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Install Wood Strip or Laminate Flooring

Step 1: Preparing to Get Floored

Despite the many new wrinkles, we opted for a lesson in unfinished, 34"-thick, 2 34" wide tongue-and-groove hardwood from two ace carpenters with TDS Custom Construction, Madison, Wisconsin.

The Substrate

Strip flooring requires a solid, flat base, at least 34" plywood or oriented strand board. If you floor on top of this stuff, you can leave it alone, so long as adding 34" of floor won't cause trouble with doors or room transitions. Caution: Older flooring often contained asbestos; it pays to get an asbestos test before ripping it out.

To check flatness, hold a 4' level or a straight 1 × 4 along the floor and look for spots that are more than 18" or so above or below the surroundings. Sand, chisel, or otherwise remove the high spots, and trowel on floor-leveling compound (made for tile preparation) on the low spots. You may have to scrape the floor if the room has recently been drywalled or has seen other major construction.

To check that the room is square and select the best starting point, see Lay a Ceramic Tile Floor. Generally, it's smart to orient the boards parallel to the longest wall.

Floor Installation Basics

These suggestions will lead to a solid, tight, and attractive hardwood strip floor:

  • To prevent sag, run the flooring perpendicular to the joists. If this is impossible and you have access to the underside of the floor, fasten 2 × 4 “blocking” between joists on 16" centers. This job is so time-consuming and likely to run afoul of ducts or pipes that you'll probably change your mind about the ideal direction for the flooring!

  • Remove the baseboard and base shoe before starting. Base trim (baseboard and base shoe) can hide some flaws near the walls, but the room will look best if the base trim rests on good, flat flooring.

  • Aim your nails into the joists. Draw lines or use a chalkline to mark the joists.

  • A rented pneumatic flooring nailer, as shown in the photos, eases arm strain. You'll save money, but suffer more arm fatigue, by renting a manual nailer. Both nailers do the same thing in one stroke: Push the strip tight to its neighbor, and put the nail in a place where it will be hidden by the next strip.

  • Allow flooring to adjust to your room conditions for a few days before starting. The flooring package should give details on the time required.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Simple Home Improvements © 2004 by David J. Tenenbaum. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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