A Basic Guide to Hardwood Flooring Installation

Are you a DIYer by nature? Love to dive in head first to projects for your home? If so, chances are you’ll get on board with installing your hardwood floors…or at least an engineered hardwood.

There are quite a few benefits to doing your hardwood flooring installation on your own. Perhaps the biggest advantage is the cost savings – if the installation is done right. Improper installation can shave years off the life of your flooring and cost you more of a headache than it’s worth.

Here’s a quick guide to help you have the best experience and results for your hardwood flooring installation project.


As with any big project, preparation is key. Before you lay a single plank, there are a few factors you should consider to ensure the best installation experience possible.

Moisture Levels

Hardwood flooring doesn’t do well with moisture. Some types of floors shouldn’t be cleaned with water, let alone be installed in a room that’s prone to higher levels of moisture.

If you plan to install your flooring in a bathroom or kitchen, you’ll be better off choosing engineered hardwood flooring or a hardwood species that doesn’t respond negatively to high moisture levels.

You should also check the moisture levels for the air in the respective rooms as well as the subfloor. Measurements will vary depending on the type of subfloor, but humidity levels should stay between 30%-50%. A consistent temperature should be kept in the space and flooring should be acclimatized per manufacturer suggestions.

Your Subfloor

The subfloor is the material that will lie beneath your hardwood flooring. It’s usually made of wood or concrete. The type of subfloor will affect your installation. Some floors cannot be glued or nailed to certain subfloors, so understanding what you are working with before you purchase your hardwood flooring is important.

Here’s a general guide to the types of subfloors best suited for various types of hardwood flooring:

  • Solid hardwood with over ¾” profile: Only install over wood subfloors or above grade. You must nail this type of flooring into place.
  • Hardwood with a thin profile of 5/16” or less: Install over wood, concrete or any existing floors except carpeting. You can use glue or staples.
  • Engineered hardwood to be installed with staples or glue: Install over wood, concrete, or the existing flooring (except carpet). This material can be used above, below, or on grade.
  • Interlocking engineered hardwood: Install on any type of subfloor and any grade level. You don’t need any staples, nails, or glue.

NOTE: If you have any type of radiant heat in your home, remember that you cannot install any type of hardwood over heat that exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Type of Floor

Perhaps the best way to prepare for a DIY installation of hardwood is to choose the right product. Not all hardwood is easily installed. Some requires proper professional training. If you plan to do the installation without that training, you’ll need to get the right type of flooring first.

  • Solid hardwood with over ¾” profile: These are the most difficult to install. If the planks are not properly nailed to the subfloor, they will splinter. However, if installed correctly, they’ll last you the longest. It is recommended to have a professional install solid hardwoods.
  • Hardwood with a thin profile of 5/16” or less: These floors are a little easier to install because they use glue or staples, eliminating the risk of splintering. Expect these floors to stay in good condition for 50 – 75 years. Training or expert help is recommended for this installation.
  • Engineered hardwood to be installed with staples or glue: Gluing this planks will be the most DIY friendly. If you plan on stapling the engineered hardwood, educate yourself before installation or contact an professional installer.
  • Interlocking engineered hardwood: These are the most popular among DIYers because they’re the easiest to install. Click and lock the planks into place using the tongue and groove installation technique similar to a laminate.

Common Installation Mistakes

Before you install your flooring, make sure you’re not about to make one of these most common hardwood flooring installation mistakes.

  • Let a concrete subfloor dry completely after pressure washing. If you don’t, you’ll trap moisture underneath your floors, causing damage.
  • Plan for adjoining floors. If you will have a small lip between rooms, get a transition trim to equalize the heights.
  • Plan for your floors to expand. As the temperature and humidity level rises, your wood will swell. Make enough room to allow for this fluctuation in size.
  • If you are remodeling and planning to paint the rooms, wait to install flooring until after the paint is dry and the moisture in the room goes back to normal.
  • Purchase a vapor barrier film or vapor underlayment if you’re installing a floating engineered hardwood over a concrete subfloor.

Installation Process

Okay, you’ve done the prep work to buy the materials. Now what? More preparation!

Step 1: Prep the Subfloor

Before you can start laying your new floor, you must get the foundation in order. Your subfloor should be repaired (if you have any cracks), washed, swept, and completely dried before you lay a single plank. Check the subfloor and air moisture up to 14 days in advance and take any necessary steps to fix or prepare the space.

First, remove all furniture so that you can get a good, clear glance at the surface of your subfloor. Make sure there are no lingering nails sticking up or bumps in the flooring. Joints should be flush against each other without any soft areas.

Clean your floor. You might want to use a power washer to get any dust or grime off  your concrete subfloors. If you use water to clean your subfloor, make sure you allow ample time for it to dry.

Finally, look for weak spots in your floor. Lay a piece of wood approximately 8 feet long (or longer) across the floor. Look for gaps to find any small divots or dips in your room. This is an important step, even if you’re installing a floating floor. Some manufacturers might say it won’t affect the integrity of your floors, but don’t take any chances.

Step 2: Gather Materials

Next up, you’ll want to gather all of your materials in one place. That way, you won’t need to stop mid-project to run to the store. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A pencil
  • Safety goggles
  • Moisture meter (make sure you get the right one for your subfloor)
  • Transition trim and/or wall moldings
  • A saw: hand, table, circular, or band
  • A moisture barrier and/or underlayment (underlayment recommended for engineered hardwood)
  • Tape measure
  • Carpenter square
  • Hammer or rubber mallet
  • Vinyl or plastic tapping block
  • Pull-bar
  • Utility knife
  • Dust mask
  • Tape
  • Wood glue (if needed)
  • Nails (if needed)
  • A stapler and staples (if needed)
  • Matching filler (used to cover the nails or staples)
  • Hardwood flooring cleaner (get the one recommended by your manufacturer)

Step 3: Begin!

With the proper preparation complete, you’re ready to begin! Follow your manufacturer’s guidelines as closely as possible so you don’t risk voiding the warranty or making a critical error.

While you install, here are a few helpful tips to make everything go smoothly.

  • Run the air conditioner to keep residual moisture out of your room. You might want to do this as far in advance as 14 days.
  • Allow your floors to acclimatize to your home’s humidity and temperature levels by storing them flat for 48 hours before starting the installation.
  • Lay out your flooring to determine the best pattern for your space and style.
  • Look carefully at the quality of each plank. Remember, you can usually return defective flooring for a refund or credit.
  • While putting your planks into place, do not touch your boards with a rubber mallet or you’ll ruin the finishing.

Looking for more tips? Check out our do’s and don’ts for hardwood flooring installations.

Have questions? Need a little bit of extra help? We’re here for you. Start a chat with one of our flooring experts in the box on this page and get a fast answer to your hardwood flooring installation questions.

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