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  • Writer's pictureMatt Weber

Installing Wood Floors for Warmth and Beauty

Updated: Jul 10

Wood flooring adds warmth, beauty and value to a home. Its durability is another big factor; hardwood floors can withstand heavy foot traffic and are relatively easy to maintain compared to other flooring options. Hardwood floors also offer design versatility, complementing both traditional and modern interior aesthetics.

Here’s an overview of how a typical installation will go.


Solid Wood vs. Engineered

When it comes to selecting your next wood floor, it’s important to understand the types available.

Solid hardwood boards are made of a single piece of wood.

Engineered hardwood flooring is made of a top layer of real hardwood over a dimensionally stable core made from plywood, MDF, lumber core, or stone-polymer composite. This core is less susceptible to warping and gapping than solid wood.

Both options offer beauty and style but can perform differently and require different installation techniques.

Solid hardwood, which is available in unfinished and prefinished options, is not recommended for below-ground areas such as basements or moisture-prone areas such as bathrooms, whereas engineered hardwood flooring can better withstand moisture exposure.

In terms of longevity, solid hardwood can be sanded and refinished over the years to renew its appearance. Engineered hardwood can be sanded to some degree, but if the thin veneer layer of hardwood is sanded through, then the inner core will be exposed in the floorboard.


Installation Options

Research the installation method for the specific type of wood flooring to decide if it’s a DIY-friendly product or if you should consult a pro installer. Common installation techniques include for solid hardwood flooring include nail-down, staple-down, and glue-down. Ambitious DIY’ers might consider renting floor nailers or staplers for installation, but glue-down flooring is best left to the pros.

Engineered flooring is often sold as floating floor systems with click-together installation, which is more DIY-friendly for inexperienced installers.


Subfloor Preparation

It is critical to understand that the subfloor must be properly prepped before beginning any new installation. The subfloor must be clean, dry, and level with no hills or dips. Fill any low spots with a leveling compound and sand down any high spots. Check for signs of moisture or water damage and address the underlying issue before installing the floor.

With the subfloor exposed, take the opportunity to walk it over and search for any nail squeaks. If you find any, screw down the subfloor tightly to the floor joints to arrest movement and eliminate the squeak.

For areas with high moisture, such as basements or concrete subfloors, install a moisture barrier over the subfloor. Consult the product specifications of your flooring for specific recommendations. Engineered flooring may require a poly underlayment. Other options are a silicone vapor shield or plywood underlayment.

As shown here, you should fill any low spots with a floor-leveling compound to ensure a flat subfloor. Products are available in self-leveling formulas or as compounds that can be troweled smoothly onto the subfloor.


Prior to installation, it’s important to acclimate your wood flooring. This simply means storing the flooring in the same room it will be installed for about 48 hours (check product recommendations for time duration). This step allows the wood to adjust to the room's temperature and moisture conditions. Doing this helps prevent performance issues over time.

Prior to installation, it's important to store the flooring where it will be installed, so the wood can acclimate to its new environment and ensure long-term performance.


Plan the Layout

Installation time will depend on the size of the room, the complexity of the layout, and the method of installation.

If the installation involves stapling or nailing, it’s best to lay flooring perpendicular to the subfloor's joists. If you would rather fasten the flooring parallel to the subfloor joists, you'll need to fasten a secondary layer of 15/32-in. plywood panels to the subfloor using ring-shank nails or screws. 


Most flooring installations begin at the longest, most visibly prevalent straight wall, which will serve as a control point for installing the boards. Plan for full-size planks for your first row, because it serves as the floor’s focal point.

Next, measure and mark the expansion space, which is the space between the walls and the flooring. An expansion space allows the wood to expand and contract, which occurs naturally with temperature and humidity changes, without causing damage to the floor. Plastic spacers can be used to maintain an expansion space around the edges of the floor during installation. The size of the expansion gap depends on the floor's performance and characteristics. Check the Warranty, Installation, and Care (WIC) guide for your flooring’s expansion space measurements.

To guide installation, use a chalk line or a long straight edge to mark long, straight line along the expansion gap which aligns the first flooring row evenly with the wall.  

Next, determine the width of the last row by measuring the room and dividing by the width of the boards. If you determine the last row will be too small (a sliver of boards), then rip the first row to a thinner width on a table saw before installing. This will allow more space for the last row, for an attractive, balanced installation once completed.

Plan and note how you’ll install the planks around features such as kitchen islands, fireplaces, doors, cabinets, and room transitions. Boards will need to be cut to fit around doorways, corners and HVAC registers. A miter or table saw will make this easier, as can a jigsaw or buzz-cutter (oscillating multi-tool).

A buzz-cutter equipped with a flush-cutting blade also makes a good tool to undercut door casing which extends downward too far to fit the flooring beneath it. If this is the case, use a scrap of the new floor as a gauge to guide the oscillating blade and cross-cut the door casing just short enough to fit the new floor.

If there’s not enough clearance beneath door casing to fit the new flooring, use a scrap of the new flooring as a blade guide and flush-cut the casing shorter with an oscillating multi-tool. The model shown here is the Dremel Multi-Max.

Using plastic spacers between the boards and the wall, lay the first row of flooring along the guide-line and proceed with installation.


Click-Together Flooring

Click-together flooring utilizes a fastener-free installation method in which tongue-and-groove joints connect with the aid of a mallet and tapping block.  The click mechanism can vary among type, so refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations for specific guidance. It’s typically easier to connect the long joint first and then follow by connecting the end joints. Always stagger the end joints of the boards by several inches to strengthen the installation and reduce the appearance of repeating patterns.


Fastened Flooring

Some wood flooring is installed with glue or fasteners. When installing tongue-and-groove boards, consult the manufacturer’s information specific guidance, which might require you to gently push the board back and down to ensure a snug fit. Use a tapping block and mallet to fully engage the tongue and groove.

As you install the sequential boards, fit the groove of each new plank onto the tongue of the previous row. Be sure to eliminate any gaps between the boards.

Space nails according to the manufacturer’s recommended intervals along the length of each board. Avoid nailing too close to the end of the boards, which will cause splitting. If necessary, use a nail set to tap the nail heads below the wood surface.  

Many professionals prefer to use the two-pronged approach of a flooring stapler, driving the large staples “blind-nail” style into the tongue-and-groove joints, which conceals the fasteners between the floorboards.

At the last row, you may need to use a pull bar to ensure a tight fit between boards. Insert the pull bar into the groove side of the plank and tap it toward the flooring to join the boards and close the joint.

After installation is complete, use wood filler or putty that matches the color of the flooring to fill in any visible nail holes.

A pneumatic flooring stapler or nailer is a compressor-driven tool that is actuated by the tap of a mallet. Rental centers usually have these tools available for flooring jobs, but if you have a lot of flooring to do, consider purchasing your own.


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