If you’re planning an upcoming flooring DIY, keep these great tips handy to get you ready for a professional-looking engineered hardwood floating floor installation. Pin it for future reference and share it if you know someone who might be interested!
This second in our series on installing an engineered floating floor is all about the prep work. It assumes you’ve already selected and calculated the amount of engineered hardwood you need. If you missed the first part where discussed those things and gave you 12 tips to shopping for engineered hardwood floating floors, check it out now before you read on.
1. Start with a Level Floor
Fix any leveling issues before taking delivery of your order. Your flooring job will only be as good as what’s underneath it so take the time to do it right. In the case of our basement, the concrete floor was out of level by over half a foot so we brought in an expert to pour an epoxy product called Levelrock.
It marks one of the very rare times we didn’t do the work ourselves and with good reason: the equipment needed to complete such a large scale project is not within the reach of a do-it-yourselfer! You can read more about the levelling of our basement floor here.
Although this post doesn’t get too much into the specifics of above-grade situations, if you are installing above grade, a level surface is just as important. When we renovated our main floor for instance, hubs laid a long level over the floor and discovered that it was up and down due to the joists (the builders were inconsistent about putting all the joists with the crown facing in the same direction – which is ideally up). We removed the subfloor and planed the joists down (Note: joists are structural so only do this on the advice of a structural engineer). You can read more about how to plane a floor, in this article. After planing down the high spots, hubs re-fastened the plywood subfloor onto the joists.
2. Fix Those Squeaks (For Upper Level Installations)
If you have an open basement below your main floor, take advantage of the opportunity to fix any squeaks you may have. After researching some articles on fixing squeaks, I was surprised that most don’t mention that sometimes it just takes some additional screws fastened through the subfloor into the joists to tighten things up. Some builders don’t add enough, so buy a whole bucket and use a screw gun to add screws along the joists every 6 inches along the edges and at least 12 inches in the field. To fix our sqeaks, along with adding additional screws, we used the following methods: glue/shims, squeezing construction adhesive into the gaps along both sides of the joists, and screwing blocks between the joists (you can see those methods in this article at the Family Handyman).
3. Get the Installation Instructions Before Delivery
Most people wouldn’t think to get a copy of the installation instructions and read them. The instructions will give you valuable information that’s pertinent to your own flooring situation which we may not cover in the next post 🙂 Information like how long the floor needs to acclimate before installation (ours was 48 hours with the plastic unwrapped), how much expansion space needs to be left around the perimeter of the room (ours was 1/2″), details on the floor warranty, how to install over pre-existing surfaces, maintenance etc. If the retailer doesn’t have the instructions for your particular flooring (which they likely won’t), get the name of the manufacturer if you don’t already know it. Contact the manufacturer directly through their website and ask them to e-mail the instructions to you.
4. Prep for Delivery
To make things easier on ourselves, we paid to have the flooring and underlayment delivered right to our basement. For $130, it was worth every penny to not have to lug heavy boxes through a very tight hallway and down the basement stairs!
To prepare for delivery, we put cardboard on the walls in the hallway and basement stairway because the boxes would have to be angled in order to get them down into the basement. When you’re dealing with long boxes, even the most careful delivery person can ding your drywall and moldings, leaving you with even more DIY work than you bargained for.
In addition to flat cardboard panels, Hubs found heavy cardboard corners at work to protect the edges of the walls (luckily stuff like that gets saved from deliveries). We also laid cardboard over the exposed floors; the delivery guys are not going to stop to take their shoes off when they’re carrying a heavy load – regardless of the weather!
We secured the cardboard to the wall with green painters tape so the paint wouldn’t peel once removed.
If you have a very tight space like we do, it’s also a good idea to remove the door to the basement. If you do that, invest in some caution tape. At one point, hubs removed the basement stairs so he could get the flooring right underneath the stairs without having to cut around obstructions: the caution tape will serve as a reminder to stay away when the DIY’ers are at work!
Once your flooring is delivered, let it acclimate for the recommended period of time before starting.
5. Create a Floor Plan
Your floor plan doesn’t have to be computer generated or as elaborate as ours – a sketch will do. Figure out the direction of the hardwood in each room. Manufacturers typically suggest that planks installed parallel to windows accent the hardwood best (which is what we ended up doing). If we had to put doorway transitions in, we would have run the hardwood in the direction of the longest length for each room.
Determining where to start is a combination of what will look aesthetically pleasing and logic. In our basement, we started the first plank in the back room as shown below highlighted in green. This allowed us to systematically move through each room and change direction with the use of a wood spline where necessary (the red lines on the plan below represent the splines). A spline is necessary to reverse the direction in which the flooring is laid when the installation goes into other rooms and the flooring in those areas falls behind you. This is what is called ‘backfill’ (on our layout, everything to the right of the red line is backfill). As shown below, the spline allowed us to change installing from an west-to-east direction to an east-to west direction. You’ll see some pictures of how we used the spline in the next post.
Important: doorways or arches that are less than 4 feet are required to have a T-molding between entryways to allow for proper expansion and contraction. I wouldn’t have known about this important detail unless I read the installation instructions! If you fail to do this, you could have a flooring failure. Our doorways were 4 feet wide so luckily we were able to get away with not using any T-moldings. As you can see above in our layout plan, we ran all the flooring in the same direction, the full length of the basement.
6. Remove All Obstructions
Remove all wall mounted moldings such as baseboard and quarter round. If you have skimpy baseboards to start – since you will need to leave a 1/2″ expansion gaps around the perimeter of the room – you may need to replace your baseboard so it covers the gaps – or add quarter round if you didn’t have it previously. If that’s the case, add quarter round to your shopping list.
Remove all furniture and appliances. Sometimes it’s not practical to remove everything completely. In the case of our basement, we weren’t going to lug our appliances upstairs so we did the next best thing. We disconnected all plumbing and put our appliances on wheeled dollies during the installation so we could easily move them around from room to room as the flooring was laid. The dollies were indispensable as you’ll see in the next post of this series – how to install. You can easily build them yourself out of heavy plywood with rolling casters screwed underneath.
7. Install Underlayment – All at Once or in Stages
Note: leave a 1/4″ gap between the finished drywall and the membrane when making any cuts (read your own manufacturers directions).
If you are going to be cutting your wood outside and don’t need part of the area to set up a cutting station, go ahead and install the underlayment (if you are using one) all at once. We chose to install the underlayment in the back rooms, where we were starting, and leave the mancave for last because that is where we did all our cutting and staging of the planks.
To install a dimpled membrane, sweep the flooring to get a clean surface. Start in one corner of the room, roll the first piece to length and cut it with a utility knife – dimple side down (for our product, that meant the blue side was up). Roll and cut the next piece, laying it right beside the first one. Remember to leave a 1/4″ gap from the drywall.
Butt the two seams together (don’t overlap) and seal it with a clear vapour tape. We used the type of tape used for sealing vapour barrier (see the red tape in the picture below). Cut around any obstructions, leaving 1/4″ gap as well. We had a drain pipe sticking up through our new poured concrete to work around.
If you happen to be installing the same product (DMX 1-Step), here’s a link to the checklist from the manufacturer. They used to have a great installation video, so we didn’t bother to do our own, but unfortunately it’s been removed. However, it really is easy to do.
We installed the underlayment in the two back rooms, as you see below, then stopped short of the mancave so we could use that area to do all our cutting (as you’ll see in the next step).
After the underlayment was done, we took the added step of doing a dry run by laying out the boards wall-to-wall to make sure we would have a big enough piece to install at the other end. In order to get even boards on both ends, we had to rip down the starting pieces of wood for the first row so we wouldn’t end up with a 1/2″ piece on the other side. Once you know the width or your boards, you can do the math to figure that out, but a dry run from one end of the room to the other will also help you visualize it.
We’ll remind you of this again in the next post, but when you’ve installed underlayment and you re-install the baseboards after the floor is complete, you must leave them up off the finished floor a minimum of 1/16″ – 1/8″ for air circulation. This will allow any moisture that gets trapped under the membrane to evaporate properly.
8. Organize and Set up a Cut/Staging Area
For convenience, if you have the space indoors, set up an area where you can both stage and cut the planks.
Mixing the cartons will give you a uniform appearance once the floor is laid. At the furthest point from where we were starting, we mixed flooring from different cartons and stacked them into piles of same-length boards so we could easily integrate them together once we started laying them out.
If we weren’t installing in the basement, and the weather was better, we would have cut everything outside to avoid the dust and mess. However, winter was approaching so we set up a cardboard dust screen to control the dust and used a hepa vacuum to clean periodically:
We also added cardboard on the walls to prevent dings as we cut and moved the boards around.
Also notice the kneeling pad – we found it much better to use than knee pads and highly recommend one for any flooring job.
9. Undercut Door Casings (if applicable)
If you have door casings you will have to undercut the casing 1/16″ higher that the thickness of your flooring material. Using a scrap piece of flooring as a guide, lay it on the substrate and cut the casing with a handsaw or power tool.
We didn’t have any door jambs to cut in our basement, but in the past we have used a Fein Oscillating Power Tool to make quick work of it, as shown below.
10. Getting Familiar with the Tools of the Trade (Glue / Flooring Installation Kit)
Much of this content will be repeated in the post about installing the actual engineered hardwood floor. We’re including it here as part of prep work because I love to learn about things we’ve never attempted beforehand and thought you might appreciate a heads-up on the mechanics of how it goes together!
Let’s get familiar with how to apply the glue.
Place the glue along the topside of the groove – the full length of the grooved side and end. To do this, invert the plank and apply a bead of glue (3/32”) to the side of the groove nearest the face of the plank. When the plank is turned back over, gravity will allow the glue to flow down the back of the groove which will give you total coverage. Apply only a thin bead of glue; if the groove is overfilled, it will be difficult to close the seam and won’t allow a tight fit.
CLEAN THE GLUE AS YOU GO: If any glue squeezes out of the seam between the planks allow it to dry for 10 to 15 minutes and then lightly scrape it away with a plastic scraper or putty knife, any glue left may be cleaned with a damp cloth. Don’t allow the glue to dry on the face of the flooring; it will be next to impossible to clean off. Also don’t be tempted to wipe the glue right away; you’ll just force it into the grain of the wood and you’ll be able to see it once it dries.
Using a Flooring Installation Kit
An installation kit is essential when you install tongue and groove flooring in a floating floor application. It comes with spacers, tapping block and a pull bar. You may or may not be able to use the spacers – it all depends on the thickness. In the case of our flooring, we had to leave a 1/2″ gap so we cut our own spacers out of medium density fibreboard (MDF).
The Tapping Block
A tapping block (in conjunction with a rubber mallet) allows you to distribute equal force across the tongue without any damage to the wood. For best results, slide the block along the row using tapping strokes to engage the tongue and groove.
The Pull Bar
The pull bar allows you pull planks together in tight areas – such as installing the last plank up against the wall. The curved end wraps around the edge closest to the wall and then the mallet is struck against the opposite end of the pull bar, forcing the joint together.
With all your prep work done, you’re ready to start the actual installation of the floating floor. Stay tuned for the 3rd and last post in this series on how we installed our engineered floating hardwood floor in our recently finished basement.
Here’s a sneak peak of how the finished floor looks in my craft studio:
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