How to Install Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is a timeless and elegant option that can enhance the warmth and value of a home’s interior. Environmentally sustainable and incredibly durable, hardwood can continue looking beautiful for many years with some simple maintenance. Plus, installing hardwood flooring is an easy weekend project.

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Weekend project
Hardwood Flooring: Laminate vs. Glued Boards
Hardwood’s fibre determines its stability, which influences the way the boards are designed and installed. Unlike planks that are installed with adhesive, this step-by-step guide is for installing hardwood flooring with floating boards. Consult with an associate in store to find out how the selected floor is installed.

1. Preparing the Subfloor for the Hardwood Flooring

  • 1.1For this project, the subfloor should either be OSB particle board or ¾" plywood. If the plywood is only one layer thick, adding a second layer ¼" to ½" in thickness is recommended.
  • 1.2The subfloor should be even and level, with variations up to 3/16" per 10' only.
  • 1.3Ensure that the subfloor is secured to the floor joists—this will keep it from shifting and creaking.
  • 1.4Determine the layout of the hardwood planks. Unless the subfloor is reinforced, the boards should be laid either perpendicular or at a 45° angle to the joists.
  • 1.5Calculate the total area to be covered and purchase an additional 10% of planks to allow for waste.
  • 1.6Open up the hardwood plank boxes to ensure uniformity.
  • 1.7Let the wood acclimate by leaving it in the room for several days before installation.
  • 1.8Remove all door thresholds, edgings, quarter rounds, and baseboards.
  • 1.9Cut the bottom of the door frames so that the boards can be inserted underneath.
  • 1.10Cover the subfloor with a vapor barrier underlayment to smooth out irregularities, improve the soundproofing, and prevent moisture infiltration.
  • 1.11Make sure to lay the underlayment parallel to the flooring joists, allow 6" of overlap, and staple it down every 8" to 10".

Pro Tip

Start along the longest wall involved in the installation, which will typically be the hallway.

Marking the Reference Lines for the Floor Installation

  • 2.1Determine the layout plan, including the starting point, for the hardwood boards.
  • 2.2Measure the room width and calculate how wide the last row will have to be.
  • 2.3If it is not wide enough for the manufacturer's minimum recommendations, then reduce the width of the starting row.
  • 2.4Find the centre of each wall in the room and draw reference lines between the points so that they cross in the middle of the floor.
  • 2.5Make a mark denoting the ½" to ¾" expansion width on the line out from the starting wall.
  • 2.6Calculate the distance from the centre to this mark and transfer the distance along the walls. Draw a parallel line along the starting wall corresponding to the expansion gap.

Pro Tip

Test the floor nailer pressure on a few boards before beginning installation and adjust according to the species.

Installing the First Row of Hardwood

  • 3.1Lay out enough boards for the initial four or five rows, using the longest and straightest for the first one.
  • 3.2Line the first board up with the reference line, with the grooved side oriented towards the wall.
  • 3.3Use shims and spacers to ensure the expansion gap is maintained.
  • 3.4Lay the first board and nail it ½" from the grooved side with a pneumatic nailer.
  • 3.5If nailing by hand, bore 1/16" pilot holes at a 45° angle before countersinking the nails.
  • 3.6Start spacing the nails every 6", around 2" from the board ends.
  • 3.7Measure out the second board and use a mitre saw to make cuts facing the wall.
  • 3.8Set the end of the second board into the first board's groove and nail ½" from the edge.
  • 3.9Follow the reference lines to maintain the expansion gap.
  • 3.10Secure the first row.
  • 3.11Sinking the nails through the tongue.

Completing the Installation of the Hardwood Flooring

  • 4.1Start the second row with a cutting remnant from the first, but try to avoid beginning (or finishing) a row with boards less than 12" long.
  • 4.2Install each subsequent row by inserting the tongue into the groove of the previous board.
  • 4.3To ensure a proper fit, make any necessary adjustments with a block and mallet.
  • 4.4Alternate board length between rows and stagger the joints by about 6" to 8".
  • 4.5Nail in the board tongues and space the nails 6" apart. Use a pneumatic nailer for the first few rows and a floor nailer for the rest.
  • 4.6Calculate the width of the final row by measuring the distance to the wall and subtracting the expansion gap. It should be no less than 1" wide.
  • 4.7Cut the final boards with a table saw to ensure a straight cut.
  • 4.8Lay the last boards, applying glue to the groove before installation. If necessary, protect the wall with a lever and wedge.
  • 4.9Nail the final row using a pneumatic nailer or a hammer.

Need help?

To help you make the right hardwood flooring choice for you, your house, and your budget, see our Hardwood Flooring Buying Guide.