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Hardwood Flooring Installation Tips!

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

Hosking Hardwood Flooring has some of the very best, most knowledgeable team of flooring experts in the industry. If you purchase your flooring from us we will gladly spend the time on the phone or through e-mail to help with any installation questions you may have.


Acclimating your new wood flooring

acclimating hardwood flooring Bring your new flooring into your home so that it can acclimate from where the flooring had been stored to what the new rooms normal (30-50 %) relative humidity levels are going to be. If you install the new flooring right away and it had a higher moisture content within the boards problems can occur later with contraction when the wood flooring dries out leaving gaps between the boards. The opposite can also happen when the flooring is installed with the boards being dryer then the new environment is, which then later on can absorb moisture and expand causing the edges to cup and or buckle. Normal seasonal changes in relative humidity levels can cause small seams to open and close which is to be expected and considered normal. Never store the wood flooring in areas prone to higher or low humidity levels than 30-50%.

digital hygrometerPrior to the flooring being installed the wood planks need to be at, or close to the same moisture content as both the subfloor and the environment the flooring is going to be installed in. The acclimation period can be between 4 to 14 days or longer depending on your region of the country. Wood flooring is dried during the manufacturing process down to between 6-12% MC which equals the normal (healthy) relative humidity level within your home of 30-50 % RH. Wood flooring professionals use a moisture meter to test the flooring and the subfloor to make sure the readings of both are between that 6-12%.

We would highly suggest purchasing a small inexpensive hygrometer that will monitor your home relative humidity levels. If the relative humidity level rises above 50% then air conditioners and/or dehumidifiers should be used to bring the RH down. If the RH within the home goes lower than 30 then Humidifiers should be used to bring the RH up. Engineered wood flooring is manufactured to reduce movement within the board during short term higher and/or lower environmental moisture changes.

Removing Old Carpet, Hardwood and Baseboard Moldings

removing old carpet

When removing old carpet it is easier to pull it up from a corner of the room then fold it over itself 3-4 feet. Then using a utility knife cut strips off from the back side of the carpet to discard. Once the carpet is removed you will have to pull up and dispose of any carpet pad which is usually stapled down.

removing tackless

Once you have the old carpet and the pad removed you will be left with thin wooden strips (called Tackless) around the edges of the room which are nailed into the subfloor every 5 inches. These wood strips contain hundreds of very sharp barbed points that grabbed and held the edges of the carpet down. The trick to removing these wooden strips without splintering them is to gently tap a thin flat bar between the subfloor and the strip directly under each of the nails that hold the strip to the subfloor and just pop them up slightly. Do not try and pull the nails completely out or free the strip from the subfloor. Continue doing this along the whole strip, when reaching the end of the strip the whole piece should lift from the floor easily. We would recommend using heavy gloves when handling these wooden strips as the barbs are very sharp.

remove staples in subfloor

The easiest way to remove the hundreds of staples in the subfloor left from carpet installations is to slide a square edged shovel across the sub floor against the flat side of the staple. The force of the shovel should be enough to grab and pull the staple up from the subfloor. Some stubborn staples will have to be pulled from the floor using pliers or screwdriver wedged under them. Staples in sub floors that are going to be covered with new wood flooring that are found to be broken off and cannot be pulled will have to be driven flat with a hammer.

removing baseboards

When installing wood flooring you are required to leave an expansion gap of approximately 1/2 inch (depending on the manufacturer) around the edges of the room. To cover this expansion gap we recommend removing the wood baseboard and reinstalling it later on on top of the new flooring. To make this job easier find the end of a section of baseboard and gently work a putty knife down from behind the molding and gently work the end of the baseboard loose. If you have a thin flat bar you can also use that. To avoid splitting do not try and pry the baseboard from the wall completely, once you have the end slightly loose gently work your way across to the other end of the baseboard where then it can then just easily be removed from the wall without fear of snapping the baseboard into pieces.

removing nails from baseboards

Once you have that section of baseboard off use pliers and twist to pull the nails out from the back side of the boards so that it will not show holes on the face of the board. You should also number each piece of the base board and the wall it came off of so that after the new flooring is installed it can be easily be matched and re-installed to the wall it was removed from.

installing round molding

If you decide that you do not want to remove the baseboards molding you can just simply install a 3/4" round molding over the expansion gap against the the existing baseboard as shown in the picture to the left. Most flooring styles offer a matching 3/4" round molding Or they can be painted to match your existing baseboard color. When nailing this 3/4" round molding, nail the molding into the bottom of the existing baseboard and not into the flooring.

Preparing your subfloor

preparing subfloor

You may have the older style sub flooring where 3/4 inch thick plank boards were used. Since solid planks will expand and contract along the long edges of the boards any wood flooring that is nailed down over this type of sub flooring has to be installed with the new floor boards running across the width of the sub floor planks so that normal expansion and contraction of the individual subfloor planks does not pull the new floorboards apart later. If this direction is not desired then a layer of 3/8" plywood should be installed glued and screwed to the old planks to act as a buffer or slip sheet.

plywood subfloor

Today the more common sub floor material used in home building is cdx exterior grade plywood. There are two thicknesses offered in cdx plywood either 5/8" or 3/4" thick. 3/4" thick is preferred for added strength and support for your new flooring. If you have 5/8" inch plywood and your using a thinner wood floor than say 1/2" you may want to glue and screw a layer of 3/8" underlayment down for added stability.

repairing subfloors

Subfloors can become loose and squeak with age so before installing any wood flooring the entire subfloor should be checked for any repairs, fixing problems in subfloors after the flooring has been installed can be difficult. Questionable areas should be re secured to the floor joists using 2-1/2" long deck screws (not sheet rock screws). The more solid and secure your subfloor is the better the hardwood flooring installation will come out. Any areas within the subfloor that sink when walked on should be re supported from below using 2 x 6 blocks of wood secured between the floor joists if possible. Plywood subflooring should be flat, run a string the entire length of the room in different areas. Any depressions within the subfloor that exceed 1/4" in 8’ should be filled using a floor leveler. Any high spots should be sanded flat.

felt hardwood flooring paper

Since the underside of wood flooring is not protected by any finish coating it is virtually unprotected from any moisture migration we highly recommend laying 15 lb. black hardwood flooring paper down over any wood subfloors no matter what level the flooring is going to be installed on overlapping the seams by 4-6 inches doing this will help retard any moisture that may migrate up from damp basements or other areas within the home. This felt paper can be stapled in place or held in place by objects as the flooring is installed.

In addition to using 15 lb black felt paper an optional step can be taken to further reduce moisture transfer by first applying one to two coats of fast drying Shellac to seal the surface of the plywood subfloor.



Starting the installation

door casings

Instead of trying to scribe the new flooring around existing door casings, lay a small scrap piece of the new flooring directly on the subfloor against the bottom of any door casings. Using a thin fine cut handsaw use the scrap piece of flooring as a thickness guide to cut off the bottom of all door casings so that the new flooring will slide easily underneath. Using the 15lb black paper later during the installation will raise the floor up slightly which closes the gap the saw blade made.

installing hardwood flooring

Usually, the outside walls of a home are the straightest so we recommend starting the installation from the longest outside wall and working your way into the center of the home. Use the longest straightest boards for your first 2-3 rows. When using wide boards we keep the felt paper back 4–5 inches and direct glue the first row of boards down along with face nailing the row every 8 inches along the top back edge of the board. If your first row is not perfectly straight across the room it will cause the following rows to run off leaving gaps between the boards.

Once the first row is in place we recommend running a string along the front edge of the first row of boards to see if the row is running straight and does not bow or sway before continuing with the installation.

carpenter shims

We use small tapered removable carpenter shims against the wall to maintain the proper expansion gap when starting to lay the rows of flooring. These shims can be adjusted for walls that bow or are concaved. Leaving the proper expansion gap against all walls and fixed objects will allow the flooring to expand and contract freely under the baseboard molding or under 3/4" round moldings. We usually recommend leaving 3/8" to 1/2" space, more space may be recommended or required for larger rooms or if wide boards are being installed. The manufacturers installation instructions usually state what they want to maintain their warranty. These wooden shims are removed after the floor has been installed and the base board is installed over the new flooring which will cover this space.

installing hardwood flooring

To make sure your getting the best blend of color throughout the entire floor area we recommend opening up and intermixing boards from at least 4-5 cartons at a time during the installation.

After your initial first few rows are installed, you can save time by laying out several rows of flooring onto the sub floor intermixing shorter and longer boards together making sure the butt ends of each board are at least 12 inches or more apart from the butt end joints of the preceding row of flooring. Laying out several rows of flooring speeds up the installation by having the rows ready to put together and nail.

All about Nailing or Stapling your flooring down

pneumatic nail gun

If your installing 3/4" thick solid wood flooring you will need to either rent or purchase a larger flooring nailer that is either a manual nailer that you swing and strike the top of the gun with a steel mallet several times to drive the cleat nail.

Or, you can rent or purchase a air assisted pneumatic nail gun and compressor where you strike the top of the nailing gun with a rubber mallet once which activates the air which drives the cleat or staple into the wood. The pneumatic nailer either the cleat nail style or staple style makes the job of nailing the flooring down easier.

Both types of nailers have a guide along the bottom front edge of the gun that keeps it aligned so that they will drive the nail or staple in the proper position along the inside top of the tongue of the boards. Both types of nailers can have an interchangeable base plate for thinner flooring.

nail gun

When using 1/2" or thinner solid wood flooring or thinner engineered flooring you will need to rent or purchase an easy pull trigger stapler that is also run by a small compressor to drive staples into the top inside edge of the tongue of the flooring. These type of nailing guns have an adjustable base plate to accommodate different board thicknesses. (Naturally click lock or direct down installations are not nailed.)

nail down hardwood flooring

When starting the installation the first 2-4 rows of flooring you will not be able to fit in and use either of the nailers noted above. You will have to either pre-drill the boards and hand nail or you can use an air assisted finish nailer that uses a small compressor to drive nails either down through the top of the boards and/or if held at the proper angle blind nail on the inside edge of the tongues of the floor boards this is also true when installing your last rows of flooring against the finishing walls. The installation goes a lot faster using an air assisted finish nailer which uses the same small compressor as the above flooring nailers.

nailing down hardwood flooring boards

Proper nailing is essential to avoid any problems later. We suggest face nailing every 8 inches along the back side of the starting row and then blind nail every 6-8 inches along the tongue of every board thereafter staying 4 inches in from each end of the board to prevent the splitting of the wood boards.

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Installation Tips - Hardwood Floors
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Overall Rating: 4.7 stars - 66 reviews

Date: October 11, 2023
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
These are the best detailed instructions I have found on the internet. Thank you very much! I also enjoyed reading the questions that were submitted.
Date: June 12, 2023
Page Rating: (4.5/5)
I have the same question as Mel on Nov 4, 2020. Say each board expands 0.5%, and the center board stays put. The whole 10ft floor expands by 0.6", so the edge moves out 0.3". But that edge board was nailed down to stable plywood. A nail wont tolerate the board moving 0.3". Either the nail has to break to tolerate the 0.3" movement, or the nail hole becomes a 0.3" slit, or that edge board cant move 0.3". How can a nailed-down board move into the expansion gap?
Reply by HoskingHardwood : Wood can and will expand (mostly) along their width how much depends on what the relative humidity level is. What is required by the manufactures is with solid 3/4 inch thick wood flooring is to leave a 3/4 gap along any fixed objects. I dont think I have ever seen a flooring nail or staple break because the wood expanded. They will pull out of the subfloor if the flooring expands a lot and buckles. Floorboards can also cup upwards which take up some of that math your thinking of.  Another fact is that each boards makeup is different some may absorb more or less than the other ones. 
Date: July 17, 2022
Page Rating: (4.0/5)
This is such nice content. Will be keeping notes on what you have shared. Thanks!
Date: April 3, 2022
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Like your step by step info. Wry helpful. I have 1/2 inch maple engineered hardwood flooring to install. Borrowed the nail gun from a friend that only came with a 3/8 inch plate. What size plate do i need to use for my 1/2 inch flooring? Any help is appreciated.
Reply by HoskingHardwood : We would suggest you call the manufacturer the hardwood you purchased they all have their requirements. It's most likely going to be a smaller pull trigger stapler that drives a 1-1/2 inch long staple.
Date: November 4, 2020
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
I dont understand the expansion gap. Surely if the boards are nailed down the only expansion can occur between the last (first) nail and the wall which couldnt be as much as half an inch ... could it?
Reply by HoskingHardwood : Each board within the whole floor can absorb excess moisture and expand pushing adjoining boards ever so slightly.  Manufactures usually recommend 1/2 to 3/4 inch expansion gap at all fixed objects. if this isn't met the a warranty is void.  To help avoid expansion keep the Relative humidity in the home between 30-55 % . 
Date: August 7, 2020
Page Rating: (4.5/5)
great info to refresh my memory since i havent installed a floor in quite a few years
Date: June 6, 2020
Page Rating: (4.5/5)
Despite my best efforts, using a floor nailer and a straight nailer for those closest to the walls, seems like there are gaps in some areas. Is it okay to use a wood filler?
Reply by HoskingHardwood : Wood fillers will only pop out when the boards expand and contract during seasonal changes. Try using a pry bar with a 20 inch long block of wood or scrap piece of flooring against the wall to pull the board tight together while face nailing the last several rows.
Date: May 15, 2020
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Great organization, answered a few questions I had, extremely to the point, love that. What would you recommend doing when installing a thinner floor than previously installed? (Removing 3/4" bamboo, installing 3/8" or 1/2" engineered wood in place of bamboo) How do I compensate for the loss of height on door frames which were previously cut to fit taller wood? Short of replacing the trim, Ive yet to figure this issue out.
Reply by HoskingHardwood : Hi JB We would suggest adding an underlayment ( plywood) to your existing subfloor to bring it up to a particular height. The sheets come in various thicknesses from 1/4 inch thick up to 3/4 . Screw down to existing subfloor every 12 inches square.
Date: April 12, 2020
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Great info. Clear, well written. Thanks. I pit wood in three previously carpeted rooms. I dont like the thresholds. So I am putting new HE over the old in the foyer to take out the thresholds. I want to go parallel with the old floor. If I put a solid layer of plywood under it, the floors are not on the same level. Going perpendicular does not look good. What can I do?
Reply by HoskingHardwood : If your main subfloor is planks then you must run the flooring in the opposite direction so if the subfloor planks expand or contract it does not pull the new flooring nailed into it apart. You can add a 1/4 inch thick plywood underlayment over the old plank subfloor which will act as a buffer. I dont know what that will do to your height issue. 
Date: February 3, 2020
Page Rating: (4.5/5)
Excellent article and very helpful. I am about to install 3/4 solid oak in my kitchen. I have a peninsula to go around and cant figure out how to do that. I cant "work backwards" to go around the peninsula of cabinets right?
Reply by HoskingHardwood : Work the flooring up from both sides and they should meet. May have to taper the last board across to fit the edge of the cabinet.

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