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What’s The Best Way To Install Engineered Hardwood?

What’s The Best Way To Install Engineered Hardwood?

Dear Bob and Betsy,
We are planning to get engineered hardwood in our home. I was wondering what is the best way to install engineered hardwood. Is floating, glue, or nails is the way to go. Please advise?
– Ali S.

Dear Ali,

The great thing about engineered hardwood is that it can be installed a few ways, depending on the situation! The three recommended ways is floating, gluing, or nail/staple installation. We will help you determine which installation type is right for your installation situation!

Please be advised that you should follow manufacturer’s instructions that come with your flooring. Not all engineered hardwood can be stapled, nailed, glued, and floated. Be sure to read all materials before beginning with any installation. The information below is a guideline to help you get started!


Regardless of which installation type you choose, you should always prepare your subfloor and new flooring appropriately.

Make sure your subfloor is clean and even. Sweep all debris and level off any areas that are sinking or raised. Make sure there is no mold and any other water problems have been solved before laying new flooring.

Once the subfloor has been prepared, your flooring package should be opened and the flooring spread out and stored at the installation site for at least 48 hours prior to installation. Your job site should have a consistent room temperature between 60-80 degrees F. and relative humidity between 49% and 55%.

Inspect your subfloor

Floating Installation

Only engineered styles with 5 plies or more are approved for floating installation. Anything thinner could buckle or become damaged while floating.

1. Lay Down Underlayment

Any floating floor installation requires the use of underlayment. Use underlayment designed for engineered hardwood floating floors, with a minimum thickness of 1/8″ and a 2.0# density.

2. Leave Enough Room For Expansion

An expansion space of at least 1/2″ must be maintained around the perimeter of the room, all pipes, counters, cabinets, fireplace hearths, doorframes and any other fixed vertical objects in the room. This allows the floor to expand and contract normally. Not leaving an expansion gap can cause your floor to buckle.

3. Apply Glue To The Grooves (Optional)

  • If you would like to add extra strength to your engineered hardwood floors, you can use recommended floating floor glue for use with engineered hardwood floors for installation.
  • Glue placement is very important. The glue must be placed along the topside of the groove the full length of the grooved side and end.
  • This can be accomplished by inverting the plank and applying a bead of glue to the topside of the groove, the side of the groove nearest the face of the plank.
  • When the plank is turned back over the glue will run down the back of the groove giving total coverage.
  • Apply only a 3/32” bead of glue; if the groove i s filled with glue it will be difficult to close the seam will not allowing a tight fit.

4. Installation

  • The installation begins in the left hand corner of the room with the long direction parallel to the longest wall of the room.
  • Install three rows of flooring glued together and held in place with blue painter’s tape with the groove side facing the wall.
  • If the floor’s installation guide recommends for it, tap boards together with a hammer and tapping block against the tongue side only.
  • Spacers must be used to establish the minimum 1/2″ expansion space from the walls. Place spacers against the wall every 2 – 3″ and at each plank end joint connection.
  • The three rows must be straight, square and in rack because they establish the alignment for the rest of the floor. After putting these three rows together, allow the glue to set (15 to 45 minutes) before proceeding with the installation.
  • With the tongue facing out, the planks can be tapped together with a tapping block on the tongue to make a snug fit.
  • After installing 8 or 10 rows of flooring, stand back and check for crowning or heaving due to tension strapping or any damage caused by improper tapping.
  • If you applied glue in step 3, clean up any glue that squeezes out of the seam between the planks, wipe away with a damp cloth immediately, as dried glue is more difficult to remove. If glue has dried, then lightly scrape it away with a plastic scraper or other method recommended by the glue manufacturer.
Engineered Hardwood Floating Floor

Engineered Hardwood Floating Floor

Glue Down Installation

Caution: Whether you choose to install using the dry or wet method, follow all guidelines set by the adhesive manufacturer and the instructions below. By not adhering to the guidelines the warranty on the floor can be voided.

1. Select A Starter Wall

It is recommended to start the installation along an exterior wall because it’s more likely to be straight and square with the room. Measure out from the wall the width of two planks and mark each end of the room and snap your chalk line.

2. Spread The Adhesive

  • Spread the moisture cured urethane wood flooring adhesive from the chalk line to the starter wall using the recommended trowel size specified by the glue manufacturer.
  • It is important to use the correct trowel at a 45° angle to get the proper spread of adhesive applied to the subfloor, which will produce a proper and permanent bond. Improper bonding can cause loose or hollow spots.
  • Note: Change the trowel every 2,000 to 3,000 SF due to wear down of the notches. This assures the proper spread of adhesive.

3. Begin Installing The Flooring

  • Install the first row of starter planks with the tongue facing the starter wall and secure into position.
  • Alignment is critical and can be achieved by securing a straight edge along the chalk line, or by top nailing the first row with finishing nails (wood subfloor), or sprig/pin nails (concrete subfloor). This prevents slippage of the planks that can cause misalignment.
  • Note: The planks along the wall may have to be scribed and cut to fit in order to maintain a consistent expansion space since most walls are not straight.
  • Once the starter rows are secure, spread 2 1/2″ to 3 feet of adhesive the length of the room. Never lay more adhesive than can be covered in approximately 2 hrs.
  • Place tongue into groove of plank or strips and press firmly into adhesive; never slide planks or strips through adhesive.
  • Note: Do not use a rubber mallet to butt the ends of the material together as it can burnish the finish and cause marring. Use a tapping block to fit planks snugly together at side and butt ends.
  • Clean any adhesive off the surface before it cures using clean terry cloth towels, mineral spirits or adhesive manufacturer’s glue removal product.
  • Use straps to hold planks securely in place as you are installing and continue the process throughout the installation.
  • Note: Never work on top of the flooring when installing.
  • Light foot traffic is allowed after 12 hours but wait 24 hours after installation to remove straps.
glue down engineered hardwood flooring installation

GLue Down Engineered Hardwood Flooring Installation (Photo Credit: FCI Mag)

Staple/Nail Installation

Engineered hardwood floors may be installed over wood subfloors using staples or flooring cleats. When installing engineered wood planks or strips by nailing or stapling, it is necessary to use the proper type of flooring stapler or nailer made for the thickness of the engineered wood flooring that is being installed.

1. Choose The Proper Floor Stapler

  • For products up to 3″ wide and 1/2″ thick, use use a 20 gauge, 1″ staple with a 1/8″ crown.
  • When installing a 5″ wide product, use an 18 gauge 1-1/4″ staple or longer with a 1/4″ crown.
  • 3/4″ thick, engineered planks should be nailed or stapled using a 3/4″ solid wood flooring nailer or stapler of any brand. You must use the recommended size staple or cleat for 3/4″ solid wood installations; you must also use the recommended nailing schedule, which is 1″ to 3″ from the ends, and 8″ to 10″ in the field.
  • Note: you must use an appropriate adapter for the thickness of the wood on some flooring staplers.

2. Install A Polyethlene Layer

  • You must staple or nail 1″ to 2″ from the ends and every 4″ to 6″ along the edges on engineered wood products that are 3″ wide or less. This will help insure a satisfactory installation.
  • It is recommended to initially set the compressor at 80 PSI and adjust the pressure as needed in order to properly set the fastener and keep the staples from going through or breaking the tongues.
  • Improper stapling techniques can cause squeaks in the floor. Adjustments may be necessary to provide adequate penetration of the nail or staple into the nail bed. It must be flush in the nail pocket.
  • Use a scrap piece of flooring material to set tools properly before installation.
  • Note: Before installation of the engineered flooring begins, install a 6-mil polyethylene layer to completely cover the ground. Install approximately 6” up the foundation walls when installing on a wood subfloor with a crawlspace.
  • The seams of the 6-mil poly should overlap 4” to 6” and should be taped to the foundation walls using an aggressive tape such as Duct tape. This will retard moisture from below that is emitted from the soil.
  • In addition to the ground cover in the crawlspace, a 6-mil polyethylene layer or a 15 1b felt or resin paper must be installed over the subfloor prior to the installation of the engineered wood flooring. This reduces squeaks and noises created by the opposing floors.
  • Installing 6-mil Polyethylene Install the polyethylene parallel to the direction of the flooring and allow a 3″ overhang at the perimeter. Make sure each run of polyethylene overlaps the previous run by 6″ or more.

3. Begin Installing The Flooring

  • Layout the job Measure out from the ends of your starting wall, 2 3/4″ when installing 2 1/4″ strip flooring or 3 1/2″ when installing 3″ planks. Mark both ends.
  • Where possible, lay the flooring at 90º angles to the floor joists.
  • Make a chalk line along the starting wall using the marks you made.
  • Note: Expansion space is required along the perimeter of room(s) of intended installation. Expansion space is dictated by the thickness of the product; for example, 3/8″ thick floor requires 3/8″ expansion space, 1/2″ thick floor requires 1/2” expansion space, 3/4″ thick floor requires 3/4″ expansion space.
  • Place the planks with the tongue facing away from the wall and along your chalk line.
  • Use brads or small finishing nails to secure the first starter row along the wall edge 1″ to 2″ from the ends and every 4″ to 6″ along the side.
  • Counter sink the nails and fill with wood filler that blends with the flooring installed.
  • Place the nails in a dark grain spot in the board. The base or shoe molding will cover the nails when installed after completion of the installation.
  • Blind nail at a 45° angle through the tongues.
  • It will be easier if you pre-drill the holes in the tongues.
  • Nail 1″ to 2″ from the ends and every 4″ to 6″ along the sides. It will be necessary to blind nail the next 2 rows.
  • A brad nailer with 1″ to 1 3/8″ brads can also be used to blind nail and no pre-drilling is needed.
  • Continue the installation using an engineered wood flooring stapler, using staples or nails recommended by the nailer or stapler manufacturer.
  • Nail or staple the flooring 1″ to 2″ from the ends and every 4″ to 6″ along the edge tongues.
Nailing/Stapling Engineered Hardwood Installation

Nailing/Stapling Engineered Hardwood Installation

So Which Is Best?

If you live in an area where the temperature cannot be controlled, glue down is the best way to go. There is less noise associated with the floor and the installation method is more structurally sound. However, if this is not an issue and you are trying to cut costs, you can float engineered hardwood flooring yourself! Engineered hardwood installs a lot like laminate flooring.

If you have more questions, please don’t hesitate to write us a comment below or give us a call at 1-800-520-0961. If this seems like too much to do on your own, there is no shame in hiring a contractor! It’s better to get the job done right the first time.

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Bob and Betsy
Bob and Betsy are the dynamic duo that have all the answers for your flooring related questions! Don't hesitate to submit a question to them at!

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