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How to Install Hardwood Floors on a Budget


How to Install Hardwood Floors on a Budget


Of all the flooring options, hardwood is arguably the most coveted among homeowners. Sleek, durable and breathable, hardwood flooring makes a statement in any room. Unfortunately, one peek at the costs of professional installation might make you push hardwood flooring all the way to the bottom of your wish list – but it doesn’t have to. 

If you’re tired of letting installation prices scare you away from your glossy, hardwood dreams, it’s time to take the nail gun into your own hands. Read on to learn how to save money on hardwood flooring the DIY way.


How to Choose the Right Hardwood Flooring


Men Choosing Between Two Types of Hardwood Flooring

Types of Hardwood Flooring

Before starting your project, it’s important to be familiar with the different types of hardwood flooring:

Solid Hardwood

As the name implies, solid hardwood flooring is made of pure, solid wood. Each board is a single piece of wood that is about three quarters of an inch thick. “Solid hardwood floors are very durable,” says Tom Ory, owner and vice president of Enterprise Wood Products, who specialize in high-end custom hardwood products. 

“Solid hardwood pricing varies depending on species and finishes but when you factor in their durability, they are definitely a great purchase,” says Ory. “It is also known that having solid hardwood flooring in your home will increase its value, making it an investment as well.” 

With good maintenance, solid hardwood can last for over 100 years, and can be sanded and refinished about once every ten years. 

Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood boards are made up of layered wood and plywood. The top and bottom layers are thin layers of solid wood, but between them lies a high-quality plywood base. 

Engineered wood is typically less expensive than solid, though some premium engineered flooring can have added durability finishes or higher quality core layers, which can cost more than some lower-end solid hardwood options.

The benefit of engineered hardwood is that it is less sensitive to moisture and easy to use in a DIY hardwood installation, saving you money on labor costs.

Hardwood Floor Installation Tips:

Solid Versus Engineered Hardwood: What’s the Difference?

“The main difference between engineered hardwood floors and solid hardwood floors is their construction. Additionally, solid hardwood floors are greatly affected by temperature and humidity. In the dry winter, hardwood floors will shrink, and in summer they will expand. If humidity is an issue where you live, engineered hardwood might be the better option as it doesn’t expand and contract nearly as much. Also, engineered wood is more resistant to spills and mold from moisture creeping under the planks.” 

Kristin Warner | Floor Critics


Installing Engineered Hardwood Floors With Mallet

Types of Hardwood Flooring Installation

There are two popular installation designs for hardwood flooring:

Click-Lock: This design is incredibly easy to install, relative to other options. As its name suggests, the end joints are designed to click and lock together without the help of adhesives, which helps your flooring joints stay tightly together. 

Tongue and Groove: The end joints for tongue and groove flooring do not lock, so you’ll need to nail them down and/or use adhesive to glue the pieces together. 

Hardwood Floor Installation Tips:

Do Not Glue Click-Lock Flooring

Keep in mind that click-lock flooring should not be glued together with tongue and groove adhesive. Adding glue to click-lock joints doesn’t allow the boards enough room to expand and contract, which can lead to buckling and other problems. Only use adhesive for tongue and groove joints.

Cost to Install Hardwood Floors

Hardwood flooring costs can vary depending on a wide variety of factors, including wood type, finish, board thickness, grain quality, demand and design type.

We’ve broken some average costs of materials and installation down by types of hardwood flooring:

Solid Hardwood Flooring Costs

Unfinished

Flooring Material Cost of Wood
(per sq. ft)
Cost with Installation
(per sq. ft)
Cost for DIY Install
(400 sq. ft)
Cost for Professional Install
(400 sq. ft)
Oak $3-$9 $9-$17 $1,200 – $3,600 $3,600 – $6,800
Cherry $3-$8 $9-$16 $1,200 – $3,200 $3,600 – $6,400
Hickory $3-$7 $9-$15 $1,200 – $2,800 $3,600 – $6,000
Maple $3-$6 $9-$14 $1,200 – $2,400 $3,600 – $5,600
Birch $2-$5 $8-$13 $800 – $2,000  $3,200 – $5,200
Flooring Material Cost of Wood
(per sq. ft)
Cost for DIY Install
(400 sq. ft)
Cost for Professional Install
(400 sq. ft)
Oak $3-$9 $1,200 – $3,600 $3,600 – $6,800
Cherry $3-$8 $1,200 – $3,200 $3,600 – $6,400
Hickory $3-$7 $1,200 – $2,800 $3,600 – $6,000
Maple $3-$6 $1,200 – $2,400 $3,600 – $5,600
Birch $2-$5 $800 – $2,000  $3,200 – $5,200

Prefinished

Flooring Material Cost of Wood
(per sq. ft)
Cost with Installation
(per sq. ft)
Cost for DIY Install
(400 sq. ft)
Cost for Professional Install
(400 sq. ft)
Oak $3-$9 $9-$17 $1,200 – $3,600 $3,600 – $6,800
Cherry $4-$9 $10-$17 $1,600 – $3,600 $4,000 – $6,800
Hickory $4-$8 $10-$16 $1,600 – $3,200 $4,000 – $3,200
Maple $4-$9 $10-$17 $1,600 – $3,600 $4,000 – $6,800
Birch $3-$8 $9-$16 $1,200 – $3,200 $3,600 – $6,400
Flooring Material Cost of Wood
(per sq. ft)
Cost for DIY Install
(400 sq. ft)
Cost for Professional Install
(400 sq. ft)
Oak $3-$9 $1,200 – $3,600 $3,600 – $6,800
Cherry $4-$9 $1,600 – $3,600 $4,000 – $6,800
Hickory $4-$8 $1,600 – $3,200 $4,000 – $3,200
Maple $4-$9 $1,600 – $3,600 $4,000 – $6,800
Birch $3-$8 $1,200 – $3,200 $3,600 – $6,400

Engineered Hardwood Flooring Costs

Flooring Material Cost of Wood
(per sq. ft)
Cost with Installation
(per sq. ft)
Cost for DIY Install
(400 sq. ft)
Cost for Professional Install
(400 sq. ft)
Oak ♦ $2-$6 $8-$14 $800 – $2,400 $3,200 – $5,600
Cherry $3-$8 $9-$16 $1,200 – $3,200 $3,600 – $6,400
Hickory $3-$15 $11-$23 $2,000 – $6,000 $4,400 – $9,200
Maple $4-$7 $10-$15 $1,600 – $2,800 $4,000 – $6,000
Birch $3-$8 $9-$16 $1,200 – $3,200 $3,200 – $3,600
Flooring Material Cost of Wood
(per sq. ft)
Cost for DIY Install
(400 sq. ft)
Cost for Professional Install
(400 sq. ft)
Oak ♦ $2-$6 $800 – $2,400 $3,200 – $5,600
Cherry $3-$8 $1,200 – $3,200 $3,600 – $6,400
Hickory $3-$15 $2,000 – $6,000 $4,400 – $9,200
Maple $4-$7 $1,600 – $2,800 $4,000 – $6,000
Birch $3-$8 $1,200 – $3,200 $3,200 – $3,600

♦ = price performer

Hardwood Floor Installation Tips:

Decide on the Details Before Purchasing

“Once you pick a species, you can then determine if you want to keep the floor natural with just a clear finish or add some color by staining it. You will also need to determine what widths you want your flooring to be. Some people prefer a random width pattern while others like their flooring to be all one width.” 

Tom Ory | Enterprise Wood Products

Low-Budget Hardwood Floor Samples

Buying Tips for Low-Budget Hardwood Floors:

Hardwood Floor Installation Tips:

Save Money by Purchasing From Wholesalers

“If you decide to install yourself, you could save money by purchasing your floor materials from a floor wholesaler instead of a carpet and flooring retailer or one of the big box stores.”

Kristin Warner | Floor Critics

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Infographic: Find the Right Hardwood Floor For Your Home

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Choosing Types of Hardwood Floors: Pictures


Our Pick for DIY Budget Hardwood Floors: Engineered Oak

Engineered Oak Hardwood Flooring

Engineered oak hardwood is a relatively inexpensive yet durable hardwood flooring option for a DIY installation. Choosing prefinished engineered oak hardwood eliminates the cost and effort of finishing the floors once they’re installed. You can save even more money by choosing tongue and groove planks, or you can save yourself a little time and effort by choosing a click-lock design. 

Whichever design you choose, with your new engineered oak hardwood you’ll be well on your way to installing beautiful, low-budget hardwood floors – and we’ll show you how to do it.


How to Install Engineered Hardwood Floors


Part 1: Preparing for Your Hardwood Floor

Prepare for Your Hardwood Floor

By this point, you should have removed all items from the room you’ll be working in, including any hanging pictures or decorations, as they will collect dust from the installation process.

Step 1: Prepare Your Subfloor

Without a proper base, you’re setting your new flooring up for failure. Make sure the area is moisture free, level and clean before you dive into your project. Remember that it's best to run your boards perpendicular to the floor joists beneath your subfloor – if you have to run them parallel, you can install another layer of plywood for added strength.

“Also, be very conscious about the subfloor you install on,” says Kristin Warner of Floor Critics. “Never install over heated floors or fresh concrete.”

You’ll also want to prepare any doorways ahead of time. If your hardwood flooring will sit higher than the bottom of your door jamb, you’ll need to cut it so the planks can sit underneath.

Step 2: Bring in Your Flooring Materials

Measure the square footage of the room by multiplying the length by the width. Purchase about 10 percent more material than needed to account for warped or flawed boards. Let the boxes sit for 72 hours to allow the material to acclimate to the moisture in the room. Some experts say it’s best to take the boards out of the boxes, as it allows the air to hit all sides.

Man Measuring Hardwood Floor Planks

Step 3: Map Out Your Flooring 

For a seamless look all the way through, you’ll want a strategy laid out beforehand.

Here are a few tips for a strong hardwood floor setup:

Mark a Starting Line: For flooring that’s square to your room, you’ll need to create a starting line for reference. First, measure and mark the center of each wall. Then, snap a chalk line between both sets of walls to find the center of the room – it should look like a set of crosshairs on your subfloor. Then, measure from the middle of the crosshairs to your starting wall. Subtract the space for your expansion gap and mark a line from this distance parallel to your starting wall using a chalk line. This will give you a straight, square starting line.  

Hardwood Flooring Installer Maintaining an Expansion Gap

Use spacers to maintain an expansion gap along the perimeter of your hardwood floor. 

Hardwood Floor Installation Tips:

What Is an Expansion Gap?

    An expansion gap is a small space around the perimeter of your room that allows hardwood flooring to expand and contract with moisture and temperature changes. Though engineered hardwood is less sensitive to humidity changes than solid wood, it still needs a little room to breathe. “One of the most common mistakes is not leaving enough room for wood expansion, as the planks will expand and contract with changes in humidity throughout the year,” says flooring expert Kristin Warner.

Expansion gaps are typically about 12 to 15 millimeters wide, though the recommended size will depend on the species of wood you’re working with. When you purchase your flooring, check the packaging for its recommended expansion gap.

Man Cutting Hardwood Plank With Jig Saw

Make Cuts for Your End Rows: It’s a good idea to plan for your first and last rows ahead of time to prevent awkward gaps or skinny partial boards at the end of your installation. To do this, measure the width of your room, subtracting your expansion gap. Then, divide this by the width of your flooring planks. This will tell you how many full boards will fit, and how much space will be left over. Divide this leftover space by two to find the proper width of your first and last boards.

Example: Your room is 12 feet wide (after subtracting both expansion gaps), and your planks are 5 inches wide. You can fit 28 full planks, with 4 inches to spare. This means your first and last boards should be 2 inches wide. 

Keep in mind that this is the minimum width a hardwood plank should be, as no row should be under 2 inches wide. Wait to cut your final row until it is time to install it – this will ensure the most accurate measurement. Lastly, when cutting your end boards, be sure to use the tongue end for your starting row and the groove end for your ending row.

Hardwood Floors Racked on Blue Subfloor

Rack Your Boards: Racking, or laying out your boards beforehand, will give you a good idea of your layout when you’re finally ready for installation. Use the longest, straightest pieces for the starting line, with the tongue side facing the wall. Remember, you’ll need to lay your boards perpendicular to your floor joists, or otherwise install another layer of plywood subfloor. Mix and match boards from different boxes for a more natural, varied look, and view the layout in good lighting to make sure you like it before installation.

Hardwood Floor Installation Tips:

Plan Your Flooring Around Permanent Fixtures

“One thing to think about if you are remodeling or building new is if you want your flooring to go underneath cabinets and in closets. If you run your flooring underneath kitchen cabinets, it will allow you to change your kitchen down the road without having to worry about replacing flooring.”

Tom Ory | Enterprise Wood Products

Avoid Bad Racking: When racking hardwood boards, it’s important to line your end joints, also known as seams, correctly for a structurally sound, beautiful floor pattern. It’s recommended that end joints be spaced at a distance three times the width of the plank – so if your planks are 5 inches wide, the joints should be spaced about 15 inches apart, especially for your first and last four rows.

However, if your room is smaller, it may limit your joint spacing capabilities, so at the very least, make sure the joints are spaced a minimum of 6 inches apart.

"H" seams are unsightly and structurally unsound. To avoid an H seam, do not line end joints up unless there are at least two rows of boards between them. For the same reasons, avoid "lightning bolt" or "stair-step" seams as well.

Hardwood Flooring With Bad Racking Examples

Avoid "H" seams and "stair-step" seams when racking your hardwood floor boards.

Hardwood Floor Installation Tips:

Check for Flawed Planks

Because hardwood is a natural product, it’s normal to have a few faulty pieces in your supply. Don’t throw them away – you may be able to cut the damaged parts off and use the rest in your install.

Hands Removing White Baseboards From Wall

Step 4: Remove Your Baseboards

This step is optional depending on the look you’re going for, the condition of your baseboards and your timeline. If you’d like your hardwood flooring to sit flush underneath your baseboards, you’ll have to remove them and adjust their height accordingly. However, if your baseboards are old or you don’t have the time to remove them, you can install trim or quarter round molding directly to your baseboards to hide the expansion gap.

Step 5: Begin Installation

Now that your room is prepped, it’s time to get started on your DIY hardwood floor installation. The way you install engineered hardwood floors in your home depends on your subfloor and the type of product you’ve chosen for your project.


Part Two: Install Your Floorboards

Choose Your Installation Method

There are three methods to install engineered hardwood: floating, nail-down and glue
We’ll walk you through how to install hardwood floors using each method.

The Floating Method

This is the easiest of the three methods and an ideal choice for a DIY install. Floating hardwood floors require no nails and they can be installed over vinyl surfaces with ease. It is only recommended for engineered hardwood products.

Floating Hardwood Installation Materials:

Step 1: Lay your first row of boards, tongue side against the starting wall. To maintain the expansion gap, place spacers between your first row and the wall. If using click-lock, simply click the boards into place. For tongue and groove planks, run a bead of wood glue along the groove side of the end joints and long sides before linking each piece.

Step 2: Working your way left to right, lock each plank into one another tightly. If you’re using tongue and groove flooring, you can use painters tape to secure your planks while the wood glue sets. For either type, you can use a mallet and tapping block to tap the pieces together without damaging your new flooring.

Mallet and Tapping Block Used for Hardwood Flooring Installation

If you don't have a tapping block, you can use a spare piece of wood – just be careful not to damage your boards. 

Step 3: At the end of row one, you may need to cut a piece with your saw to make it fit. When cutting hardwood planks, remember to keep your wood face up, and to cut the correct end joint – you don’t want to cut for a groove joint when you really need a tongue joint.

Step 4: Continue locking or gluing your pieces, remembering to stagger your end joints appropriately. Cut around permanent obstacles in the room like radiators or floor vents, including an expansion gap around them as well. 

Step 5: For your final row, you’ll need to cut your plank to width. To measure, lay your final plank face up on top of the last board installed. Make sure the tongue is facing the end wall. Place a scrap piece on top of your plank and pressed against your wall spacers. Use a pencil to trace a line down your final plank. With your saw, cut along this line while your plank is face up. Repeat for all end planks.

Pull Bar and Hammer on Hardwood Flooring

A pull bar goes where tapping blocks can't– use a mallet and pull bar to secure your last rows.

Step 6: Use a pull bar and hammer to lock your last row into place. For tongue and groove flooring, keep your painters tape and spacers in place and stay off it for 24 hours so the glue can set.


The Nail-Down Method

Hammer, Nails and Measuring Tape Sitting on Hardwood Flooring

The staple or nail method is the most common way to install hardwood flooring and can be used both for engineered and solid hardwood installations. It works best for 3/8-inch to 5/8-inch flooring.

Nail-Down Hardwood Installation Materials:

Before you get started on a nail-down install, it’s important to know how to nail hardwood flooring:

Hardwood Floor Installation Tips:

How to Nail Hardwood Floors

Nailing hardwood floors improperly can damage your floor planks and potentially ruin your entire layout, which is why it’s important to understand how it’s done.

Here are a few tips and terms to help you really nail your DIY hardwood flooring installation:

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Tips for Nailing Hardwood Floors

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Choose a Fastener Type 

Staples, regular nails and cleat nails are all commonly used in hardwood flooring installations. Staples are much cheaper than cleat nails, and work well in woods like oak. 

Choose the Right Nail or Staple Size

Typically, 1 ½ inch nails or 1 to 1 ½ inch staples are used on engineered hardwood, depending on its thickness. 

Rent the Right Tools

Whichever fastener you choose, you’ll need to rent or buy the right machine and a compressor to install it – unless you’re nailing by hand. 

Nailing Hardwood Flooring With Pneumatic Flooring Stapler

Pneumatic flooring nailers are designed to make DIY hardwood installations faster and easier.

Blind Nailing Hardwood Floors

Blind nailing is driving your nails into the tongue of your plank at a 45-degree angle. Pneumatic flooring nailers are designed to do this easily, but you’ll have to do your first and last boards by hand, as your nailer won’t be able to reach the planks that are closest to your wall.

Blind Nailing Hardwood Floors at a 45-Degree Angle

Because flooring nailers can't fit in tight spaces, you'll have to blind nail by hand as you get closer to the wall.

Hand Nailing Hardwood Floors

If you’re taking on the task of hand nailing your hardwood floors, you’ll need a drill and nail setter for a proper install.

Face Nailing Hardwood Floors

Because you won’t be able to blind nail plank tongues against the wall, you’ll have to nail directly into the surface of those planks – this is called face nailing.  Any face nails in your hardwood flooring will need to be countersunk (learn how to countersink nails below) and filled with wood putty.

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to start your installation. 

Step 1: Start with your straightest boards, groove side to the wall on your starting line. Make sure your spacers are in place to maintain your expansion gap.

Step 2: Using the air nailer, begin face nailing your first row about half an inch from the edge and 1 to 2 inches from the ends. Space your nails about 6 inches apart. 

Step 3: Tap your next row into place with your tapping block and mallet. Using the air nailer, blind nail your second-row planks, making sure to countersink the nail heads so they sit evenly with the rest of the surface.


Diagram of Countersunk Hole Sizes

Common countersunk hole sizes used in woodworking.
 

Hardwood Floor Installation Tips:

What Is Countersinking?

Countersinking is ensuring that the head of a nail, staple or screw sits just slightly below the surface of the wood around it. It’s important to countersink the nails or staples used to fasten your hardwood flooring because if they sit higher than the wood’s surface in the grooves, it will prevent your pieces from connecting correctly. If your face nails sit higher than the wood’s surface, they can be caught on furniture or shoes, causing damage to your floors. For countersunk face nails, use wood putty to smooth out the surface.

Countersinking With Pneumatic Nailers: First practice nailing or stapling on a scrap piece of flooring and adjust your compression until the staples are sunk properly into your boards.

Countersinking by Hand: Drill pilot holes and use a nail setter to avoid damaging the surface of your new flooring.

Man Showing How to Nail Hardwood Flooring Using a Nail Setter

After drilling pilot holes, use a nail setter to countersink by hand without damaging the wood. 

Step 4: For the third row and beyond, you can use a pneumatic flooring stapler or nailer. These devices are designed to make nail-down hardwood installations much faster and easier. Simply line the arrow on the baseplate up with the tongue and hit the trigger, or buffer, to nail the plank.

Step 5: Your last few rows will be too close to the wall to use the pneumatic stapler. Use a pull bar to pull these boards into place and face nail them down. If your final board is a tight fit, you can glue it to the last board installed. Allow the glue to dry at least 24 hours before allowing foot traffic.


The Glue Method

Gluing Down Hardwood Floor Planks

This is the best choice for concrete floors such as your basement. Engineered hardwood is the only type of hardwood flooring that can be installed over concrete. 

Glue Hardwood Installation Materials:

Step 1: Before beginning, be sure to scrub, grind and vacuum away any substances that might prevent the glue from sticking. 

Step 2: Spread the flooring adhesive with your trowel. Only apply enough for a few rows at a time – you have to be able to reach the first row you’re working with.

Man Spreading Flooring Adhesive With Trowel to Install Hardwood Flooring

Step 3: Install the first row along your starting line and up against your spacers. Use your tapping block and mallet to tap the second row into place. Avoid smearing the pieces through the glue too much, as this can reduce its adhesiveness. Wipe away excess glue as you go using a lightly damped sponge and wood-friendly cleaner.

Step 4: Keeping your end joints spaced properly and the planks tight, continue installing the remaining boards. 

Step 5: Install the final row using a pull bar and hammer and allow the glue to finish drying for 24 hours. Avoid foot traffic during this time. 
 

Hardwood Floor Installation Tips:

Be Mindful When Gluing Hardwood Floors

When gluing hardwood floors, remember that any adhesive you apply takes about an hour to set. You’ll need to prevent your boards from moving during this time so they can adhere properly.

You can use painters tape to hold boards together while you work, but do not leave it on overnight. Use weights to keep any bowed boards from popping up and away from the glue.


Part Three: Finishing Touches

Add the Trim and Clean Up Your New Floor

Once your installation is completed and your glue is dry, it’s time to put the finishing touches on your brand-new flooring. 

Reinstall Baseboards

If you chose to remove your baseboards, now’s the time to reinstall them. Reusing your original baseboards is a great way to save money on hardwood flooring installations.

Install Molding

If you chose to keep your baseboards on during installation, you can use molding to cover your expansion gaps. Nail the trim directly to the baseboard – not the flooring. 

Install Transitions

If your hardwood floors butt up against another room that’s a different material or height, you’ll need to install “T” molding transitions to create a smooth surface.

Sweep and Clean Your New Floors

Once your trim is installed, sweep away the dust and mop with a wood-friendly floor cleaner. Congratulations – you’re finished!


How to Maintain Hardwood Floors


How to Maintain Hardwood Floors

Day-to-Day Hardwood Floor Maintenance

There are a few things you can do every day to make sure you’re being kind to your new engineered hardwood floors:

Hardwood Floor Maintenance Tips:

Keep Cleaning Simple

“Hardwood floors can simply be cleaned with warm water and a damp rag or mop. One hardwood floor cleaning product that we have found people enjoy using is Bona Wood Cleaners. Hardwood floors can also be swept with a soft bristle broom or vacuumed with a soft bristle brush.”

Tom Ory | Enterprise Wood Products

Protecting Your Hardwood Flooring

Keep your new hardwood scratch-free for the long run with these tips for protecting hardwood floors:


Professional Finishing an Engineered Hardwood Floor

You can DIY install engineered hardwood flooring, but leave the refinishing to the professionals.

Refinishing Engineered Hardwood Floors

Part of knowing how to maintain hardwood floors is understanding how to refinish them – and when to ask for help. Engineered hardwood is made up of a thin layer of solid wood on top of a plywood core. Because of this, sanding and refinishing engineered hardwood floors is a delicate, tricky process -  sand too much and you could remove the entire top layer, ruining your floor. 

Therefore, it’s almost always best to hire a professional to handle an engineered flooring refinish. Be sure to fill in your contractor on the flooring’s specs, including the width of the top layer, and the number of times it’s been refinished previously. Engineered hardwood can be finished about one to three times, depending on the width of the top layer and the floor's wear and tear.


Young Couple Sitting On Couch Admiring New Hardwood Floors

For Your First DIY Hardwood Floor Installation: Take Your Time

With the right preparation, anyone can budget hardwood floors into their home improvement plans. But if this is your first time completing an engineered hardwood floor installation DIY-style, give yourself plenty of time to work. Installing hardwood floors can be a fairly involved process even with the simpler designs and installation methods, so it’s best to work at your own pace to avoid major mistakes down the line. 

If you have questions about your flooring materials or how to install it properly, call or email the manufacturer of your engineered hardwood flooring. They’ll be happy to let you know the specifics about your product and the best way to install it successfully.