Getting Ready for a New Floor

Floor Solid Wood
Choosing Your Flooring
September 5, 2014
Planning – and Scheduling – Winter Projects
October 22, 2014

In our last post, we described the pluses and minuses of the different types of flooring available today. Once you’ve chosen your flooring, you’ll need a contractor. Some companies specialize in wood flooring, others in laminates or vinyl floors, while others are generalists and will install any type of flooring. General contractors will either have an experienced flooring crew or will subcontract with a specialist.

Whoever you choose should have experience with the type of flooring you’ve selected and be able to give you references to several satisfied customers. Do call and ask how it went. Also go over all the details of the project with the contractor so you’ll know exactly what to expect in terms of preparation, dislocation, and final cleanup.

Different Floors Need Different Prep Work

Flooring types all do the same basic thing, but the methods for laying them are different. Some are nailed, some are glued, and some come with the glue attached. Some should have a vapor barrier or padding laid beneath them, while others can go down right against the subfloor. Each type requires its own special preparation steps. The type of subfloor can also change the requirements for laying the floor.

That said, there is still a basic set of prep steps that applies to every type of flooring. This article goes over the basics that apply to most of them, including what you can do to get ready for a contractor.

First Clear the Deck

Before the contractor arrives –or you start laying your own DIY floor – you’ll have to clear the room completely. While it’s possible to work around a large or heavy piece of furniture or appliance by shifting it from one side of the room to the next, you’ll run a greater risk of marring the newly laid floor. You also risk damaging your piece of furniture or scratching your fridge. If you simply can’t remove an item, you’ll have to drape it with a dust cloth and be prepared to give it a thorough cleaning when the job is done.

Preparing for the Dust

Removing an old floor leaves dust behind. If you’re laying a new surface over an existing floor, the cleaning and preparation of the old surface will also create dust. Laying the new floor, particularly wood, raises more dust. In this previous article [link to:], we described our methods for dealing with dust. Here are the main points:

  • Hang plastic sheeting over all entryways and tape the sides.
  • Lay dust cloths over counters and other surfaces.
  • Lay down construction paper on any section of floor that isn’t being replaced.
  • Use collector bags or vacuum attachments on cutting and sanding tools. (If possible, do all cutting outside.)
  • Vacuum thoroughly at the end of every workday. That includes vacuuming the walls and other surfaces that attract dust.
  • In addition, if any particular activity creates a pile of dust, clean it up right away.

Remove the Baseboards

With any type of flooring, you or the contractor must remove the baseboard trim from the walls. This allows you to leave a gap between the wall and the edge of the flooring, which is a must for all wooden flooring and a good idea even with synthetics. The gap allows for expansion and contraction of the flooring as the temperature and humidity change. Leaving a gap also makes it easier to get the first line of flooring started: You can snap a straight chalk line as a guide rather than trying to cut an uneven edge to match the inevitable unevenness of the wall. When the baseboards go back on later, they will hide the gap.

Subfloors Make Do-It-Yourself Tricky

Some types of flooring are easier to install than others, but only if the subflooring is smooth, tight, and flat. A contractor will take care of the subfloor as part of the project. If you’re doing the job yourself, it will be very worth your while to spend time and care on this early step to avoid problems later on.

Fasten all loose joints with ring nails or screws. Check the centers of planks and panels for loose fasteners as well.
Level uneven spots with shims under the subfloor or fillers on top.
If the floor sags more than an inch in the middle, level it from below.

Sagging creates a surface that curves in two directions, but flooring strips and tiles have straight edges. If the sag is too great, you’ll be struggling to avoid gaps as the flooring follows the sag down to the center of the floor and back up to the far wall.

Do Your Research

A final note for do-it-yourselfers: If you have never laid this type of flooring before, get instructions before you start. Ask the supplier for advice, and look online for handyman websites that provide instruction. Look at several sites, because some will skim over steps that others will cover in better detail. For example, solid wood flooring can bridge small gaps and uneven joints in the subfloor. Find out how small, and don’t assume that engineered flooring products – even those that have a wood surface – have the strength and flexibility to handle the same amount of unevenness.


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