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A Hardwood Floor Installation Guide for Both Engineered and Non-Engineered Wood Flooring

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Patterned Bamboo Flooring

A DIY hardwood flooring project that you can do as well.

A DIY hardwood flooring project that you can do as well.

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 is usually available for rent at home improvement stores; a good thing as the nailers are quite expensive to purchase.

If Engineered Flooring is Damaged It Must be Replaced

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 plank 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 subfloor thoroughly cleaned and repaired or covered with a new layer of subfloor if necessary.

It is imperative that the floor be smooth and 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.

Underlayment Prep

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.

Using a Test Piece of Wood for Fitting Can Save Time

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 the floor covered as the flooring will not actually touch the wall in any case.


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.


Make sure the proper side is up—it is clearly marked.

Make sure the proper side is up—it is clearly marked.

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.

The First Piece You Lay Will Most Likely Determine the Entire Floor Plan

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 the cut will not be visible.

Do Not Nail Engineered Flooring

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. 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 Can be Nailed

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.

You Don't Want the End Joints to Line Up Across the Floor

After the first row is installed succeeding rows need to be staggered. 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.

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 in 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

Question: I'm having a horrible time getting old glue up. Does it have to be removed?

Answer: 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.

Question: Can you split a piece of wood vertically and how do you do it?

Answer: 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


Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 27, 2015:

Bending would depend on the wood, construction and most of all, the thickness. Most should bend at least a couple of inches over 4 feet; not nearly so much over a dip a foot across.

Engineered would should never be stapled as it must be able to expand and contract. It is laid to be free floating.

davis on October 27, 2015:

how much does engineered floor can bend if the sub floor is not perfectly even or level? i have some dips and humps all over it would be almost imposible to get it perfect... also i was told that engineered floor can be staple down ,,,

Judy Specht from California on October 19, 2013:

Every time I walk down the hall I cringe at the awful carpet. We have been considering hardwood, but we are on slab. The top photo is amazing.

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on October 04, 2012:

You go into such helpful detail and save anyone who hasn't done this work before the hassle of trail and error. Top job. Voting.

Judi Brown from UK on October 04, 2012:

We have hardwood flooring downstairs that has been sanded down - I much prefer it to carpet because of the dog - far easier to keep clean! Love your lead photo - it looks great.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on October 04, 2012:

We have oak hardwood flooring that we are going to try and sand down as the floor/house is pretty old. We did do one section a few years back and it turned out nice. But if the sanding takes the floor down too much we will have to put down new hardwood.

Natasha from Hawaii on October 04, 2012:

That floor is so beautiful! I love wood floors, even though a soft pine floor attacked me as a child.

Denise Mai from Idaho on October 04, 2012:

We have actually installed hardwood in one of our houses. It wasn't that hard and looked beautiful. Of course, it would had been easier if we had a nifty online tutorial like this. Good, accurate instructions. I'm sharing this one with my followers. The biggest cost of wood floors is the installation and knowing how to do it yourself saves BIG bucks!

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 29, 2012:

Yes, that's correct. A simple bead of silicone caulking to keep any water from getting to the center portion of the flooring. What water leaves the tub area from showering is wiped up from the floor on exiting the tub, but if water was allowed to enter the "crack" between wood and tub it would remain there, soaking into the wood flooring, until eventually evaporating and that cannot be allowed.

willijoh on January 29, 2012:

That bathroom looks like a very similar layout to mine and I was thinking of putting down a floating cork floor. Did you just caulk where the wood meets the side of the tub?

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 29, 2012:

Thanks. I'm in the process now of helping my son lay some engineered wood flooring in his "new" home. He made a great choice of flooring style and color; I can't wait to see the finished product.

catalonia from Barcelona Spain on January 29, 2012:

nicely written, great choice of flooring.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 01, 2011:

It would be impossible to give a price for flooring. It might be 25 cents per square foot for a small floor using materials picked up at a yard sale to $25 per square foot for high dollar flooring.

bahaw123 on October 31, 2011:

Very well and informative blog you have share,I have one main question you may say a big question How much does it cost to install hardwood floors?,can anybody help me to find that...

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on July 01, 2011:

Yes, that bamboo floor turned out very nice. I'm not quite so satisfied after several years - it is a relatively soft wood and has many small dents in it. It might have worked better if not under a dining table with table and chair legs moving around on it.

San Francisco water damage on July 01, 2011:

Hi Wilderness, this is a very nice hub. I really like the photo above showing a finished bamboo wood floor - it looks amazing. We're buying a house in a few weeks and it has carpeting throughout that needs to be replaced. We were tossing up between tile and hardwood, and now the choice is clear to me. Now I just need to convince the wife :)

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on May 09, 2011:

Absolutely. As long as the hardwood flooring has not been damaged clean up is a snap, and is cleaner than using a vacuum on carpet.

Hillsboro Carpet Cleaning on May 09, 2011:

One of the biggest reasons i used 3/4" hickory in my own home was the dust and dirt factor. I'm a single guy who's always wrenching on cars. While i miss the warmth of carpet i've grown use to area rugs and just LOVE the easy cleanup of hardwood versus carpet.

kimboy9-9 on February 27, 2011:

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....................Nice Artical

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 02, 2011:

Thank you. As you can see from the photos I've put down several hardwood floors in my own home, both engineered and non-engineered.

ed77burns from USA on February 02, 2011:

Wow!!What a fantastic collection to share!

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 14, 2011:

I prefer carpet throughout most of my home, but have hardwood flooring installed in areas appropriate such as dining, bathrooms and entrance foyers.

Thank you for the comment. It is certainly important to protect a hardwood floor, however, and a throw rug or smaller carpet can do a good job of it.

Bellevue carpet cleaning on January 14, 2011:

Whether hardwood flooring or marble tiles, we don't want our flooring to get scratched. That's why putting a carpet on it is a good choice for protecting our flooring. Carpets are also useful in maintaining cleanliness to your home, and in avoiding accidents like being slipped from wet floors. However, you must still clean it with a vacuum cleaner or detergent. It is not good that bacteria and dusts stay deep on the carpet's fabric for a long time.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 04, 2011:

Personally I like the look of the hardwood floor in long planks better, but the installation of either is very similar, and not difficult at all. Especially if you choose the engineered wood flooring.

WallStickerDecals from US on January 04, 2011:

Wood tiles is definitely the right choice for flooring.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 29, 2010:

Andy, I would suggest putting some plywood down if it is possible within your budget and can be reasonably done on the floor in question. There are places (a kitchen where appliances must fit under cabinetry perhaps) where the increased height is not feasible.

Stain - the floor will most likely need sanding after installation and this will remove much of the stain in any case. As long as the new finish is very close in color to the old color I would see no reason to remove it all before installation. At the same time, if the finish is not completely removed, that old finish may not accept any stain at all and the difference could be quite visible. You might want to test a piece by sanding part of it and staining the entire piece with the new stain.

Andy on November 28, 2010:

Thanks, this was wood taken up at another house,so it's already stained,would I have to remove stain and start over with new?and for a couple of hundred$$$ would it be best to just put plywood down over the concrete for the long run? Thanks for helping me out Andy

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 27, 2010:

It is possible to do that. The concrete must be in very good shape, smooth and level, and must not be damp at all. Some floors are near the water line and may bleed through at least small amounts of water; this will destroy the floor.

There will also be some problem with the time setting the glue; the floor must not be used at all during this period as the boards will separate slightly under pressure and leave cracks in the floor.

Good Luck!

Andy on November 26, 2010:

I have regular hardwood floor can it be glued onto concrete slab instead of nailed? Thanks Andy

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on July 17, 2010:

I'm glad you enjoyed it. This type of work, particularly with engineered hardwood, is not difficult to do and most people can have a new floor in their home with only moderate effort.

Eileen Hughes from Northam Western Australia on July 17, 2010:

Well written article, it looks like a good choice of flooring too. thanks.