helping to minimize scrap. The third row will have the first 2/3 of the plank cut off, and on the fourth row you are back to a full plank for the starting board.
The final row or two is always difficult, particularly on regular hardwood flooring as the nailer won't fit against the wall and face nailing is again necessary. Engineered hardwood flooring has a similar problem, especially with the very last piece. About all I can tell you here is to work with it and don't get frustrated; it will fit even though it may take a few minutes to work it into place.
A Variety of Trim StylesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Installing the Trim
The end is in sight; only the trim, and on regular hardwood flooring the finishing, is left. Trim can be a wide variety of materials and methods. Most walls have baseboard, and possibly shoe molding, on them. Other areas can have a metal trim or custom wood trim to match the hardwood flooring and that provides a transfer between your hardwood flooring and adjacent carpet or tile. One of the pictures shows no trim at all for an adjacent carpet; instead the carpet is tucked into the groove of the hardwood flooring with the nap of the carpet remaining as high as or even higher than the hardwood flooring. Almost anything is possible; use your imagination and create something different.
One final note - around 10 years ago I installed hardwood flooring in a bathroom. It is the engineered hardwood flooring and I was very concerned that water and natural humidity would damage it, but that hasn't happened. I take care to immediately wipe up the inevitable bathing spills and after 10 years the hardwood flooring shows no deterioration. I left no trim molding at the bathtub (see photo) while placing the flooring almost touching it; the individual planks are installed perpendicular to the normal pattern which makes them quite short and with little shrinkage and expansion against the tub. The photo of the hardwood flooring installed in an RV also has the planking running the "wrong" direction as the "walls" were extremely uneven and required custom cuts on nearly every board. There are no absolutes in your design - pick what you want, and your own home remodel can be beautiful.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
I'm having a horrible time getting old glue up. Does it have to be removed?
if you use rather thick underlayment and the glue is pretty level without humps in it it should be fine. Or you could sand any protrusions down.
Can you split a piece of wood vertically and how do you do it?
If you're asking if the plank can be made to be half as thick, I suppose it would be possible by either using a large bandsaw or even simply sanding the back side until it is the thickness you desire. But just any tongue and groove will not work anymore.
© 2010 Dan Harmon