5 Things to Do When Installing Hardwood Floors

You’ve heard it said: “follow the manufacturer’s instructions” when installing a hardwood floor.

It is tempting to rely only on past experience when doing an installation. After all, you do this for a living, right? How different could this floor be from the last X number of floors you’ve installed?

Installation is Acceptance

As an installer, you are the last one to see and touch the floor before it goes down. Virtually every manufacturer says that if their floors aren’t installed according to their recommendations, the warranty is void.

Consider the story of an contractor who had to pay the full replacement cost of a floor that was later discovered to be defective. Since the manufacturer sold the floor without a warranty, and the installers did not notice the defects prior to installation, the contractor assumed the full liability of the floor.

Some law firms even specialize in helping homeowners “go after” contractors and other parties that left the homeowner holding the bag when a flooring failure occurred.

That’s a lot of liability to carry around!

Protect Your Assets By Knowing Your Liability

We cannot recommend strongly enough that you read and follow every manufacturer’s installation instructions!

It is difficult to keep up with the differences between each manufacturer’s guidelines when installing hardwood floors. Details and differences can get muddled while in the middle of a job when you are concentrated on doing the work itself.

Don’t get lost in the details of trying to remember everything like:

  • Was this supposed to be a 1/4 ” or a 1/2″ expansion gap?
  • Was it 35-55% relative humidity or 45-60%?
  • Should I be using a 1-1/2″ staple or a 1-1/4 ” cleat?
  • Would a glue assist method be best for this floor?

That is why we have all the installation and warranty guidelines for the products we sell on our website. Bookmark this link and make sure all your installers read these guidelines.

Keep reading to find out our 5 recommended steps for having a successful installation.
Featured Floor: Brick and Board Atrium; Builder: The Kingston Group, Nashville; Photography by Lance Edwards

Five Things You Should Do When Installing Hardwood Floors

We have developed these guiding principles that will help you stay alert to what could cause problems later or increase your liability.

This list is not intended as a substitute for reading and following the manufacturer’s installation instructions and the National Wood Flooring Association’s guidelines.

1. Inspect and Approve that the Product is Correct Before Installing

This first step includes both the installer and homeowner approving the floor.

Before you do anything, be sure the flooring you are there to install is the one your customer wants. Opening several boxes of flooring and rack out so the homeowner can “see and approve the floor” might be the most important step you take.

We have witnessed several unfortunate incidents where a perfectly good (and gorgeous!) floor had to be torn up and replaced all because it was a different color than what was ordered.

Would you paint a house without putting some paint on the walls first before getting the homeowner to sign off? Paint is cheap, flooring is typically not. Don’t nail anything down until the homeowner approves color, size, texture, and species.

Once the flooring is home-owner approved, do your own inspection of the floor before and during the installation process. Check boards as you go: to approve the milling, that boards are straight, and there are no obvious defects.

Always check the manufacturer’s instructions, especially if you have never installed it before. Every box of solid and engineered wood flooring has important instructions inside each box that must be followed.

Remember: the contractor is responsible for what is installed. If a defect could have been caught before installation, it is in most cases not covered by a warranty after it is installed.

Solid hardwood flooring samples
Remember: Installation is acceptance, so it’s very important to approve the product before installation!

2. Acclimate the Flooring – Correctly

When is my flooring acclimated? Find out how to properly acclimate your floor in our Acclimation 101 video link in this article. Consult the manufacturer’s guidelines for details on their acclimation recommendations as well as this article from NWFA.

Most solid floors will require the boxes to be opened, distributed throughout the house or cross-stacked, and plastic removed to be properly acclimated to the proper moisture content compared to that of the subfloor. Most engineered flooring is only recommended to be acclimated to room temperature – not relative humidity.

So, how long does acclimation take?

That depends on how far apart the wood is from its “living environment.” There are no set time periods, which is why having a professional, calibrated moisture meter is critical.

Stay tuned for a revised Moisture & Acclimation Guide  for the most current information. Be sure to consider whether or not the home you are installing in will require a whole home humidifier to remain within the range that the manufacturer specifies.

solid wood flooring acclimation
One of the best ways to avoid moisture problems is to acclimate the flooring correctly. How long does this take? Find out common misconceptions and how to properly acclimate solid hardwood here.

3. Check Your Subfloor

A great wood floor installation starts with a good subfloor. In general, ensure that your subfloor is clean, dry, structurally sound, and flat before installation.

  • Clean: Any dirt or debris can cause boards to not fit together properly.
  • Dry: Wet or moist subfloors transfer moisture to your flooring, causing it to expand after it is installed.
  • Structurally sound: Be sure to walk across the subfloor to see if there are areas that squeak. You may need to fix joists or make other necessary repairs to your subfloor.
  • Flat: A flat subfloor will allow the new flooring to fit tightly against it. Any dips or high spots in the subfloor inhibit the flooring boards from properly fitting together and can lead to movement and squeaks in your new wood floors.
Man spreading adhesive for flooring installation
Always consult the manufacturer’s installation guidelines for the proper fastener or adhesive/trowel combo. You can find our installation instructions here.

4. Use the Right Fasteners Or Glue And Trowel

It can be tempting to use whichever fastener you have on hand to nail down a floor. The same goes with gluing down a floor – sometimes you just grab the trowel you have in your truck.

Consequently, the cost of tear out, replacement, labor and materials could land squarely in your lap if you don’t use the right fastener (or trowel/adhesive).

This is one thing that the installer has full control of and directly relates to your liability for the floor. Do the right thing and consult the manufacturer’s installation guidelines for the proper fastener or adhesive/trowel combo. Another great resource is the fastener manufacturer. They will have recommendations for which nail, staple, or cleat to use for various flooring products.

Some tips:

  • Don’t forget to set the pressure on your compressor appropriately.
  • If you are gluing down, be sure to replace your trowel as required. The notch size will wear down every couple hundred square feet or so, which means you’ll be using the wrong trowel half-way through the job if you don’t replace it.
  • Consider using a glue-assist method for nail-down installations to reduce the chance of your floor squeaking later on after seasonal changes. Some wider floors require this method, so once again, check those manufacturer guidelines!

5. Have Everyone Sign Off Once The Job Is Done

You’ve finished the installation, cleaned up your tools, and given the floor a final cleaning – and it looks beautiful. Job well done, right?

Before you leave the job site, take time to get all parties to sign off on your job well done. Then, talk through proper cleaning and maintenance with the homeowner. A great practice is to leave them a new Real Clean Floors mop kit. Maybe the most important, get their signature documented so that they approved of your work before you leave. A great last impression can help you avoid legal issues in the future.

Often times in legal disputes between homeowners and installers and other parties, the phrase “nobody told me about that” is presented as a defense. Remove this argument by taking time to explain how to keep the home in appropriate conditions, including proper cleaning and maintenance as required.

Woman signing document on clipboard
Leave a great last impression and avoid legal disputes by having all parties sign off on the job.

The truth is, this is actually a legitimate defense and has often been upheld in court!

As an installer, you are considered a professional. The homeowner is not. Your responsibility (and also that of the retailer, supplier, and builder, etc.) is to educate the end-user on how to maintain the product.

Simply taking the time to explain what is involved in owning and maintaining a wood floor – and documenting that you did it – could prove to be the very piece of evidence that clears you of liability.

To help you get started, check out our cleaning guides for free download guides to maintaining a new wood floor.

Our installation checklist can also help you document important data about the floor, including a space for both you and the homeowner to sign off. On the back are important things to consider for owning a wood floor.

If you take the time to fill out this form, then get sign-offs, and go over the items on the back you’ll be protecting your business and leaving a great impression that will likely lead to a referral.

Keep a one-page PDF of this article in the hands of all your installers. Don’t forget to have copies of the manufacturer’s installation instructions too!