For the most part installing hardwood flooring is pretty simple. Whether you're laying down tongue and groove planks that lock into each other or nailing down hardwood boards to the floor, as long as the first row is laid evenly the job is really self-explanatory. One thing that even experienced floor layers struggle at times with though is which direction to lay the planks because there are options and suggestions that vary from house to house.
Recommended: Perpendicular to Floor Joists
One of the big problems seen with hardwood floors, especially longer planks, is the fact that they have a tendency to dip and bow when walked across. This is mostly due to the fact of being installed parallel with the floor joists instead of perpendicular. When the planks are laid perpendicularly they have an extra support below every 16” on center which leaves very little chance of bowing or dipping. We've seen a number of people try and buck this trend because they think the sub-floor underneath offers enough support but the results are usually pretty tacky. Nothing destroys the allure of a hardwood like dipping and bowing. If your basement is is unfinished you'll be able to look up and see which direction the floor joists are going otherwise try and use a stud finder or peel up a portion of the subfloor.
Where Does Your Main Entrance Face?
The most important thing you want when laying hardwood planks is the extra support of laying them perpendicular to the floor joists. If you have spacers as extra support in the floor joists the second desired way of laying the planks is based on the main entrance of the home. When walking in the door, planks that run perpendicularly do a better job of creating busy space. Also boards that are laid parallel to the line of sight tend to drift the eyes away from the room instead of focusing upon it. If your floor joists aren't a factor, go with the main entrance plan of attack.
In Bedrooms and Separate Rooms
In smaller rooms or ones separated by doors and transitioned flooring you want to make rooms seem bigger. The way you can accomplish this is by running the hardwood in the same direction of the longest wall. This allows you to do longer installation runs and is optically satisfying.
With Long and Wide Hallways
If possible, take any hallways into account when deciphering the orientation of the floor direction. Planks that install with the length of the hallway are much easier to install and prevent the choppy look of many small boards in a row perpendicularly.
For Unconventional Rooms or Desired Unique Styling
Photo Credit: Allen Harris
It definitely requires a lot of additional cutting but laying floors diagonally is a way you can add unique styling to a room. With a 45° orientation the boards will still hit floor joists while also creating a more cozy look to a small or boxy room.
If possible, always go with the structurally sound way to install the floor as sagging is a much harder fix than breaking up sight lines with a rug.
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