do you install carpet or trim first

Do You Install Carpet or Trim First?

When trim is installed, it needs to be placed so that there’s room for the carpeting underneath. This can make it difficult to know which goes first. Opinions can vary wildly on how to do the installation and why, so it can be difficult to know for sure. Should you start with the carpet or the trim?

Should you install carpet or trim first? You want to install your trim before the carpet. This will make it much easier to paint or stain the baseboards without worrying about dripping on or ruining the carpet.

The good news is that people actually install carpeting and trim in either order, so there isn’t any big reason to worry about it. However, most contractors prefer the trim to go first. Let’s dig into why and how to do it correctly.

Do You Install Carpet or Trim First?

You can actually install carpet and trim in either order. So, if you’ve already done one or the other, no worries. However, if you have the option, you really want to do the trim first. Otherwise you’re going to have to be really careful of the carpet when you’re painting or staining the baseboards.

Does the Order Matter and Why?

Since installs of carpeting and trim are frequently done by different sets of contractors, they’ll often recommend that whatever portion they’re responsible for be done first. That’s because the first one is always easier.
If the carpet is done second, it needs to be tucked underneath the baseboards instead of being just rolled out. And if the trim is done first, then there’s no need to lay out plastic or protective sheeting to protect the carpeting. If you’ve got the choice, then putting up the baseboards first is going to have the least chance of causing further difficulties or complications.

Can’t I Just Paint the Baseboards Before I Install Them?

Typically, baseboards are installed unfinished and are painted or stained in place. This is because, if you paint the trim first, you’ll get nail holes and scuffs in your paint job as you install. Painting first means that you’ll need to take another run through to cover all the defects that build up during installation.

Even if you think you can avoid ruining your carpet by painting the trim before installation. Keep in mind that you’ll still need to come in and touch the paint job up after installation. You’ll still need to protect your carpet during this step, and you can avoid the entire process by just painting the baseboards after they’re on the wall.

Of course, it is always possible that the carpet installers will scratch or scuff the finish on the baseboards, but this damage will usually be minor and easy to quickly cover up. One or two scratches just isn’t the same as nail holes in every board.

Generally speaking, you want to install the trim first and the carpet second. However, since there may be instances where you’re just replacing trim but leaving carpet or have a reason to do the carpet first, I’ll give instructions for both methods.

How to Install Trim First

should you first install trim or carpet

As I’ve said already, this is the preferred method. The key is to leave a gap so that the carpet can be easily slid underneath the trim. You can do all the staining and painting before you bring the carpet in, so there’s no chance of a spill ruining your brand-new flooring.

  1. Cut the baseboard – Get your baseboard cut to the exact length of the space you’ll be putting it. If it’s going in a corner, cut a 45-degree angle into it. If the piece isn’t long enough to reach the opposite side, use a 30-degree angle to join the pieces. This will give a cleaner, more seamless look than simply butting boards up against each other.
  2. Elevate the baseboard – For most carpeting, you want the baseboard nailed in about a quarter of an inch off the ground. Be aware, this height depends on the thickness of your carpet and padding. You may need to install the baseboard an inch or more off the ground. You can use carpentry nails or wooden shims. Place your stoppers underneath either end of the baseboard so that it’s lifted and level.
  3. Nail it in – Use an air compressor hooked to a trim nailer or a hammer and some finishing nails. You want to place your nails at least two to three inches from the edge of the wood (to prevent splitting) and to place the nail closer to the base. Do this on either side. If you need to put a nail in at the top to keep everything even, be sure to line it up with a stud. Don’t push down on the board as you nail, just let it rest on the spacers.
  4. Tuck the carpet – Once you get your carpet, you can just tuck it underneath the baseboards. Believe it or not, a crowbar works great to help push the carpet into the gap.

How to Install Carpet First

There may be instances where you want to put the carpet down first. A really thick shag carpet can make it difficult to judge how high to place the trim. Or you may be replacing the baseboards but leaving the carpet. If you’re in one of these situations, follow these instructions to install the trim after the carpet.

  1. Install the carpet – Install the carpet all the way against the wall. You don’t need to leave any gaps. The trim will be installed on top.
  2. Cut the baseboard – Get your baseboard cut to the exact length of the space you’ll be putting it. If it’s going in a corner, cut a 45-degree angle into it. If the piece isn’t long enough to reach the opposite side, use a 30-degree angle to join the pieces.
  3. Place the baseboard – Simply set the baseboard on top of the carpet. You don’t need to push it down at all. Just let it sit where it naturally rests.
  4. Nail it in – Use an air compressor hooked to a trim nailer or a hammer and some finishing nails. You want to place your nails at least two to three inches from the edge of the wood (to prevent splitting) and to place the nail closer to the base. Do this on either side. If you need to put a nail in at the top to keep it all even, line it up with a stud.

Keeping the Baseboards Elevated

It may seem easier to just not worry about elevating the baseboards. Why can’t I just run the carpet up to the edge of the trim and be done with it? There are two reasons why this isn’t an option. First, you’d be able to see the edge of the carpet, and that just wouldn’t look good. Having the edges tucked gives a much cleaner look.

Second, it’s required by building codes for the trim to be elevated. This gap prevents drywall from soaking up moisture from flooded carpet or flooring. If the drywall were to soak up moisture, it could lead to a loss in structural integrity and cause much more significant damage.

Even though it may seem like a pain, for the appearance of your home and the safety of you and your family, be sure to do the installation the right way the first time. Whether you install the trim first or second, make sure that it’s elevated off the ground.

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