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Choosing and Installing Hardwood Floors

Updated on January 4, 2013

Why Consider Hardwood Flooring?

No other flooring material beats the look and appeal of real hardwood in a home. Hardwood floorings are versatile and durable and can be used in almost any part of your home to complement the décor. Installing hardwood floors in your home can add to its warmth, beauty and value. Hardwood flooring is also a good choice for a healthy home. It does not have the problems of carpet and rug flooring, which can trap dust particles and dust mites that can cause allergy problems and release toxic chemicals used in making them. With minimal care, hardwood flooring also becomes more beautiful as it ages.

Hardwood flooring used to be expensive and hard to install and maintain; however, with improvement in manufacturing and in installation systems, hardwood floors are easier than ever to install and maintain and a lot more affordable.

When considering hardwood flooring for your home, you have plenty of different materials available to you. The most common woods used for flooring are red oak, white oak, maple, cherry, ash, teak, mahogany, and bamboo. Bamboo, a kind of grass and not wood, is gaining in popularity as a flooring material.

Points To Consider When Picking Hardwood Flooring

Before you dash out to your local hardware store or flooring center looking for your hardwood flooring, keep these points in mind. As with everything else you buy, set a budget on what you will spend on the flooring. Wood flooring prices vary depending on the brand, the species of wood, the cut of the wood, and the type of construction.

When you are comparing different brands of hardwood flooring with different prices, compare using the same values or standards such as the thickness the wood plank (gauge), the grade of the wood (Clear, Select, Common), the cut of the plank, the wood species, pre-finished or unfinished, and warranty on wear.

There is a tremendous selection of wood flooring to choose from and it’s very easy to get overwhelmed and spend more than you should. Keep your budget in mind and buy the wood flooring that balances style, quality, and price.

- Hard wood flooring should not be used in certain rooms of the home, such as a bathroom, due to the frequent high moisture level. A better choice might be tile or engineered wood designed for high moisture areas.

- Pick a hardwood flooring material based on the expected traffic or use of the room. A room that is seldom used can do with a less durable finish and a high traffic area should have a tougher finish that can stand up to the wear and tear.

- Pick a hardwood flooring finish based on the function of the room. For example, wood floors that have very light or very dark finishes in general do not go well in a kitchen.

- Determine if the hardwood styles you are considering matches the type of sub-floor you have. Changing the sub-flooring will increase the cost of the installation.

- Decide if you want pre-finished or unfinished hardwood floor. The pre-finished floors will be quicker, cleaner and cheaper to install, and most of the time, can be installed by do-it-yourselfers. The unfinished wood floors let you customize the finish. You usually get a better finish warranty with pre-finished floors.

- Professional installation or do-it-yourself.  By installing the wood floor yourself you can save a lot of money and get the satisfaction of having doing the job yourself.

Basic Do-It-Yourself Hardwood Floor Installation

Once you get the hardwood flooring home, store the boxes of wood flooring in the room where they will be installed for at least 3 days before installation to let them acclimate to the room’s temperature and humility.

While you are waiting for the wood flooring to adept to its environment, read the manual that comes with the flooring and make sure you have all the tools you will need to do the job. Depending on the type of installation your hardwood flooring comes with, you may need vapor barrier sheets, a pry bar, a hammer, nails, a staple gun, a tape measure, a chalk line, glue, a drill, drill bits, miter saw and table saw.

Solid hardwood flooring do better and last longer when installed over the proper plywood sub-floor. Your sub-floor should be flat and smooth. If your installation calls for a vapor barrier, it is the first thing that goes on top of the sub-floor. Over lap the vapor barrier sheets and taped the gaps of the overlaps.

Now determine your starting point. Hardwood floor installation could be done horizontally or vertically across the room. The general rule of thumb is to run the flooring front to back as you enter a door. It would be easier to pick the longest wall or the most visible wall in the room as the starting point and lay the planks outward from that wall.

Make sure you leave a ½” gap all around the flooring to allow for expansion. Try a dry run by fitting the planks between walls to make sure you don’t have little slivers of plank at one end that will be too small to work with. You may need to cut starting planks to get a good fit.

When you are satisfied about the starting point, mark a reference line that will serve as a guide for laying down your first row of flooring. Use the reference line to lay out the rest of the wood planks. Nail the first set of planks to keep them from moving. If you do the first rows correctly, you can be sure that the rest of the rows will be straight.

Be sure to install the planks of hardwood flooring in a random manner and stagger the edges of the planks at least 6 inches apart. The more random the planks are installed, the better the finished hardwood floor will look. When installing successive rows, make sure that the planks are all perpendicular to one another and there are no gaps before moving on to the next row. Don’t use a hammer directly on a plank to set it into place, instead use a rubber mallet and a piece of scrap as a beater block.

You may want to use a pry bar to give you more leverage to lock the last row of planks into position. If you have pre-finished hardwood floor, the job is almost done. The last step is to install the baseboard moldings. Pre-drill holes where the baseboard will be set to the wall and secure it to the wall with finishing nails. Do not nail the molding to the flooring. You want the wood flooring to be able to flow under the baseboard when it expands of contracts.

If you installed un-finished hardwood flooring, you will need to buy or rent some sanding and finishing tools, or hire professional, to strain and put a protective coating on the floor to finish the installation.

A hardwood floor installation is not that hard a project to do. All it takes is planning and laying the first row correctly and accurately and the rest of the planks fall right into place.

Installing Hardwood Floor Video

Here is an informative video showing step-by-step how to install a hardwood floor.


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    • whitton profile image

      whitton 7 years ago

      Nice Hub. Hardwood flooring is a great addition to any home and can really increase the value of your home.