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How To Install Hardwood Flooring

Installing hardwood flooring can make a dramatic improvement to any room in your home! Installing the hardwood is not that difficult but does require a couple of specialty tools to do the job right. Most importantly you need an air compressor and hose as well as a flooring nailer/stapler. These items can all be rented from most equipment rental outlets for a reasonable cost.

If you are taking on a large hardwood flooring project that may take a few days and you already have access to a compressor, you could also look at purchasing a flooring nailer/stapler then reselling it after you are done. Regardless of which way you go that tool is a must for this project.

Difficulty Level: 6/12

Tools Required

Hardwood Floor Installation

Before getting started you should make sure that your existing subfloor is pretty flat and also in sound shape. Pull any protruding nails or staples and secure any loose areas with screws. Sweep and vacuum your area well to remove any debris.

TIP: The better prepared your subfloor is the easier the whole job will go

Be sure to follow the flooring manufacturers instructions for acclimatizing the new flooring to your home ahead of time. Usually they recommend bring the flooring into the room 2-4 days before installation to stabilize the humidity level.

Figuring out which way to run the length of the hardwood is the next step. You should try to run it the opposite direction of the floor joists or with the longest dimension of the room. Next apply a layer of felt paper, house wrap or similar product to the subflooring. If you must fasten it in place, use staples and be sure they are hammered flat to the surface. The main purpose of this is to help keep down dust when installing and also allow the boards to be slide together easier. Now that you have the paper down you need to measure and mark a line parallel to the wall that you will be starting along. This line should be the width of the hardwood planks plus 1/4" away from the wall. Measure this distance away from the wall in two places and snap a straight line using the chalk line the whole distance of the room.

When you install the flooring you want the tongue side of the flooring facing away from the starting wall. Pick out some of the longer boards and lay them out along this line so that the bottom edge of the flooring under the tongue follows the line you snapped. Never butt the flooring tight to any walls, always leave 1/4" to 3/8" space.

Leave space between hardwood flooring and wall

Can't use flooring nailer yet!

NOTE: This gap will be later hidden by your baseboards.

Cut the last piece in the row to fit. Remember to leave it short from the wall. Because the first few rows are too close to the wall to use the flooring nailer/stapler you will need to face nail or blind nail them either with a pneumatic finish nailer or by hand with some finish nails. Space your nails about 6-8 inches apart.

TIP: Do not cut your flooring in the same room, as the dust and debris will give you fits. It would be best to cut outside if possible.

So carefully nail your starting row in place following the line you snapped. As you add each additional row, stagger the end joints in the boards by at least 6" from row to row to give your floor better strength. It may be necessary to use a rubber mallet and scrap block to tap the tongue and groove joint of each row together so they fit tight. As soon as you have room to use the flooring nailer use it! Continue fastening the flooring every 6-8 inches with it.

TIP: It is usually helpful to pre layout a few rows of boards at a time a foot or so away from where you are working so that you can easily reach them while nailing. This will speed things up a bit once you get moving. It can also help to have someone else doing that while you keep nailing.

First row of hardwood installed

First few rows of hardwood flooring installed, more ready to go

Inspect your boards for damage or flaws before you nail them to prevent having to back track and remove them. Also have more then one box of flooring open at a time to chose from to help mix them together incase of any shading differences in stain or wood color.

Flooring nailer in action

Keep working across the room until you can't use the flooring nailer anymore then resort again to face nailing or blind nailing with the finish nailer to complete the floor. Remember to go back and use a colored putty to fill in any face nails that will not be covered by trim or baseboards.

This all sounds a little intimidating but really once you get going a first time hardwood DIY installer should be able to complete a basic 12' x 12' bedroom in about a day. Best of all you should save yourself anywhere from $4 - $7 per square foot in installer labor. Good luck!

Finished hardwood installation