6 Tips for Installing Carpet Yourself

Installer Using Carpet Stretcher on New Bedroom Floor
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Professional installation by an experienced crew is now so inexpensive and quick that it's hard to justify doing this work yourself. Carpeting is now often sold with installation costs included since so few consumers want to go through the headache of DIY installation.

The Truth About "Free" Installation

It is true that carpeting that is advertised as "free installation" is not really free, since the cost is actually slightly inflated to cover the labor of the team who will come to install it. You can, therefore, save some money by specifying that you want to buy carpeting without installation labor. But by the time you buy or rent the specialty tools, padding, seaming tape, and other supplies necessary, the extra $1 to $1.50 per-square-foot cost for pro installation starts to seem like a bargain. If you've ever gone through the headache of trying to install carpeting yourself, you are unlikely to want to go through the ordeal again. Many installation teams will move furniture, remove and dispose of old carpet, install padding and new carpet, and move the furniture back in place—all within a few hours.

Still, there may be instances where your budget is so tight that saving on installation costs is critical. Or perhaps you are carpeting many rooms at the same time, or have many irregular shapes or stairways that mean your cost savings will be more substantial if you install the carpeting yourself. If so, here are six tips to make DIY carpet installation go more smoothly.

Rent Special Tools

Some DIYers make the mistake of thinking that they can install carpeting just by cutting pieces with an ordinary utility knife and rolling out the pieces over the floor. This is a disaster waiting to happen. While carpet installation will require many standard home-shop tools—such as a hammer, utility stapler, tin-snips, chalk-line, and utility knife—there will be several carpet-specific tools you will need in order to do the work correctly. These tools, available for lease at tool rental centers and home centers, include a seam iron, power stretcher, and knee kicker. These are expensive tools and it is much more economical to rent these tools rather than buy them, unless you expect to install carpeting often.

Learn How to Use a Carpet Stretcher

While it is possible to install carpeting without a stretcher, the results will look terrible, with wrinkles and lumps quickly forming. Two types of stretchers are essential to a good carpet installation: a long power stretcher that will brace against the walls to stretch the carpeting taut across the entire room, and a knee kicker that will help you push the edges into corners and over the tack strips around the perimeter of the room. Proper stretching is 90 percent of good carpet installation, and if you're not prepared to learn this skill, it's best to hire pros.

Install Tack Strips With a Gap Between the Wall

Tack strips are strips of wood with sharp pointed tacks. They are attached to the subfloor around the perimeter of the room to provide the anchor point for the edges of the carpeting to be gripped. For novice DIYers, the temptation is to shove the carpet tack strips (sometimes called "tackless strips") all the way against the wall or baseboard. Don’t do this. You will need the extra space in order to tuck the edges of the carpet over the strips. The gap between the tack strips should be just a hair less than the thickness of the carpeting so that the tucked portion remains tightly wedged in place.

For Patterned Carpet, Buy an Extra 5 Percent

You will experience more waste with patterned carpet than with non-patterned carpet, since cutting and seaming pieces requires you to match the pattern. Most experts recommend adding 5 percent overage for waste on a non-patterned carpet, and you should add another 5 percent, for a total of 10 percent overage, for patterned carpeting. The larger the pattern, the more waste you will have.

Do Not Attach Padding Over the Tack Strips

This is a standard rule of carpet installation: Do not lay the padding over the tackless strips. Keep the padding within the inner perimeter formed by the strips. Padding should touch the edge of the tackless strips but should not overlap them. If the padding overlaps, then you’ll have a fat lump around the edge of your carpet—not very attractive. It is also a good idea to make sure your padding is of very good quality. Even cheap carpeting will perform much better if the underlying padding is of good quality, such as high-density memory foam.

Consider Carpet Pile Direction When Seaming

Obviously, if your carpet has a pattern, seaming two pieces requires careful attention to matching the pattern between adjoining pieces. But even for non-patterned carpeting, you can detect the direction of the carpet’s pile by looking at it from different directions in strong light. Keep carpet pile consistent from piece to piece. Even professional installation teams have been known to get this wrong.