How to build a hardwood floor this weekend
If you pick this do-it-yourself-friendly floating-floor option, you can have a beautiful new floor without the nailing and gluing of traditional hardwoods.
Believe it or not, I installed a beautiful hardwood floor by myself in just one weekend. How? I chose a do-it-yourself-friendly floating floor.
Unlike typical hardwood flooring that must be nailed or glued down, these floating floors are simply laid down over a thin, foam-rubber pad. They aren't fastened to the subfloor at all.
For this project, I chose the latest in floating-floor material: Lyptus flooring manufactured by Weyerhaeuser. It's made from fast-growing eucalyptus trees that are harvested on sustainable, environmentally responsible plantations. The wood has a rich, reddish hue that makes it look similar to cherry or mahogany, but it's much harder. In fact, it's as dense as red oak and maple, two species commonly used for flooring. Like other floating floors, it comes with a factory-applied finish, so, when the last plank is down, the job is done.
Floating-floor planks typically range from about 3 to 8 inches wide and usually require the installer to apply glue along the edge of each piece. The 7.5-inch-wide Lyptus flooring comes preglued along each tongue-and-groove edge for fast installation. Budget-priced floating floors start at about $3 per square foot for planks with thin-veneer surfaces. The solid-wood floor I installed cost about $7 per square foot.
To speed the installation and to prevent damage to the wood, I used an installation kit designed specifically for floating wood floors. Called the Ultimate Tool Kit ($199), it contains two indestructible tapping blocks (6 inches and 24 inches long), two welded-steel pull bars and 10 spacers.
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Prep the room
If the room is carpeted, remove the old carpeting and padding to expose the plywood subfloor. If the room has a sound wood or vinyl floor, you can install the floating floor on top. Floating floors also can be laid over a concrete slab. However, if the slab is below grade, such as in a basement, be sure the flooring is engineered for this situation.
A quick word about baseboard molding: I removed the molding, laid the flooring, then installed new baseboard and quarter-round shoe molding. If you prefer, you could leave the baseboard in place, install the flooring, and conceal the gap between the floor and baseboard with shoe molding. Regardless of which method you choose, be sure to nail the molding to the wall, not to the floor.
Start by vacuuming the subfloor. Then, roll out the foam-rubber underlayment perpendicular to the direction of the planks. The closed-cell foam will even out minor irregularities and help cushion the floating floor. Butt the edges of foam underlayment together — be sure they don't overlap — and secure the sheets with 2-inch-wide tape.
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At each door, trim the door casings and jambs to allow the flooring to slip underneath. Use a handsaw and a piece of flooring and foam as a guide to cut the door trim.
Plan the layout
Work from left to right when laying the floor planks across the room, with the tongue edges facing out. To accommodate expansion and contraction, leave a half-inch gap between the flooring and walls. Also, the planks in the last row must be at least 2 inches wide.
Here's how to determine the width of the last row. Measure the room width in inches, then subtract 1 inch for the half-inch expansion space at the starting and ending walls. Divide by the plank width to find the number of full rows it will take to cover the room. The remainder will be made up with a plank that's ripped to width.
For example, an inch from my 10-foot-6-inch-wide space leaves 125 inches; divided by my plank width of 7.5, the figure comes to 16.667. That means there will be 16 rows of full-width flooring and a last row that's two-thirds the width of the plank — or 5 inches.
If the last row ends up being less than 2 inches wide, you'll have to rip down the planks in the first row.
Start laying planks
Lay out all the planks for the first row, checking to make sure the last one will be at least 8 inches long. If necessary, cut the first plank so the last one will be long enough. Because of the end joints, you can cut only the first or last piece; all intermediate planks in a row must be installed full-length.
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Set the first plank in place with its tongue edge facing out. Slip half-inch-thick spacers between the plank and the wall. Install the second plank end to end with the first plank. Use a hammer and short tapping block to connect the two planks. Continue installing planks in the first row end to end. Use a handsaw or saber saw to cut the last plank to length. If the cut-off piece is longer than 12 inches, save it for starting a row.
Then, lay out enough planks for the next three or four rows. It's important to stagger all end joints from one row to the next by at least 16 inches. Install the first plank in the second row, setting its end against a spacer block. Press the plank into the flooring in the first row so that the tongue-and-groove joint locks. Then, close the joint using a hammer and long tapping block. Continue to lay planks as you did for the first row, making sure to maintain spaces between the flooring and the walls. When necessary, notch a plank to fit around a wall corner or closet opening.