Guide for Hardwood and Engineered Flooring Removal and Installation

This guide outlines the scope of these projects for DIY enthusiasts and for homeowners wanting a grasp of the work before they speak with contractors about it.

Featured in this Install & Removal Guide

Removing Old Flooring

Removing flooring doesn’t require a lot of skill, but it might be hard work. Depending on the type of flooring, you might save $0.50 to $3.00 or more per square foot by doing the work yourself.

Tip for indoor air quality: If any of the removal tasks involve scraping and/or sanding, turning off the HVAC system in your home or at minimum closing off the vents in the room in which your working will prevent the spread of dust to other parts of your home. Don’t forget to wear a dust mask for these tasks too.

Here are the most common types of flooring and how they can be removed.

First steps: For all flooring types, first empty the room of furniture. Then, remove the baseboard molding. If you’re going to reuse the molding, number each piece for reinstallation as you take it off.

Now, let’s look at removing the most common types of flooring and the tools and techniques required.

Removing hardwood flooring: The boards are blind nailed meaning the nails installed into the side of each plank.  Start at a wall the planks run parallel to. Use a prybar or claw hammer to begin pulling up planks. If you want to save the wood for reuse, you’ll have to pull out each nail individually or carefully pop the plank off it. Otherwise, you can be more aggressive in pulling up planks. Any remaining nails or other fasteners must be pulled (preferred) or pounded into the subfloor.

Removing laminate flooring: Most laminate installed in the last 20 years is floating. It’s only secured at the perimeter. Each piece snaps into the previous one, and you’ll soon learn the technique of unsnapping them for removal, or simply use a floor scraper to make quick work of it. Laminate is recyclable, but few facilities are equipped to do it.

Removing all kinds of tile: This is dusty work, so take the precautions mentioned above. If you suspect the tile is asbestos tile, contact an asbestos removal company about how to proceed. For other types of tile, you might have to get started by breaking out tiles with a hammer and chisel. Once you have room to work, you can remove the rest with a heavy-duty floor scraper. Some kinds of tile can be recycled, so check with your local recycling facility.

Removing carpeting: Use a carpet knife or utility knife to cut the carpet into widths four to six feet. Pull the carpet off the tack strips at the perimeter, and roll it up, binding each roll for disposal. If the room is long, simply cut off and bind the strip you’re rolling up before it gets too large to handle easily. Repeat the process for the pad. Finally, pull out all the pad staples remaining in the subfloor or use a scraper. Carpet can be recycled, but there are few facilities that take it.

 Removing vinyl flooring, linoleum and cork: These floors might be perimeter-glued only. Start pulling up the material along one wall. If you can pull it loose from the glue, you’ll quickly know whether the glue is just around the perimeter or covers the entire floor. Pull up what you can by cutting through the vinyl and tearing it out in widths four to six feet. Roll it up, and bind it. What isn’t easy to remove with that technique might come up easier using a floor scraper. Vinyl can be recycled, but facilities that take it are not common. Linoleum is made from natural ingredients, and cork is tree bark, so both can be composted or sent to a biomass energy facility.

After removing the flooring: If you’re going to use rather than replace the remaining subfloor, it must be cleared of debris. Fasteners should be pulled out. Any glue that remains can be removed with a belt sander or disc sander, and a dust mask and eye protection should be worn. If the sander is loud, consider ear protection plugs or muffs too.

Installing Hardwood Flooring

This outline of the work can be supplemented with the many tutorial videos available online.

Preparing the subfloor: Solid hardwood requires a wood subfloor while engineered flooring can be nailed to a wood subfloor or glued to a concrete floor. In either case, the floor must be level and smooth. You may need to:

  • Sand raised edges of subfloor sheets
  • Fill gaps in subfloor sheets with wood filler
  • Replace badly damaged subflooring
  • Pull fasteners and/or sand off glue from the subfloor
  • Fill low spots in concrete with self-leveling concrete
  • Vacuum the subfloor before installation begins, and keep debris off it as installation progresses

Acclimating the Flooring: It is important that the material be the same temperature and relative humidity as your home to prevent gaps, warping and cracking. Solid wood flooring is more susceptible to these issues, but engineered wood should be acclimated too. Bring the flooring boxes into your home, and open them. You might even want to lightly separate the bundles of flooring. Give them three days minimum to reach the same temperature and relative humidity as your home.

Wood flooring installation steps:

The material should come with installation instructions, and they should be followed closely. Here’s an overview of what most contain.

  1. Orient the planks to run perpendicular to the floor joists (if not installing over concrete). Note: if the subfloor is very level and solid, this isn’t as vital.
  2. Snap a chalk line 3/8” out from the longest wall in the room. This creates room for expansion, and the gap is narrow enough that the base molding will cover it.
  3. Measure the total width of the room, less 3/4″ to accommodate a 3/8” gap on either side, and divide by the width of the planks. Use your calculation to determine if the last row will be less than 1” wide if you start with a complete plank. If it is, then cut the first row of planks by as much as is needed to ensure a wider last row of plank. The reason for this is that a very narrow last line might look out of place. That is for plank width; you can make a similar calculation and adjustment for plank length to ensure that the last plank in the row isn’t less than about 16” long.
  4. Install the first row of planks along the chalk line, blind-nailing the boards per the installation instructions. Since getting the first row straight is so important, drill pilot holes, and hand-nail the fasteners with the aid of a countersink to avoid hitting the board edge with the hammer. Using a nail gun on the first row can easily knock the planks askew. Fasteners should be installed 8” to 12” apart, and every piece should have at least two fasteners.
  5. Use a miter saw to cut the last plank in each row.
  6. Use the remainder of the last piece of the first row to start the second row, so end seams are staggered. Another option is to cut a fresh plank in half to start row #2. The rule is that the distance between end joints in adjoining rows should be at least three times the width of the plank. Continue to install the floor.
  7. If you’re working with planks of various lengths, lay out a few rows at a time before nailing them to make sure that end seams are properly placed and that there is good variation between long and short pieces.
  8. Mark the location of vents, door stops and other obstacles on the plank, and cut the plank with a jigsaw to fit it properly.
  9. You will have to nail the last few boards by hand because you’ll find there’s not enough space between the wall and planks for your nailer. Drilling pilot holes for the nails will prevent the wood from splitting.
  10. Cut the last row of planks lengthwise to fit, leaving a 3/8” gap to the wall.
  11. When you install the baseboard molding, keep it slightly above the flooring. This can be done with a putty knife with a wide blade. Push the blade against the wall, lay the trim on it, and nail the trim. Move the blade along the wall as you continue to attach the molding. The slight gap will allow the planks to expand and contract freely to prevent cracking and buckling.

Humidity and Wood Flooring

The best indoor climate for solid wood floors is an RH between 40% to 60%. This range reduces the shrinking that can cause wood splits and the swelling that can cause buckling and warping.

Central air conditioning will prevent the humidity level from getting too high in summer months. A central humidifier will keep the winter humidity level above 40%.

Adding this equipment, if not already present, will protect the investment you’ve made in wood flooring and will create a more comfortable indoor climate.

Wood Flooring Installation FAQ

These common questions cover other important topics.

Can wood flooring be installed over an in-floor radiant heat system?

Yes, but with caution. First, engineered wood flooring is a better choice because it is more stable. Secondly, hiring an experienced professional for the work will ensure that the right techniques are used for installation over radiant heat.

Is there a “right” time of the year to install hardwood flooring?

If the home has central air conditioning and humidification, then when the flooring is installed isn’t very important. Otherwise, installing the flooring in the spring or fall when the humidity isn’t at high or low extremes is a good choice.

Handyman or flooring contractor?

Experience is the key, and flooring contractors usually have more experience than a “jack-of-all-trades” handyman. Plus, most pro flooring installers are licensed and insured.

What’s the best way to save money on installation other than DIY?

Saving money is the result of two things: Paying less upfront and not having problems with the flooring in the following years that are expensive to repair. Therefore, you want competitive pricing for a job done correctly the first time.

The best way to ensure these advantages is to request written estimates from several of the leading hardwood installation contractors in your area. If you’re ready to get estimates, we make it easy and free. Use the form we provide, and you’ll receive written quotes from some of the top prescreened and experienced contractors where you live. They are ready to compete for your business. There is no obligation cost or obligation for using the service.

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