How to Install Hardwood Flooring

If you would like to add both beauty and value to your home, installing hardwood flooring, or engineered wood flooring, is a good place to start. Both hardwood flooring and engineered wood flooring come in a variety of wood types, providing different color options. The main difference between the two is that hardwood planks consist of solid wood, while engineered planks consists of wood fibers bonded by adhesive. They look much alike, but engineered wood generally holds up better to wear and tear and costs less than hardwood, making it ideal for homes with pets or young children.
Whether installing hardwood or engineered wood flooring, the process is the same. The first step in the installation of either hardwood or laminate flooring is to take an accurate measurement of the space. Measure the floor’s length and width, and multiply the measurements to get the total square footage. Once you have the square footage, add an additional 10 percent and order this amount of flooring, so that you have extra in case of installation blunders.
When you get the flooring home, put the planks in the room in which they will be installed at least 48 hours prior to installing them. This allows the planks to adjust to the temperature and humidity of the environment, which prevents planks from expanding or contracting after installation.
Before installing hardwood planks, it’s important to ensure the integrity of the subfloor surface. Walk over the subfloor and feel loose or raised boards. Find the joists below raised or loose boards with a stud finder, and drive additional screws through the loose planks and into the joists below to secure them more firmly in place. Also, if any area of the subfloor sits higher or lower than the rest of the floor, level it out. Level a high spot in a subfloor by sanding it down, or a low spot by filling it in with wood filler.
Once the subfloor sits level, remove any moldings from the base of the wall, as these will get in the way of installation. With the moldings removed, locate the joists in the floor with a stud finder and mark the location of each joist at the base of the wall for reference. Clean the subfloor thoroughly to remove all debris and dust from the surface. Then, install vapor barrier underlayment over the clean floor.
To install vapor barrier underlayment, pull the underlayment off the roll until it stretches all the way across the room and cut the barrier to this length. Cut enough of these strips to cover the entire floor with a 4 to 6-inch overlap at the edges. If the underlayment has self-adhesive backing, use this for installation. If not, staple the underlayment to the floor. If you need help choosing an underlayment, check the paperwork provided with the hardwood planks. Manufacturers generally recommend specific underlayment for their flooring.
After installation of the underlayment, start laying planks against the longest wall of the room that runs perpendicular to the joists. Set a full-length hardwood plank at one end of the wall. Place flooring spacers at the end of the plank and every few inches along the back of the plank to ensure that that the plank maintains even spacing from the wall. Nail the plank to the joists below, using the marks on the wall as a guide.
Lay a row of planks out from the first plank, so they sit end-to-end and form a straight first row along the wall. Use spacers to keep the planks away from the wall. If necessary, cut the last hardwood plank down with a circular saw to fit into the final position in the row. Don’t forget to leave room for the spacers at the end.
Begin the second row with a plank cut down by about 1/3 of its length. Fit the tongue of the trimmed plank into the groove in the first plank of the first row, and slide the new plank over to the wall, using a spacer at the end of the row to keep the plank from touching the wall directly.
Install all of the planks of the second row by connecting them to the boards in the row before, lowering them down, and sliding each one over until it sits flush with the plank laid before it. Use a pull bar at the end of the row to force the boards firmly together and eliminate any gaps. When the boards are all in place, nail them to the joists below.
Cut a plank down by roughly 2/3 of its length to begin the third row, and lay the rest of the planks as you laid the second row. When you finish the third row, you should have three tightly-fit rows of hardwood flooring with staggered seams. Use this pattern across the entire floor to create the most secure flooring surface.