How to Install Hardwood Flooring

Installing hardwood flooring can add value and style to any room in your home, and remains one of the most sought-after types of flooring in new homes. Hardwood flooring is typically used for kitchens, living rooms, or offices, but you can add it to any room that you feel could use a change.

In this guide, we’ll cover what you need to know to install hardwood floors in your own home. This is a DIY project that anyone can accomplish with a little bit of time and the right instructions.

Purchasing Hardwood Flooring

Knowing which type of hardwood flooring to purchase will make all the difference in the look and feel of your home once it’s installed. There are many different species and types of hardwood flooring. It’s important to weigh all the options prior to making your purchase.

Solid VS. Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Solid hardwood flooring tends to be the most popular type but also generally tends to be more expensive than its engineered counterpart. Solid hardwood means that the entire plank of wood was cut from the selected species. Solid hardwood is far superior to engineered hardwood when it comes to longevity. As long as it’s taken care of, it will last a lifetime. However, solid hardwood does seem to be inferior when it comes to basements and is also not a good choice for areas that have a high amount of humidity.

Engineered hardwood is made from several layers of wood pressed together. This could translate to a lower cost, as the selected species is usually pressed on the top and bottom layers, around a core of a cheaper species. However, it is not always the case. Engineered hardwood is more flexible than solid planks, which makes it a better choice for basements or upper floors.

Hardwood Species

Other than the type of hardwood flooring, you’ll need to select a species. Whether the wood is solid or engineered will have the biggest impact on durability and longevity, but the species you select will also have an effect.

The most common species of hardwood flooring are:

  • Walnut
  • Oak
  • Cherry
  • Teak
  • Maple
  • Birch
  • Douglas Fir

Depending on the color scheme of your home, you’ll have many options to choose from. Other than the species of wood, you’ll also need to choose the finish, grain pattern, and plank with. Choosing a wider plank can save you time on the installation and give a warmer feel to your home.

hardwood flooring species selection
Whichever type and species you select, before installing your hardwood flooring, you’ll first need to make sure the subfloor is prepped, and that your new flooring has had time to acclimate.

Hardwood will expand or contract in different temperatures and altitudes, so you’ll want to let it sit in or near the area it will be installed for at least 72 hours. This is also a good time to open up the boxes and organize the pieces by size to make finding the right piece easier during the installation.

When purchasing your new flooring, add about 10% to the total area to account for mistakes or damaged pieces.

Prepping the Subfloor

To begin preparing your subfloor for hardwood, you’ll need to remove any carpet or flooring that is currently installed. To do this, you’ll need to first remove the baseboards surrounding the room.

Remove the baseboards using a prybar and hammer. Gently tap the prybar between the baseboard and the drywall starting at the end of the board. Make sure to do this carefully so as not to damage the drywall. You can use a piece of scrap wood to place behind the fulcrum of the prybar to disperse the pressure if you are having a hard time creating the necessary space, or if the baseboard is over-nailed.

How to Remove Carpet

To remove carpet, you’ll just need to make an incision with a utility knife near one of the corners, then begin pulling the carpet back and up off the floor. You’ll want to wear gloves while doing this, as there will be sharp tacking strips along the perimeter of the carpet.

Once you pull it up along an entire wall, you can begin to roll the carpet. Depending on how big the room is, I’d recommend that you cut the carpet into smaller pieces prior to rolling so it’s easier to remove from the room once you’re done.

After the carpet is removed, you’ll need to remove the padding that was underneath it. This should be relatively easy to remove, given how light it is, but could be tricky depending on how it was attached, which will either be with adhesive if the subfloor is cement or with staples if the subfloor is plywood.

Here’s a detailed video from the Home Repair Tutor YouTube Channel if you would like a visual example.

Cleaning the Floor

Removing padding that was attached with adhesive can be a little more difficult, depending on how it was used. You may need to use some type of scraper in hard to remove areas.

After the carpet and padding are removed you’ll need to remove the tack strips along the perimeter of the area. Just use your pry bar and hammer to pull them up.

If adhesive was used to hold down the carpet padding, you’ll need to sand off any bumps or areas that aren’t level. If the padding was stapled down, you’ll need to make sure there aren’t any left in the floor.

Next, you’ll need to vacuum the area, ensure that it’s level, dry and free from any damage. If you think the subfloor contains moisture, you can buy a simple tool to verify. Just check the reading on the meter and compare it to the manufacturer’s recommendations on the package of your new flooring.

Look for any loose or squeaky boards and fasten them down to the floor joists with decking screws.

You’ll also want to prep any doors that will be touching your new wood floor. Stack a piece of flooring on the underlayment and cut the door casing about 1/16″ up with a jamb saw. This will allow the new wood flooring to fit underneath the casing for a seamless look. You may need to cut about 1/8″ from the bottom of the door as well.

Now you’re ready to begin installing your new hardwood floor.

Preparing to Install a Hardwood Floor

Things you’ll need

  • Hardwood flooring
  • Hardwood nail gun/Nail set
  • Drill/Drill bits
  • Underlayment
  • Chalk line
  • Miter Saw/Flooring blade
  • Flooring nailer (optional)
  • Pull bar
First, you’ll need to put down your underlayment. The type of underlayment that you’ll need will depend on what type of flooring you’re installing. It’s best to check the package for manufacturers recommendations. For Hardwood floor that you’ll be nailing, it’s usually some type of felt or other vapor resistant material that’s used for underlayment.

Lay the underlayment out in rows across the floor, leaving excess at the ends. You’ll be able to cut this after your floor is installed.

Overlap each row by about 6 inches, then staple them down.

Next, you’ll need to mark a starting line square to the room walls. To do this, mark the center of each wall and snap a chalk line across.

Now measure from the center point to the starting wall and subtract the expansion gap (10-15mm), and mark it. Mark the same distance at both ends of the wall, and snap a line through the three to get a straight line against the wall, as shown in the picture below.

This method is more accurate than using the wall for a line, as walls tend to be bowed or out of square in spots.

Now you’re ready to begin laying your hardwood floor.

Installing Hardwood Flooring

Before laying your first row, calculate what the width of the final row will be. If it’s less than 1 inch, consider cutting your starting row by half so the rows appear balanced.

Pick out the straightest boards you can find to use for the first two rows. Making sure your rows are straight in the initial stages will be pivotal to the alignment of the rest of the floor.

Hold your first board on the plumb line you made with your chalk line. You can use a spacer to make sure your expansion gap stays the correct distance if you need.

Face nail about 1/2″ from the tongue side, starting about 3″ from the ends and about every 6″ in between. If you’re using a hammer and nail set instead of an air gun, be sure to drill pilot holes before nailing.

Tap the next connecting piece in place with a tapping block and mallet and continue to nail.

Make sure to plan out the length of your pieces so you can end with a different length in each row. You should avoid having any joints line up or within 6″ of one another unless they’re two or more rows apart. You’ll need to cut the end pieces, so it should be easy to vary the length. Remember to account for your expansion gap.

When cutting the flooring pieces, cut with the face up and use a flooring blade.

Now blind nail the first row by nailing at a 45-degree angle, just above the tongue of the board. This will keep the row flat and allow the next row to slide into place.

When starting the second row, be sure to select a piece that is at least 6″ longer or shorter than the same piece in the first row. It’s Important to stagger the joints like this throughout. You’ll also want to mix boards from different boxes so the color and grain look appear more dynamic.

Push the groove onto the tongue of the first row, and tap them together using a tapping block and mallet. Be careful not to pound too hard or you’ll damage the tongue and will have trouble getting the next row to fit.

After you have a few rows in place, you’ll now have enough room to use a flooring nailer if you have one. This will allow the installation to go much faster. If not, you can continue using an air nailer or hammer set.

You can also cut and layout your rows and joints ahead of time so you can just go through and nail them down. Leave enough space for the flooring nailer between the nailed rows and your layout rows (normally around 6″). Additionally, you can stagger the rows to save time, as shown in the picture below. I have found it is faster to completely layout the rows all the way across to get the proper staggers, color, and board variations you desire. It makes the nailing go much quicker than searching for a board to fit.

hardwood floor installation
For the last few rows, you’ll have to switch back to the nail gun, as the flooring nailer won’t have enough room to fit. Continue to blind nail where you can. You’ll have to face nail for the last two rows along the tongue side.

Remember, you’ll have to cut the last piece, accounting for the expansion gap. Use a pull bar to connect the final row to the previous row and face nail it into place. If the last row is less than 1″ wide, you can just glue it to the previous row to avoid the risk of having it split.

Now you can cut off any excess underlayment, fill any nail holes with wood putty, add any transition pieces between rooms, and reinstall your baseboard.

If you’re installing your hardwood floor in a new house before installing your doors, you can check out our post on installing a pre-hung door.

After you finish installing your hardwood flooring, it’s generally a good idea to go over it with a cleaner that is recommended for your the specific type of wood you used. This will ensure you remove any dust or debris that may have settled during the installation process.

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