How to Install Engineered Hardwood Floors
Learn how to install your new engineered hardwood floors yourself! Click and lock flooring is an easy DIY that will save you a ton!
When I put the offer in on my new home three months ago, I already knew what my very first project was going to be: removing the carpet in the basement and installing new floors.
I actually love carpet, so I was a bit sad to pull it out. But I needed the lower level to be my shop, and carpet is a poor choice for the floor of woodshop.
I grabbed a pretty good deal on some discontinued engineered flooring from Lumber Liquidators, then was on my way!
Hot take: prepping the floors is actually more difficult than installing them. At least, it was in my case. I did the following things:
- Remove the carpet
- Remove the padding
- Remove the tack strips that held the carpet into place
- Remove half the tile I found underneath the carpet
- Fill in chips and other unlevel spots with floor patching compound
- Install a moisture barrier on the floor
- Install padding on the floor
And then, finally, install the floor. Since you hopefully don’t have to do steps 1-4 (or if you do, they’re already done,) I’m just going to talk about the real prepwork for these floors, steps 5-7.
Special Note: There are a couple of different methods for installing engineered flooring. I’ll be using the “floating floor” method, but glue-down and nail-down methods are also typically available.
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- Premixed Floor Patching Compound
- 6 Mil Moisture Barrier
- Underlayment Padding
- Duct Tape
Leveling the Floor
Removing the tack strips from the floor shattered a number of the tiles along the wall. Additionally, some tiles in the middle of the floor were chipped. In order to create a flat surface for my new floors, I filled in any gaps or holes with Floor Patching Compound.
If you’re wondering… why I didn’t remove all of the tile, a big reason is that it might contain asbestos. I shattered a couple of the pieces when removing the tack strips, and removed a few more pieces intentionally because they were poorly adhered, but for the most part I wanted to avoid disturbing them.
The premixed floor patching compound was pretty easy to work with and spread around. My only complaint is that it said it dried in 2-3 hours, but actually took 48 hours. This seems to be a common complaint in the review section, so I wonder why they provide such a misleading dry time.
Theoretically, the floor patching compound should be applied anywhere the floor is unlevel. Honestly, though, my basement is an unlevel mess. There are dips and high spots every couple feet, and short of repouring the concrete floor, it was never going to be level.
I decided not to worry about it. Once I was done with the installation, there were a couple low spots in high traffic areas that concerned me, and I went back and slipped roof shingles underneath the floor in those areas. Not a perfect solution by any means, but good enough for the basement.
Installing a Moisture Barrier
I knew the moment I pulled up my carpet that my floor was going to need a moisture barrier. The padding underneath my carpet was noticably damp, and when I pulled up the padding the tile underneath had clear drops of condensation on it.
It was disgusting.
If you don’t have such a clear sign that a moisture barrier is necessary, the general rule is that on concrete or cement, you need a 6 mil moisture barrier.
The moisture barrier is pretty easy to install. Just lay it out on the floor, overlapping it 4-6.” Then tape up the seams with duct tape*, and you’re good to go.
Duck Tape Note*: I’m not just using duct tape because I had it around. My instructions that duct tape was the proper tape to use, because it is water resistant.
My moisture barrier was wrinkled and not perfectly flat in places. I didn’t worry about it, and figured (hoped) it would flatten out once the floor was placed on top of it.
Installing the Underlayment Padding
First off: if you’re installing on top of cement or concrete, yes, you need both a polyethelene moisture barrier and underlayment padding. The padding is not thick enough to act like a moisture barrier in that circumstance.
If you’re installing on top of a plywood subfloor, the padding alone is probably fine.
Luckily, the padding is not difficult to install either. Simply roll it out onto the floor. My padding had built-in adhesive strips to attach it together, but when I had to cut smaller pieces I used duct tape.
Once again, the underlayment wasn’t super flat. It flattened out once I laid down the floor.
Installing Engineered Hardwood Floors
Given you have a miter and table saw, this is actually the easiest part of the process.
Step 1: Plan Layout
There are two things to determine before you start: 1) which direction to lay the planks, and 2) if you need to rip the first row of planks.
Traditionally, planks are laid parallel to the longest unbroken wall, or if there’s a focal point (like a fireplace,) parallel to that focal point. I actually didn’t do this, since I had this strange step in the middle of the floor:
I didn’t want the planks parallel to this step, so I laid them perpendicular.
You should also determine if you need to rip the first row of planks in order to avoid having a super narrow row on the other end of the room. Note the word should. I didn’t do this either, since I had two different sections because of the step, but if you have a nice, simple room, it’s something you should do.
To determine the width of your final plank, take the width of the room (in inches) and divide by the width of the planks. This will get you the number of rows of planks.
Number of rows = (width of room)/(width of plank)
This will (probably) get you a non-whole number such as 14.8. This means you need 14 full plank rows, and .8 of a row (call this the “last row decimal.”)
To figure out how wide your last row is, do the following:
Width of Last Row = (last row decimal)*(full width of plank)
If the width seems small (my instructions recommended less than 2.5,” but this probably depends on the width of your planks,) rip the first row down so that the last row will be larger.
Step 2: Rip First Row
If you determined in step 1 that you need to rip the first row down, awesome, do that now.
But even if you don’t need to rip the first row to have an appropriately-sized last row, you still need to rip the tongue off of the first row with a table saw.
Step 3: Lay First Row
Working from left to right, lay the planks in place, interlocking the end tongue and grooves as you go. Be sure to space the row 1/2″ away from the wall (use spacers!) to leave room for expansion.
For the last board in the row, place the interlocking edge against the spacer, then mark on the top of the board with a pencil where to cut. This is a bit confusing to describe, so be sure to watch it in action on the youtube video.
Step 4: Lay Remaining Rows
The rest of the rows are pretty intuitive; continue working from left to right interlocking the boards.
This goes a lot faster if you have once person laying the boards, and one person cutting the final pieces of each row. It’s not necessary, but it definitely speeds things up.
If you removed any baseboards, reinstall them once the floor is laid. I also added shoe molding to cover any other spaces between the floor and baseboards.
Transition strips are also important and should be laid at any transition between your new floor and old floors. I ended up making some of my transition strips, because the difference between the floor heights was too large (and not even,) but in most cases store-bought strips are nicer-looking and easy to install.
Finally, caulk any gaps. I swear, caulk is magical. It covers up so many mistakes, and really makes an amateur job look pro. I used a white caulk to caulk between the shoe molding and baseboards, and in a few places between the baseboards and the wall.
Do I need both a 6 mil polyethylene moisture barrier and underlayment padding?
You must use both 6 mil polyethylene moisture barrier and underlayment padding if installing engineered hardwood floors on top of concrete or cement. Other types of subfloors only require the underlayment padding.
How long does it take to install engineered hardwood floors?
For a medium-sized room with two people working, engineered hardwood floors can be laid in a day. My larger (500 sq ft) basement took about a day and half with two people.
Do you recommend a floating floor, or do you think a glue/nail down method is better?
So the big advantage of a floating floor is that a DIY installation is really easy. Glue/nail down methods are not nearly so simple. If you’re working under a tight budget, floating floor is the way to go.
However, I don’t love the way it feels under my feet. To quote the friend who helped me install it, it feels “bouncy.” Maybe this is due to my not-super-level subfloor, but I can’t guarantee that.
Regardless, if I ever install floors like this in the main level of my home, I’ll probably hire someone to install them with a glue-down method.
I’m on the fence about what floors to choose… have you done any other floor projects?
I’ve installed vinyl sheet flooring in a bathroom, as well as plywood floors in my kitchen. I actually don’t recommend going with plywood – it’s not that durable, and there’s not a significant cost savings compared to legitimate budget flooring options. I break that all down here.
I’ve also refinished hardwood floors before, if that’s an option in your home. It was absolutely miserable, and I swore I would never refinish floors myself ever again. Here’s why.
Based on covering 500 sq feet:
|Flooring, 600 sq ft||$822|
|6 Mil Polyethylene Barrier||$65|
So I came in at just over $2 a square foot. Since this is my future shop, I’m pretty pleased with both the result and the price point.
My basement shop isn’t quite a functioning shop yet, but it’ll get there.
I think the floor is a good start, and given the cost I’m pleased with how it turned out.
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