Installing Solid Hardwood Floors


Solid Hardwood Installation

Step 1. Planning


Once you’ve decided to take the leap and create the look you’ve always wanted, it’s time to plan. You more time you spend thinking through each step of the project, the more you’ll enjoy the process. No matter how well you plan, there will always be unexpected hiccups.


Say no to stress! Decide now to roll with the punches.


List out everything necessary to get the job done. Assess the time it will take and schedule accordingly. Throw in some extra time in case things don’t go perfectly.


Key Points:


Moisture – We’ll talk about how to acclimate your flooring later. But in the planning phase, you’ll need to schedule flooring for when you have a controlled environment. If contractors are opening up walls to the outside, it can throw off your acclimation process. You need to have an enclosed, fairly controlled space similar to what it will be after the project is complete to acclimate and install your floors.


Measuring – The old adage of ‘measuring twice’ applies. Sometimes you’ll forget to add in a closet or pantry. Be sure to carefully measure the length and width of the room to the walls. Measuring only to the existing baseboards and quarter round can throw off square footage by an entire row!


Waste – Experienced contractors use a 10% waste figure. An average DIYer might want to add in slightly more. When buying pre-finished floors, it is always better to overestimate than be a box short. It is impossible for even the top manufacturers to maintain consistency during runs so you may have to deal with color variations.


Remember the Limitations of Solid Hardwood Floors

  • Solid hardwood is not suitable below grade
  • Solid hardwood requires a suitable subfloor over concrete
  • Solid hardwood is not suitable for installation over subfloors with radiant heat


Step 2. Preparation for your solid hardwood floor



  • ENCLOSED - Your home should be enclosed with all outside doors, walls and windows installed. All “wet” work including concrete, masonry, drywall, paint should be thoroughly dry.
  • DRY - Any exterior grading to direct water flow away from the home must be done prior to installation and all gutters must be installed and directly water away from the foundation.
  • HVAC OPERATING- Any permanent air conditioning and heating system should be in place and operational.
  • STABLE TEMP - Your installation site should have a consistent room temperature of 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity level of 35-55% for 14 days prior to and during installation and until occupied.



  • DRY – A moisture test must be conducted of the subfloor and any moisture resistant underlayment should be installed. Wood subfloors should not exceed 13% moisture content.
  • CLEAN – The subfloor must be free of any adhesives, paints, sealers, oils, and other debris.
  • LEVEL – Sand any high areas and flatten low spots with builders felt, plywood or shims if necessary but avoid leveling compounds. Usually 3/16” in 10’ and/or 1/8” in 6’ are required.
  • STABLE – Any areas that are loose or squeak need to be addressed. It isn’t going to get better after the floor is installed. Obviously, you’ll want to flatten raised edges and deal with subfloor imperfections.
  • SAFTEY – Don’t attempt to sand, scrape, drill, saw, existing resilient flooring, adhesives, etc. These products may contain asbestos. Call a professional!


Storage and Handling


Yeah, you’re flooring has arrived!


You want to store solid hardwood floors in the environment where it will be installed. Solid wood flooring is heavy and sensitive to impact therefore you want to move it as few times as possible. Place it flat and avoid stacking it too high. Check the side of the box for specifics. Most manufacturers recommend methods that allow as much air as possible to circulate around the boxes.


Acclimating Your Hardwood Floor


Patience is the key.


For optimal performance, you need the flooring to match the temperature and humidity of the room that it is in. Specifically, the difference in the moisture content of the wood subfloor and the wood floor must not exceed 4% (3% for plank). Not doing so can cause the flooring to shrink or expand too much. It can buckle or cup.


Use a reliable moisture meter and test in more than one spot to assess the difference in the subfloor and the flooring.


While you may acclimate solid hardwood flooring in the box by just opening the box ends, we recommend that you take the time to remove the strips or planks from the box and layout the floor as if you were going to install it.


Tools & Accessories Needed


  • Moldings
  • Chalk line and chalk
  • Recommended hardwood flooring cleaner, broom, mop
  • Nail set
  • Tape measure
  • Power saw
  • NIOSH designated dust mask, eye protection
  • Electric drill and bits
  • Compressor
  • Blind fastening machine for 3/4"
  • 6-8d finish nails
  • Pneumatic finish nailer with 1 1/2" or 2” nails
  • Urethane construction adhesive for floors wider than 4”


Step 3. Installation of your hardwood floor



  • Make sure that you’ve figure your layout so that you don’t end up with a final board narrower than 1” in width. If it is going to occur, plan ahead to shorten boards on both ends or be prepared to nail and glue the final board.
  • You should layout the floor using at least four cartons at the same time to ensure good color and shade mixture.
  • Set aside boards that blend the best with the floor moldings you’re going to be using to ensure a uniform appearance. Install these boards along the wall next to the moldings.
  • Treat the layout like a puzzle. There are nearly limitless combinations so take the extra time now to ensure you come up with the best one for you house. If you have to, sleep on it! Then make the decision.
  • When laying out the floor stagger the ends of the boards 4-6” in adjacent rows. This will provide the best overall appearance.
  • Use starter boards and begin rows with various lengths. Avoid staggering too uniformly to prevent a stair-stepping effect. Boards cut from the opposite end of the row may be used for the next starter board.
  • Always allow 3/4" expansion around all vertical obstructions


Final Prep

  • Undercut door casings and jambs. This avoids having to challenge of making scribe cuts. Remove existing base/shoe mold or doorway thresholds.
  • If you’re going to use underlayment, install it now
  • Blind nail a sacrificial board. Check for surface damage, air pressure settings and tongue damage. Make any adjustments necessary then remove and destroy the board.


Establish a Starting Point

  • For the best visual effect, you want to install solid hardwood flooring parallel to the longest wall. However, sometimes form must follow function. The floor should be installed perpendicular to the floor joists unless the subfloor has been reinforced to reduce sagging.
  • Look for the straightest wall. These are usually the outside walls. Use this wall as the starting wall to begin layout.
  • In at least two places at least 18” from the corner, measure out an equal distance from the starting wall the face width of the starter board plus 1” (don’t include the width of the tongue in the measurement.) For example if the board is 2 1/4" then measure out 3 1/4". Make these marks and snap a chalk line. This will provide the 3/4" expansion necessary for the floor.


Installing the First Two Rows

  • Find the longest straightest boards available and align the tongue on the chalk line. The groove should be facing the starting wall.
  • Using the nailer, face nail the groove side 1/2" from the edge at 6” intervals and 1-3” from the end. Then blind nail using a finishing gun held at a 45 degree angle through the pocket on top of the tongue every 6-8”.


Starting from the center

  • You can also install starting from the center by snapping a chalk line down the center then installing a sacrificial row that extends the entire length of the room on the centerline. After three rows you need to remove the sacrificial row.
  • With the sacrificial row removed, you insert wood glue in the groove followed by a slip tongue in the exposed groove. Once the slip tongue is glued and nailed in place, you can continue in both directions.


Dry Lay the Floor

  • Cover about 2/3rds of the floor starting 6” from the rows already down. Avoid pulling the boards together too tightly on the sides to make installation quicker.
  • Inspect the flooring and move boards around until you have the effect you desire. Move aside any boards with imperfections. Cut and use them on the ends.


Installing the Floor

  • Now it is just a matter of using the blind nailer and fasten each board at least 1-3” from each end or otherwise as the manufacturer recommends.
  • The last two rows will have to be face nailed where clearance doesn’t permit blind nailing. Pre-drill and face nail on the tongue side.
  • Rip the final row to fit and face nail.


Completing Installation

  • Remove all tools and flooring materials, carefully sweep up excess dust and nails, then use the floor cleaner as recommended.
  • Inspect and fill any minor gaps.
  • Install any trim pieces
  • Make sure to install entrance rugs
  • Before moving any furniture make sure it has protective pads on the legs.


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