Install Hardwood Floors: Personal Gain or Self-Employment.
Hardwood floors look great anywhere in your home.
The cost of installing hardwood floors includes the wood flooring, the labor for installation and other materials and supplies.
For example, if you want to install 500 square feet of hardwood floors, the cost of the installation would approximate:
|Item||Low Estimate||High Estimate|
|Hardwood flooring - 500 square feet of prefinished oak ¾ inch by 3.25 inch flooring with 5% waste factor. Hardwood prices vary depending upon quality of wood, width of wood and wood species. Assume priced from $3.80-$8.80 sq. ft.||$1,995||$4,620|
|Labor, for installing flooring on level subfloor, including planning, preparation and cleanup and use of all equipment necessary as well as assumed priced from installing quarter round or shoe molding. Assume priced from $2.50 - $4.00 sq. ft.||$1,250||$2,000|
|Materials and supplies, including nails, cleats or staples and underlayment.||$150||$175|
Hardwood floors can last a long, long time and can be quite beautiful. However, the material is not cheap and when you add the the installation costs to the cost of the material the entire cost might put the kibosh on the project. If you are willing to do the work yourself to save money or to learn a new skill, don’t give up hope.
My Own Experience
A friend and I recently installed a little over 1,000 square feet in four bedrooms and a hallway in my home. The installation of the wood took approximately 5 ½ days. I am not and never have been handy around the house. I sometimes wondered why? Was it because I didn’t have the time? The right tools? Or was I just mechanically challenged? So, the primary reasons I did this was to Learn a New Skill and prove to myself that I could be handy around the house. The results were great.
There were, however, three other benefits. We estimated the savings to be $2,500-$3,000. The other benefits were unexpected. After showing the results to others we were asked to install floors in several other homes. The skills we developed could be used to create a self employment income. Finally, you get up and down a lot during the installation and the pneumatic nailer requires you to hit it with a mallet once for each nail/cleat. It require the use of lots of energy. I lost 5 pounds and my friend lost 15 pounds and 4 inches off his waist in those 5 ½ days.
Tip: Since you get up and down a lot we used knee pads. I never used them before, but they were great for this project.
Selecting Your Hardwood
Choosing hardwood flooring can be fun! Hardwood floors come in a variety of types including solid hardwood and engineered. We will be discussing principally solid hardwood. Hardwood floors also come unfinished and prefinished; we will only discuss prefinished floors. Prefinished floors may be bit more expensive initially; however, if you are paying for both the installation and the on-site finishing, you probably save money purchasing prefinished flooring.
Prefinished floors are tougher and more durable since the finish is baked on at the factory. Also, since no sanding is required, there is no dust to clean up and since you don’t have to wait for the stain and the hard finish to dry, you can use the floor immediately.
There are many, many colors and sizes available in hardwood floors. The floor boards come approximately ¾ inch thick and from 2-6 inches wide. Hardwoods vary in durability, patterns, and color. Oak, maple, and cherry are among the most common types. Exotic woods like mahogany, and Brazilian cherry aren’t as durable, but are beautiful.
Once you select your hardwood, take measurements to determine how much hardwood, wood molding and underlayment you will need. When ordering your flooring allow 5-10% extra for waste, whether it be defects in the wood or cutting mistakes.
Tip: When buying the hardwood flooring, keep in mind it is unlikely you will be able to return any opened boxes. Therefore, the accuracy of your measurements is extremely important.
Tools and Supplies Needed
Most of the tools below, you or your neighbor may own and if not, they can be rented from a home improvement store.
- A pneumatic nailer and mallet (to nail into tongue of flooring) and top nailer to nail first and last rows where pneumatic nailer is too big to work. You could also use a hammer, nail set and finishing nails but the power tools are much easier and you are less likely to damage the wood.
- An air compressor to drive the nailers
- Soft rubber mallet to hit hardwood in place
- Hardwood pull bar for keeping the joints tight
- Table saw (or other types of saws) to shorten length of hardwood and rip flooring
- Miter saw or miter box to cut quarter round or foot molding
- Jig saw, Bear Saw or handsaw to shorten the door jams
- Measuring tape
- Chalk line
- Cleats, nails or staples for the nailers
- Nail hole putty
Tip: If you or a friend do not own a pneumatic nailer, you can rent or buy one. When installing our hardwood, we decided it was cheaper to spend approximately $175 to buy the nailer than to rent it for 5 plus days.
Tip: When using the mallet with your pneumatic nailer use the black side for the nailer and the white side for the wood. This will avoid marking up the wood.
Preparing the Floor
How well you prepare your subfloors for installing the hardwood will determine both the quality and efficiency of the installation. You must be thorough in performing the following:
- Pull up the existing floor covering and ensure all staples, tack strips (rugs) and glue (vinyl and linoleum) are removed. Ensure the subfloor is both level throughout and even where the wood sheets meet. If need be, hammer down protruding nails or remove the nails with a pliers and sand down the subfloor. Sweep and vacuum the floor to remove any excess dust or dirt. This will help you install an evenly finished floor. Before you begin to remove the baseboard molding, determine if you want to reuse the molding or if you want to replace it. If you want to reuse it, you can take extra care by using a baseboard molding pry bar or a trim puller.
Tip: If you plan to reuse your molding, number the pieces as you remove them so you can easily replace them when you are finished.
- Now that the subfloor is exposed, you can determine the kind of subfloor you have and its thickness. Most sub floors are made of either plywood or OSB, which stands for oriented strand board, also know as flakeboard or particleboard. Since the cleats do not hold as well in OSB, the National Wood Flooring Association recommends 1 inch OSB compared to ⅞ inch plywood for the hardwood floor subfloor. Check the subfloor for any squeaky areas and reinforce those areas with long drywall screws into the subfloor and joists. Determine which way the floor joists were installed, so you can attach the hardwood flooring perpendicular to the floor joists.
Tip: Go to the basement to see what type of subfloor is in your home and in which direction the floor joists were installed. If on the second floor, determine which way the rows of nails or screws are going. This should help you identify the direction of the joists.
- Install the underlayment to lessen the sound and protect the floor from moisture. There is sometimes confusion as to what to use for underlayment. Therefore, ensure the 15lb black felt paper is manufactured specifically for hardwood floor installations. Roll the paper out and staple down the underlayment so it is perpendicular to the floor joists and right up to the wall or as close as possible to the wall. You can lay one or two pieces at a time and overlap them by 3-4 inches.
Tip: Once the felt paper is stapled down, you will no longer be able to see where the floor joists are located. Use a pencil to mark the location of the floor joists along the baseboards and then use a chalk line to help with future nailing.
- Once you pick up or have the hardwood delivered, make sure you bring the flooring into your house to allow it to adjust to the climate where it will be installed. You should give the hardwood approximately 2 weeks to adjust. The flooring will be delivered in heavy boxes of approximately 20 square feet and the wood will be in various lengths. The higher quality hardwood will have more longer pieces which will give the floor a cleaner look when installed. The wood will range from 2 feet to 8-10 ft in length. Before starting the installation, mix several boxes to ensure a blend of colors.
Tip: The boxes of hardwood flooring are heavy. Ensure you or the delivery company puts the boxes as close as possible to the place you will be installing the hardwood.
Installing the Hardwood
- selected the type of hardwood, the color and width that pleases you and matches your decor.
- shopped around to get the best price and the appropriate quality for the job.
- located, purchased or rented the tools and supplies needed.
- prepared the sub floor for the hardwood flooring.
Now it’s time to begin the installation of your beautiful hardwood flooring.
- Where and how you begin laying boards will have a significant impact on the success of the project. You must begin laying boards on a straight line. If not, errors will grow and compound over the remainder of the project. Often the exterior walls of the rooms where hardwood is being installed are not straight and therefore not square.
There are a variety of ways to ensure you have a straight line to begin your project. One such method is the 3-4-5 triangle. This technique requires you to create a triangle in the corner of the walls that are supposedly square to each other. A triangle with sides of 3, 4 and 5 feet will have a 90 degree angle opposite the 5 foot side. If the triangle is not square when drawing the last side, the 5 foot side, you need to make an adjustment to either the 3 or 4 foot sides by moving them into, or out from the wall. Once you do this at both corners, you can create a straight line to begin your installation.
- For expansion purposes you should ensure the boards are laid ½ inch from all four walls. That ½ inch space will be covered by molding. Therefore, your initial straight line should be ½ inch from the longest wall and perpendicular to your floor joists. You should check periodically to ensure each row of boards is straight.
Tip: For ease of laying the wood, make several ½ inch wood spacers to use between the wood flooring and the wall at the end of each row. These same spacers can be used when beginning the first row and ending the last row.
3. Lay out several rows of boards to identify a random pattern for the different size boards. Regular patterns or closely lining up the joints/seams from row to row takes away from the appearance of the floor. This will allow you to see what the pattern looks like before you nail the boards. Lay your first row on the straight line and use your top nailer to secure the board to the subfloor. Then, if needed, use your nail set to countersink the nails. Alternatively, you might use a drill, hammer and nail set to nail down the first row of boards. You may need to attach more than the first row using the top nailer since the pneumatic nailer may not yet have enough room to be used. Nails or cleats should be spaced 6-10 inches apart depending on the width of the boards. That is, if you are using 2” wide boards space the nails/cleats 8-10 inches apart and if you are using 6” wide boards space the nails/cleats 6 inches apart. Do not nail any closer than 2 inches from the end of the board to avoid splitting the boards.
- Lay the remaining boards by sliding the grooved edge over the tongue and hammering it with the rubber mallet, if necessary. You start at one end of the row and cut the last board to fit into place ½ inch from the wall. Use your ½ inch spacers to ensure there is appropriate space for expansion and contraction of the wood. Use your pneumatic nailer to secure the board to the subfloor and joists through the tongue, until there is no longer room to operate the pneumatic nailer. At that time you should use the top nailer.
Tip: You may need to adjust the setting on the compressor depending on how deep the nail or cleat from the top nailer or the pneumatic nailer goes into the hardwood.
- Laying the first and last row of hardwood and the transition between rooms are the most difficult and time consuming. The first row is difficult because you must ensure the starting point is a straight line. The last row is difficult because you may need to “rip” (cut) the boards to fit in the remaining floor space. Transitioning between rooms can be done in one of three ways. In the doorway of the room you can use T molding where the molding sits above the flooring. Alternatively, you can use a piece of flooring with the tongue removed. The side without the tongue butts up against the end of the hardwood flooring of the room you are entering. If however, the boards line up, you may want to lay the boards continuously into the other room.
- To finish the floor you should replace your foot molding. Then cut your quarter round with the miter saw and install it to hide the seams where the wall meets the hardwood floor.
The Bottom Line
If you don’t mind working hard, and want to learn a new skill, install your own hardwood floor. The activity will save you a few bucks and help keep you in shape. If you really enjoy it, I believe there is enough demand for it to provide you some self-employment income.
As for me, we worked hard to plan and install the hardwood floors. We had fun and the floors came out great! It did help to have adequate time to learn about hardwood floors and plan the job. It also helped to have the right tools available for the job. It was great to learn a new skill and prove to myself that I could be handy around the house. Finally, am I mechanically challenged? The answer is Yes.