How to Install Hardwood Flooring: Ultimate Guide for Beginners 2023

Installing hardwood flooring can seem like a daunting task for beginners, but with the right guidance and tools, anyone can achieve a professional-looking result. In this ultimate guide, we will walk you through the process of choosing the best materials, preparing the subfloor, and properly installing hardwood planks.

By breaking down the steps and providing you with clear, easy-to-follow instructions, this guide ensures that even the most novice DIYer can successfully install hardwood flooring. So, let’s get started and transform your living space with beautiful, durable hardwood floors.

Choosing the Right Hardwood Flooring

One of the most critical aspects of installing new hardwood flooring is choosing the right type, style, and finish that fit your lifestyle, d├ęcor, and budget. In this section, we will cover the different hardwood flooring options, styles and finishes available, as well as how to factor in your budget for the perfect choice.

Types of Hardwood Flooring

There are two main types of hardwood flooring available, solid and engineered:

  • Solid hardwood flooring: made entirely from a single piece of hardwood, offering a more traditional and authentic appearance. It can be sanded and refinished multiple times, making it a long-lasting investment. However, it is more susceptible to moisture and temperature changes.
  • Engineered hardwood flooring: made from several layers of wood pressed together, providing better resistance to humidity and temperature fluctuations. It still offers a natural wood look, but it generally has a limited number of times it can be refinished. This type is ideal for basements and other moisture-prone areas.

Styles and Finishes

Beyond the type of hardwood flooring, you’ll encounter a wide variety of styles and finishes to choose from, each creating a unique look and feel for your space.

  • Plank width: Ranges from narrow strips to wide planks, creating different visual effects. Wider planks can make a room feel more spacious, while narrow strips can make it feel more traditional and cozy.
  • Wood species: Popular options include oak, maple, cherry, and hickory, each with its unique grain patterns, colors, and hardness levels, affecting the floor’s durability and maintenance requirements.
  • Surface finishes: Options include oil-based or water-based polyurethane, wax, or oil, each providing varying levels of sheen, durability, and maintenance requirements. A matte finish can create a more casual and rustic look, while a glossy finish can add elegance and formality.
  • Texture: Features like hand-scraped, wire-brushed, or distressed can add character and visual interest to your flooring. Textured surfaces can also hide minor imperfections and scratches more effectively.

Budget Considerations

When selecting hardwood flooring, it’s essential to consider your budget. Solid hardwood flooring generally costs more than engineered options but can provide a higher return on investment due to its longevity and refinishing potential.

Some factors that can impact the cost of your hardwood flooring installation include:

  1. Wood species: More exotic and rare species tend to be more expensive, while domestic woods like oak and maple typically have lower price points.
  2. Wood grade: Higher grade woods have fewer imperfections and more consistent grain patterns, often at a higher cost.
  3. Installation method: Some methods, such as nail-down or glue-down, can be more labor-intensive and costly than floating installations.

Be sure to compare the total cost of your flooring, including materials, labor, and any additional expenses like underlayment or new baseboards, to make the best decision for your space and budget.

Tools and Materials Required

For a successful hardwood flooring installation, it’s essential to have the proper tools and materials. In this section, we will provide a brief overview of the necessary items for each category.


Having the right tools can significantly impact the installation process. The following is a list of the primary tools needed:

  • Measuring tape: to measure the room and flooring pieces accurately
  • Saw: for cutting the hardwood planks (use a miter saw, table saw, or a jigsaw depending on your preference)
  • Level: to ensure your subfloor is even
  • Flooring nailer or stapler: for fastening the hardwood planks to the subfloor
  • Hammer and pry bar: for removing existing flooring and adjusting planks
  • Knee pads: for added comfort when working on the floor

These tools are crucial for the proper installation of hardwood flooring. In addition, a chalk line, spacers, safety glasses, and a dust mask may also be helpful.


Here are the primary materials required for a hardwood flooring installation:

  • Hardwood flooring: Consider factors such as species, grade, and finish when selecting your hardwood flooring. It’s important to buy approximately 10% extra to account for waste and cuts.
  • Underlayment: This layer provides cushioning, sound absorption, and moisture protection. Choose an underlayment suitable for your specific type of hardwood flooring.
  • Fasteners: These include nails or staples to secure the flooring to the subfloor. The size and type will depend on your particular flooring product and installation method.
  • Transitions and moldings: These are essential for finishing the edges of the room and transitioning between different flooring types in adjacent rooms.

Having the right tools and materials on hand will ensure a successful hardwood flooring installation while minimizing errors and delays.

Preparing the Installation Area

Before you begin installing your hardwood flooring, it’s essential to prepare the installation area to ensure a successful and long-lasting result. In this section, we will discuss key steps in preparing the area, including subfloor preparation, moisture and acclimatization, and removing baseboards and trim.

Subfloor Preparation

The first step in preparing the area for hardwood installation is the subfloor preparation. Having a clean, level, and stable subfloor is essential for the longevity of your hardwood floors. To prepare your subfloor:

  1. Inspect the subfloor for any damages, uneven areas, or debris.
  2. Repair any damages or imperfections with appropriate filler or leveling compound.
  3. Thoroughly clean the subfloor by sweeping and vacuuming.

Moisture and Acclimatization

Hardwood can be sensitive to moisture and temperature fluctuations. To prevent any issues related to these factors, proper moisture and acclimatization are crucial. Follow these steps:

  1. Check the moisture levels of both the subfloor and the hardwood using a moisture meter. The ideal moisture level for the subfloor should be below 12%, and the difference between the wood and subfloor moisture should be within 2% to 4%.
  2. Acclimatize the wood by placing the hardwood materials in the room where they will be installed. Stack the boxes of wood off the ground and leave a space between them for air circulation. Allow the wood to acclimatize for at least 3 to 5 days before installation.

Removing Baseboards and Trim

Finally, before the installation begins, remove any baseboards and trim present in the area. This ensures that the hardwood flooring can be installed properly and allows for expansion and contraction of the wood without causing issues. To remove these materials:

  1. Use a utility knife to cut through the caulk or paint that seals the baseboard or trim to the wall.
  2. Gently pry the baseboard or trim away from the wall with a pry bar, starting at one end and working your way down the length. Be careful not to damage the wall or materials, as you may want to reinstall them later.

Installing the Hardwood Flooring

Layout and Design Planning

Before you begin the installation process, it’s crucial to plan your hardwood floor layout and design. Measure your room to determine the square footage, and then add a 5% waste factor for cutting pieces. Decide on the direction you want the flooring planks to run as this can impact the room’s appearance. Most often, planks are installed parallel to the longest wall or in the direction of the main light source.

Nailing, Gluing or Floating Methods

Three primary methods are used to install hardwood flooring: nailing, gluing, and floating. Choose the method that is best suited for your floor type, subfloor, and any specific requirements.

  • Nailing: Typically used for solid hardwood over a wood subfloor, this method involves attaching the planks with nails or staples. The nails are usually driven through the tongue of each plank to conceal them.
  • Gluing: Ideal for engineered hardwood or parquet, this method involves the use of adhesive to secure the flooring to the subfloor. It’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for the correct adhesive and trowel size.
  • Floating: A floating floor does not require fastening to the subfloor. Instead, the planks are either glued together or utilize a click-lock system. This method is suitable for both engineered and solid hardwood over a variety of subfloors, including concrete.

Staggering and Spacing

Begin your installation by leaving a 1/4 to 1/2 inch expansion gap around the room’s perimeter. This allows for the natural expansion and contraction of the wood. Staggering the end joints of each row, usually by at least 6 inches, creates a visually appealing and strong floor pattern. Additionally, ensure that you maintain consistent spacing between the planks throughout the installation process.

Cutting and Fitting

During installation, you’ll need to cut many hardwood planks to size. Always measure twice and make clean, accurate cuts using a circular saw, miter saw, or handsaw. Don’t forget to take into account any obstacles like heating vents, door jambs, or cabinetry. In these cases, use a jigsaw or coping saw to make precise cuts.

Finishing Touches

Reinstalling Baseboards and Trim

Once your hardwood flooring is in place, it’s time to reinstall the baseboards and trim. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Measure and mark where each piece of baseboard and trim will go.
  2. Pre-drill holes in the baseboards and trim to avoid splitting the wood when attaching it with finishing nails.
  3. Use a level to attach the baseboards and trim pieces to the wall. This ensures a straight and professional finish.
  4. Fill any nail holes with wood putty, and lightly sand any rough spots.
  5. Finally, paint or stain the baseboards and trim to match your hardwood flooring.

Cleaning and Maintenance Tips

Keeping your new hardwood floors clean and well-maintained is essential to their longevity. Here are some tips to help you properly care for your flooring:

  • Regular cleaning: Sweep or vacuum your floors regularly to remove dirt, dust, and debris. Avoid using a beater bar on your vacuum, as it can scratch the hardwood surface.
  • Spill management: Clean up any spills immediately to prevent damage to the wood. Use a damp cloth or mop with a recommended wood floor cleaner for best results.
  • Avoid water: Excessive moisture can cause warping or swelling of your hardwood floors. Avoid using wet mops or steam cleaners.
  • Use area rugs: Placing area rugs in high-traffic areas can help protect your floors from wear and tear.
  • Furniture protection: Use felt pads or furniture coasters under heavy furniture to prevent scratching or denting the wood surface.

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