Solid Hardwood Flooring Installation Guide

installationInstallation of solid hardwood flooring has its challenges, but they can be overcome, and your floors can look their best with the unsurpassed beauty and durability of solid wood flooring. If you are comfortable with moderate to advanced DIY projects, you might consider installing hardwood flooring rather than hiring a contractor. The money you save will be far greater than the price for an extra box of flooring to make up mistakes if they occur.

See below for the tools you’ll need, and go over the step by step installation guide before launching the project. They’ll help you decide if doing it yourself is the right choice. If not, hire the home flooring pros for the installation and you’ll get the job done right with a warranty to back it up. And don’t forget to take a look at our hardwood buyers guide, our guide to the cost of hardwood floors and our cleaning guide.

Tools and Supplies the Pros Use 

Here’s a list of the essential tools and supplies you’ll need for the installation of solid hardwood floors.

Power Tools: Compound miter saw, jigsaw, circular saw if installing subflooring, jamb saw for cutting door stops – though you might be able to use a jigsaw or hand saw.

Installation Tools: Air compressor and nailer. Tape Measure.

Supplies: Chalk line, vapor barrier, nails for the nail gun and for hand-nailing first and last boards. You should also consider wearing safety goggles for all cutting jobs.

Preparing the Floor for Installation

The first step is to get rid of any existing flooring and shoe molding. If it is carpet, make sure you nail down or remove the padding staples. A flat shovel is a great tool for removing staples and loose debris. Remove the tack strip too, of course. If it was vinyl flooring or linoleum flooring, get rid of glue by sanding it down or scraping it off with a flat shovel. If it tears out wood with it, fill the gap with wood filler and sand the rest.

The subfloor should be OSB or plywood and needs to be reasonably level. If it contains significant dips, you may need to fill the dips with something. One favorite technique of home flooring pros is to use 3-tab, single-layer asphalt shingles, or parts of them, to raise low spots. Once that is done, a final subfloor layer of plywood is necessary to give the hardwood flooring a uniform base.

If the subfloor is high in spots, you can sand it if it is plywood. If OSB, you’ll need to pull the sheet and sand or plane the crown on the joist below. Glue and screw down the OSB when replacing it.

Walk all the subfloor listening for squeaks. If you find one, pull the subfloor, add glue and screw it down too.

If you’ve got a concrete floor beneath, you’ll need to install a wood subfloor. Another option is to use engineered wood flooring directly over concrete. That’s a very good choice when you’ve got radiant heat in the concrete floor.

For installation over OSB or plywood, you might want to install a vapor barrier. Get the wood dealer’s recommendation on using a barrier. Tar paper and felt are best, and there should be an overlap of 4”.

Common Installation Techniques

Bring the flooring into your home a week to 10 days before installation to let it adjust to the climate. This is especially necessary in winter. Then, before you start, mix 3-5 boxes of wood to ensure a blend of tones and shades.

Step 1: Decide which Direction to Install the Wood
If the subfloor is very solid and there are few dips, then you can lay the planks either direction. If there is any concern about the subfloor, installation of the solid hardwood floor planks should be perpendicular to the joists.

Step 2: Get the First Row Right
When installation of the first row is correct, the rest of the job can go very smoothly. When possible, start along the longest run of outside wall in the room. Snap a chalk line 3/8” out from the base of the wall, and align your wood planks with the chalk. The gap will be covered by molding, and you’ll get off to a straight start.
The nailing face of the board is below the surface. Do not use your pneumatic nailer because its power will knock the plank off the chalk line. Instead, drill pilot holes for your nails and countersink them with a nail-set. Don’t drive the nails directly with a hammer because you’ll risk hitting the top of the plank with the head and damaging the wood.
Depending on the style and size of your nailing tool, you may have to install several rows in this manner until you’ve got room for the tool.

Step 3: Install the Flooring Field
The boards of the floor are known as the “field.” Once you’ve got room to use your power nailer, nail each new piece through the tongue and into the subfloor or joist. Make sure your pneumatic tool is correctly set so that the nail head is level with the wood or slightly below the wood service. Back off on the power if the tool is driving the nail too far into the hardwood flooring plank.
Stagger the hardwood planks in the field so that ends of pieces that are side by side don’t align. A random look is more preferred.

Step 4: Measure and Cut Boards for Going Around Vents
HVAC registers in the floor need special attention. Make careful measurements and use a jigsaw along with your miter saw to make the necessary cuts. If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. Just cut the board before and after the mistake and save the pieces as filler.

Step 5: Cut Door Stops and Trim to Meet the New Floor
When going through doorways, start by cutting away material from the stops and the trim so that they are the right height for the new flooring. That’s easier than making the difficult scribe cut around the stops. Then, trim your flooring to fit before laying it. Measure twice as they say, and cut only once. With practice, you’ll soon get the hang of trimming and make very few mistakes.

Step 6: Hand Nail the Last Few Boards
When you get to the far side of the room, you’ll have the same issue you started with. Your nailer won’t fit. So, you’ll have to drill pilot holes and blind nail the boards using a nail set. Be sure to trim the last board so that a 3/8” gap exists between it and the wall. This allows for expansion of the wood in warm and humid weather. If it is too tight, it will buckle in high humidity and warmth. The gap will be covered by the shoe molding.

Finishing the Job

Installation of shoe molding completes the job and gives the room the finished look you want. There are many different options for this molding. Select a style that works well with the total design scheme you are aiming to achieve. Painting or staining the trim before it is installed, then touching it up afterwards, will save time and hassle.

Installation FAQs

Q: What is the best time of year to install hardwood flooring?
A: Home flooring pros recommend spring and fall when the humidity tends to be the most “average” for the year. This will allow the wood to quickly acclimate and prevent problems that occur when installing wood that is too humid or too dry.

Q: What’s the right humidity for installation?
A: Relative humidity should be 35% on the low side and 60% on the high side. Get an inexpensive hygrometer to measure it. You may need to use a dehumidifier or air conditioner in the summer or a humidifier in the winter to get the humidity within acceptable ranges.

Q: What is the best moisture barrier?
A: Most hardwood installation pros use 15lb black flooring paper made for use with hardwoods.

Q: How often should each piece be nailed?
A: Place a nail every 8”, but avoid placing a nail within 4” of the end of a board to avoid having it split.

Home Flooring Estimates