If you’re looking for a DIY guide to installing hardwood flooring, you’re in the right place.
I’m going to hold your hand and walk you through the installation process from start to finish.
As with all of my how-to guides, it’s 3,000+ words – no apologies for that; I’m not cutting any corners. Feel free to bookmark it, and come back as needed.
Before we jump right in, we need to choose an installation method for our hardwood floor.
There are four ways to install hardwood flooring:
- Nail Down Method: Nails are used for fastening the wood to the subfloor, and this is one of the most common methods used.
- Staple Down Method: Staples are used instead of nails to fasten the floor to the subfloor, and this is much simpler than the nail down method.
- Glue Down Method: Wood is adhered to the floor using a strong adhesive (this method is really only for engineered wood floors and parquets).
- Floating Floor Method: This is the fastest and easiest installation method and widely used by DIYers and professionals alike. A floating floor is not attached to the subfloor, it simply floats above it. Adhesive is applied to keep the boards glued together, and – in some cases – the boards are strategically made in a way that allow them to automatically snap together. Normally, a pad is placed between the wooden floor and subfloor to minimize noise and protect the wood from moisture.
Many manufacturers have developed floating floor installation techniques that lighten the task of installation, which makes it easier for their customers to do the job themselves.
Since this is the best option for a DIY project, this how-to guide will focus on taking you through all the necessary steps involved in installing a floating hardwood floor.
1 – Measuring and Preparing Your Floor
Before you get started on the actual hardwood flooring work, the first thing you’ll need to do is measure the square footage of the space where you would like to install your hardwood floor.
Make sure to be as precise as possible when identifying the square footage you need to cover. Take the measurements of the length and width of the entire room and multiply them to get the total surface area (i.e. your square footage).
I always recommend buying 15% more wood than your measurements require. For example, if you’re getting wood to cover a 100 square feet, get enough wood to cover 115 square feet (i.e. get 15% more). Doing this allows you to account for any bad planks you won’t want to use. It won’t break the bank to get the extra 15%, and it will save you a trip back out to the store when you’re in the heart of your project.
Don’t forget to account for the square footage and floor height measurements of closets and adjoining rooms. Doing this will help ensure that your new hardwood floor will have the same or a similar thickness and height as the flooring in the rooms around it. The last thing you want are uneven floor heights that you’ll be forced to fix later on, so don’t skip this step.
2 – Purchasing the Hardwood Flooring and Acclimating it to Your House
Once you have your measurements, head over to Home Depot, Lowe’s, or your favorite hardware store and buy the wood you like best.
You’ll have a ton of options to choose from, but make sure to find the kind of wood that not only looks beautiful to you, but also is hard and dent-resistant. Remember, you want this floor to last a long time.
After you purchase the right amount of wood for the square footage of your room, bring all of the wood inside your house and leave it in any room you want. This might surprise you, but the wood needs to acclimate to your home’s temperature. Therefore, be sure to leave it there for seven days.
The humidity present in the house could interfere with the wood and lead to a funky installation. Consequently, never install your flooring on the same day that you purchased the wood. Doing so would be a huge rookie mistake.
3 – Preparing the Subfloor by Removing Your Baseboards
The next step is to prepare your subfloor on whichever floor you plan to install your newly purchased hardwood. You can do this as you wait for your hardwood to get acclimated to the house’s humidity.
You’re going to need to remove all of the carpet, the foam underneath it, and any tack strips along the walls and elsewhere. After getting rid of all of that, check your floor extremely carefully. Be sure to remove any staples you find. You’ll need to get rid of all of them. Yes, all of them. Leaving even one will mess up your installation and complicate things down the line. Also, if you find any nail heads that might be sticking out of the subfloor, bang them back in or safely remove them entirely.
Don’t forget to remove any baseboard molding that would interfere with the installation. That said, sometimes you’ll have baseboard molding that’s well built and plastered onto your walls. Don’t remove that since you’ll obviously damage your wall. Use common sense to see whether your baseboard molding ought to be removed or not. If you do remove it, don’t forget to reattach it upon completion of the project.
Lastly, sweep and vacuum the whole area until it looks totally clear of debris. If you missed some staples, now’s the time to get them. Doing this will give you the smoothest and best working area possible for your installation.
4 – Underlayment
After the space is all clean and clear of debris, it’s time to put down your underlayment.
Whether you choose red rosin paper or something else, roll it out and let it overlap by 4-6 inches for each row. Cut it as needed and use a staple gun to nail it down to your subfloor.
This underlayment provides some insulation against heat, moisture, and noise while also helping to make your hardwood installation go a lot smoother.
5 – Laying Out the Flooring
Now it’s time to lay out your wood and determine how you want it to look.
Starting from either the center of the room or a wall, run the longest piece straight across the floor and begin laying other pieces of wood next to it. Continue to lay out new wood planks until the whole floor is covered. Remember, don’t start your row right up against the wall. Instead, leave an expansion gap for your baseboards. For example, if your baseboards are 1/2 inch, leave a 3/8 inch gap between the wall and your row of wood.
As you lay out the wood, you will invariably need to cut it to fit your room. For this, a miter saw works great. However, if you want to cut the wood right where you’re working, go with a Dremel Saw-Max.
Do your best to avoid awkward cuts and making really thin pieces that will look bad on your floor. Ideally, lay out as much of the wood as possible to help you cut fewer pieces. Also, each joint should be staggered by at least 6 inches and try as much as you can to avoid H joints where you find that two lows are lining up and are not at least two rows apart.
6 – The Fun Part: Installation
Now that you finished the preparation phase, let’s take a look at the tools needed to actually complete the installation job fully:
- Pull tool
- Tapping block
- Chalk line
- Japanese pull saw
You can easily purchase these tools at your local home improvement store or on Amazon.
The first three lows that you will begin with are the most important because you will set the tone for the whole floor based on how these three sit. Make sure they’re straight and that all the joints fit snug with each other. Get straps and clamps to tighten all the connections. The goal here is to make sure the planks don’t open up as you’re tapping the next plank in place.
As I mentioned earlier, the most popular method used to attach wooden planks together is the floating installation method. This involves using an adhesive in between each joint of the planks. Just run a bead of glue along the edge or joint of the wood. Then, one piece snaps right into the piece that you first laid down.
Plan the exact spot where you want the planks of wood to sit before you begin gluing. Keep in mind that within 7 to 10 minutes the glue will dry. Also, don’t overdo the glue; use just enough. Use a rag to wipe off any excess glue.
Carefully insert the planks one by one while knocking the pieces together with a hammer and tapping block. The purpose of the tapping block is to protect the edge of the planks of wood from getting damaged in the process. Always use the tapping block to tap on the plank’s tongue and always ensure that you are holding the tapping block tightly pressed to the edge of the plank. To close any visible gaps, knock gently to close them. Knocking often but gently is more preferable to knocking a few times but forcefully.
If you notice that the planks are not fitting well together, there is most likely something trapped underneath your subfloor, dirt in the grooves, or you used too much glue. If you install the planks properly, there should be no visible spaces between the joints. If you can see some tongues between the planks, you can try to wiggle them free, very gently, to see what happened. If everything seems fine but the wood plank still looks funny, just switch it out for another one – that’s why you bought 15% more wood in the first place.
Alternate the Pieces From Different Boxes of Flooring
When you buy your wood planks, they’ll come in different boxes. Since each box of planks will usually have different color shades, make sure to alternate pieces from various boxes of flooring as you continue to work your way across the room. This gives the floor a really beautiful look while preventing half of your floor from looking one shade while the other half looking another.
When knocking the planks together after gluing, make sure that you are driving in the direction of the joint you are trying to close. The joints will be virtually impossible to adjust once the whole floor has been set, so be careful and take your time.
My favorite method for dealing with door jambs is actually cutting off the bottom of the door jam so your wood can actually slide perfectly underneath it.
To do this, take a piece of scrap wood and lay it next to your door jam. Then, take your Japanese pull saw and rest it on top of that piece of scrap wood and begin to gently saw away at the door jam. Do this until your scrap piece of wood can fit perfectly underneath the door jam. Now, you’ll be able to actually install the hardwood directly under the door jam.
If you try to simply install the wood around your door jams, you’ll be in for a rude awakening. Not only will this prevent the door from being able to open properly, but it will also cause the door to jam (which will scrape up and damage your beautiful new wood floor).
Continue laying and gluing the planks together while gently and repeatedly tapping them together. Wood will change size and shape depending on the room’s temperature and humidity. It will expand and contract a bit. Consequently, as I said before, make sure to leave some space at the walls of the room for the wood to expand and contract. Eventually, your molding will cover these expansion gaps.
After you have almost the entire floor installed, you’ll notice that you no longer have room for a tapping block. At this point, just use a pulling hammer and iron to try and draw the remaining planks together. Once again, it’s advisable to use a piece of scrap wood with a groove so you can effectively protect the wood.
Once you’re done and satisfied with the installation, it’s time for the transitions, base moldings, and trims to cover all the expansion gaps.
7 – The Finishing
Take a deep breath. Installing hardwood floors without any help can be arduous, but you did it!
If you plan on hiring someone to do the finishing, feel free to skip to step 8.
For folks who want to DIY the finishing, here’s a step-by-step list of instructions to follow to properly finish your new hardwood floors:
- Let the wood rest for a while before starting on the finishing.
- Prepare the room adequately by sealing off doorways, preferably with plastic material. This will aid in maintaining the consistent room temperature and humidity levels.
- Seal all the sides. Also, precoat areas that are out of reach after the installation. There is no need for sealing the back of the strip flooring, but if you used wide planks, you might be forced to do it anyway.
- The floor will need to be sanded at least three times, each one with finer grains of sandpaper. Ensure that you have thoroughly swept and vacuumed the floor after each sanding.
- Use a rug or a soft bristled brush to apply the stain generously. Give it a few hours to get properly absorbed in the wood before wiping off the excess.
- When the stain has dried, you can brush the finish coat on the floor, giving it enough time to dry.
- Now, sand the floor again using 150 to 180 grit steel wool, sandpaper, or an abrasive pad. After, wipe the whole surface clean.
- It will take several processes of sanding, coating, and cleaning to achieve the look that you desire.
8 – Refinishing Your Hardwood Floor
The great advantage of having wooden floors is that, if properly taken care of, they have the potential to last forever.
Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are with your hardwood floors, you’ll need to refinish them at some point. For example, if your floors have taken a few beatings from kids or pets, you’ll want to refinish them more frequently so they can last as long as you plan to live in that house.
Most hardwood floors will only need to be refinished after a period of 7 or more years. However, floors with frequent and heavy foot traffic will need refinishing more frequently. If you did the finishing yourself, the refinishing should be a breeze.
Refinishing involves exactly the same steps as the original finishing process. All you have to do is to sand down your floor and reapply the finish as many times as you’d like to seal off all the gaps that might have formed over time.
When Does My Floor Need Refinishing?
To figure out when your hardwood floor needs to be refinished, you can do a simple test on the floor itself. Choose the area with the most foot traffic, and pour a tablespoon of water on the space that is most worn out. If you notice that the water has beaded up and can be wiped off easily, your previous finish is still in perfect condition, and there is no need to refinish it just yet.
However, if after waiting 20 minutes or so you notice that the water soaked into the wood, it’s time to refinish the floor. There’s no pressure to refinish right away, but it should definitely be on your to-do list.
If you noticed that the water very quickly soaked into the wood and left an obvious dark spot, then your hardwood floor needs to be refinished immediately. Failing to do so in this case could end up ruining your whole floor.
In this in-depth how-to guide, I showed you from start to finish how to install a hardwood floor in your home. I explained how to take out your old carpet, get your subfloor primed and ready for the installation, noted how to lay down your underlayment, and – of course – gave you step-by-step and easy to follow directions to install your floor. Not only that, but I also gave you my tried-and-true process for finishing and refinishing your floor so it can last a lifetime.
Installing a hardwood floor in your home will definitely take you some time, but the whole job from soup to nuts should take even the biggest newbie just two weeks. Instead of hiring a professional team to do it for thousands of dollars, you can do the whole thing for nothing more than the cost of the wood and tools. It’s empowering, fun, and a great DIY project to get started on in any room of your house.
Remember, you CAN do this.
Now get out there and install that floor!