How to Prepare for Hardwood Floor Installation

Carpenter Laying a wooden floor

Jodi Jacobson / Getty Images

Hardwood flooring provides long-lasting beauty and durability to a home. Many hardwood floors last for decades with proper care. Yet installing hardwood flooring is a big project often best left in the hands of professional wood floor installers.

Should you do anything ahead of time or should you just wait for them to come and take care of everything?

Why You Should Prepare For Floor Installers

Why do anything that the floor installers can do? Aren't they being paid to remove doors or door trim or to tape up plastic?

Even though your flooring company will likely make certain preparations, the more you can do beforehand, the better. A few simple preparations on your part can help limit the dust. More importantly, you'll focus the floor installers' efforts more on floor installation and less on peripheral activities like taping up plastic or turning off your heating system.

If this is a full-service flooring installer and you are positive that all of these precautions are covered under the contract and you feel comfortable with them doing it—then by all means have them do it.

Supplement the Dust Control System

Dust is the number one problem for homeowners during wood flooring installation. Most wood floor installers will take basic preparations to contain the dust. But you may want to supplement their dust control efforts:

  • Seal off rooms that will not be sanded. Do this not just by closing the doors but by covering the doorway with plastic sheets secured with painter's tape.
  • Install plastic sheeting around the larger perimeter of the worksite. Keep the worksite itself clear so the workers have space to do their job.
  • Tape plastic over the heating ducts and other openings to prevent airborne dust from circulating throughout the house.

Important

Remember, with HVAC ducts sealed over, you must turn off the HVAC system, too. Don't just turn down the thermostat. Turn off the system entirely.

Remove the Doors

Flooring installers will remove the doors. But if you want to make sure that the doors are safely stored away, you can do it yourself.

Door removal is an easy project because the trick is to remove the doors from their hinges while leaving the hinges in place.

  1. With a nail and a small hammer, tap out the hinge pin from below. Have a partner help you.
  2. While the partner holds the door in place, remove the hinge pins and set them aside.
  3. With the partner, slide the door off of the hinges.
  4. Place the door among the others, stacked in a different room, with each door separated by a blanket to prevent scratching.
  5. Keep the hinge pins collected together in a plastic bag.

Remove the Baseboards or Base Molding

Depending on the type of the baseboards in the room, it is usually best to remove either the entire baseboard or the shoe moldings that line the bottom edge of the baseboards.

Removing baseboards will give the installers enough room to install the flooring planks as close to the walls as possible. Some homeowners like to take this opportunity to install new baseboards after the flooring has been installed.

Tip

Removing baseboards can be a huge project if the baseboards are stuck to the wall with multiple coats of paint or if the baseboards are extensive. So, carefully consider all angles of this before doing it.

If your home has tall, built-up baseboards, it is common practice to remove just the small base shoe moldings or quarter-round that cover the seams between the baseboard and flooring around the perimeter of the room. The shoe moldings can be reused if they are in good shape, although many homeowners simply install new shoe molding at this time.

Remove the Door Trim

The case molding and stop moldings on doorways are more difficult to remove than the baseboards.

Few, if any, flooring installers will remove these moldings. Instead, they typically cut the bottoms of the moldings in order to slip the new flooring beneath them.

A better appearance can be achieved if you remove the moldings entirely, which allows the installers to fit the flooring boards tightly around the door frame. After the flooring is laid, you can trim and reinstall the old case moldings or retrim the door with new moldings.

While the look will be more uniform and polished, removing and reinstalling the door trim is an extreme measure since homes typically have many interior doors. Do this if the floor installation is part of a larger home remodel.

Prepare the Subfloor

Most flooring installers spend little or no time working on the subfloor unless this was discussed beforehand and negotiated as part of the price of installation.

If your subfloor is less than perfect—if there are dips or other flaws—you can do some prior work to fix its imperfections. Your goal is a subfloor that is perfectly flat and smooth and firmly secured to the floor joists. If the installers arrive at a house with an ideal subfloor, the new wood flooring will go in smooth, tight, and flawless.

Some homeowners may choose to go so far as to tear out the old flooring themselves and lay an entirely new subfloor—or at least install a thin plywood underlayment to smooth over the subfloor. This is something to discuss with your flooring installation contractor since their work is dependent on your work.

Prepare an Outdoor Cutting Area

Weather permitting, dust and debris are greatly reduced if the flooring installers have a suitable nearby outdoor location to cut the flooring.

Usually, if floor installers can locate an outdoor worksite with those conditions, they will use it. An outdoor spot for cutting provides more freedom of movement. Plus, it limits dust that can interfere with their own work.

An ideal place for cutting flooring will have:

  • Access to an outdoor, GFCI-protected, electrical outlet
  • A hard work surface, such as a concrete patio or garage floor
  • Protection from the elements; a garage, patio cover, or carport is ideal
  • Warm conditions if the temperature outside is cool
  • Good natural or secondary lighting
  • Close access to an entry door to the home