Installation Considerations: Hardwood Floors
By Amelia Corbett
Hardwood floors are a beautiful and versatile surface which, properly cared for, retain their beauty and increase the value of your home for many years. A properly installed and maintained solid hardwood floor should not need to be replaced for 100 years, and some have been known to last 3 times that long!
The expense of installing a hardwood floor can be split into 2 categories—cost of materials and cost of labor. Up first is a discussion of the materials, since you have to buy those no matter what installation method you choose. Wood is available in an unbelievable variety of species, each of which has a different color, grain, and hardness. Prices can fluctuate, and vary depending on market factors and where you buy your wood, but generally range from around $4-7 and up per ft.2, depending mostly on the rarity of the wood, and in some cases, on how regular the grain of the wood is.
You can buy flooring of varying thickness, and this will affect the square feet measurement. Unfortunately, your square feet will not fit perfectly into your room, so you will have to expect about 10-20% waste of your hardwood. Flooring involves a waste factor that varies with the room size, the angle at which the boards are laid, and the type of hardwood used.
You can also use engineered wood, which is really a veneer of hardwood over a synthetic base, and will cost you $3-7 dollars per ft.2
Installation-wise, you need to consider the cost of adhesive, nails, or cleats for fastening the boards to each other and your subfloor. If there is a possibility that your subfloor is not hardwood-ready, such as a concrete base that may need to be treated, you will have to pay to have it prepared, or to have plywood or padding laid down.
A professional will be able to tell you if your subfloor is flat enough to properly support your floor, and what to do if it is not. If you do decide to hire a professional, it is wise to call at least 3 businesses, and compare their work history and prices. Prices will vary region to region, but as a rough estimate you may expect to pay from $1-3 dollars per ft.2 of installation. You may have to pay for twice the square footage of your room if any kind of subfloor needs to be installed.
DIY or Not?
You can certainly save money installing your own hardwood floor, but consider the time it will take you, and the quality of the finished product. Installing hardwood flooring is extremely hard on the back, so if you have trouble lifting things or bending over for long periods of time, it makes sense to call in the professionals.
Unless you are very experienced with woodwork and home improvement, you should probably not attempt a solid hardwood installation using nails or cleats. If you are determined to install your floor yourself, it will probably be easier to work with engineered wood, which can more easily be glued down, or installed as a free-floating floor, in which the boards are attached to one another but not affixed to the padding beneath.
The advantage of using an engineered wood product is that it is more forgiving of changes in humidity that can cause hardwood to buckle and pull apart. However, depending on the thickness of the veneer, you may only be able to refinish your engineered wood floor 2 or 3 times, or not at all, since the sanding required takes off a layer of the hardwood. A thin veneer will be worn down over time to the synthetic base.
Hardwood steps are considerably more, perhaps $60 each. At these prices, having a hardwood floor installed could easily cost several thousand dollars, but it will be well worth it if your floor is beautiful and durable.
Healthy Home, Healthy Earth
If one of your priorities is environmental health, hardwood offers many advantages. Many domestic hardwoods, and some exotics, are renewable resources, and many earth-friendly hardwood suppliers will be happy to inform you of which ones represent the least negative impact on reforestation efforts.
Hardwood floors can also be made from reclaimed wood originally used in old buildings or ships. In terms of indoor air quality, hardwood is far superior to carpet which is inevitably full of sneeze-inducing things like mold, pet dander, and dust, as well as chemical fumes from the carpet materials and glue.
Unfortunately, many engineered wood materials contain bonding agents that can also be toxic. So can some methods of solid hardwood pre-treating. Just be sure when you purchase your flooring material that you specify your need for low- or no-toxic finishes and materials. Try to avoid volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are especially bad for air quality in your home, and in the outside world.
Happily Ever After
Your beautiful new floor can last a lifetime as long as you follow a few simple rules of upkeep. Use only cleaning products and methods specifically recommended for your hardwood finish, which your supplier or installer should be able to explain to you. Cover high traffic lanes with area rugs, and vacuum up any grit that gets tracked onto your hardwood with a soft floor attachment as soon as possible.
Beware of high heels, golf or soccer cleats, and sharp or untrimmed pets’ nails which can pock your floor. You will probably be able to repair small gouges and scratches yourself with materials from the hardware store, and once in awhile you will have to refinish the entire surface of your floor to renew its lovely and consistent surface.