Considerations in Do-It-Yourself Hardwood Flooring

I am now the proud owner of over $7,000 in hardwood flooring. It cost as much as my car! We charged it to our Citi Cash Returns card in order to grab the extra cashback at the time, which saved us another $350 on top of the $400 we got back last month for paying our taxes owed with it.

Types of Flooring Available
If you’ve ever thought about installing your own flooring, here is a quick review of our thought process. There are three major choices these days:

  1. Laminate Flooring. Also called “Pergo”, after a popular manufacturer. This is essentially a picture of what hardwood looks like, glued on top of wood chip composite. Think Ikea furniture. It the cheapest type, you can easily install it yourself, but it can’t be refinished.
  2. Traditional Hardwood Flooring. This is a entire piece of solid hardwood. More expensive, hard to install yourself, can be refinished multiple times, will probably outlive you.
  3. Engineering Hardwood Flooring. This is 1/16″ to 3/16″ of real hardwood glued on top of a plywood base (see picture). It costs about as much as traditional hardwood (or even more if comparing to unfinished hardwood), but you can install it yourself which can result in a net savings. With a quality floor, you can still refinish 1-2 times if desired.

Our Decision
Unless you’re really experienced and have lots of time, most DIY people either choose laminate flooring or engineered hardwoods. We first looked at laminate, aka “Pergo”. Laminate flooring is really affordable, starting at about $1.50 per square foot (sf). It can also be more scratch-resistant. However, if a scratch or a moisture bubble does occur, you can’t really do much about it. I think laminate is a perfectly fine flooring choice, but we personally did not like the look of it. I’ve been to nearly 100 open houses, and I can spot laminate flooring instantly; it simply does not look like real hardwood.

I’m probably biased though, because our last two houses both had some beat-up hardwood floors that were over 50 years old, and we loved the the look. Scratches, dents, and age simply added character to us. With a good engineered hardwood, you can get a wear layer that is nearly as thick as solid hardwood, and can also last indefinitely. In the long run, we felt that paying more for the look and durability of real hardwood was worth it to us. After installation, you can’t tell the difference between solid hardwood floors. A high quality engineering hardwood can cost $5/sf or more, but they start at around $3/sf.

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Resale value wasn’t really a huge concern for us, but is something to consider. I’m sure real hardwood flooring adds more value to a house, but I don’t know if all of the cost differential between hardwood vs. laminate is recovered.

Installation
The easiest type of installation for a weekend warrior is the floating floor setup. First, you need a flat subfloor. This could be an old floor like vinyl, ceramic, or even an old hardwood floor. Second, you place a thin foam underlayment on that subfloor, which smooths out minor imperfections and also serves as a noise and moisture barrier. Third, you either click or glue together the hardwood pieces so that you have one huge piece of flooring that “floats” on top. Nothing is nailed or glued directly to the house.

Easier said than done, of course, but that’s the basic idea. Here are some tips by a professional installer, as well as some pictures from a DIY amateur. Wish me luck!

Comments

  1. Seems like a pretty good choice Jonathon. We ended up using the laminate flooring from Costco. We got it on sale for $1.39 a sq ft and used it in our lake house. I wanted hardwoods but we had to be careful not to spend too much on materials for the lake house due to the overall prices in the neighborhood. We are very happy with the overall quality of it and Costco’s flooring comes with the foam attached to each piece. This ended up giving the floor a more solid feel as compared to the foam being laid on the floor first.

    All that being said, we have a lot of real hardwood in our main house and it is in a neighborhood that I wouldn’t consider putting in Pergo type flooring. I totally understand where you are coming from.

  2. I too went back and forth between the engineered hardwood vs. laminate but ultimately decided on laminate due to owning several large dogs. In that scenario, scratch resistance became the overriding concern. (And it really works – one of our dogs does the “scooby doo” running in place and there’s not a scratch on it!) But I agree with you that the engineered hardwood looks more real and probably would hold up better when dealing with moisture issues, etc. Good luck with the install!

  3. I never really understood hardwood in kitchens either, I just figured those people were simply neater than us :)

    We already have some nice tile in our kitchen and bathrooms, so no hardwoods there.

    We can’t stand carpet, especially with allergies and dogs that shed like crazy. And you have to keep replacing carpet as well…

  4. "Mo" Money says:

    Last year I installed engineered hardwood floors in the den and the master bedroom. I glued it down to a concrete base. That increased the cost, but I now have a solid floor that sounds more like true hardwood when you walk on it. I didn’t like the sound of the floating floor. But that’s just me.

  5. Sounds like you have a few weekends of floor installation ahead of you! How many rooms are you planning on doing and have you decided on glue or floating? Best of luck though!

    We bought a house that has hardwoods in the kitchen a few months ago. It looks good, but we just found out our dishwasher leaks which caused both the floor to buckle and mold to grow (and grow fast). If it were tile, no problems, just fix the dishwasher, clean the floor and you’re done.

  6. I know that real hardwood is beautiful, and I’ll probably have that in my next house. But in our current house, we decided to go with the laminate — even before they made it so easy with the clicking and the attached underlayment. It was because it is so easy to keep clean. It actually wasn’t that cheap at the time — but it was so easy to install that it seemed like a good choice.

    When you first do hardwood it looks great, but then you get scratches, dents and sometimes even dirt just digs into it. My cousin complained that her floors never get really really clean, and she loves my cheap floor because it looks exactly the way it did the day we installed it. It’s not the same, I have no illusions that it’s real wood, but it is fine for me.

    I’m also of the ilk that actually likes carpeting. My husband doesn’t, like a lot of people I know, they like hardwood with an occasional throw rug here and there. I actually love wall to wall carpet and I would be willing to have it steam-cleaned every week and have it under my feet when I walk around. To me, it always feels nice to have carpet underfoot. I have a fantasy about a nice big Hollywood style ranch in the 70′s, where they had wall-to-wall carpet everywhere (except the bathrooms and kitchens of course), and the big swimming pool in the backyard. To me, that was really the good life!

  7. Where did you get your wood?

  8. Don’t you have to pay a fee (2.9% or something like that) when you pay your taxes with a credit card? Granted you would still earn 2.1% if your reward was 5%, but you didn’t mention this fee.

  9. I’ve installed real hardwood in three different houses now, and it’s not a difficult DIY job. However, I’ve never done a floating installation with real hardwood. I hate working with glues, so my recommendation is if you’re going to spend the money on real hardwood, buy/rent a compressor and air nailer and make the installation permanent and solid.

    FYI: you can purchase a hardwood floor air nailer from Harbor Freight Tools for about the amount it costs to rent one from Home Depot for a week.

  10. Wow – I forgot to say Good Deal with the cash returns card! $350 back – that is so great. Yeah and a lot of cards have a limit on the cash back of like $300. To buy $7K worth of stuff and get 5% back is so cool! And I guess you must have owed $8K on your taxes? But do you have to pay a penalty when owing that much (that’s more than 10% of your total taxes, right?)

  11. Hardwood doesn’t always add more value than laminate. In some climates the hardwood warps because of humidity levels or dryness and then you can never fix it. Laminate, because it isn’t nailed down and floats above the subfloor can expand and contract better and in certain climates is a better choice.

  12. JTMurdock says:

    I just put down Pergo in my closets. I had very nasty metal doors on all my closets and wanted to take them out, but the catch is they were on tracks that had to go with them. So, what do I do? PERGO!

    Worked out pretty nice, cost me around $250 to do it, but I like the look of the floors in the closets now and it’s very easy to clean now. Also, I love wood doors, so now I’m almost done replacing the closet doors as well and it’ll cost me around $400 to do that.

    I’m seriously considering an engineered stone for the kitchen and dining room floors.

  13. Another thing to consider is that you can’t install hardwood below grade, but you can install laminate below grade.

    I just did a remodel job in a bedroom in the basement, and laminate was really the only alternative to carpet. I would have loved to do hardwood, and would have shelled out the extra dough to do it, but all the pros I talked to said I had to go with laminate below grade.

    I went with Wilson Art laminate, which is higher quality than Pergo, and am very happy with the way it turned out. Simple to install and it looks great. It does have a hollow sound to it when you walk across it, but I think that’s attributed to the underlayment.

    -Grant

  14. We just had the fir flooring in our kitchen refinished! It was the second priciest part of our <$3500 kitchen remodel. Well worth the cost; it looks amazing!

    I love hardwoods, and they’re the best choice for those with allergies. Enjoy your floors and good luck with the installation!

  15. Congrats on the hardwood. With our previous house (which we built ourselves), after living there 7 years, we replaced the living room & hall with pre-finished engineered hardwood. I installed this myself, but I home construction experience. The right tools will make the job go much smoother. Just prepare for back strains! Our engineered hardwood in this house had a “cushion-y” feel when you walked across it, but we loved it. Word of advice, if you have a wood subfloor, consider putting screws in the subfloor next to all the nails that hold the subfloor down. If the subfloor is nailed, over the years, the nails will loosen & squeak even if glue was applied to the joist below the subfloor. This is much less likely to happen when the subfloor is screwed down.

    In our current house (which we had custom built 4 years ago), we have true maple hardwood throughout (except for tile in the bathrooms & laundry rooms) and we love it. My only complaint is that now my wife wants area rugs in all the rooms, which is an additional hidden cost (IMO)! However, the hardwood is easy to clean and maintain.

    I agree with the statements about allergies & carpets. Anyone with allergies should consider any of the three alternatives that Jonathon outlines. This, in addition to a central vac system, has helped my wife’s (bad) allergies tremendously.

  16. As John said, the key to a good hardwood installation is a solid subfloor. If your subfloor is OSB, rip it out, and then glue and screw plywood. If the subfloor is solid, at least screw it down every 4′.

    And just my 2 cents, but with a $7k investment in hardwood flooring, I agree with Derek–do the job right by nailing it down rather than doing a floating floor.

  17. I have been considering taking carpet out of one room at least and putting down some “wood” flooring. One reason is that I want to put a pool table in the room, so lots of traffic, chalk and it seems to me that a solid floor for the table to set on will keep it level better.

    I am pretty sure under the carpet is concrete, any considerations on that being the ground?

  18. Four years ago shortly after we bought our house, we replaced tile with “wood.” Well, not really hardwood, but bamboo. It says that bamboo flooring is more environment friendly and more durable. Did you ever consider that?

  19. Philip – With concrete subfloor, most people seem to recommend engineered hardwood because with solid you’ll see to install a plywood subfloor first ($$). You can still glue-down or float.

    Sun – Yes, bamboo is technically a grass but otherwise seems to be sold like any other wood. You can buy solid bamboo or engineered bamboo, just depends on your tastes. I don’t know that it’s that much more durable than some of the harder woods. I hear the cheap stuff for $2/sf tends to be greener and not as hard/durable.

  20. Here’s my question- I bought a house 2 years ago with laminate/Pergo floors and then got the house’s foundation fixed. There has been some shifting and some of the floorboards are loose now, some of them are a bit damaged too from other issues (slight warping, big gashes, etc). We know how to install it now but does anyone know how you would go about fixing these problems?

  21. Annie –
    If you can figure out the exact manufacturer & model of the laminate, you could order replacement planks and then swap them out.

    Swapping them out is basically unininstalling and then reinstalling the boards. You will generally need to remove the baseboard moulding and then lift up all the planks until you reach the damaged boards in order to swap it out.

    I don’t know of any mechanism for just pulling up a single board from the middle of a floor and then replacing it cleanly – the snap-lock mechanism of most laminate would prevent that…

  22. I did a glue-down engineered hardwood on 600 sqft of our new home the weekend we moved in. The first thing I did was rip up the carpet. Mrs. PT thought I was crazy. :)

    It turned out beautiful but it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Luckily I had a renovator friend of mine help me kick it off and show me the ropes.

    Oh, and I avoided spending several thousand dollar by doing it all myself and not using the builder with their ridiculous markup.

  23. Great post. I’m looking at refinishing our 50+ year-old hard wood floor, but it’s got a few areas where moisture has crept in the “buckled” the floor boards. Any suggestions?

    A few floor guys have said the floor is in really good shape and just requires a few individual board replacements, sanding, and a few coats of stain (or whatever).

    I simply hate the idea of moving all my stuff out of the house and sleeping somewhere else for a few weeks (the smell, two babies at home, too).

  24. I simply want to know if it is unheard of someone putting Pegro floors on top of hardwood floors, because I do not want to refinish them. I will not glue them on the floors, but I will use the snap (click) on method.

  25. We are taking down the wall between our carpeted dining room and our laminate kitchen, and we want to replace the flooring with engineered wood. We have a dog and two boys and are concerned about the durability, as this is the hub of our home. Also, we installed the laminate a few years ago, so the subfloor is is good shape, but the carpet has never been replaced. Will we have to have a entirely new subfloor in the space? Finally, I keep hearing about a hollow sound as opposed to a solid sound. What is the best way to combat that issue?

  26. Arif Saifee says:

    Hi
    I just bought a new home pre-built home from a reputed builder. I like everything about the home except the hard wood floor that the
    builder pre-installed. The wood is oak but the grain is very prominent and the color is very dark for my liking. I can live with the color, but the very prominent grain makes me go yuck!! Is there anyway I can hide the grains and possible make the hardwook look ligther?

    Thanks

  27. Deborah W says:

    Hi…I’m new to flooring as we are buying our first home that needs new flooring. We had in mind to put in engineered hardwood, but after the floor people went in to measure, they noticed that under the old carpet there is asbestos (sp?) tile that we can’t sand so the glue would stick. I’m really not a big fan of laminate and we really have a some-what limited budget…and I REALLY don’t want carpet! I’ve read that engineered hardwood can be floated…but is the kind that can be floated much more expensive? It’s looking to me like we’re gonna have to go laminate…any other suggestions?

  28. Laminate Flooring says:

    Nice Blog! Laminate flooring is the best option for flooring your home. Take your time, and find out as much information as you can, and you will save yourself a hefty sum of money as well as gaining a classic, good looking floor, if you do it yourself. It is quite durable and has a huge variety of styles as compared to other flooring options. Its easy installation is also one of the added advantage for DIY.

  29. I am considering the floating click together type of flooring for my house. My main concern is that I have kids and animals all over my house all the time. The carpet we have is always trashed from stuff being tracked in and/or spilled everywhere.

    Will this type of flooring hold up to the abuse it will undergo in my house?

  30. Totta Hardwood Floors says:

    Do it yourself projects are can be a good idea for a smaller project but if you are considering a larger flooring renovation it is always smart to consult a professional.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] looking to install your own wood flooring, you might want check out my previous post on picking out what type of flooring to buy and how to install it. We had a concrete subfloor, and we chose to float an engineered hardwood flooring over it. This [...]

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