How to Install Hardwood Floors (Step by Step)

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Hardwood floors are probably the most desirable types of floors there are. They are adaptive to any type of weather, making it possible to leave some parts of your home uncarpeted even during the winter season.

They give even the most humble of rooms a sophisticated, timeless aesthetic. If you ever sell your house, hardwood floors raise the value of the house.

They are also incredibly long-lasting. If you take care of hardwood floors, they can last for decades without chipping or the colors fading. 

Cleaning and maintaining them is easy since you can do it with products available at your local store.

So what happens if you have recently purchased a house with hardwood floors that are ruined? Or what if you want to revamp your space by replacing your current hardwood floors?

You could call in a professional, but you should know that you can easily install hardwood floors yourself even without a background in construction.

So before you spend all that money on a professional installer, let us see how you can install hardwood floors.

Types of Hardwood Floors

types of hardwood floors

If you have no previous knowledge of hardwood floor installation, you should know that several types of hardwood exist. Let us look at the different categories:

1. Finished vs Unfinished Wood

Unfinished hardwood floors require you to sand and stain them yourself. This means that you will install the floor then apply coats of protective finish afterward.

Unfinished hardwood is good if you are looking for a particular color or stain of wood that is not available in stores.

It is also good if you already install a hardwood floor in a room to match what you already have in other rooms.

Finished or prefinished hardwood floors have already been sanded down and sealed when you buy them. This means you have an easier job of installing them.

Unlike unfinished wood, prefinished hardwood floors are also ready to use, so you can walk on them immediately after installation.

2. Solid vs. Engineered Wood

The solid hardwood floor is made of wood from top to bottom. It normally comes in a thickness of 5/8 to ¾ inches.

Solid wood is more versatile and because all the layers are made completely from wood, you can sand and apply finishing coats several times in its lifetime.

This way you can apply different stains to change up the look of your home. Solid wood is, however, more affected by changes in humidity that come with the different seasons.

For this reason, you should not install solid wood to areas prone to dampness like the basement.

Laminate wood flooring is made by stacking different layers together. There is a backing layer, a core layer, and an image layer and finally the core layer.

solid vs engineered wood

The layers are tightly snapped together to form a solid piece that can be installed directly on existing flooring.

Engineered wood is almost the same as laminated wood. The difference between the two is that engineered wood has a top layer of solid wood glued to a layered core.

The solid wood on top is coated with acrylic which helps it maintain its quality regardless of the weather.

If you want to install a wood floor to your basement or if you have a kitchen that is below grade, then engineered wood will serve the purpose perfectly.

The main limitation of engineered wood is the fact that you cannot sand and refinish it more than once.

If you think you might want to change the appearance of your floor, buy engineered wood that has a thick solid veneer because this gives you the possibility of sanding it at least once or twice in the floor’s lifetime.

3. Wood Species

There are so many choices when it comes to hardwood flooring, it can get confusing.

To make your choice easier, let us look at the species available, including the popular traditional species like oak and mahogany, and more sustainable types like bamboo.

Traditional Hardwood


This is the most popular species of wood and it can be used for any type of aesthetic, whether a modern look or a rustic finish.

Oak comes in two subspecies: red oak and white oak. Red oak is more common and has a wide range of colors, from lighter shades like creamy pink to deeper tones like rusty brown.

oak wood

Red oak planks have very visible grains and the patterns are unique in each plank.

White oak feels tougher than red oak. Just like red oak, it comes in a variety of tones and colors with very visible grain patterns.

However, the difference in grain patterns from plank to plank is less noticeable than in red oak planks. Being tougher, white oak is good for areas in the house where people walk on a lot like corridors.


This is a species that is unique and tough. It is suitable for high traffic areas in your home because it is dense and shock resistant.

hickory wood

The shades of hickory are many, and you can get anything from deep brown to white when untreated. Depending on your taste in color, you can apply any stain to hickory and it will retain it for a very long time.


This species is tough and recommended for high traffic areas in the home like the kitchen. It is a pale type of wood with slight variations in the warmth.

maple wood

It also has a light grain pattern. On some boards, the grain pattern may not even be visible. Maple is the perfect type of wood for contemporary design because of its light colors.


This wood species is almost similar to white oak, with color variations of pale white to a light brown. Compared to other types of wood, it has a more limited grain pattern: straight, curly, and wavy are the more common grain patterns for ash wood.

The grain pattern is however very bold compared to white oak and is perfect for a rustic look.

Exotic Hardwood

Brazilian Cherry: 

brazilian cherry wood

This is the most popular exotic hardwood floor because of its wide range of variation in color. It comes with colors as deep as brown and light tones like blonde.

Santos Mahogany:

santos mahogany wood

Just like the Brazilian Cherry, Santos Mahogany is a hardwood with a lot of color variation. However, the colors tend not to be as extreme as that of the Brazilian Cherry. The more common colors are medium brown and orange.


tigerwood wood

This species is known for its graining. It is a pale gold to medium brown colored wood with a dark stripping in each pallet that contrasts with the rest of the color.

Tigerwood is photosensitive and thus the color will change with exposure to sunlight.

Brazilian Teak: 

brazilian teak wood

This is a tough species among the exotic hardwood types. It has color varying from tan to medium brown to red.

It does not have a lot of graining, giving it a smooth appearance compared to other types of hardwood. It is also photosensitive and so the colors will even out with time.

Brazilian Walnut: 

The Brazilian Walnut is also very tough and suitable for areas in the home with a lot of traffic.

The colors of the Brazilian Walnut are also deep, ranging from medium brown to chocolate that gives your space warmth. It has a varied graining pattern for added texture for your home.

Environmentally Friendly Hardwood


Bamboo wood is formed when stalks of the bamboo grass are cut into strips and shredded. The shredded bamboo is then glued together with heat to make a tough wood flooring, making it an engineered type of wood.

The graining comes in three types: vertical, horizontal and strand woven. Bamboo is also as durable as other hardwood types and costs around the same.

Solid bamboo can be affected by moisture, so do not put it in areas like the bathroom or basements. Engineered bamboo is less affected by moisture, but installing it below grade can still pose a problem due to humidity.

Reclaimed Wood: 

You can find this type of wood at any wood salvage yard. It is suitable for rustic or classic home design and is a good fit if you are renovating an old house or part of your house.

Reclaimed wood will show its age, but that is nothing that a bit of sanding and refinishing will not take care of. Plus, you can pay up to half price for reclaimed wood compared to new hardwood.

How to Install Hardwood Floors:

Now that you know the options you have, you can make a solid decision as to the type of wood you should install in your home.

Prep the Room

  • Measure the room: the first thing you should do is measure the width and length of the room, then multiply it to find the measurements in square footage. This will guide you as to the size of the boards you need.
  • Order the boards: all wood boards come with a tongue and groove. The tongue of one board fits into the groove of the other board so that they become flat and give you a uniform floor. Boards also come in 3 main sizes of thickness: ¾ inches thick boards are high profile while 5/16 and 5/8 inch boards are low-profile. The latter can be installed over existing floors without demolishing them, and can just be glued on to sub-flooring. ¾ inch boards need a nailing tool to attach them to other boards and the subfloor. When ordering your boards, consider these matters. Order around 10 to 15 percent extra in size because irregularities can occur when cutting hardwood.
  • Acclimatize the boards: once the boards are delivered, arrange them in the room you plan on installing them. Maintain the room temperature at the range you will keep it in after the floor is installed. This helps the boards acclimatize to the temperature of your house. Keep them there for 5 days to 3 weeks for better acclimatization.

Prep the Subfloor

If you already have a wooden floor and are just changing up the look, you can install the new boards directly over the old boards.

Make sure there are no squeaky areas before installing the new boards. If there are, install a long drywall screw into the squeaky boards through to the joist below.

If this is the first time installing a hardwood floor into your home, the existing base could be concrete. You will need to install at least ¾ inch of plywood to act as your subfloor.

If one layer of plywood does not reach the ¾ inch of thickness, add another layer of plywood.

Your subfloor needs to be completely clean and free from bumps and squeaks. If there is a shoe molding along the edges, remove it before installing the new boars.

Block the windows and doors and any air vents to prevent dust from coming in. Sweep and vacuum the subfloor so that any dust is eliminated.

Install a Vapor Barrier

This is a step you cannot miss out on even if you live in an area that is not prone to dampness. The vapor barrier also helps eliminate any future squeaks that may result when there is friction between the new floor and the subfloor.

Install a Vapor Barrier

The most recommended type of vapor barrier is tar paper. If dampness is not a problem, use red rosin paper instead to reduce the possibility of squeaky floors.

When installing the vapor barrier, roll it out from edge to edge in the room. Ensure that one sheet overlaps by about 4 inches with the next sheet.

Eliminate any bumps and wrinkly areas, then use a heavy-duty staple gun to attach the vapor barrier to the subfloor.

Install the Floor

Hardwood floors have a better aesthetic when installed along the length of the room. This also helps you to keep the boards parallel to the room to avoid an unsightly slanted look.

Since you want a stable floor, you need to nail the boards to the floor joists. Mark out the beginning and the end of the floor joists with chalk to guarantee accuracy.

To mark out the joists, take note of the floor vents since they are normally attached to the joists.

Pick out the longest straight board and lay it out along a wall that does not have obstructions. Leave about ½ inch between the first board and the base of the wall to allow for future expansion and contraction caused by changing weather.

install the hardwood floor

Layout more boards while using chalk to mark out the start and endpoints. Laying the boards out before nailing them allows you to adjust your layout plan depending on need.

Pick boards from different piles to ensure that the color and grain pattern flows naturally.

The boards along the wall should have their tongues facing the room and their grooves facing the wall. After laying them out, drill holes along the grooves where the nails will go.

Make sure to drill the holes first instead of directly installing nails. This protects the boards against splitting.

Install the nails on the top face of the first row boards and make sure the nail penetrates the subfloor through to the joists below. Repeat the same along with the tongues of the boards that are facing toward the room.

After the first row is complete, power nail the next row of boards, using a mallet attached to a small board to tap stubborn boards into place.

The distance from nail to nail should be around 10 to 12 inches, so each board should have at least two nails.

Do not cut the boards in rows that are in the middle of the room. Only cut when you get to the end of a row, near a wall or pillar.

Ensure that there are no gaps between boards, and if something goes wrong repair it immediately. When you get to the second lengthwise wall, you might need to split the boards in half lengthwise for a better fit.

Finish and Trim

Since some boards require to be nailed face-up, you will need to cover the metallic ends of the nail with wood putty.

Fill in any points on the wood where scuffing or scratching is visible. Make sure your putty matches the specific stain of the boards.

Paint over the boards with the stain of your choice and allow it to dry. Reinstall shoe molding along the walls to fill up the spaces left that allow for future expansion and contraction.

Final Verdict 

And just like that, you have installed a new hardwood floor into your house! It is not a difficult process and there are tons of videos you can watch online that will give you a visual guideline.

Just like many other things, be open to learning on the job instead of giving up when there are hitches. Once you are done with one room, you can confidently repeat these steps on the next.

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