What to Know for Wood Flooring Installation

wood floor installation

A beautiful hardwood floor is an asset to any home. It provides beauty and eliminates many allergens that can be trapped or live in carpeting. To ensure that your wood flooring installation will stand the test of time and still look great, you should consider some important guidelines first.

Common Wood Flooring Installation Mistakes

It's easy to avoid common wood flooring installation problems with proper planning. What you need to know before installing is pretty basic. Most hardwood flooring problems are due to moisture: either too much or too little. Wood that dries more after installation will develop gaps; wood that gains moisture after installation may cup. Installation surfaces should be sound, level and free from debris and moisture contamination. I often add screws to the sub-floor to reduce the potential for flexing and noise generation in the future. A lot of floors squeak from the ply-sheathing sliding up and down on the nails that hold it to the floor joist; screwing things down prevents this.

When to Install

Wood is a hygroscopic material, which means that wood can take in or release water to its environment. When the environment and the wood are in balance, the wood is said to have EMC (equilibrium moisture content), and this is the best time for wood flooring installation. So the million-dollar question is: How do you know when your wood flooring is in EMC? The short answer is with a moisture meter; the long answer is with planning, acclimatization and preparation.

A moisture meter is a device that measures the moisture content in wood, and many professional installers use one. These tools are critical for new homes and initial installations, as the home’s environmental systems may or may not be fully operational. A meter reading of the flooring can be compared to the sub-floor or environment to check for balance. Flooring moisture content of 8-10% is considered optimal, but it can be higher or lower depending on your local climate. If you live in Jacksonville, Florida you will have a number a bit higher than if you live in Las Vegas, Nevada. Check to see what is best for your climate and location.

As a DIYer, chances are high that you are doing work in a home that has been lived in for some time, and the heating and cooling systems are stable. An ideal time to install hardwood flooring is in the spring or fall, when the interior humidity levels are less extreme. Flooring should be acclimated for a few weeks prior to installation to allow the EMC to become established. Some woods are quicker to acclimate than others (for instance, oak is faster at equilibrating than denser exotics such as Jatoba).

Other Wood Flooring Installation Tips

The other set of installation problems is in the installation itself. Poor racking (the laying out of individual boards prior to installing) can result in the ends of boards that are too close together or some that produce odd patterns like H’s and stair effects. One basic rule is to have at least 3 board widths of space between the ends of each board. Another area to pay attention to is the layout in the room. The flooring should lie with the long dimension of the room and be placed to reduce thin strips or short pieces along the perimeter. Nailing frequency can also impact the integrity of the floor: Sparse nailing can lead to loose boards and squeaks, while over-nailing can lead to split tongues and other minor edge damage. A basic rule here is about every 8-10 inches, at least 2-3 inches from the ends. Wider boards get tighter nail spacing than narrow boards.

Recent advances in pre-finished technology have produced a number of products that hold residential warranties of up to 50 years. Pre-finished flooring also saves a lot of time and mess for a DIY project, and the expense of renting sanding equipment and finishing supplies.

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