5 Biggest Mistakes When Installing Wood Flooring

Before you dive right into the installation of your Wood Flooring educate yourself a little bit. When you take the necessary steps to prepare for the installation of Wood Flooring, you will be successful.
The installation process is not complex, just a process that requires time and patience. Fortunately, most of the problems are easily preventable with a little diligence on the part of the installer. Following are five of the most common mistakes contractors make when installing wood floors.

See if you are guilty of any of these installation sins, and find out how to reform your ways.

1) Not Checking Moisture

Moisture (or sometimes the lack of it) is indisputably the No. 1 cause of wood flooring problems. Moisture by itself doesn’t always have to be a problem—if the wood flooring installer takes the right steps to handle it.
Unfortunately, many installers don’t. A common scenario might look like this: A contractor in Michigan has solid strip flooring delivered to the job site in the middle of winter. It came from a reputable distributor, who kept the flooring in a climate-controlled warehouse. Due to job-site delays, the flooring sits on the job site, where the heat is running, for a month. The contractor installs it, the floor looks great, and he gets paid. The next winter, he gets a phone call from the unhappy customer: The flooring has big gaps between the boards.
The likely cause is that while on the job site, the flooring acclimated to the extremely dry conditions of winter. When it then acclimated to the other extreme, and especially humid Michigan summer, it swelled, crushing the edges of the boards. The next winter, when the flooring dried again, the gaps were bigger than typical seasonal gaps.
How could this have been prevented? When possible, the goal should be to install the flooring at a moisture content (MC) between the two extremes. Lacking that, allowing for some expansion by not nailing the flooring as tightly as possible and also perhaps including occasional “washer rows”—where washers help space out the rows—would have given this floor a little more room to expand (see “Room to Grow” below).

2) Not Preparing the Subfloor

The industry mantra for subfloors is that they should be clean, flat, and dry. The “dry” part goes with the moisture discussion above. “Clean” means that all job-site debris is swept or scraped off, and also, for slabs, that there isn’t anything on the slab that will interfere with adhesion (if there is, an old buffer with a hard-plate and low-grade sandpaper, like 30 grit, can be used to abrade the surface). “Flat” (not “level”) means that the subfloor is within the most recent industry standards: for floors with mechanical fasteners 1 1/2 inches or longer, 1/4 inch in 10 feet or 3/16 inch in 6 feet.

For floors with mechanical fasteners less than 1 1/2 inches or glue-down floors, it’s 3/16 inch in 10 feet or 1/8 inch in 6 feet. Subfloors that aren’t flat enough must be fixed before floor installation.

For plywood subfloors, that might mean using asphalt shingles or layers of plywood to fill in the low spots. For slabs, that usually means using an approved leveling compound and/or grinding down the high spots.

3) Lazy Layout

Everyone knows that most rooms in the house aren’t perfectly square. Wise installers find out ahead of time and plan ahead so their floor will look the best in the places where it matters the most. Oftentimes they’ll snap their starting lines along the longest, most continuous run of flooring in the house. Then they’ll use trammel points, 3-4-5 triangles, or lasers to transfer their lines into adjoining rooms, seeing how the flooring will line up at focal points and adjusting the lines if necessary. (See “Quick and Easy Layout” below.

Great installers also plan to avoid awkward partial boards, like an extremely narrow piece, at the top of the stairs, next to a wood vent, or where the field butts up against the picture-framing around the fireplace. They plan the layout for the entire project before one backer board is hammered down. It may seem time-consuming, but it results in a more professional job without any nasty moments.

4) Bad Racking

Once you know how to rack a floor correctly, you see bad racking jobs all over the place, from your friends’ houses to the stores at the mall. H-joints and too-close end joints seem to jump right out at you. Racking a floor correctly isn’t difficult; it just takes awareness of the right way to do it. When a floor is racked well, no one spot on the floor should catch your attention (or, more importantly, your customer’s attention).
Another common mistake is laying out the floor without paying attention to the overall look. For example, you may see an area where all the boards are light-colored except for one dark board. Even if that board does fit within the grade, it will look out of place. Sometimes you may even come across a board of the wrong species while you’re racking. Other times, you’ll see a floor that has primarily longer boards but has one area that is full of shorts. As you rack, keep in mind the appearance of the entire floor. It’s wise to open a few bundles or boxes and mix the boards together to help disguise any variations between them and evenly distribute the lengths.
Another racking mistake is not paying attention to focal points. In front of fireplaces, in doorways, and at the top of stair landings are places where you’ll want a clean appearance to the floor, not a bunch of shorts or a board with a huge mineral streak. So plan ahead to make those areas as attractive as possible.

5) Not Nailing Enough

Maybe the installers don’t know any better, or maybe they are trying to cut corners, but not putting enough fasteners in the floor is a common problem. They might put only a couple nails in a board, only nail every other board, or even nail only every other row. They think they’re getting away with something—after all, you can’t see it—but they put themselves at risk. If anything goes wrong with the floor, their shortcut will be discovered by the most basic inspection, and their lack of fasteners might be blamed for any multitude of problems.
Floors without enough fasteners will be loose, which will cause them to move and make noise. They also are more prone to gaps between boards. Far less common is the problem of too many fasteners, which can crack the tongues and also create a loose floor.