Choosing and Installing Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Engineered hardwood flooring is made out of layers of real wood that have been compressed together. These floors are designed for multiple environments, including environments where there are significant swings in temperatures, moisture, and humidity.

Engineered hardwood flooring has quickly become the most popular type of wood flooring on the market. This type of flooring is actual real wood that has been applied to a plywood or ply base. Homeowners now typically prefer engineered wood flooring over laminate flooring, vinyl planks, and even some solid woods because of its unsurpassed stability and durability. The plied (applied) base stabilizes the wood, keeping it from growing or buckling over the years.

Sometimes, an engineered hardwood floor will have a different core material, like stone, to help with strength and make the floor longer lasting. But luckily, no matter the composition, it’s usually pretty simple to install if you’re a DIY-er. So, how do you install engineered hardwood flooring like a pro?

With over 70% of sales going to engineered wood flooring this past year here at Hardwood Bargains, we knew our customers could benefit from a step-by-step guide to engineered wood flooring installation.

What To Know Before You Start

Before you start this project, you want to think about a few different things. First, you want to give yourself at least two days to get this project done, and then you need to give yourself another 24 hours (at least) outside of this room.

Avoid walking on your floors for at least 24 hours to avoid damage to all your hard work. If you need to enter that room, then you may want to leave a “walking strip” empty of wood that you will fill in and avoid the next day.

When you unpack your hardwood flooring, be sure to check for warping or defects. While most products arrive absolutely perfect, something may be amiss. There is a chance you may need either replacements, or you could keep a defective piece to test products, like cleaning supplies or stains.

Another great tip is to mix up the packs of hardwood flooring that you use to avoid repetitive patches or patterns. Stains and finishes can vary from one batch to the next (which helps make the flooring look unique), and you don’t want to have “lines” of color on your flooring.

If you are doing a glue-down installation, you want to use a notched trowel to apply the adhesive, as this gives you the best application. Of course, wear gloves and safety goggles the entire time.

Why Choose Engineered Wood Flooring?

If you are choosing a new hardwood flooring option, engineered wood flooring is a fantastic option. It is a timeless look, but it is much more budget-friendly than solid hardwood flooring. It looks more expensive than it is because only the top layer has to be that expensive wood, and the rest can be less expensive wood. So, why choose engineered wood?

  • Higher Durability: Engineered hardwood should be far more durable than other types of wood.
  • Better for Extreme Climates: Engineered hardwood expands and contracts less than other types of wood, making it better for areas where there are severe temperature changes and humidity levels.
  • Stability: Engineered hardwood is more stable compared to other types of flooring. This makes it a better option for growing families and people who may not be as gentle on their flooring.
  • Maintenance: Hardwood floors age extremely well, and solid wood floors look great for decades. Unlike other types of flooring, you are able to refinish them if they start to look dull.
  • Cost: Solid hardwood is very expensive, and engineered hardwood gives you that same look without all that additional cost.
  • Green: Hardwood flooring is green, and engineered hardwood flooring is even greener yet. You can get rarer wood without the entire plank needing to be that wood.
  • More Options: Within your budget and your timeline, you will be able to get more options for your flooring. If there is something that you really like, you can get it for a lower price on a tighter timeline.

There are many other reasons to get engineered hardwood, including the fact that you can easily install it yourself.

How to Install Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Here’s an easy-to-follow nail-down installation method that is sure to make you look like a DIY pro. Of course, be sure to check your flooring manufacturer’s instructions before starting. 

Step 1: Choose Your Wood

Your first step is to choose the right wood for your family and your lifestyle. There are softer wood options, like cherry, which are beautiful but can be dented quite easily. Other species can tolerate the dropped toys and clumsy feet. Species like Acacia are going to be harder and can tolerate more roughness. 

Be sure to consider the traffic that goes through your home and base your search on that. On average, engineered wood floors are priced at around $3.39/square foot. To estimate how much flooring to buy, calculate the square footage of the room you plan on flooring and add a 7% waste allowance for cuts, trims, etc. Our floor finder can help you find the right floor for your home.

Step 2: Prep and Clean Your Floors

If you are installing a new floor, you probably have old floors that need a bit of cleaning. Make sure that your concrete subfloor is clean and free of dust, debris, nails, and anything else that could get in your way or that you just wouldn’t want in your house for years at a time. Be sure to double-check for staples, which can hang out quite a bit.

Do the full suite of cleaning: vacuuming, sweeping, and washing the floor. Ensure everything is dried before moving to the next step.

Sweep away anything off the floor, clean off paint or drywall residue, and use a belt sander to level and smooth the surface. Ensuring that the floor is flat is key. To do this, sweep a 10-foot straightedge across the floor. Make sure there is no deviation of 3/16th of an inch. Mark the floor wherever light shows underneath the edge, then level the floors with a sander or by filling depressions with an acceptable product you can nail to. It is very critical that your floors are level before laying any of the pieces down.

Step 3: Prep Your Flooring and Gather Your Materials

Start by letting your newly purchased flooring acclimate in open boxes in the room you plan on installing the flooring for about 2-3 days. This allows the flooring to match the humidity of the room. The moisture in the wood needs to be within three percentage points of other existing wood-based material in your home. Avoid storing flooring in basements because it could absorb extra moisture, causing it to shrink when it acclimates to the room you’re installing it in.

Determine what supplies you need. Take inventory of what you have and what you need to buy. Supplies typically needed in the installation of engineered wood floors are: 

  • A basic saw
  • Miter saw
  • Jigsaw
  • Tape measure
  • Straight edge
  • Builders felt or tar paper based on the square footage of the room
  • Rubber mallet
  • Flooring stapler or nail gun. 

All supplies can be found in-store and online at Hardwood Bargains.

Step 3: Undercut Door Jambs and Use Tar Paper

Your next step is to put builders' felt or tar paper over your cleaned and dried subfloor. Use a staple gun to attach the paper. This paper acts as a moisture barrier, which prevents condensation that can cause molding and rot under your engineered hardwood.

Run it in the same direction as your new flooring, typically, in line with the longest wall. Close the edges of the paper or felt as close together as possible and staple down each edge every 4 or 5 feet. Trim it to be within a ½ inch of the walls. Be sure to tap down any poorly set staples to ensure a flat floor.

Then, undercut door jambs casings. This will allow your flooring to slip underneath easily. To do this, place a scrap of your newly purchased flooring in front of the door casing and slowly saw across the casing so the wood planks can slide under. Do this around all doorways in the room. Remember to dust or vacuum immediately after to ensure a clean work surface.

Step 4: Get Your Planks Ready

Ideally, you want to lay out your flooring so that you can see how it looks before you start installing anything. Be careful not to form any patterns or lines by mixing and matching different boxes of wood.

Step 5: Install the Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Next, start the installation process. Start your first row that runs against the longest wall of the perimeter of the room. You can consult the boxes for the best instructions, as they may differ somewhat. If you are having trouble getting a solid fit, you can use a rubber mallet.

Most engineered wood floors are tongue and groove, so they piece together very easily. You’ll want to place ½ in spacers against the wall and its adjacent wall to create an expansion gap to prevent any buckling of the wood. These spacers will also make installing baseboards easier. When installing a nail-down floor, the tongue side has to face out. The floor gun adheres the plank by driving a staple or nail at a 45-degree angle through the top of the tongue and into the sub-floor. This is called “blind nailing.”

Using a pneumatic flooring stapler or a brad nail gun loaded with 1 ½ in brad nails, nail or staple down each plank every 6 to 8 inches and within 1 inch of the wall. Continue running rows of the floor planks, varying lengths as you go to create various staggering seams. Remember to check tongue alignment as you go. Most floor installers offset end joints by at least 12 inches from those in the first course.  The fewer nails you use, the better.

Lastly, remove all spacers and reinstall the baseboards. Be sure to vacuum the floors and fill all nail holes with wood putty.

Step 6: Hide the Seams

As you finish your flooring, attach a baseboard to the wall and then use a flooring nailer. You will then be able to paint or stain your baseboard before you install it, or you can do it after. You will need to use a miter saw to get the fit just right.

Once you have successfully installed your flooring, be sure to keep an eye on it for a few weeks as you walk and use your flooring. You should see any issues emerge quickly.

Step 7: The Care and Maintenance of Your Engineered Wood Floors

Keep your engineered hardwood flooring vacuumed or swept on a daily basis. This prevents any dirt or debris from getting in between the engineered wood planks, or worse, scratching the surface of the wood. 

Though engineered wood flooring is extremely resistant to moisture, excessive liquid can damage any type of flooring. Avoid wax-based cleaners and harsh detergents. Hardwood Bargains offers an array of quality wood cleaners that help protect and maintain the surface of your new wood floors.

It Is Easy To Redo Your Flooring with Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood flooring is a beautiful option for people who love the look and feel of hardwood flooring but can’t afford to get the real thing or just want to do it themselves quickly. Your flooring options will depend on your preferences, but most installation guides make it really easy to do your job within a few hours. The longest period will be that drying period if you glue down your planks.

Our biggest take-home is don’t disregard engineered hardwood, even if you have to install it yourself. It’s a great way to change the look and feel of your home within a few days, get a safer and more beautiful home, and try something new without really committing to it too much - most engineered floors come up fairly easily as well. So, you can love the floor you’re with and then change it in a few years if your tastes shift!

Sources:

How to Install an Engineered Hardwood Floor | how-tos | DIY

How to Lay Engineered Wood Floors | This Old House 

Installing Engineered Wood Flooring | The Spruce

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