Hardwood Installers: How to Hire Them and What to Expect

A tradesman installing a wood floor
For the best hardwood flooring installation, consider hiring a professional rather than doing it yourself. Solina Images/Getty Images

Do-it-yourself floor installation is becoming more accessible all the time. Laminate flooring and luxury vinyl plank flooring, both easy to cut and to join together, make it all seem like child’s play. By extension, installing solid hardwood and engineered wood floors by yourself might appear to be equally fast and simple. Most homeowners, though, find it difficult to master the learning curve necessary to put down a good hardwood floor.

It is usually best to hire a professional with the specialized tools and knowledge to make this project fit together seamlessly.

How Hardwood Installers Work

Hardwood floor installation happens in four different phases. The first phase is the size estimate. After you contact a company, an estimator will come to your house and measure your floors with a rolling wheel-type measuring device and a long tape measure. With these tools, the estimator will produce a square-foot measurement. Do not be alarmed if their figure is greater than yours since they will add at least a ten-percent overage amount to account for waste associated with cutting the wood.

Be sure to get at least three estimates from different companies. When all of the estimates come in, expect to see a wide price spread. Some installers may throw out high estimates because they know there is a certain percentage of homeowners who are prone to immediately signing a contract.

Do not be that type of homeowner. By getting three or more estimates, you weed out those outlier estimates.

The second phase is the price estimate. The size estimator may sit down with you on the spot and crunch the numbers to come up with a price estimate. Or the estimator may take the figures back to the shop, and you will receive a call later.

When you receive the cost estimate, firm up some important details, such as:

  • Will the floor installers shift furniture? Moving the furniture by yourself ensures the condition of your furniture.
  • Will the installers cut the floorboards outside? Cutting wood on a miter saw, especially on that scale, produces a significant amount of airborne debris.
  • Will the installers seal off other rooms with plastic?
  • How will the installers handle baseboards, since baseboards usually overlap flooring? Will the installers cut under the existing baseboards to fit the hardwood underneath? Will the installers remove the baseboards and then re-install them after the flooring is in place? Or, as a third option, will the installers butt the floorboards against the baseboards, then cover with quarter-round trim?

The third phase is the delivery of the flooring and acclimation, which should happen at least three days before the installers arrive. Acclimation means that the wood needs to reach an equilibrium, or a moisture balance, with the home. Dry climates require longer acclimation periods. The inside of the home should stay at a steady 60 F to 80 F before and during installation. Humidity levels should stay between 30 percent and 50 percent.

The installers usually arrive early in the morning and set up their saws outdoors (if the weather allows) or in the garage. As long as the subfloor is in good condition, the installers can start right away. Subflooring for hardwood should be a minimum of 5/8-inch thick plywood, especially when you are installing extremely hard exotic hardwoods such as teak or Brazilian walnut. Do not use particleboard or oriented strand board (OSB) as a subfloor. Nearly all solid hardwood flooring is nail-down installation (where nails or brads are driven through the flooring and into the subfloor), so having a solid subfloor is vitally important.

Hardwood floor installers tend to be efficient and work quickly. By the end of the day, at least one or two rooms in your house will now have a new floor.

How to Find a Good Hardwood Installer

Hardwood installers are often small one- or two-person outfits and a good one can be hard to find.

Where do you find good floor installers and how do you hire them?

  • Store Contact Lists: Stores that sell flooring materials often have a list of independent installers. While these installers may be unaffiliated with the stores, the stores do have a vested interest in weeding out the bad installers and promoting the better ones.
  • Neighbors and Friends: When a nearby house is having a wood floor installed, walk over and check out their work. When the installers take a break from work, ask for a card or a contact number. Also, evaluate their work habits. Do they respect the home and the property? Are they wasting too much board length with their cuts? Follow up by speaking to the owners and getting their feedback.
  • Online: Online contractor matching services are lead generators that can connect you with home improvement professionals such as flooring installers. HomeAdvisor is the oldest and is considered one of the most reputable matching services. Keep in mind, though, that when a lead generator sends three floor installers in your direction, this is no guarantee of quality. Contractors and tradespeople pay to get leads from these services. Also, these services only check that minimum standards such as bonding and insurance are met. Angie's List advertises flooring installers on an A-F scale. Like HomeAdvisor it is mainly a lead generator for home services professionals. Yelp is normally associated with restaurant reviews. But in recent years, its home services section has picked up considerably. Like other review sites, Yelp does have its share of trash-talking reviewers. But by carefully sifting through and reading all of the reviews, you can gain a fairly accurate picture of these companies.