When preparing for a baseboard installation project you will want to consider material, location, method of attachment, and finish.
Design and Material Selection
Baseboard is available in many sizes and styles. The development of synthetic and recycled wood products have opened the door to dramatic architectural designs and dimensions which are structurally enduring, and affordable. Typically, baseboard is finished in opaque painted finishes.
Synthetic and recycled materials are easy to finish as most are manufactured pre-primed and ready to paint. Traditional wood products offer the beauty of natural wood grain if you choose to finish the baseboard in a stained, or clear coat finish. But the nature of wood may allow occasional cracking and splitting when using a nail-driven attachment, a problem seen rarely, if at all, with recycled wood, PVC, or other synthetic products.
When choosing the location of the baseboard, consider the height of the material selected, and how it will interface with door casings. Will the baseboard dead-end into the casings? Or will the door casings sit on top of the baseboards? Be aware that some architectural designs will work, while others may not interface well with casings of a different design.
The relationship between the finish flooring and the baseboard can affect the overall design. Although baseboard is typically installed prior to the installation of the finished flooring, carpeting, tile, or hardwood, some remodeling projects may require that the baseboard is set over the existing finished floor. Keep in mind that installing baseboard over the finished flooring, contours, and irregularities in the floor level will result in running gaps along the bottom of the baseboard. When installing finished flooring after the baseboard installation you are more likely to neatly hide any irregularities or contours in the floor.
Method of Attachment
There are two traditional methods of attachment for baseboards of all material types: a standard finish hammer and nail set or an air pressurized finished nail gun. Regardless of these different tool systems, it is critical that when you drive a nail, you successfully set the nail through the baseboard, and into structural wood, hidden behind the drywall, plaster, or paneling of your walls. Most often you will encounter a continuous 2x4, running inside the wall at its base where it meets the floor.
Typically you will also find vertical studs either every 24 or 16 inches apart. If possible, keep your nailing pattern symmetrical as you proceed to attach the baseboard. This will make the preparation and finishing phase of the baseboard more streamlined, and easier to accomplish. Also, be sure to use finish nails or staples with the smallest possible head, set just below the baseboard surface.
Method of Finishing
When preparing to finish the baseboard be sure to use a low-tack masking tape such as 3M Brand green, or blue painters tape to mask walls and finished floor surfaces. Use a sandable filler for holes left from set nails, and apply a light sanding after the filler is completely dry. After the paint is dry, preferably overnight, remove masking carefully. Since baseboards are subject to impact from vacuums, carpet sweepers, and brooms, use a durable semi-gloss paint that will stand up to an occasional sponge cleaning.