How do I Install Hardwood Floors?

R.James

Choosing to install hardwood floors without the aid of a professional is an ambitious undertaking. It is entirely possible to do as long as you are informed about the process. Although hardwood floors are a popular flooring style, there are a number of choices to be made and steps to be taken in order to properly install hardwood floors.

Installing hardwood floors may help add value to a home.
Installing hardwood floors may help add value to a home.

The first choice you need to make before you install hardwood floors is what size of flooring to use. Hardwood floors are available in varying widths and grades. Strip flooring comes in smaller widths whereas plank flooring tends tends to be a larger variety, up to 7 inches (17.78 cm) in width.

When installing hardwood floors, allow the boards to acclimate to the temperature and moisture levels in the house.
When installing hardwood floors, allow the boards to acclimate to the temperature and moisture levels in the house.

In terms of wood, the popular types are maple, birch, and oak, with the premium grades being clear, select, and common grades. If installation is being performed without professional help, its also often more convenient to use prefinished rather than unfinished wood. Choosing to install hardwood floors with unfinished wood will involve sanding the wood, and will likely require later maintenance as well.

A house with hardwood flooring.
A house with hardwood flooring.

Once you've decided on the type of wood and style of flooring, measure the room or rooms where you intend to install hardwood floors. If you take your measurements to the hardware store or flooring dealer, a sales associate should be able to assist you with determining how much material you'll need. Be sure to take into account any unusual room shapes that may require extra flooring materials. Once you have your flooring, it's always a good idea to lay our the pieces; since planks may be of different lengths, you'll want to make sure you have enough pieces of the right lengths for the job.

View of hardwood floor joists from below.
View of hardwood floor joists from below.

The next step to install hardwood floors involves gathering all of the necessary tools for installation. Having the tools at hand is important because stopping mid-process can cause problems with the installation. Depending on the type of flooring you choose, the required materials may include a chalk line and pencils, tar paper, a drill and/or pneumatic floor nail gun, spacers, and a prybar.

Installing hardwood floors by yourself involves many steps including measuring the room to be floored, buying all necessary materials and preparing the sub-floor surface.
Installing hardwood floors by yourself involves many steps including measuring the room to be floored, buying all necessary materials and preparing the sub-floor surface.

After gathering materials, begin to ready the area by carefully removing the shoe molding and checking the subfloors for any possible problems such as bumps, nails, or other irregularities. Make sure the area is clean. Locate the position of the floor joists and, along the base of the wall, mark their current positioning for later reference.

To install a traditional hardwood floor, you'll probably need to apply tar paper to the sub floor first. Begin the installation by snapping a chalk line at the base of the starting wall. Measure the room to establish a center line, then snap another chalk line parallel to the centerline and 3/8-inch (9.5 mm) from the wall. Insert spacers around the edge of the area to create a narrow gap, so the wood can expand without buckling.

Select boards for the first row, which ideally should be straight, long, and wide. Align the board with the second chalk line you created and drill holes through the plank and floor joist. Face-nail the boards into the floor joists and set the nails. After completing the first row, continue by placing and blind nailing planks with a pneumatic floor nail gun through the tongue edges of previous rows. Use a pry bar to snap the final board into position when you reach the last row.

Some types of hardwood floors are designed to be glued to the subfloor, and some brands may even have adhesive strips on the back of the boards. Other types of flooring are designed to be stapled together. With a floating floor, the planks are glued to each other, rather than to the subfloor. Which type of installation is best for you will depend on the type and brand of hardwood flooring you choose.

The subfloor should be clean and smooth before installation begins.
The subfloor should be clean and smooth before installation begins.

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