Installing Hardwood Flooring
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Oct 25
Ben Bauer

I’m sure many of you have watched those DIY shows that make hardwood-flooring installations look like a piece of cake: Simply grab a few boards, nail them into place, and voila—you have a new floor!

In reality, installing hardwood is a complicated process that requires technical knowledge, craftsmanship, and a keen eye. Here are just a few of the things professional installers do during installations.

Moisture Testing
According to the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), “The determination of moisture content is an essential part of… the flooring installation process. [You] must know the dryness of not only the wood flooring, but its subfloor and the concrete slab beneath it.”1

What’s the big deal? A little water never hurt anyone, right? Actually, too much moisture—or too much difference between the flooring’s moisture content and that of the subfloor—can lead to cupping, crowning, or excessive gapping and cracks. This is why installers test for moisture and address any issues before proceeding with the installation.

Floor Prep
Besides testing for moisture, installers also check the subfloor’s flatness and stability.Installing over a subfloor that’s not flat can result in a poorly-attached floor with hollow spots, popping, squeaking, and gapping.

When a subfloor isn’t flat enough, installers sand or grind down any high spots and use a patching compound to fill low spots.

Culling
Like fingerprints or snowflakes, no two boards are the same, and this helps make hardwood flooring so beautiful. But too much variation can mar the floor’s appearance. Installers carefully inspect each board and reject any that have visible irregularities such as pinholes, unusual knotholes, mineral streaks, missing stain, rough edges, and indentations.

Racking
Board placement can appear random in a well-laid-out floor, but nothing is further from the truth. It takes artistry to achieve a pleasing mix of boards of different sizes, shades, and graining patterns.

Racking is the practice of pre-laying several rows of boards before cutting or attaching them. It enables installers to plan the location of end joints, as well as mix shades and board lengths.

Picking a Starting Point
Most rooms are not exactly rectangular, and walls are often not perfectly parallel. To help ensure an aesthetically-pleasing installation, installers carefully pick a starting point and verify that the first boards will be laid straight and square. And to avoid using a tiny sliver-cut for the last board, they often narrow the starting board.

As you can see, whether you do it yourself or use professional installers, there are many factors that go into a successful installation. When installed properly, hardwood can add breathtaking beauty to your home—and increase your home’s value—for many years to come.

  1. National Wood Flooring Association. “Water and Wood,” p. 15. © 1996 by National Wood Flooring Association.
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