Engineered Flooring Installation Guide
If your DIY skills are pretty good, you’ll probably be able to handle the installation of engineered flooring success. On a scale of 1-10, we’d rate this project in the 6-8 range, since you need to have a good bit of knowledge on wood work, as well as having the right tools in place to finish the installation project. The toughest part of installing engineered flooring is trimming around obstacles such as floor vents or pipes. If you’ve done any finish carpentry in the past, you’ll probably be good to go.
This guide to engineered flooring is designed to help you understand what goes into the installation process for this type of home flooring, and decide if you want to take on the job yourself. You can also learn more about engineered flooring by reading our consumer buying guide, price guide, or if you’re interested in learning about how to care for it after you install an engineered floor, the care and maintenance guide.
Tools and Supplies
Here’s a checklist of what you’ll need for installation.
- Hand tools: Tape measure, pencil, framing square, coping saw, hammer, jamb saw, glue knife (if gluing the flooring).
- Power cutting tools: Table saw or circular saw, jig saw, compound miter saw.
- Installation tools: Air compressor, pneumatic nailer, pull bar and tapping block.
- Supplies: You’ll need staples/nails if nailing the flooring and glue if you are gluing it.
Prepping the Floor for Installation
Floor preparation is very important. The floor needs to be flat and free of debris such as drywall mud, nails and staples. You must remove carpeting along with the padding, staples and tack strip.
If the existing floor is hard and level, it can stay if it won’t make the engineered wood floor too high. If you’re using a locking floor that will float, use a foam or cork layer as underlayment.
Most flooring manufacturers recommend bringing the material indoors 2-3 days before installation. This will allow it to acclimate to the indoor temperature and humidity which is important to prevent shrinking or swelling later.
The next technique is to open 3-4 boxes of material and mix them up. It’s possible that the same style product made in different runs might have very slight shading differences. Mixing planks from several boxes blends them and will create a floor that looks natural. Once you’ve used about half the open stock, mix in another few boxes.
Once the subfloor is very clean, you’re ready to begin.
Step 1: Remove all of the baseboard/shoe molding from the room. Be very careful when removing it so that you don’t split the wood. Pry it away from the wall, and when you find a nail, use a flat bar to pull the trim off the nail or use a hammer to remove the nail with the trim.
Step 2: Start installation along the longest exterior wall in the room. For the first row, place the tongue side of the plank against the wall. Unlike solid wood flooring and laminate flooring, you do not need to leave a gap for expansion. Butt additional pieces in the row short end to short end. Measure and cut the last piece to fit before installing it.
Step 3: For installing over a wood subfloor, use your nailer to drive fasteners through the groove and into the floor at a 45-degree angle. Make sure the nail head is level with the wood or slightly below the surface. Adjust your nailer to get the right depth. Put in a staple every 6” to 8”.
Alternative: If you are gluing the flooring to concrete, tile flooring or final flooring, apply the glue to the bottom of each plank with a glue knife. Read the manufacturer’s direction for how much to apply.
When gluing, gently tap the piece using the tapping block so that the tongue fits tightly into the groove.
Step 4: Start the second row by choosing a piece of different length than the first one. Add glue if necessary. Gently tap the piece with the tapping block so that the tongue and groove fit snugly. Then, staple the piece if you are using a nailer. Continue with this method row by row throughout the room.
When you get near the far wall, space may become tight. You won’t be able to get a tapping block between the wall and the new piece. That’s where the pulling bar comes in handy. Slip the lip over the far end of the new piece, and use your hammer to tap on the upright piece of the pulling bar. This will pull the new piece snug with the installed piece.
The last piece may need to be cut lengthwise. You can make the cut just short of what you need, since any minor gap will be covered by trim. Before installing it, make sure the trim covers any gap. You should glue this piece to the subfloor. Another option is to face nail it right next to the wall where the nail will be covered by trim. If you’re going to do this, consider drilling pilot holes or the wood might split.
Step 5: Trimming pieces to fit around floor vents, pipes and through door jambs is the most difficult part of the job. As they say, measure twice and perhaps you’ll need to cut only once. Take your time. Your jigsaw and coping saw will be useful for these cuts.
If cutting around a pipe, measure to the center of the pipe. Cut a piece that length and then cut a slightly-oversize half-circle for the pipe. Make an identical cut at the start of the next piece and fit it around the pipe.
For door jambs, it is easier to remove the jamb and slide the wood plank beneath it than it is to scribe around the jamb. Lay a piece of scrap flooring next to the jamb so you know how high to cut in order to remove it. Use a jamb saw or coping saw for the job.
You may make a mistake or two when trimming, but that’s what the 5%-10% overage on the order is for (See the Engineered Wood Flooring Price Guide for details.)
Finishing the Job
Once the floor field is in place, replace the old trim or add new trim along with thresholds to complete the project. Before moving furniture back into the room, clean the floor entirely. See the Engineered Flooring Maintenance, Care and Cleaning Guide for details on how to clean your new floor to keep it in great shape through the years.
Also, get cushioning pads for all furniture legs. This is true even for kitchen chairs. Carry furniture to its location rather than sliding it across the floor. If you must slide it, place carpet pieces under each leg with the nap side down.
Engineered Wood Flooring Installation FAQs
Q: What is the best time of year to install engineered wood flooring?
A: Fall or spring are best, when humidity levels are more average for the year. If you do it in winter and your home is very dry, run a couple of humidifiers in the house while the flooring is being acclimated. Do this for 3-4 days before installing.
Q: If using a moisture barrier, what type is best?
A: Home flooring pros recommend 15lb black tar paper.
Q: Can you install engineered flooring in a basement?
A: Yes. It is not as susceptible to moisture problems as solid wood flooring, and this is one of its chief advantages.