DIY Installation Tips for Engineer Hardwood (Explained)

Engineered hardwood flooring has become an increasingly popular choice for homeowners due to its durability, stability, and easy installation. With a layered construction that makes it more resistant to moisture damage and fluctuations in humidity compared to solid hardwood, engineered hardwood can be a great DIY flooring option for both beginners and experienced homeowners.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide tips and step-by-step instructions to help you successfully install engineered hardwood floors yourself.

Introduction to Engineered Hardwood Floors

Engineered hardwood flooring consists of multiple layers fused together in a cross-ply construction. The top layer is made of solid hardwood, usually oak, maple, hickory or exotic woods like Brazilian cherry. This layer provides the visible wood grain and surface texture. Underneath are plies of plywood pressed together in alternating directions to prevent expansion and contraction. The thick plywood core lends engineered floors added stability.

Benefits of engineered hardwood:

  • More dimensionally stable than solid wood due to plywood core.
  • Can withstand moisture better and is suitable for basements and bathrooms.
  • Easier installation for DIYers – can be floated, nailed or glued down.
  • Wide planks up to 8 inches can be installed without gaps.
  • Thicker wear layer (4mm or more) can be refinished multiple times.
  • Lower cost than solid hardwood.
  • Variety of plank lengths for more installation options.

Things to Consider:

  • Engineered wood cannot be sanded and refinished as many times as solid wood.
  • The plywood core is not as resistant to dents as solid wood.
  • Higher quality engineered floors have a thicker top hardwood layer.
  • Consider the subfloor type – proper preparation is key for successful installation.

Pre-Installation Basics

Careful planning and preparation are crucial to ensure your engineered hardwood installation goes smoothly. Follow these pre-installation steps:

Choose the Right Engineered Hardwood

  • Construction: Look for a top hardwood layer of at least 2mm, ideally 3-4mm thick. The thicker the wood layer, the more it can be refinished. A minimum 7-ply plywood core is recommended for stability.
  • Width: Wider planks 5-7 inches give a modern, dramatic look. Narrower 3-5 inch planks are more traditional. Mix widths for visual interest.
  • Style: Consider the wood type (oak, hickory, exotic woods), color variation, surface texture (smooth, hand-scraped, wire-brushed) and plank lengths.
  • Moisture protection: Look for engineered wood rated for basements and bathrooms. Avoid unprotected cores in damp areas.

Choose the Right Room

  • Engineered wood can be installed on, above or below grade. It is not suitable for wet rooms like saunas or outdoor installation.
  • Moisture testing is recommended before installing in basements or concrete slabs. Ensure moisture is within flooring manufacturer’s limits.
  • Heated subfloors work best to prevent moisture issues. Engineered wood cannot be installed over radiant heat systems.

Acclimate the Wood

  • Acclimation is key to adapting the flooring to your home’s temperature and humidity levels.
  • Keep the boards in the unopened boxes stacked horizontally in the room for 72 hours before installation.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper acclimation time. Do not install until moisture content is in equilibrium.

Prepare the Subfloor

Proper subfloor prep prevents uneven planks, gaps and noises in your new hardwood flooring:

  • Subfloor must be flat – maximum 3/16 inch deviation over 10 foot span. Sand down high spots or use leveling compound to fill low spots.
  • Clean the subfloor thoroughly – no debris, nails, dirt or drywall dust. For concrete slabs, etching may be needed.
  • Ensure subfloor is structurally sound – no loose panels or joists, no flexing. Stiffen with plywood if needed.
  • Test moisture content in subfloor and slab – should not exceed 12% before installation.
  • Fill cracks and gaps in subfloor to prevent telegraphing.

Choose Your Installation Method

Engineered hardwood can be:

  • Floated over underlayment
  • Nailed or stapled to plywood or OSB subfloor
  • Glued down to plywood or concrete slab

Floating is easiest for DIYers. Gluing has best moisture resistance. Nailing/stapling provides most secure fastening.

Gather Essential Installation Tools

Having the right tools will make installation much smoother:

  • Tape measure, utility knife, chalk line/string for layout
  • Table saw, miter saw, jigsaw for cutting planks
  • Drill, countersink bit for pilot holes
  • Nail gun or rubber mallet if nailing floor
  • Tapping block to protect plank edges
  • Pull bar for tight planks
  • Wood or plastic spacers for expansion gaps
  • Moisture meter for subfloor and wood moisture content

Step-by-Step Floating Floor Installation

Floating engineered hardwood is the easiest installation method for DIYers. Follow these key steps:

1. Lay the underlayment

  • Use underlayment recommended by manufacturer, typically 2-3mm foam or cork.
  • Roll out underlayment perpendicular to wood flooring direction.
  • Butt edges together tightly. Tape seams to prevent moisture entry.

2. Install the starter row

  • Measure the width of the room and calculate plank width of last row. If less than 2 inches, cut starting row plank accordingly so last row is not too narrow.
  • Use spacers against the walls to allow 1/2 inch expansion gap.
  • Drill pilot holes and top nail starter row planks using 7d or 8d nails. Countersink nails.

3. Connect the planks using tongue and groove

  • Apply adhesive like urethane construction adhesive to the tongue and grooves as you assemble planks. This strengthens the joints.
  • Use a tapping block against tongue end to fit planks snugly together.
  • Avoid forcing planks together to prevent damage. Cut planks as needed for proper fit.
  • Stagger end joints at least 6-8 inches between rows. Random lengths create best appearance.
  • Use wood or plastic spacers at walls and vertical surfaces to maintain 1/2 inch expansion gap.

4. Install the final row

  • Cut final row planks to appropriate width using table saw. Remove tongue and use glue for joining groove to previous row.
  • Use pull bar to draw last row tight to previous row. Hold in place with painter’s tape until adhesive cures.
  • Use trim molding at floor perimeter to cover expansion gap. Nail or glue molding to wall, not the flooring.

5. Finish up

  • Remove spacers. Nail down any loose planks using finish nails.
  • Roll and cross roll floor with 100-150 lb roller to ensure plank adhesion and full contact with underlayment.
  • Clean any adhesive smudges immediately as per adhesive directions.
  • Do not wet mop or move furniture on floor for 24 hours after installation.

Special Considerations for Bathrooms

With proper precautions, engineered hardwood can work in bathrooms despite the potential moisture exposure:

  • Acclimate longer – Allow engineered wood to acclimate in the bathroom for 10-14 days before installation.
  • Use exterior glue – Look for engineered flooring bonded with moisture-resistant adhesives. Or apply urethane adhesive during installation.
  • Allow expansion – Use larger 3/4 inch expansion gaps and matching trim molding.
  • Protect against standing water – Seal planks well, use extra underlayment, slope floor away from shower/tub.
  • Ventilate and control humidity – Use extractor fan during and after bathing to reduce moisture. Maintain 40-60% humidity.
  • Avoid planks near water sources – Keep wood 6-12 inches away from tub/sink edges where it may get wet repeatedly. Use alternative water-resistant materials in these areas.

Tips for Nail or Staple Down Installation

Nailing or stapling engineered wood directly into the subfloor secures the planks firmly in place, reducing noise potential. This is best for DIYers experienced with power tools.

Basic Steps:

  • Sweep and vapor barrier concrete subfloor. Plywood just needs sweeping.
  • Lay 15lb asphalt saturated felt paper as underlayment for concrete subfloors.
  • Ensure adequate baseboard or molding clearance for floor thickness when nailing down planks.
  • Top nail the starter row using a pneumatic finish nailer and 1 1/2″ nails. Set compressor to 70 PSI.

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