Hardwood Floor Installation
If you are thinking about installing hardwood floors in your home, then there are many things to consider before you ever lay down your first plank or piece of wood. There is a lot of preparation that goes into hardwood floor installation from making decisions about what kind of floor to buy, what kind of subfloor you will use, what kind of underlayment, orientation of the wooden planks, size of the planks or strips, etc. Once you have picked out all your materials, those decisions will most likely dictate what installation method you use. In addition to material choices and installation method choices, you need to remove baseboards, clear out all furniture and obstructions, arrange for proper ventilation if you will be staining or painting, and possibly arrange for somewhere else to stay if the project is large. Installing hardwood floors is a big project, but the hardwood floor installation cost can be greatly reduced if you do the work yourself.
One of the first things to consider when doing hardwood flooring installation is the subfloor. The subfloor is the surface that you will secure your hardwood floor to. The subfloor is important because it provides a level work surface and gives you something solid to nail or screw into. There are often strips or planks too short to span the distance between floor beams, so the subfloor is especially important in these cases. Another purpose of the subfloor is to protect your hardwood floor from moisture. It can serve as a barrier so that damaging water never reaches your precious floor. The most common types of subfloor materials are concrete or cement screed and wooden plywood or chipboard. You might be surprised to hear that you can install a hardwood floor on concrete, because you think you cannot nail into concrete. Nevertheless, hardwood floor installation on concrete is possible with other methods described below. If you are using an existing subfloor rather than installing your own then you want to make sure the subfloor is level so that the hardwood floor installation goes smoothly. One method to use is to lay down a ten foot 2×4” and look for any valleys. If you find dips that measure 1/8” or more then you should fill them in with floor leveler or floor compound. When this dries, you can sand down any rough edges.
The next step in installing hardwood flooring is to lay down underlayment. Underlayment is a thin layer of material that is put on top of the subfloor and underneath the final hardwood product. There are two main reasons why you want to use underlayment in your hardwood flooring installation. First, wood expands and contracts so it is important to create a vapor barrier between the subfloor and the hardwood floor to give room for the wood to expand. The materials on underlayment are usually porous and compressible so they provide that vapor barrier. Second, when wood moves around and brushes another piece of wood there is squeaking. The underlayment eliminates a lot of squeaking problems in wood floors.
There are many different types of underlayment and the most common is standard foam. This material is just a thin piece of foam that sits loosely on the subfloor. This is the most cost effective option if you do not need to protect against possible moisture or if you have no concerns about dampening noise. There are also combination underlayments that combine the standard foam with a thin film that acts as a moisture barrier. When we talk about moisture being a concern for installed hardwood floors we mean that the moisture from the ground could leach up through the subfloor and to the hardwood. If you have some more money to spend or if you are concerned about hearing footsteps in neighboring rooms, then you might install an upgraded underlayment. The upgraded underlayment is just high quality foam that is better at absorbing sounds. This foam will not help with the deadening of footsteps between floors. If you live in an apartment or if you want to eliminate noise from people walking above you then you might want to consider a cork underlayment. This is a much thicker material than the thin foam sheets so it can also be used if two rooms are at different heights and you want to bring them to the same level.
Once your subfloor and underlayment are in place, you need to choose the materials and attributes of your hardwood floor. Hardwood floor installation techniques depend a great deal on the type of material you choose to work with. First, you need to decide on the type of floor you want. There are many choices including solid hardwood, engineered hardwood, wood laminate, and laminate. On average, the choices get less expensive as you move down the list. Once you have chosen the type of hardwood floor you will be installing, you need to choose the size. Planks and strips come in many different widths and each width gives a different feel to a room. It is best if you can look at large sections of the floor you have chosen rather than individual planks or strips. Seeing the finished effect makes it easier to envision the hardwood floor in your home. In addition to size, you also need to decide on the grade of hardwood floor. The most expensive grade is called clear. Clear hardwood planks have very few blemishes and character marks. The next grade is called Select. Select planks feature light grain and have only a few blemishes as well. This grade is very easy to match one plank to another. Number 1 column and number 2 column grades have an increasing amount of character marks, blemishes, knots, and hue changes. It becomes increasingly difficult to match planks and get a uniform look throughout a room. The final decision you will have to make when picking out your hardwood floor installation materials is whether the planks or strips will be finished or unfinished. Unfinished hardwood floors need to be sanded, stained, and sealed after installation. That is a lot of extra work and the fumes from staining a hardwood floor can make your home uninhabitable for days. However, you will most likely need to do touch up work on a finished hardwood floor after installation anyway. Unfinished floors are also a good choice if you are trying to match an existing floor. The finished hardwood floor planks are more expensive per square foot, but will save you time in the end.
Your next hardwood floor installation decision is what method of installation you will use. There are three methods to choose from. The first is a floating installation. Floating installation require no nails or screws, only a little wood glue. This is used most often with engineered hardwood floors or laminates that fit together with a tongue and groove system. You use wood glue to fit together the tongues and grooves and the whole floor just floats above the subfloor and underlayment. The second method is a variation on the floating method called a glue-down installation. With this hardwood floor installation method, you actually glue the hardwood floor to the subfloor. You can use this method with any type of hardwood floor including solid hardwood. The final method of hardwood floor installation is the nail-down method. This is the recommended method for installing solid hardwood floors. The nail-down installation method requires the most skill and is the most time consuming process.
Once you have all the materials you will need for you hardwood flooring installation project, you might be wondering what kind of hardwood floor installation tools you will need. Of course, that depends a lot on the choices you made above. For example, if you are using the floating installation method you will need only glue and a mallet. However, if you have chosen to use the nail-down method then you will need nails and a nail gun. One trick that experienced carpenters will tell you is that using screws instead of nails tends to limit the amount of squeaking. Nails move easily and can allow squeaks to occur, but screws stay in place better. Other tools you will need for hardwood floor installation could include wood filler, a putty knife, sand paper, stain, sealer, and brushes. After you nail down a hardwood floor, you will need to fill in the nail holes and then sand down the filler. If you have unfinished floors, you will need to stain them. No matter what method you use, you will require some basic to intermediate carpentry skills.
Here are some small tips that can make your hardwood floor installation project a nig success. First, lay your planks and strips parallel to the longest wall in the room. This will make it easier to keep things square. Another helpful tip is to lay your longest pieces in doorways. The reason for this is that you want a clean transition from one room to another and only having one long piece in the doorway will make that possible. Be sure to use the small, short pieces throughout the entire room. Do not use them all at once or all bunches up on one side of the room. Spreading them out will make the floor look more natural. One last helpful tip is to use small spacers in between the planks. Wood expands and contracts with fluctuations in temperature and humidity so you want to leave small spaces between the planks to allow room for those expansions. If you leave those small spaces, you can increase the lifetime of your hardwood floor by almost double.
Hardwood floor installation cost per square foot varies quite a bit depending on the wood that you choose. You can find laminate floors for as little as two dollars per square foot or exotic solid hardwood floors for as much as twelve dollars per square foot. Even though there is a wide range, I would say that an average cost of hardwood floor installation is about five dollars per square foot.
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