What You Need to Know Before Starting a Floor Installation

Getting good results starts with an honest evaluation of your DIY skills.

By: John Riha
Fixing Tiles

Fixing Tiles

Mason is making floor with natural stone tiles

Photo by: Danish Khan

Danish Khan

New flooring is a good-vibe home improvement project that makes your whole house feel better. And if you’re thinking of DIYing your flooring installation, thumbs up to you. You’ll save about half what it would cost for a pro to do the job, and you’ll sharpen your DIY chops in the process.

Here’s a quick list of what to do before you begin:

  1. Read the instructions (duh!). If your flooring product doesn’t come with installation guidelines, get the instructions from the manufacturer’s website. Check YouTube videos on the subject, and get familiar with the process.
  2. Buy the right tools. Most instructions include a tool list, so don’t short-change yourself there. After all, you’re saving money on the install, right? Rent specialty tools from your local rent-it shop, and ask the manager how to properly operate the tool.
  3. Know your subfloor. In most cases it’s either wood or concrete — each has dos and don’ts when it comes to choosing the right flooring.

Some flooring installations are tailor-made for a do-it-yourselfer, but some are trickier than you might think. Here’s a quick primer on where your skill levels need to be for various flooring installation projects.

Installing Laminate Flooring

Where to put it: Laminate floors can go in any room over a clean, dry subfloor. The plastic-coated planks are slippery when wet, so laminate isn’t a good choice for bathrooms and laundry rooms. You can install a floating floor system over existing floors that are flat and in good condition.

DIY level: A laminate floor installation with a floating floor system is very DIY-friendly. You’ll need some patience and skill to negotiate doorways.

Solid Hardwood Floor Installation

Where to put it: Solid hardwood strip flooring should be installed over a clean, dry wood subfloor. Avoid bathrooms, laundry rooms, and below-grade basements.

DIY level: Once you get the hang of it, nailing down hardwood flooring with a rented flooring nail gun goes smoothly. Your biggest challenge is keeping rows straight—check manufacturer’s and YouTube videos for pro tricks on dealing with warped boards.

Engineered Wood Flooring

Where to put it: Engineered wood planks have laminate construction so they’re not affected by changes in humidity. You can put it in any room, including dry below-grade basements, but it’s wise to avoid bathrooms and laundry rooms where spills or minor flooding might occur.

DIY level: Engineered wood flooring comes as both a glue-down, nail-down, and floating floor system featuring planks with snap-together edges. For the easiest install, DIYers should go with the floating floor.

Ceramic Tile

Where to put it: Ceramic tile can go in any room. It’s a beautiful, waterproof floor but it’s cold and hard underfoot, so it isn’t the best choice for bedrooms and kids’ playrooms. It should be installed over a clean, dry subfloor that’s covered with cement-based tile backer board. 

DIY level: Setting ceramic floor tile requires moderate to high levels of DIY skill, especially when it comes to notching tile around obstacles. Laying out the design and understanding how to start off a ceramic tile floor installation are keys to success, so due diligence with how-to instructions are essential.

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