How To Lay Hardwood Flooring







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How to Lay Hardwood Flooring

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Getting Started or Ready to Lay your Floor?

The Basics – Preparing to Work

You can lay prefinished hardwood flooring with one of these methods:

  • Glue Down – For solid tongue and groove (T&G) hardwood above wood or concrete subfloors.
  • Nail/Staple – For solid and engineered T&G hardwood above wood subfloors or above concrete subfloors overlaid with a plywood underlayment.
  • Click Lock Floating – For engineered click lock flooring above wood or concrete subfloors.
  • Engineered Floating – For engineered T&G hardwood above wood or concrete subfloors.

Tools and Materials

You will need most of the general tools and materials plus anything specific for your installation method.

General Hardwood Flooring Tools

  • 4' or 6' level
  • Broom
  • Carpenter's square
  • Chalk line
  • Crow, pull bar and/or power bar
  • Electric and/or hand saw with carbide tipped blade
  • Hammer
  • Jig saw
  • Safety goggles and mask
  • Soft rubber mallet and/or white tipped mallet
  • Spacers for expansion gaps
  • Tape measure
  • Tapping block or clean piece of scrap wood
  • Utility knife
  • Utility towels

Glue Down Installation

  • 1/4" square notch trowel (for planks 5" or wider)
  • 3/16" notched trowel (for planks 5" or less)
  • Blue painters tape and/or ratchet straps
  • Flooring adhesive
  • Flooring adhesive remover
  • Weighted items (books, buckets of glue) to weigh down areas of the floor Nail/Staple Installation
  • Electric drill (to predrill nail holes)
  • Nail punch
  • Staple or nail gun
  • Staples or nails
  • Pliers
  • Wire Cutters

Floating Engineered Installation

  • Adhesive remover
  • Tongue and groove adhesive

NOTE: *You may need additional tools/materials for your installation method.


Hardwood Installation Areas

Prefinished hardwood flooring can be installed in areas that are Above Grade or On Grade over these types of subfloors:

  • Wood subfloors (plywood or OSB board). Do not lay above a particle board subfloor. Wood subfloors must be structurally sound and free from movement.
  • Concrete subfloors. Concrete should be at least 30 days old and pass all moisture tests.
  • Radiant heating systems, if approved by the flooring manufacturer.
  • Existing tile, porous stone, hardwood, bamboo and vinyl.

Prefinished hardwood should NOT be installed in Below Grade areas (such as basements) unless specifically approved by the manufacturer due to the excess moisture typical in these areas.


Installation Basics

  • Lay your hardwood parallel to incoming light. In narrow rooms, lay so the flooring runs parallel to the longest wall. For added stability, lay hardwood perpendicular to floor joists.
  • Never store your hardwood in direct sunlight or in the garage. Keep your hardwood flooring away from outside walls, doors, windows and air vents.
  • During installation, always leave at least a 1/2" expansion/contraction perimeter around the room. More expansion/contraction area may be required for large room installations or if you live in a humid area. Consult your flooring manufacturer or retailer.
  • Always use an underlayment. Cork, standard foam, combination foam/film and upgraded foam are all good choices. For more specific information about these underlayments, see the full Installing Prefinished Hardwood Flooring guide on
  • Lay a moisture barrier (6mm polyethylene/plastic sheeting) between your subfloor and hardwood, especially if you are installing above a concrete slab or you live in a humid area.
  • Calculate the number of rows of hardwood you'll need to complete your floor. If your first and last row are very different widths (for example, your first row is 3" and your last row is less an 1") re–calculate so that these rows are more equal.
  • You may need to scribe fit your first and last row to match the wall contours to ensure your hardwood floor goes down straight even if your walls are not.
  • Stagger all joints 2–3 times the width of the plank for an even looking floor. Avoid H–joints.
  • When starting all new rows, follow the manufacturer's recommendations for board length (usually between 8"–10") to ensure your joints are staggered evenly. You may be able to use the remainder of the plank you cut to end the previous row.
  • Inspect all boards before you lay them. Do not lay damaged boards. Cut away damaged areas and use the remainder to start rows. Place slightly discolored boards in closets or pantries where the color variation may not be as noticeable.
  • Remove all existing flooring, if necessary. Do not remove any existing flooring if you find asbestos. Follow all local, state and federal guidelines when handling and/or disposing of asbestos.
  • Use a moisture meter to test wood subfloors for moisture. Acceptable ranges include:
    • 3" wide or less – Less than a 4% variance between the subfloor and the hardwood flooring.
    • 3" wide or more – Less than a 2% variance between the subfloor and the hardwood flooring.
  • Perform a Calcium Chloride and pH Alkalinity test on concrete subfloors. Acceptable ranges include:
    • Calcium Chloride – Not to exceed 3 lbs per 24 hrs per 1000 sq ft.
    • Radiant Heating Calcium Chloride – Not to exceed 1.5 lbs per 24 hrs per 1000 sq ft.
    • pH Alkalinity – Between 6–9 on the pH scale.

      NOTE: You can perform a Polyethylene Moisture Test on concrete slabs. Tape several 12"x12" pieces of plastic sheeting to the subfloor. If after 24 hours any condensation forms, you must perform a Calcium Chloride and pH Alkalinity test. It's a good idea to perform these tests anyway as excessive subfloor moisture can cause major problems in the long run.

  • Ensure the subfloor is level and free from all bumps, dips and imperfections (such as drywall mud or paint overspray). Scrape your subfloor clean. Sand down any high areas. Use self–leveling compound to level low areas. Perform all moisture tests again if a self–leveling compound is used.
  • Have your hardwood flooring delivered 2–7 days before your installation.
  • Place your hardwood flooring in the installation area to acclimatize. The room should be between 60°– 80° F with a relative humidity of between 35%–65%. Follow all the manufacturer's acclimatization recommendations.
  • Use a moisture meter to moisture test your hardwood flooring before installation as recommended by your manufacturer.
  • Undercut the door casings in the installation area, if desired.
  • Remove all doors and molding. Set aside.
  • Sweep and vacuum your floor before installing your hardwood flooring.
  • Always install safely using the proper safety equipment. Follow all manufacturer safety recommendations.

Tips and Tricks

  • When cutting, saw into the prefinished side first to avoid chipping the finish. Always use a carbide–tipped blade. Use blue painters tape along the area to be cut to help prevent chipping the prefinished surface.
  • Use a tapping block to move the hardwood into position. Do not hit the hardwood flooring directly.
  • Keep the installation area as clean as possible. Do all cutting in another area.
  • Place tools on a piece of cardboard on top of your hardwood to avoid scratching or damaging your new floor.
  • Most professional installers work from left to right, although you can do what is most comfortable for you.
  • Always work from your subfloor NOT your new hardwood floor.


Install the Underlayment

Lay your cork, foam, plastic sheeting or other underlayment according to the manufacturer's recommendations. If using the glue down method, make sure the underlayment you use is specifically designed for a glue down installation.


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