Organizing Theory & Artistry

Unfinished Wood Flooring Installation

The huge stack of wood that would become our new family room floor.
The huge stack of wood that would become our new family room floor.

After all the prep work, it was finally installation day for our new family room flooring!

Once you purchase new hardwood flooring, you have to let it “cure” for a period of time before it can be installed. We took our time getting this project done so our flooring had actually been curing for about two months before we installed it.

For a typical project, the instructions we received from the flooring installer indicate that you need to let your flooring cure for a minimum of 72 hours for pre-finished hardwoods or laminates and 7 days for unfinished hardwood (like ours). The curing process should take place in the room where the flooring will be installed (or, at a minimum, on the same level of the house where it will be installed). You also need to keep all the doors and windows closed, control the temperature to 60-80 degrees with 30-50% humidity.

When we first got our flooring, my husband suggested we put it in the basement to get it out of the way. I complained that I didn’t want to move it twice so we put it in the family room. Once we found out the strict curing instructions, I am glad we went that direction.

The new unfinished hardwood flooring matched perfectly the height of the existing flooring.
The new unfinished hardwood flooring matched perfectly the height of the existing flooring.

When we purchased the flooring, we also looked at all the different types of underlayments you can use with your hardwood flooring to dampen noise. I mentioned to the salespeople that we were matching existing flooring that was 24 years old, and they told me to skip the underlayments and just go with a simple, thin vapor barrier paper underlayment because the existing flooring likely has no underlayment. This turned out to be a wonderful piece of advice. As you can see from this shot, the new flooring matches the height of the existing flooring almost exactly. An underlayment would have made the new flooring too tall. It also saved us about a hundred dollars or so.

I am not exactly sure what the “vapor barrier” function of the paper underlayment is but I believe the function of the paper is just to let the wood slide over it easier during the installation process.

On the day of installation, our installer arrived promptly first thing in the morning. His job was to lay the flooring. There would be another person coming to stain and seal it. After using a moisture testing machine to make sure our wood had cured properly, he got to work.

All the work we did to prep the room seemed to help the contractor focus just on the carpentry aspect of the installation. Rather than wasting his energy hauling carpet and pulling staples, his fresh energy was focused on how he was going to lay out the room with the wood boards. His first question was whether we wanted picture frame molding around the fireplace. I wasn’t quite sure what this meant but it sounded good so I said yes!

First, he unrolled the vapor barrier paper and began throwing down various packs of boards, starting near the exterior door entrance.

The first stage of the installation process.
The first stage of the installation process.

Laying a hardwood floor is work that favors the young and strong. You have to pick up and move a lot of wood (several hundred pounds worth) and lift a large pneumatic nailer for hours. Not only that, every once in a while you have to use a power saw to cut the boards to fit. While there are many people who have learned to DIY this work, I just don’t see it being in the cards for me. I am nervous enough about using power tools due to the risk of injury without the added burden of trying to use them when I am physically tired.

The layout of the flooring is a little more complicated than it appears. I thought that each bundle of wood that we purchased contained boards of uniform length. It turns out that each bundle has boards of varying sizes. The installer has to figure out how to lay down the boards so that the seams are staggered all over the floor in a pleasing way. You don’t have to make a lot of cuts to the flooring, except when you get to a floor vent, a wall or some other structure you have to work around.

The installer initially said that he would have the whole room laid down in 2 hours. “Wow!” I thought. This turned out to be an overly optimistic estimate. With a fireplace to picture frame, 4 floor vents, a pantry closet and existing flooring to match up with, it took more like 4-5 hours. The installer commented that he forgot that he would need to “backrack” the flooring when he picture framed the fireplace.

Progress after about 4 and a half hours of work.
Progress after about 4 and a half hours of work.

He matched all the seams to the existing flooring perfectly. There is no way we could have done as well if we had attempted to do this ourselves.

At the end of the day, the unfinished flooring was gorgeous and we were excited to see how the project would be completed.

The new, but unfinished flooring!
The new, but unfinished flooring!