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How to Prepare a Room for Hardwood Flooring

Floor Demolition and Subfloor Preparation are Key

© 2016 by all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

Intricate hardwood floor pattern; image courtesy Perry Beall

As with most DIY projects, careful preparation is critical to a successful installation in a room of hardwood flooring. If you don’t get your subfloor clean, level, and dried out prior to laying down the first plank, you can potentially end up with loose, squeaky boards, or a floor that will have cupping, warping, cracking, or gapping issues in the future.

To be sure that your hardwood floor investment will be reliable and a source of pride for many years, do not skip or take lightly any of the three recommended essential stages performed when prepping a room for a hardwood floor.

  1. Always Start with the Demolition.

    Before beginning to remove your current flooring, remove all the baseboard and the door trim. This will allow you to leave plenty of room for an expansion gap. This is a space that allows your new floor to expand when exposed to normal heat, cooling, and humidity following installation.

    Luckily for the installer, demolition duty can be quick and painless for you with the right tools and a plan. Usually a small pull bar, a hammer, an end-nipper and a block of wood is all you need.

    Use the wood block to protect the wall from pressure damage as you insert the pry bar behind the trim and carefully work it out where it is nailed in. Usually, after working the base out at a couple of nail locations you can just pull a length of baseboard off the nails. Finally, pull the nails out of the wall with the end nippers.

    Next, remove the old flooring material. If you have tile it will have to be chipped up. If you have carpet, you will need to rip it and the padding up and then pry up the tack strips around the edge of the room.

    Be aware that there will be a coat of fine dust under the padding. Do not attempt to sweep it up! Instead, use a vacuum. Sweeping this fine dust will create a horrible cloud. Been there, done that.

    If you are removing old linoleum tile, be sure to have it tested for asbestos content before proceeding.

  2. Prepare the Subfloor.

    Whether your subfloor is plywood, concrete, or plywood laid over concrete is clean, dry, flat, and sound. Depending on your situation, this may mean scraping, sanding, or another method. Removing old mastics or glues can be problematic but citrus-based solvent do a great job.

    Perform a moisture test with a moisture meter that is calibrated for your particular subfloor. Focus your test particularly in areas that are typically guilty of dampness. These include exterior walls, beneath windows, and close to plumbing.

    Be sure your readings meet your hardwood vendor’s recommended levels. Correct any problems as needed and then bring your hardwood planks into the room. Open the packaging and leave them there for a minimum of three days to allow the humidity level and temperature to equalize to the room.

    Be sure your subfloor is level within 3/16 of an inch for every 10 feet. There are many ways to do this; use a long level, a stringline, or a laser. Low spots can be corrected using leveling compound, high spots sanded or chipped.

At this point you should be ready to install your hardwood floor and enjoy it for years to come! If you have any lessons learned or tips, please share them with our viewers in the comment section below.

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