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How to Install Prefinished Solid-Hardwood Flooring (page 1 of 2)

Laying a solid-hardwood strip floor is easier and faster if you choose a prefinished product to avoid the extra work of sanding, staining and finishing.

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  • Time

    Several Weekends

  • Price Range

    $1,000 - $2,500

  • Difficulty

    Moderate to Hard

Here's How You Do It:

Step 1: Choose the Materials

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There are many types of hardwood flooring available, ranging from prefinished, laminated (also called engineered) strips and planks. In other words, everything from thin plywood with a hardwood veneer layer on top, to solid-wood strips and planks. In the past, if you wanted to install your own solid-wood flooring you also had to take on the task of sanding and finishing it. Today you can get solid-hardwood flooring prefinished in a variety of stain colors with a durable, long-lasting factory-warranted finish.

Like unfinished hardwood floors, the prefinished types typically have tongue-and-groove edges on all sides. They are available in 3/4-inch thickness, as well as low-profile styles that are 5/16- to 5/8-inch thick, which are a good or installing over existing flooring. Solid wood floors should not be installed in basements or below grade. Thinner styles can be glued to the sub-flooring. Full-thickness floors are installed using a special nailing tool that locks each strip tightly against the previously installed strip and, in the same motion, inserts a cleat nail or narrow-crown staple through the tongue joint into the sub-flooring.

Be careful to avoid damaging the finished surface during installation. Otherwise, installing prefinished hardwood is no more difficult than installing unfinished strips. Both require some carpentry experience.

Step 2: Prep the Installation Area

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Measure the width and length of the room and multiply the two numbers to get the square footage. When ordering flooring, add an extra 10 percent to allow for cutting and fitting. If you run short and have to order more, you could get wood from a different lot that’s not an exact match in color or size.

Stack wood in the room where it will be installed for one to two weeks prior to installation. This will give the wood time to acclimate to your home's climate. If the house is newly constructed, be sure the room is continually heated or air-conditioned to a normal, occupied temperature.

Step 3: Prep the Sub-floor

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This flooring can be installed over old wood flooring or over a plywood sub-floor. A minimum 3/4-inch-thick sub-floor is required. If you are working atop a single plywood layer, we recommend adding a second layer of 1/4- to 1/2-inch plywood or commercial floor substrate material.

Use wood or drywall screws to attach the substrate to the floor joists. At this stage, you want to eliminate any squeaks in the floor. If you locate a squeak, run a long screw through the sub-floor and into the joist below it.

Remove any base or shoe molding around the perimeter of the room. Vacuum the floor and block doorways to keep dirt and foreign objects out of the work area. Even a small bump can ruin a level floor installation.

Step 4: Install a Vapor Barrier

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You’ll need a continuous vapor barrier beneath the flooring. Asphalt-saturated #15 felt (tar paper) is usually recommended. If moisture is not a problem, use red rosin paper as a “slip sheet” between the flooring and sub-flooring. It will reduce or eliminate floor squeaks caused by friction between the wood layers.

Roll out the paper and overlap edge of each sheet at least 4 inches. Flatten out any bumps or wrinkles, and use a heavy-duty staple gun or staple tacker to attach the paper to the sub-floor.

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