Do It Yourself Hardwood Floors - Easy, Hard? Explained
We know thousands will be determined to dive into installing hardwood floors themselves, but do they think about the grueling work ahead of them? Realistically, a small 140 square foot room is manageable, but 1,000 square feet? It’s tough folks. In my opinion there's far too much hype with doing hardwood floors on your own. Why? Online retailers want that sale and home improvement stores assume anything can be a do it yourself project.
Folks, if you're looking at wood floors, consider a professional for the work. However, for those that are ready, I've summarized the different types of installations, their difficulty factor and what aching parts of the body you're likely to encounter. For all types, expect a sore back.
Hardest Types- 2 1/4" Solid Strip
The hardest or the most physical type would be 3/4" x 2 1/4" solid strip nail installations. As an example, narrower boards of 2 1/4" will take more time installing than a 5" plank. Work load is doubled. If you follow the proper specifications for naildowns (also called staple) and fasten every 8-10" apart on each board it's obvious the skinnier boards will take longer. Thank goodness we now have pneumatic fasteners for this kind of work. If you're contemplating on which tool to buy or rent, manual or pneumatic, take my advice and go for the pneumatic and don't look back.
The days I spent in this business of manually nailing with a Powernailer are behind me and all I can say is good riddens. Manual flooring nailers require an immense about of physical exertion.
Hey, don't get me wrong, if you want to lose some weight on that 1,000 square foot installation, by all means go for it. If you're not in good shape, expect many sore muscles you never knew you had. Another thing about manual nailers is some people don't have the strength to get that flooring nail home in one whack. Instead it gets stuck halfway into the tongue and has to be removed. This is especially true with many of the harder species out there. Pneumatic systems do all the work. Simply tap the plunger (shown above right) with the mallet and that's it.
I can't say it's all peaches and cream once you have the right tools. Depending on the quality of the product, some boards may need persuasion (crooked, twisted, bowed) to get into place before fastening. What may have been the best price in town or on the web may become an installation nightmare. This is where the soft white or black rubber part of the mallet comes into play. In most cases the Stanley Bostich nailer shown above will drive boards tight once the fastener is engaged. Others may require constant pounding with the rubber mallet. Poorly milled products will be more labor intensive. Crooked boards do not fit as well as straight ones and requires constant alignment with the rubber side of the mallet shown.
Wide Plank Naildown - Getting Easier
In recent years wider planks have almost replaced the skinny 2 1/4" strip. Wider the plank the easier it will be due the fact there isn't as much nailing to do. With our 3/4" x 7 1/4" engineered for example, there will be approximately 60% fewer nails needed which translates into far less work. Incidentally, those that are installing a 7 1/4" you'll need to nail every 6 inches apart opposed to 8-10 inches with the skinny hardwoods.
Solid Wide Plank?
It's not recommended to use any solid plank over 5 1/4" in width. That's why you'll notice tons of engineered wider planks in showrooms everywhere. Reasons being solid hardwoods can be troublesome if you don't have the proper precautions covered. It's more an environmental issue where not enough professionals and diy'ers recognize. This is best explained in our video below.
Random Width Plank?
Definitely a hot item today. Random width offers a 19th century look or what hardwood floors looked like. It was more a matter of availability and reason for alternating sizes.
It's not as confusing as it may be, or at least that's the impression I get from customers at the start. Mentioned below, the glue down application isn't suited for DIY'ers. For nail downs on the other hand, it's just a matter of keeping the same pattern and don't repeat rows with the same width. That is unless you prefer that look. Anything goes with random plank, but you'll notice there aren't many that offer the flexibility we do.
See more on random width plank and how to figure the formula in what you need.
Not So Hard But High On The List Of Failures - Glue Downs
Across many pages on the site you will notice I do not recommend gluedown installations for folks wanting to do the work themselves. Consider a professional with the experience on this one. There's a lot of hands and knees work. Gluedowns can also get extremely messy with some of the adhesives being used today. Consider it this way. When urethane based adhesives first came into play in the mid 90's my first job was a mess...umm...well I made a mess. Thank goodness it wasn't a prefinished floor! It was a specialty unfinished gluedown that would be sanded and finished once the installation was completed. The sanding machines took care of the excess glue, but I got a lot of heat from the finishers.
Having been more familiar with the other adhesives (which are now banned by the EPA) that weren't as gooey, I had the stuff everywhere and considered myself a pretty clean worker. At that time, few if any of us, knew how difficult urethane adhesives were to remove once cured on the surface of the floor. Often a warning comes with these types, clearly visible on the top of each container. With prefinished wood flooirng that is not thoroughly cleaned at the end of each day, the cleanup chore can be another nightmare. I've even heard of a few cases where cleanup was next to impossible. Replacement of the brand new floor was the only option.
Expect aching knees and fingers with gluedowns. Once again, if the product is not milled well, you're likely to be fighting it all day long. Hence the reason for sore fingers trying to pull the planks together. We have many tips on keeping that installation tight on our gluedown tips pages.
Easiest DIY Product - Lock and Fold
It is as simple as it sounds! I really don't think it can get any easier. The lock and fold idea simply goes as easy as placing a board on the subfloor, grabbing another piece, engage the tongue and groove and move to the next board. The locking takes place when additional boards are in reality folded over the other.
Floating - Glued
Floating floor glued types will require more time than lock and fold if they're wide plank. You'll be on your hands and knees all day long and always reaching in dozens of different positions for that hammer and tapping block. With a glued type floating floor you'll probably do just as I do and leave the glue bottle and cleanup rag more than an arms reach away. Good exercise yes, but this type goes much quicker than naildowns or direct gluedowns.
At one time manufacturers rarely had products under seven inches in width designated for floating. The DIY explosion and competition seemingly forced many into allowing more common three and five inch boards to be installed via the glue and tap method. Why the sudden switch when these same products would not be warranted previously with the glue method is beyond anyone's guess.
Now that many common three inch wide engineered planks can be floated, time involved will increase dramatically opposed to the wide plank. The fundamental reason is you'll be dealing with random sized lengths, and in some cases product lines that have many shorter pieces. Older style floating types are still around but often utilize much longer set lengths; some up to 96 inches.
Look for more lock and fold variations to be used in coming years.
Floating - Click
Click type installations were advertised as a breeze, but I feel otherwise with lower quality brands. Sure the advertising makes it sound simple, but the thicker the product, the harder it becomes to actually make it click. Easy click products can also be found with thinner laminate floors. Click hardwood installations require more effort and do require tapping blocks. Advantages to click include a no glue, no mess installation and many offer the older longer lengths.
Other Types Of Wood Floors - Parquet
Some stores still carry the older common parquet. Most of the demand today has become more of a high end specialty product with very high quality. For those thinking of using the common product, the most common reason for failure is a result of not enough adhesive or wrong adhesive used. Another factor for failure has to do with no attention to what the parquet is glued to. Floors need to be clean and free of any contaminates.
Common parquet is simple in most respects. More reasons for failure include not allowing proper glue transfer from the wood to the sub floor. By way of explanation, the job is not done if you've just plopped the pattern into the glue. Each and every piece needs to "seated" into the adhesive to achieve a thorough bond.
Yes, you will have the sore knees syndrome depending on how large the project is. Another tidbit about most of the thinner parquet are the tools used. Jig, and table saws may work, but we've found them to actually be dangerous as the small parquet fingers when cut have a tendency to fly anywhere. This is where a band saw works best. Band saws have slower RPM speeds and you can actually make finer cuts, but does take practice.
Another favorite amongst the more discriminating buyer crowd. These installations can be intimidating in that layout and alignment is critical and should only be considered by experienced professionals. Herringbone is often glued direct, but some solid hardwoods are installed by the nailing method to wood subfloors.
Borders And Medallions?
Similar to herringbone, but most of this work should be left up to a professional. Nevertheless, we have found medallions becoming a slightly less troublesome job, but only if you have a template to work with. Exceptions may include square or rectangular medallions, but not ovals, circles, and other odd shapes.
One demanding aspect of installing medallions is keeping the vertical height the same as the floor. This is more prominent with prefinished floors and not ones that are sanded and finished.
Other Things To Consider
What does the layout look like? If you only have a couple of square rooms the installation is straight forward. However, if the flooring runs into other areas such as hallways, other rooms and closets, more time is needed for a proper layout, insuring everything stays square and remains square. There's nothing worse than looking at a great installation only to find it's crooked in all the other rooms, or moldings are used everywhere.
Speaking of moldings. The more preferred appearance is one with the fewest amount of t-moldings or other unnecessary trim pieces. Laminate flooring has exaggerated the use of these products and aren't necessary for most hardwood installations, with floating floors being the exception in large layouts. The preference is to have the flooring flow from one area to another.