Install Your Own Wood Floor: Pt 1
Taking on a home improvement project yourself can be an overwhelming task, but with the right guidance and information, you can do it. As designers and manufacturers of wood floors, we can help you make the right decisions to get the perfect floor for your home, whether you buy from us or from another manufacturer. Let’s get started.
The first steps in the process are perhaps less exciting but, very critical decisions. They help you to determine the type of wood floor you should choose from and the type of installation method you should use, based on the subfloor type your floor will be on.
Where To Install?
Starting with a question you probably have the answer to, where in your home do you want to install your floor? A bedroom? The living room? Do you know what kind of subfloor is in that space? The subfloor is what's beneath your floor covering, not the carpet, vinyl, or tile itself. Under your existing floor covering is likely either a conventional subfloor made of wood or a concrete subfloor. Typically, wood subfloors are in homes with crawlspaces and floors over other living spaces, like a 2 story home. Concrete subfloors are in ground floor levels or basements of homes, and multi-residential buildings. Your subfloor type determines which floor type you should use, and the kind of installation method to use.
With a conventional wooden subfloor, you have 3 installation options. Nailing the floor down, gluing it, or floating the floor.
- Floating means the floorboards either snap together at the side and ends or are glued together at the tongue & grooves, and not fixed to the subfloor in any way. This method is good for spaces where glue-down or nailing isn't an option. A floating installation allows the floorboards to expand and contract freely without causing damage, and when done right, in largely unnoticeable from other install methods.
- A glued down (or glue down) floor is, as it sounds, glued directly to the subfloor surface by troweling an adhesive onto the subfloor first and laying the floorboards onto it.
- Nailing, or stapling, is the more traditional method of the three. Both floor cleat nailers and staplers function the same, they’re just two variations of the same process. A flooring gun is used to drive fasteners through the tongues of the boards and into the wood subfloor.
If you have a concrete subfloor, you cannot nail your flooring to the concrete. Glue down and floating are the two options with concrete. Although, there is a method commonly used in slab floor homes where a plywood subfloor is attached to the concrete and the wood floors are nailed to the plywood.
A couple of years ago I finally got around to finishing our walkout basement and I installed wood floors there. We really love it and it certainly helps to warm up the space. However, not long ago it was virtually unheard of to have wood flooring in basements because of the problems usually associated with basements - moisture.
I’ve mentioned moisture a couple of times because it’s really important to understand how water interacts with wood floors so you have the right kind of flooring for your space, and don’t have ruined flooring a year after you install it. (No one wants a water damaged floor.) If you don't already know, water and wood floors don't mix. Wood is considered a hygroscopic material, meaning it absorbs moisture from its surroundings, which affects the physical properties of it. To us non-scientists, it means wood expands and contracts as it absorbs and releases water.
Moisture can come into contact with wood floors in a few different ways. The first is moisture in the air, measured by Relative Humidity. Also, surface water like a spilled drink or a broken sink that's left for too long eventually seeps through the joints and surface. Water can also get onto the subfloor, beneath the flooring, often from a plumbing issue. Each of these cases creates problems with wood flooring when it absorbs moisture and expands much more than it should.
Another water issue occurs where moisture enters a home from a concrete subfloor. Concrete can act sort of like a sponge, absorbing moisture from the ground and potentially transferring it to materials it’s in contact with, like wood.
Which Flooring For Which Space?
Bye and large, conventional wood subfloors won't have the moisture problems that concrete is susceptible to. For that reason, solid wood flooring is best applied to conventional wood subfloors. Solid floors are made of 3/4", thick single pieces of wood, and being such, they react to moisture much more than an engineered product does. So, if you want a traditional solid wood floor like your grandparents had, just make sure it's going onto a wood subfloor.
Engineered floors are different. They can be installed onto either type of subfloor. An engineered floor is made up of a top layer of hardwood on a multi-layered, and cross-directional sandwich of wood, bottom layer. It’s these layers and different directions of wood that make engineered flooring extremely resilient to movement from moisture. That means engineered floors are ideal for installing in locations that could be susceptible to moisture issues. (Though, to be clear, no wood floor should ever be installed where there's a known problem with water. Fix the water problem, then do the floor) The top layer of high quality engineered floors can look and feel exactly like a traditional solid wood floor.
When you add together the great properties of engineered flooring with an adhesive that has a moisture barrier in it, like our Real Wood Cohesive, you can then install a floor in a basement, like I did. Or nail it down on a wood subfloor, or float it.
So Far So Good
Those are the three big hurdles to get over before you buy your floor. 1. Consider where it’s going and what type of subfloor is there, 2. what flooring type best fits there and 3. the installation type you should use for it.
In part two we’ll discuss wood floor options available for you and how to choose a floor, and get ready for your installation. As always, if you have questions about any of this give us a call and we’d be happy to help.