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How to Install Hardwood Floors: Prepping the Base and Cutting Solid Wood Floors

By Edited Jan 20, 2015 1 0

Hard wood flooring adds an elegance to a home that carpet or other flooring materials cannot match.

When deciding on the type of hardwood flooring, there are some important considerations and terms you need to think about before you go out and buy something that is not going to work in your home. You need to understand all of the types of hardwood flooring available before you begin so be sure to do your homework.

Once you have decided on what is best for your home, the installation process can be done by an experienced DIYer, especially if you opt for engineered tongue and groove which snaps together, or a floating floor which requires no glue or adhesive.

Types of Bases

Crawl Space

If you have a crawl space under your home and are planning hardwood flooring, the gap between the ground and the floor should be at least 18 inches with appropriate vents in the concrete blocks to let the crawl space breathe.

Prepping the crawl space is crucial. The entire exposed ground should be covered with a polyethylene 6-mil sheet making sure you overlap and tape each sheet together. Make sure you extend the ground covering up the side of the concrete foundation blocks at least 6 inches.

Concrete Slab

Hardwood floors can be installed on a concrete slab that has been dried and cured for at least 2 months. However, make sure there are no low spots in the concrete and fill any with concrete self-leveling fluid.

It is important that the slab is clean, with a professional finish. The concrete slab should be at least 3 inches above ground level.

It is probably a good idea to have your concrete tested for moisture by a professional if you have any concerns about humidity.

Wood Subfloor

If you are installing new flooring on a wood subfloor of plywood, it is important that the surface is clean with no low spots. Place a 6 foot long 2x4 at various locations around the floor and make sure there are no dips. If you notice any, you can fill them with a self-leveling compound that sets overnight.

Also, it is a good idea to walk around the room and make sure there are no loose nails in the subfloor. It is a good idea to drill screws around the floor to ensure there are no squeaks in the future.

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Prepping the Base

Since the most common type of base is a wood sub-floor, this description of an installation will focus on the things you need to do to lay new flooring.

New wood flooring should be laid on a clean, smooth, level, structurally sound base.

Depending on the particular flooring, it can be laid on the following:

  • Existing wood floor in good condition
  • Previous floor covering
  • Plywood sub-floor
  • Moisture-proofed concrete slab 3 inches above ground

If you decide to lay new flooring over an existing wood floor, you will save yourself a lot of work by skipping all of the tear out of the old floor, however, you will create other issues for yourself.

If there are any irregularities in the old floor, it will need to be corrected. It will also raise the height of the floor as much as a half inch or more, creating issues at the thresholds.

Regardless of how you decide to lay the floor, you must first remove doors, base shoe molding and number them according to their location in the room so you know where to place them when you put everything back together.

Mark Floor Joists

Determine the location of the floor joists and make a mark on the bottom part of the wall. Then snap a chalk line across the room from mark to mark so you know their location as you move along.

For added structural strength, plan to lay your new hardwood floors perpendicular to the floor joists.

Install Vapor Barrier

As I stated before, if you are planning on laying your new flooring over an existing floor covering, it will provide a moisture and sound barrier. Just make sure the old flooring is in good condition and clear of obstacles before you begin.

Otherwise, place an asphalt laminated kraft underlayment across the area. These typically come in large rolls about 3 feet long. Make sure you overlap each run by at least 3 inches and use a knife to trim around objects that protrude out into the floor. Secure the underlayment in place with a heavy duty staple gun.

Begin on the Longest Wall

One of the first decisions you will encounter is where should you start. It is recommended that you begin laying new wood flooring on the most visible straight wall. However, it is critical that as you progress across the room that you remain parallel to that wall to prevent the lines from wandering.

Therefore, you need to mark some point along the floor outward from the wall as guideposts.

Measure 3 feet or 4 feet outward from both ends of the longest wall and snap a chalk line across the floor from end to end.  This chalk line should be exactly parallel to the longest wall.

Now measure from both ends of the chalk line to the wall on the other side. They should be equal, but it is not uncommon for it to be an inch or so off. If so, you will have to adjust your guideline slightly to minimize awkward cuts of flooring planks at the end.

If you are installing a floating floor, you do not need to be concerned with floor joists because you are not nailing anything together.

However, if you are installing any type of flooring that requires clips of small nails into the grooves of the planks, you should mark your floor joist locations on the kraft underlayment so you can determine where to nail for the most support. Again, remember to lay the flooring perpendicular to the floor joists.

Cutting Hardwood Flooring

It is crucial that you have a miter saw for any flooring project to make straight cuts with perfect 90 degree angles on the ends.

Sometimes the boards will fray on the ends when making any cuts, so there are a couple of ways to deal with this.

Before making any cuts, you can place blue painter’s tape along the cut line which softens the cut.

Also, turn the plank upside down before cutting. This will avoid any issues.

For creating cuts in the wood for obstacles such as electrical outlets on the floor, use a jig saw to make precise cuts. Simple drill a small pilot hole in the plank first that is large enough to get the jigsaw blade through, then proceed cutting the wood upside down.

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Snap Together Flooring

This is the easiest type of floor installation. The pieces simply snap together and are held in place by their own weight requiring no messy adhesives or nails. This type of installation can easily be completed in one day, even by a novice.

The rest of this article will describe an installation that involves nailing pieces into place, but the same principles apply to a floating floor. Follow the same instructions for cutting various pieces to stagger your joints and the structure of the flooring will be stronger and look better.

Installing a Floating Floor

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