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 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 10 percent overage amount to account for waste associated with cutting the wood.
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.
Get estimates from at least three 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 sign a contract. Do not be that type of homeowner. By getting three or more estimates, you weed out those outlier estimates.
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?
This 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 Fahrenheit before and during installation. Humidity levels should stay between 30 percent and 50 percent.
Installation is the final phase. 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 rare 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. To locate them, check out:
- 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, check out their work. When the installers take a break, ask for a card. 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 getting feedback from the homeowners.
- Online listings: 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.