How hard is it to do your own harwood flooring?

jzinckgraMarch 8, 2011

For our new house, we'll require ~1200sqft of hardwood. We will have plywood subfloors with radiant heat underneath with heat shields. We're getting anywheres between $2-5/sqft labor depending on if it's 1/4 sawn hardwood or pre-finished engineered.

Most of the flooring will go into our 24'x24' great room, then rest in the loft above. I'm pretty good at home improvements, but have never laid floor. I assume an engineered floating floor would be the easiest. But there are also glue down (engineered) and nail down (true hardwood) type options as well. We're pretty confused about which would be best for our radiant setup and are considering doing some of the work ourselves. On the flip side, I don't want our new home to be the guinea pig for our inexperience.

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glennsfc read all the literature you can find...know that you're going to have to rent or buy the tools and equipment needed...accept the fact that it will take three times as long to do this as you think it will (and that is after all the time you will spend on research)...make sure your medical insurance is in force...and then swear you'll never do it again...then maybe you could go ahead and attempt it.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2011 at 5:19PM
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I guess that answers my question about doing the tile ourselves too.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2011 at 10:06PM
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It's not impossible to do the tiling yourself, although it is a relatively messy, tedious job. I've done some in my own home, after watching a "pro" install it in my familiy room. I'm a chemist, not a contractor, and someone who hates to pay someone else money to do something I can do. Two important things to know is 1) make sure your floor is level and you have a good subfloor that works with the adhesive (sticks to it) and 2) start from the middle of the room (or area) to be tiled-that way all your cut pieces will be around the wall (this is not necessarily applicable depending on your application, for example, if you're using different sizes of tile). And although walls are supposed to be plumb, don't depend on this!

Also, if you have to cut a lot of tile, rent a water cooled tile cutter- cutting them by hand is possible, but you are likely to waste a lot of tiles.

Think of it as playing with rocks and mud, a read up on installation procedures. Time wise, it took me about 5 hours (start to clean up) to do a small laundry closet just big enough to hold the washer and dryer, and about the same to do a 4 x 4 entry way, but that was much more complex as I was using different sized tiles to create a pattern.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 6:24AM
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Sorry for my flip answer; I didn't want to dicourage you from DIYing the thing...just to make you aware of what you'd be up against.

I am a firm believer that your home is your castle. Many times I have advised homeowners to decorate how 'they want' and not how they think the next owner might want. The whole point of home improvements is to make the home enjoyable for you and your family.

You can DIY well as many other home construction projects; just go in with your eyes open. And, since you will be installing over radiant heat, make sure you understand what's required or be sure the firm you hire to do the work undestands as well.

On-site finishing of hardwood flooring is a whole other matter. You need specialized tools (yes you can rent) and a particular skill in operating the things and some knowledge about the different types of finish materials and their correct application rates and dry times.

We will be curious to know what you decide to do and your experiences with DIY, if you decide to go that route.

Best of luck.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 2:55PM
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My husband and I installed a floating wood floor in our house -- about 1000 square feet. Yes, it took a long time, but it was actually not very difficult. Just time consuming, especially with having to fit it in on the weekends and evenings. We had friends who did a floating laminate floor, and they also had no difficulty. Really, once you've laid a few rows, it becomes pretty mindless. Just make sure you do a lot of reading beforehand, and do the required prepwork.

I would imagine doing a glue down or nailed floor would be rather more difficult. I don't know what option is best for a radiant heat floor -- you will need to do some research on it.

My husband and I have done a lot of tile in our house as well -- the front entranceway (slate; I wouldn't recommend it for beginners. We didn't do as good of a job as we should have), a bathroom floor (easy), and the bonus room floor (400 sq feet. Time consuming, but again, not difficult). We bought a cheap wet tile saw at Lowes, and have used it every time we've tiled. It's held up surprisingly well, considering it cost less than $100.

I'll be frank and honest (and I'm sure some of the contractors on this board won't like hearing this), but we've had better work done when we've done it ourselves. Nearly every contractor we've worked with has done a shoddy job; they were not detail oriented, cut corners, and generally did just sloppy work. And these were people that we investigated fully, got references, etc. and we never went with the cheapest option. We've decided that we would much rather do whatever work possible when we can, because a) it's cheaper, and b) we can do it to our specifications. If you are detail oriented yourself, do the proper research, and follow instructions, there's no reason you can't do the work yourself -- frankly, it's not rocket science.*

My husband and I are computer programmers, and we bought our first house 5 years ago, which give you an idea of how much home renovation experience we have (until we bought our house, none!)

* The exception being electrical or plumbing work. We never attempt any of that ourselves.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 2:56PM
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Thanks for the responses. I think we'll leave it up to the subs to do. My other question has to do with hardwood floors finished on site vs pre-finished engineered. I've heard on-site quality is better, but also heard engineered is so good now that it's the better alternative. thoughts?

    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 7:14PM
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Engineered finishes are pretty darn good, I'd venture to say they're more durable than your average site finished.

What you don't get with engineered though is the smooth continuous surface that you get from a sanded strip floor. Most engineered floors have bevels or microbevels. Some are pretty darn close to a flush fit.

I will say that microbevels aren't the negative that they used to be, engineered floors are pretty mainstream these days, and with familiarity you lose some of the perceived negatives just because they are different.

FWIW, I have engineered wood over radiant hydronic staple-up. Glue-down. I highly recommend Bostiks Best adhesive. Working solo I could glue down around 300 feet a day, I had a straight open area where I had about 600 sqft on one day.

In general you'll get better flooring performance with engineered over RFH that you would with a hardwood strip floor over RFH.

Nail down is not difficult...unless you hit your loop of PEX. lol

You can rent a compressor and nailer/stapler. Or buy and resell on eBay. Glue is an easy one-person job, I think nailing is easier with two people. One to layout/rack the floor, the other to run the nailer.

For glue the only tool you'll need is a notched trowel. Probably rent a floor roller.

Plan on seeing little progress your first day. The first few courses are the most difficult. Subsequent days you'll fly.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2011 at 5:01AM
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I was also looking at the on-site floors and they all seem to have that gymnasium look to them. I don't mind little creases between planks. The guy offering to do the on-site flooring, lays down the 1/4 sawn, sands and applies 3 coats of finish. Also not a big fan of super shiny flooring.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2011 at 12:24PM
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If you have basic woodworking skills and patience, you can lay a hardwood floor. It isn't rocket science, just a lot of work where you need to pay close attention to the details.

For finishes, you have multiple choices available. You don't need to have the high gloss look.

If you haven't already, you should get at least 3 estimates. Since so much of the job is just labor, you'll likely see quite a range of prices.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2011 at 1:14PM
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We (contractors and skilled craftspeople on this board) take no offense with your post, but your opinion about us is very broad. I will admit to having a similar opinion concerning general contractors who also think they're floor experts, so I can understand your prejudice.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so bigoted when it comes to general contractors...they can't all be bad.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2011 at 11:26PM
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My husband and I did a large dining room ourselves with tongue and groove hardwood flooring. Tore up the carpet (a real pain) and had to clean up the floor from all nails holding down the carpet at the edges, dust, etc. Took off the toe moldings also. We had placed foam material on floor, used a saw in the garage - which I learned to do (yeah!), and away we went. BUT, it was hard work and I was younger than now. We also nailed the hardwood (angled the nails in wood to sub floor). Used a compressor. This was the best way for us. Once you get going it is not too bad, but don't be like us and do it when it is hot out doors. We should have done this in the winter or early spring - or even late fall would have been okay.
Would we do it again - yes, but not in as big of a room!
Also, each plank has to be inspected because you don't always get 100% quality planks. Hiring this job out is better, not cheaper. My husband has always been a DIY man - so he would have no one do it but himself - and of course I get draqged into it.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2011 at 10:15PM
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