I feel a little silly writing a guide to hardwood floor installation because I’m hardly an expert. But hey, if I can pull it off – so can you!
Here’s what our living room looked like in it’s fully-carpeted glory. The rest of the house is carpeted wall-to-wall, so we decided to lay hardwood throughout the first floor.
Step One – Carpet Removal
Your first step is to get rid of the carpet. All you need is a sharp utility knife and lots of patience. Start by pulling the carpet up from one corner. Cut the carpet and padding underneath into 18-24″ wide strips and roll it up as you go. Big rolls of carpet and padding can be heavy and bulky so cut smaller strips for easier carrying and disposal. This is what our living room looked like with the carpet and padding taken away:
Step Two – Sub-floor Prep
Think you’re done prepping? Not just yet. Next you need to remove all of the molding and tack strips. The right tools are essential for this step. Buy yourself a good pry bar and a heavy duty floor scraper.
Use the pry bar to carefully remove the molding. You may need to run your utility knife along the top edge of the molding if it was painted while on the wall. Otherwise, you’ll tear pieces of paint off the wall above as you rip it out.
Next, use your trusty pry bar to remove all of the tack strips. Tack strips are pieces of wood with nails pointing up and in all directions and are anchored to the cement floor. These “shark teeth” as they are sometimes called, are used to hold the carpet in place. The nails are sharp so be careful and wear thick gloves to protect your fingers.
Finally, take your floor scraper and remove any and all gunk from the sub-floor. If your room is anything like mine you’ll find glue, plaster and gobs of dried paint. Keep at it and scrape it all off and then finish by sweeping and thoroughly vacuuming the sub-floor.
Step Three – Divide the Room
It is important to properly measure and size up the room before you go about laying the first plank. Your goal is to start with as straight a line as possible and to use the most full planks as possible.
Measure and divide the length of the room in half using a measuring tape and chalk line. See how many full planks will fit on each half. Adjust from your centerline enough so that you get full planks along the most visible side of the room (usually on the side where you enter). Start from your centerline and measure in towards the wall. Lay your first plank 3-4 planks width from the wall and work towards the wall.
Notice the words I emphasized in that last sentence. Do not trust walls! They are not your friends. Walls are crooked and angled and bumpy. If you try to lay the wood by starting against a wall I can almost guarantee that as you move towards the other side of the room your planks will start being diagonal instead of parallel to the length of the room.
Step Four – Lay the Wood
Once you’ve got your first row of planks down you’re in good shape. Continue laying planks in rows, several plank widths at a time. Laying rows only a few boards deep at a time is easier to manage and will give you more working room, time for adjustments, etc. Our planks were 5″ wide so we worked on rows that were either 15″ or 20″ wide. Keep the cardboard boxes clean and use them to protect your virgin hardwood floors as you work. Tools, boots and glue can damage your new floors before they are even done!
Step Five – Done
So beautiful. It took us about two days to finish the living room. You can see two big pails of paint in the background. We did glue-down installation which I highly recommend. Gluing is much easier than nailing and ensures a nice solid and stable floor. This prevents that hollow sound you get with a floating floor installation. It’s also a great way to make less expensive engineered woods or laminate floors seem higher quality.
Here’s our floor, all done and with our new couch moved in. Notice the rug and the remnant cardboard boxes by the window. It’s important to keep any parts of your hardwood floors that are exposed to direct sunlight covered. We get lots of sun all year round in Las Vegas and you don’t want your floors to fade prematurely.
Here is a laundry list of the tools used in my hardwood floor installation. I had almost nothing when I started and made several trips to HomeDepot and Lowe’s to buy what I needed.
- utility knife and extra blades
- pry bar
- hammer (one of the few tools I had!)
- heavy duty floor scraper
- measuring tape
- chalk line
- miter saw – for cutting planks to the right length
- table saw – for cutting planks lengthwise
- undercut saw and chisel – for cutting the bottoms of doorways
- safety glasses and gloves – safety first!