Hardwood Flooring Installation

Good prep and a straight first row are keys to success.

By: John Riha

Photo by: Photographer: Slobo Mitic

Photographer: Slobo Mitic

If you’re getting ready to install hardwood floors yourself, good for you. First, you’ll be putting in a flooring that’s unmatched for warmth and natural beauty. Plus, you’ll be saving the $2 to $8 per square foot cost of professional installation.

Buying Hardwood Flooring

Typical hardwood flooring comes as tongue-and-groove strips that are 3/4" thick. They’re fastened to a wood subfloor with a flooring nailing tool that you can rent. Hardwood flooring cost $3 to $12 per square foot.

Thinner 3/8-inch-thick boards are good for gluing down over existing flooring.

Buying pre-stained, pre-finished hardwood flooring avoids the whole messy, smelly floor finishing step. Order 10% more than you need to account for waste.

Prep the Room

You can install hardwood flooring over existing solid hardwood flooring or a wood subfloor that’s at least 3/4" thick. On existing floors, remove the base shoe around the perimeter of the room. 

Remember that your new flooring will cover up about ¾ inches of your existing base molding, making it look narrower than before. If you think it’s worth the extra time and money — or if you don’t have a base show — remove the base molding and replace it.

Inspect the subfloor, countersinking or resetting any protruding nails or screws. Patch any cracks and voids larger than 3/8". Sweep and vacuum the subfloor.

Install a layer of 15-pound asphalt-impregnated felt over the subfloor. It’ll act as a vapor barrier and also prevents the flooring from rubbing against the subfloor, causing squeaks.

Bring the flooring into the room, open up packaging, stack it and let it acclimate to its surroundings for at least a week. That’ll help stabilize the wood so it won’t shrink or expand while you’re installing hardwood flooring.

Hardwood Flooring Installation

Standard design principles say to install strip hardwood flooring parallel to the longest, unobstructed  wall in the room. That gives you a good starting point and limits the amount of trimming and fitting you’ll have to do at the end of each run of flooring — but ultimately it’s your call.

Wood floors expand and contract with changes in humidity, so you’ll need to leave a ½-inch gap around the perimeter of the room. You’ll cover that gap with base shoe or new base molding.

Snap a chalk line about 1/2" away from the starter wall and set up a first row of flooring. You’ll install tongue-and-groove flooring with the tongue facing away from the wall.

Because of the shape of the flooring nailer, you won’t be able to use it close to the wall. You’ll have to face nail the first row or two. Predrill holes every 10 to 12 inches, and secure the starter row with 10d finish nails.

A flooring nailer is designed to drive nails or staples at the correct angle through the tongue side of the flooring and into the subfloor. You set each nail by striking a plunger on the nailer with a mallet. Set a nail or staple every 10 inches, and drive at least two nails into each individual piece of flooring.

Once you get the hang of it, using a floor nailer isn’t difficult. Just be sure to settle the tool firmly before each strike, and check the nail supply in the tool often — it’s not uncommon for an enthusiastic DIYer to be pounding away at an empty floor nailer.

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