Getting Started – Stage A: First Steps for Installing Hardwood Floors
If you have decided to take on the job of installing hardwood floors yourself, then you have come to the right place! Let’s look at the first steps you’ll need to take to begin installation:
Stage A: Preparation
Step 1: Measure & draft the floor layout
Step 2: Adapt the wood
Step 3: Prepare the flooring area
The first thing you will need to do when you decide to enhance your home by installing hardwood floors, is to choose and buy the flooring itself. Before you can do that you have some thinking and measuring to do. There is an old saying that carpenters around the world use: measure twice, cut once. The same applies when you install hardwood flooring.
STEP 1: MEASURE & DRAFT THE FLOOR LAYOUT
Take the measurements of the room(s) that you are going to install your flooring in so that you can get a correct estimate of the cost and difficulty and buy the correct quantities of wood. Use a sketch to see how the floor will look in the room.
Use a tape measure and note the measurements of the floor surface of the area you plan to install hardwood flooring on, making sure to measure each wall individually. Even walls that appear straight can be slightly out of square, which may affect the amount of flooring you need.
Make a sketch of the room, which you can take along to the flooring supplier or manufacturer to calculate how much flooring you will need for the job or to get advice once you’ve made the calculations.
You should pick the starting point where the first board and row will be laid usually along the longest straightest wall. When installing hardwood floors the direction of the rows depends on several things so include these in your sketch:
- Shape/size of the room- Usually the flooring rows usually stretch length-wise in the room (parallel to the longest wall), so the eye follows the lines created by the boards.
Orientation can change your the appearance of your room – making it longer and larger or shorter and smaller depending on the orientation.
If you’re installing hardwood floors in a hallway for example installation is best done lengthwise down the hallway for look and ease of installation. From the hallway in to a bedroom may require you to change direction depending on the direction that would look best and that you can install more easily – no need to make things too difficult on yourself!
Light sources – Installation stretching away from windows allows for the light to sweep down, along the grain, and makes for a shinier, more beautiful floor.
Subfloor and floor joists – usually wood is installed perpendicular (in the opposite direction) to floor joists. Parallel installations are sometimes okay but are less stable.
Think about the options for installing hardwood floors in the flooring area with different sketches to get a visual.
*Tip: Do a calculation on paper, using the width of the floorboards, and the width of the room. Divide the figure to make sure they divide equally and see if each end of the room matches. If your walls are out of square, you may need to scribe fit the first and last boards to make sure that the floor you install appears straight and true.
STEP 2: ADAPT THE WOOD
Now you’ve selected your ideal wood and it has arrived at its your home! Just like a new pet the wood takes time to get comfortable in your house. Your house has a particular humidity level the wood must ‘acclimate’, as they say, to these conditions before it is installed. Need help selecting – check out the pages on types of flooring and types of wood species.
If you are having a contractor do the work the wood should be dropped off in advance of the actual installation. I suggest leaving wood for 7–10 days or until the moisture content in the wood is no more than 4% different than the subfloor. Store it in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Nothing ruins flooring faster than dampness or direct heat.
Why is this so important? Well, wood expands and shrinks with changes in humidity and temperature. If not settled in properly, the wood will continue to change after installation and may cause cracks and warped boards. Installing hardwood floors is a lot harder if you are trying to do so with warped or twisted boards!
*If coordinating with other renovation work installing hardwood floors should follow drywalling, paint, wall coverings, heating/air conditioning system installation. In new build, the building should be enclosed and climate controlled.
STEP 3: PREPARE THE FLOORING AREA
There’s a bit more prep work to do before you lay a board. Take a peek at the condition of the subfloor to see what you’re dealing with before ripping up the current floor.
When you install hardwood floors, you need a solid, clean, level and even surface. In some cases, you may be installing a floating floor, but you might also be installing hardwood flooring directly onto a concrete or other surface.
The base for your floor should be:
- Level – Use a spirit level and a straight plank to check that the floor surface you are installing on is straight, even and level. The level will tell you whether the floor is level or not while the plank should show you whether there are any uneven patches, if there are gaps under it.
Any areas with more than 3/16 inches variation in a 10 foot area or 1/8″ in a 6′ area should be adjusted. Plane or sand higher areas with care to not affect the integrity of the floor. Use shims or plywood to raise lower areas.
- Clean and dry without glue, paint or any dust, dirt, bits and pieces
- Secure without squeaks or damage – Replace any damaged parts and secure any loose, squeaky areas
Once you are confident that your surface is ready, you will need to apply a damp proofing layer. This is also known as underlayment, and it could be cork, foam, or a more complex product. All are designed to keep your flooring away from direct moisture, and to protect it.
Underlay will also help to smooth out minor imperfections in the underfloor surface. This should be topped with a polyethylene or plastic sheeting for a more damp or humid area.
Do all of this before you lay your first board and your project to install hardwood flooring will be off to a good start!