Hardwood Floor Installation: How to Prepare

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The first thing you must do when considering hardwood floor installation is to find all the consumer information you can.

For example, hardwood floor installation can take place above or below grade, on concrete slabs, over existing wood floors, and over plywood subfloors. With concrete, moisture control is essential but can be managed with a film barrier applied directly over the concrete. Engineered wood subfloors must be screwed or nailed in place before installation begins.

Getting Started

New wood flooring should be laid on a clean, smooth, level, structurally sound flooring base. Before installing wood flooring, experts recommend stacking it indoors for a few days to allow the wood time to adjust to your home's humidity level.

Most installers begin with the focal point of the room, such as the fireplace, when settling on where to begin an installation.
Before laying the first board, you should snap a chalk line to use as a reference point. Aligning the first row of boards with the chalk line assures that all subsequent rows will be straight. To indicate the edge of the first row of flooring, measure carefully to make sure the first board is straight and flush with the wall. Then regularly check subsequent boards as you put them down to make sure that everything is still straight.

Choose the longest boards or widest planks for the first row. Drill pilot holes near the wall for 1 ½-inch finishing nails, then face-nail the first row through the plywood subflooring to the floor joists or sleepers. And use a nail set to recess the nails below the surface. Blind nail this row and the next two rows by hand. When installing the second row and every row after, move a short piece of flooring along the edge with a mallet to tighten the new row against the previous row before nailing.

If you're installing flooring over a large area, experts say to use a flooring nailer once you've installed the first three rows. When you reach the final row, use a pry bar to wedge the last boards tightly into position.

If you are looking for a flawless, uniform floor, consider spending more to get one of the premium grades. Whether you install a floor using a hammer, a specialized board nailer, or stapler, face nail the planks, or glue them to one another, the process of laying out the floor and marking for a square installation is the same.

The rules for installing hardwood flooring do, however, change depending on your choice between laminate or engineered and natural hardwood. And areas of your home such as basements or bathrooms might be inappropriate for hardwood flooring because of exposure to moisture. Kitchens, bedrooms, and family areas are great for wood flooring because wood fares well in high-traffic areas.

How-To Points

Here are a few how-to-points to keep in mind: laminate installation is a much quicker process than natural hardwood flooring installation; be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions when you are ready to start the installation and remember that you have professionals available at the local hardware store to answer questions.