Bookmark and Share
 

All About Installing Hardwood Floors Over Different Subfloors

By Jeff Hosking – Hosking Hardwood Flooring Inc.
© 2004-2012, Copyright protected. All Rights Reserved

What you walk on can make the difference!

One of the most important parts of any buildings structure is its floor system. The floor system carries the weight of interior walls, roof, furniture, appliances, finished flooring, people, etc. How well the floor structure is designed and built will determine how much weight the floor can carry.

Too many times over the years I have seen homes that were built that have had weak foundation footings, Improper spaced support columns, undersized and/or improperly spaced floor joists or weak improperly nailed sub flooring. These design failures lead to multiple performance or structural failures of the floor system causing excessive movement, sagging, unequal heights, separation, or squeaking within the floor system.

 

The four main types of subfloors most often found in homes as shown in the photographs below. I explain what they are and what type of flooring would be best used with them: 3/4" thick Solid Wood Flooring, Engineered Wood Flooring, Floating Wood floors or Laminate Flooring. We also go over questions regarding Particle Board and Installing New Hardwood Flooring over Old Wood Flooring.

Prior to installing any finished flooring, it is important to remember:

  • Re-secure any loose wood subfloor planks, OSB, or plywood subfloors to the floor joists using 2-1/2" deck screws.
  • Loose or damaged subfloors can cause squeaking and affect the performance of the finished flooring that is installed over it.
  • Concrete slabs should be flat, use a leveling compound to fill any depression or voids.

Remember: Even the best wood flooring will react to the presence of moisture. In the dry winter heating months, moisture leaves the wood causing the floor to contract, which can leave unsightly gaps between each plank. In the summer months when the humidity is higher the wood will absorb excess moisture and expand and the gaps will disappear. If there is too much moisture it may cause the wood planks to cup, or buckle. This is why it is important when installing a wood floor to acclimate the wood to the home from 4 to 7 days or more prior to installation and to leave the proper expansion gap around the perimeter and at all fixed objects. It is also important to keep the home's relative humidity level at between 30 - 50% or what the manufacturer recommends. Doing this will help minimize any movement within the wood flooring later.

Plywood Subflooring

For the last 40 years CDX tongue and grooved plywood has been the most commonly used exterior structural subfloor material used in homes. This plywood is made from thin sheets of (usually southern pine) veneer that are cross-laminated and glued together forming 4" x 8" sheets that are either 5/8" or 3/4" thick. Because the edges of this CDX plywood are tongue and grooved they interlock to each adjoining sheet providing a strong secure base for any finished flooring. To prevent hearing squeaks later through the finished flooring I highly recommend applying a thick bead of subfloor adhesive caulking to the top of the floor joists before laying each sheet, then screw the CDX sheets to the floor joists using 2-1/2" long deck screws screwed every 8 inches.

 3/4" Thick Solid Wood Flooring and most all other hardwood flooring including Engineered or Floating engineered wood flooring and Laminate floors can be installed directly over 5/8" or 3/4" thick CDX plywood sub floors.

Although it is standard practice to install all hardwood flooring no matter the thickness, across the floor joists to support, stabilize and strengthen the whole floor structure sometimes that board direction is not preferred. If the existing sub floor is 3/4" thick, solid and flat with no deflection between the joists when walked on and the floor joists are spaced 16 inches or closer, you may be able to run the hardwood flooring parallel with the floor joists to obtain a desired look. Running the floorboards along the longest dimension of the room will make the room appear larger than it is.

Engineered or Solid Wood Flooring that is less than 1/2" thick can be installed over a plywood subfloor. But if you have a weak subfloor that flexes up and down when walked on I would recommend adding an additional layer of 3/8" or 1/2" thick plywood underlayment, glued and screwed down over the weaker subfloor will add stability. Installing thinner wood flooring over an already weak or thin subfloor may cause the whole floor system to flex up and down when walked on. Most engineered wood floors can also be installed using the floating method. 

 

Laminate Flooring, which can only be installed using the floating method, can be installed over a plywood subfloor (over the recommended foam pad). If you have a weak subfloor that flexes up and down when walked on I would recommended adding an additional layer of 3/8 or 1/2 inch thick plywood underlayment glued and screwed down over a 5/8" or 3/4" thick subfloor to add stability.

Even though you may think your homes environment is dry, interior relative humidity moisture levels and ground water tables can change frequently from month to month, We recommend laying 15 lb. black felt Hardwood flooring underlayment paper over the wood subfloor overlapping the seams 4-6 inches to help retard moisture transfer that may migrate up from damp basements through the subfloor and affect the stability of the Hardwood floor.

Plank Subflooring

Plank subfloors are usually made up of 3/4" thick x 4-8" wide southern yellow pine boards. Installation usually consists of nailing these boards to the floor joists. Since this type of sub flooring is usually found in older homes and can loosen up over time from the boards expanding and contracting, it is very important to remember to re-secure these planks to the floor joists using 2-1/2" deck screws prior to installing any floor covering, as loose or damaged boards will affect the performance of the finished flooring.

 3/4" thick Solid Wood Flooring must be installed across the subfloor boards (at a 90 degree angle). If the hardwood flooring is installed parallel to the direction of the plank subfloor the new wood floors could pull apart leaving open gaps or develop waviness later if the underlayment planks expand/contract or the edges cup upwards. If you desire to run the wood flooring parallel with the subfloor boards you must install an additional layer of 3/8" or 1/2" thick plywood underlayment glued and screwed down over the plank subfloor.

Engineered, Solid Wood or Floating Wood Flooring that are less than 1/2" thick can be installed over a wood plank subfloor as long as the 3/4" plank subfloor is flat. The hardwood flooring must be installed crossing the subfloor boards (90 degree angle). If there is any deflection in the subfloor when walked on it would be advisable to add an additional layer of 3/8" or 1/2" thick plywood underlayment glued and screwed down over the wood plank subfloor to add stability to weak subfloors. Doing this will also allow you to run your new wood flooring in any direction desired.

 

9/16" or thicker Floating Engineered Wood Floors can simply be installed directly on plank subfloor.The hardwood flooring must be installed crossing the subfloor boards (at a 90 degree angle). If there is any deflection in the wood plank subfloor when walked on it would be advisable to add an additional layer of 3/8" or 1/2" thick plywood underlayment glued and screwed down over the plank subfloor to add stability to weak subfloors. Doing this will also allow you to run your new wood flooring in any direction desired.

Laminate Flooring, which can only be installed using the floating method, can be installed over a 3/4" thick plank subfloor (over the recommended foam pad) as long as the plank subfloor is flat. The flooring must be installed crossing the subfloor boards (at a 90 degree angle). If the laminate flooring is installed parallel to the direction of the plank subfloor the laminate flooring could develop distortion later. If there is any deflection in the subfloor when walked on it would be advisable to add an additional layer of 3/8" or 1/2" thick plywood underlayment glued and screwed down over plank subfloor to add stability prior to installing any flooring.

We recommend laying 15 lb. black felt Hardwood flooring underlayment paper over the subfloor overlapping the seams 4-6 inches to help retard moisture transfer.

OSB (Oriented Strand Board) Subflooring

OSB Subflooring looks like, and is, a bunch of wood chips glued together. Installation usually consists of gluing and nailing the OSB sheets to the floor joists.

 3/4" Thick Solid Wood Flooring can be installed directly over 3/4" thick OSB subfloor. It is standard practice to install the hardwood floors at a 90 degree angle across the floor joists to stabilize and strengthen the whole floor structure. If the existing subfloor is 3/4" thick, solid and flat with no deflection when walked on you, can run the wood flooring parallel with the floor joists to obtain a desired look. If the OSB sub flooring flexes up and down when walked on then you should add an additional layer of 3/8" or 1/2" thick plywood underlayment glued and screwed down to add stability. OR, install 2x6 blocking between the floor joists for added stability. Running the floorboards along the longest dimension of the room will make the room appear larger than it is.

When installing engineered, solid or floating floors that are less than 1/2" thick we highly recommended you add an additional layer of 3/8" or 1/2" thick plywood underlayment. The addtional underlayment should be glued and screwed down over 3/4 inch thick OSB subfloor to add stability. As an alternative you could install 2x6 blocking between the floor joists for added stability. Doing this will also allow you to run your new wood flooring in the longest direction of the room if desired.

Floating Engineered Wood Floors can simply be installed directly on OSB subfloor.The hardwood flooring must be installed crossing the floor joists (at a 90 degree angle). If there is any deflection in the subfloor when walked on it would be advisable to add an additional layer of 3/8" or 1/2" thick plywood underlayment glued and screwed down over the OSB subfloor to add stability. OR, install 2x6 blocking between the floor joists for added stability. Doing this will also allow you to run your new wood flooring in any direction desired.

Laminate Flooring - Thinner laminate type flooring can be installed over OSB subfloor (over the recommended foam pad). The flooring must be installed crossing the floor joists (at a 90 degree angle). If the laminate flooring is installed parallel to the direction of the floor joists the Laminate flooring could develop distortion later. (If there is any deflection in the subfloor when walked on it would be advisable to add an additional layer of 3/8 or 1/2 thick plywood underlayment glued and screwed down over OSB subfloor to add stability OR install 2x6 blocking between the floor joists for added stability.)

We recommend laying 15 lb. black felt Hardwood flooring underlayment paper over the subfloor overlapping the seams 4-6 inches to help retard moisture transfer.

Concrete Slabs

Concrete slabs usually consist of a 4-6" thick, 3,500-5,550 lb strength concrete pour. Water used within the mix of newly poured slabs can take up to 3 months or more to dry out. Moisture testing should be performed prior to any installation of hardwood flooring. One method is to tape the edges of several 2' x 3' sheets of plastic down in several areas of the slab, wait approximately 48 hours to see if moisture develops under the plastic. If signs of moisture appear, DO NOT install any wood flooring until the excess moisture level is corrected. Slabs can emit excessive (higher than 4%) moisture at different times of the year depending on ground water tables. Slab floors that have a 4-6 mil plastic installed prior to the pour will better retard moisture transfer later.

 3/4" Thick Solid Wood Flooring cannot be nailed or directly glued down over a concrete slab. Moisture is a never ending concern with slabs and the use of a 3/4" solid wood floor could cause the floors failure. If a 3/4" thick hardwood floor is desired, a sleeper system can be built on top of the slab using 1/2" or 3/4" thick x 3" wide strips of wood spaced 12 inches apart with 3/4" cdx plywood screwed to the top then the flooring installed. OR, glue and screw two layers of 1/2" plywood cross layering diagonally over each other directly over the slab making sure the seams do not line up. We recommend to lay a 4-6 mil plastic down on the slab first to retard any minor moisture transfer from the concrete.

If you plan on using a glue-down engineered wood floor, we recommend making sure the slab has a moisture content of less than 4% throughout the year, and to use an adhesive that is water resistant.

Floating Engineered Wood Floors were designed for installing over concrete and really work the best. These hardwood floors can simply be installed using their 1/8" thick padding directly on the concrete slab over a 4-6 mil plastic. 

Laminate Flooring can simply be installed using their 1/8" thick padding directly on the concrete slab over a 4-6 mil plastic.

Concrete slabs need to be flat. Use a self-leveling cement type floor leveler to fill any depressions within the slab and allow to dry before installing any flooring.

Installing New Flooring Over Old Flooring

This is a question we get asked enough to post information on the subject. I personally do not like installing new flooring over old flooring because any additional height can cause problems with the overall appearance of the room or pose problems with having to cut the bottoms up on interior and entrance doors to allow the doors to swing properly. There can also be clearance problems with appliances and it can create unevenness where other rooms connect and adding additional layers of new flooring places unnecessary weight to the floor system.  And if the old flooring should ever become loose it could affect the new flooring installed over it. One of the benefits of removing the old flooring is it allows you the chance to fix any loose subflooring or squeaks by re-securing the main subfloor to the floor joists prior to installing the new flooring. With all that being said though the answer is YES you can install New Wood Flooring over the old. BUT…

New Hardwood Flooring Over Old Hardwood Flooring: 3/4" thick or thinner Solid or Engineered hardwood flooring must be installed across the old wood floor boards (at a 90 degree angle). If the hardwood flooring is installed (nailed down) parallel to the direction of the old wood flooring the new wood floors could pull apart leaving open gaps or develop waviness later if the old wood flooring under it expands or contracts. If you desire to run the wood flooring parallel with the old wood floor boards you must install a layer of 3/8" thick plywood underlayment screwed down over the old wood flooring which acts as a separation and will allow you to run your new wood flooring in any direction desired. We recommend laying 15 lb. black felt Hardwood flooring underlayment paper over the old flooring overlapping the seams 4-6 inches to help retard moisture transfer. To reduce any added height problems you can use a thinner 3/8" - 9/16" thick engineered wood floor or 5/16 thick solid hardwood floor. You can also use a floating engineered floor which can usually be installed over the older floor in any direction. All floating wood floors require a suitable underlayment pad. 

Laminate Flooring, which are floating floors, can be installed over most any other floor covering except carpet. All laminate floors require a suitable underlayment pad.

Porcelain or Ceramic Tile: If the Ceramic Tile is well secured and flat then you could install a Laminate or Engineered Floating wood floor over it using the recommended underlayment pad.  Due to the smooth texture of tile and the need for the wood adhesive to stick to it, it is not recommended to direct glue down wood flooring over tile.

Sheet Vinyl: Because Vinyl sheet flooring is a thin flexible material, the outline of the ceramic tiles will telegraph through and be visibly seen. I would recommend removing the tile and adding a plywood underlayment to the existing main subfloor to obtain the desired height then install the sheet vinyl. Sheet vinyl can be installed over an old hardwood floor but a layer of 1/4 inch or thicker underlayment has to be installed over the old hardwood flooring first.

Particle Board - Underlayment

Particle board underlayment has the appearance of oatmeal but is actually made up of tiny wood particles glued and pressed into 4" x 8" sheets. It is NOT suitable to use as a structural subfloor material.

I have only included Particle Board in this article because a lot of people see it when they remove old carpet and think it is a structural subfloor material like plywood or OSB. Particle board is NOT a structural subfloor material and is only manufactured to be used as a inexpensive underlayment filler sheet on top of the main structural subfloor material to raise the height of carpet to a desired level. Particle board can absorb excessive moisture is very brittle and does not hold nails very well. If this type of underlayment is present, it will have to be removed when planning to install a nail or glue down hardwood floor.

If desired, Particle Board Underlayment can be left in place if a Floating engineered wood floor or a Floating Laminate floor system is going to be installed over it. BUT the additional height of both the particle board and the new flooring may pose a problem with doors and appliances.


Frequently asked questions about

Hardwood Flooring FAQ
Laminate Flooring FAQ

Before you purchase your flooring read our other Articles:

All About Solid Wood Flooring
All About Engineered Wood Flooring
All About Floating Engineered Wood Floors
All About Installing Hardwood Flooring Over Radiant Heat
Home Depot and Lowe's Rely on Hosking Hardwood for Answers

Please Tell Us What You Think Of Our Article
All About Subfloors - installing flooring over various sub-floors
Please do the addition below. This is used to make sure a real human is filling in the review.

Page Reviews

Web Page: All About Subfloors - installing flooring over various sub-floors
by
Overall Rating: 4.7 stars - 207 reviews

By:
Date: July 11, 2020
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
Heres a new one. Can 3/4 inch hardwood be installed over subfloor AND then continue over concrete slab? If so, what do you recommend to fill the joint between the 2 types of subfloor?
By:
Date: July 1, 2020
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
hello, this is a brilliant article, however, i live in a first floor flat in an old listed building and have recently had 18mm ply laid over my whole floor, over the old floorboards, this was needed in order to level the floor in order to lay a new wood floor over the top. (the floor was soooo uneven!!) my question now is, the flat is open plan, that is, the kitchen/dining/living is all open and at the same level. I have read somewhere that engineered wood is better than solid for use in kitchens, because of possible water escape. The kitchen will only have the sink (the washing machine going elsewhere.) I have looked at engineered wood and see that it is basically a 3/4mm wear layer ie solid wood and then plywood or hdf core. Now, because I already have an 18mm layer of plywood, could I use one of the 11mm solid woods over this or would I still have a problem in case of water escape? what do you experts think? If you do recommend engineered flooring, is the type with the HDF core ok f
Reply by HoskingHardwood : Not sure what you have been looking at but we would recommend using an engineered floor for stability, one that has a thick wear layer that can be sanded and refinished in the future if ever needed like either our click loc engineered floating floor Or our High end engineered plank flooring.
By:
Date: June 26, 2020
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
I am replacing our floating laminate flooring on the main floor with waterproof vinyl planks. The installers of the laminate floor orignally installed north/south at our request but had to reinstall to lay in the direction to cross over the joists (east/west of house layout) because the glueing in the laminate planks could not withstand the flexing not supported by joists. Since the new flooring is interlocking, could we install North/South now or would it still be advisable to install crossing over direction of joists? Thanks!
Reply by HoskingHardwood : Depends on your existing subfloor. If you have a plank subfloor you will need to install a plywood underlayment the thicker you use the more chance you can lay the thinner LVP LVT in any direction you want. If you have plywood and the floor doesn't flex or bounce when walked on and is solid then you can install over that in any direction you want. More info can be seen here.
By:
Date: June 18, 2020
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
Hi, I am totally stripping down an old appartment which has squeaky hardwood over planks (from the 20’s). Height is not an issue since the ceiling is 10ft high. I will install a mix of ceramic tiles and new hardwood. My plan is to remove the old hardwood, but am wondering if it may not be better to keep it, screw it down, and glue and screw a 3/4 plywood over it. The pros would be Less work, more overall floor strength, more soundproofing to the neighbors under. But I won’t hesitate to remove the old floor if squeaking has a risk to stay. What do you recommend?
Reply by HoskingHardwood : Removing hardwood flooring is not a difficult job once you get started. the trick is to pry up the floor boards from the tongue side of the boards. Most of the squeaks are most likely coming from the subfloor. Once the flooring is removed you can re-secure the subfloor down using deck screws. Since height is not a problem you can then add stability by adding a layer of say..1/2 inch plywood then your new flooring.
By:
Date: May 27, 2020
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
Excellent lecture on many applications of pre-installation prep for installing hard wood floorings on a variety of sub-floor applications.
By:
Date: May 7, 2020
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
Can I install hardwood flooring over an engineered hardwood floor? Please reply to jboroff@gmail.com
By:
Date: April 27, 2020
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
thanks for taking the time to write this informative article. It covers a variety of conditions that one is likely to experience. I appreciate your expertise…
By:
Date: April 13, 2020
Page Rating: (4.5/5)
Comments:
0 experience w/ flooring. Just took up 200 s.f. of what appears to be T & G Engineered laminate, w/ a full 9/16" thickness, and 7 1/2" Width. Flooring is 18 yrs. old. Noted the absence of any poly over the concrete, just thick foam pad. Some musty odor not evident until pulling the boards. Doing some leveling ( slowly and tediously, equal to my skills ) as no doubt it needs it. Once i get reasonable eveness , is it permissible / possible / allowable to put down poly 6 mil, followed by 1/8" Luan, then foam underlay pad ?? Why ? Im having a difficult time finding Engineered laminate in the thickness we had. If I am forced to go w/ 3/8 or 1/2" , Id like to have a bit more height ?? Any and all information,, much appreciated. Great page. Thank You , Brian
Reply by HoskingHardwood : Maybe you can use 1/2 inch thick engineered flooring with a pad which is approx 1/8 inch thick. That would bring your height up to about 9/16 thick. (we have a lot of options for engineered flooring on the site here . ) 
By:
Date: April 11, 2020
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
i have a condo with a concrete floor. There is a single large room that has the kitchen dining and living area. The kitchen and part of the living area are tiled and the rest is carpet. I would like to do the whole space in LVP over the tile with no transistions. However, I will have to remove the carpet and build up the carpeted area buy about 1/2" to be even with the existing tile. What is a suitable subfloor. I thought about a cement type backer board but it would have to be bonded to the concrete somehow. I think a high density rolled product might be better as it would just lay and conform to any small inconsistencies in the slab. Any ideas? Thanks
Reply by HoskingHardwood :

You are going to need some kinda transition where the LVP and the Kitchen tile meet. If both floors end up being the about same height then you can use a LVT "T" molding which can be ordered with your flooring. 
With regards to using a filler mat or underlayment directly over the slab you should be able to use "Cork sheets" which lay flatter and is dense enough to not allow the LVP to flex when walked on. If you use the cork tape the edges of the sheets together using duck tape. 

By:
Date: March 1, 2020
Page Rating: (4.5/5)
Comments:
I heard that when attaching either OSB or Plywood over existing plank subfloor, you should glue it well and screw it down, but NOT screw the Ply or OSB directly to the hoists underneath. I also heard some people say to place roofing paper between the layers

Click Here To See All Reviews