home ready for wood floors?
What your Wood Floor
Contractor should do!
For the short and long term success of your
wood floor installation, responsibility as the installer begins as you
park your truck. You, being possibly the only member of your firm to
actually see the job, must make the following judgments, and decide that the
product in your truck is correct for this particular installation.
See A MUST
USE CHECKLIST BEFORE STARTING A WOOD FLOOR INSTALLATION
Water Must be Properly Drained on
( See what happens when Water &
Wood combine )
Outside--the eave overhang should be
sufficient to prevent rain from flooding the foundation. Gutters to carry
the rain from the roof, and downspouts to exhaust water away from the
foundation are a must. The yard should be graded to sope away from the
foundation. If the lot is heavily wooded and has a lake nearby, with the
product to be installed a 3/4" thick solid random width plank, plan to
use extra expansion, especially within the field. Another alternative would
be to change the product to a laminated plank. Planter boxes are a real
problem especially if the owner added them without regard to soil within
being higher than the floor line inside the house. Never water proofed, with
lots of water to make the posies grow - and the water flows inside.
Garages converted into family rooms are
common, as are patio conversions and no builder will protect beneath these
slabs against moisture - CAUTION! Patios added with insufficient drainage or
caulking under door thresholds are trouble.
Pools and foundations that leak, are higher
than nearby floor surfaces, or that drain or are graded toward the house are
dangerous. As you turn off your truck's motor, look at the house- are any
floor surfaces below the soil line around the house; i.e. NEVER install
solid wood below grade, use laminated only.
Also, as you look at the house, if you notice
that there are several steps up to the front porch, and then when you are
inside the home you are walking on a wood subfloor system and the house has
a basement and the house is built over a "crawl space"; i.e. A
perimeter poured or block foundation with a sill plate and conventional wood
joist system. Before installing any solid wood floor anywhere on the first
level there must be two requirements met by the builder or owner:
- Perimeter vents through the foundation so
located as to provide cross-ventilation with opening area equal to 1
1/2% of the square foot area within the crawl space. Example, a 1000 SF
crawl space house must have 15 SF of vents. Inform the owner the vents
must be left open year-round, even in Fargo, North Dakota!
- The soil within the foundation must be
covered with 6 mil poly-film with 6" lapped joints. See
GRADE LEVEL- Subfloors (graphics) A recent research project
determined that a 1000 SF crawl space house will draw 14 gallons (!) of
water every 24 hours out of the soil inside and outside of the
foundation and send it up into the house! Ground cover and open vents
are a must!
Be Aware of Predictable Sources of Moisture
Sounds silly for a wood floor installer to
survey the exterior of a building, but with your knowledge -and your eyes
open -you can see and sense things others miss. We all are rightfully proud
of a beautifully installed wood floor! How sad it is to return two weeks or
months later and see it destroyed by a predictable and obvious source of
moisture; walk around, look, see, and speak out! Wood Floor Contractors who
increase their professional stature in the eyes of their customers and
increase job satisfaction, will
always have many referrals for more work.
Learn to Read the Danger Signs of Moisture
Inside-- As you walk in the door, be
sensitive to air that is heavy, damp, musty or stagnant. Is the house free
from construction dampness- check plaster, mortar in fireplaces, slabs- do
they feel cool and damp? Plywood subfloor that has expanded, bowed, or the
top layer has curled, delaminated, or stained may be loaded with rainwater.
The clothes dryer must be vented to the outside. Learn about the central
heating system -it must be operating to provide a controlled atmosphere
within the home during and after the flooring is installed.
Electric heat is extremely dry, as are steam
radiators and hot water baseboard- they introduce no moisture into the home,
as does gas forced air. Remember that very dry heat and long winters
followed by humid summers result in a large "swing" in humidity
extremes that will cause excessive expansion/shrinkage in the wood- allow
expansion for solids.
An in-the-floor, or slab, heat (called "Radiant") should never be
covered with any solid wood floor, again because of the not/humid extremes.
For radiant heat use laminated floors only and follow the manufacturer's
recommendations for adhesive and temperature limits.
If the home has humidity controls, suggest
they are set for 40-50% for the benefit of the wood, and the comfort of the
occupants. Likewise, in a dry house, suggest humidification. Look for the
certain signs of heavy moisture, such as paint peeling on door and windows,
water stains, basement dampness, alkali bloom (puffy white crystals),
condensation on cold water pipes or a matching pattern of rust marks, recent
foundation repairs and patches, heavy rust on metal or rusty nail heads with
blue stain in the surrounding wood.
Rooms that have been added on have potential
roof leaks where the tie-in is made and spongy joist/subfloor at the old
house line. Check for vents and ground cover. If the addition is on a slab
look for a moisture barrier and especially check the joint between the old
and new slab. If the room is a converted porch or garage, again, you know
you must both level and surface damp- proof the slab. Make note of door
bottoms to be cut, electrical outlets to be extended, heating fixtures to be
elevated, radiators and appliances needing adjustment for added floor
Be aware of work yet to be done should the
wood floor go in "now;' for instance, an incomplete brick or stone
fireplace, an adjoining bath minus tub and plumbing hookups, paint and
wallpaper. The floor should follow these projects. Since you are the
installer responsible for one of the most important interior surfaces, it is
true professionalism for you to investigate anything that will affect your
work and the ultimate success and satisfaction for your customer.
Follow This List of Subfloor Preparation
Subfloor: The finished floor is only
as good as what is under it. Every installation of wood will require some
degree of attention and correction to the subfloor, maybe nothing more than
a broom- sweep, maybe more. It is crucial for you to properly assess the
condition of the surface over which you are to install a wood floor. If the
subsurface is concrete, check the following:
- Moisture: (Concrete should be 50-60 days old in most sections of North
America.) The easiest, and most accurate test for moisture (see Moisture
Detection Equipment) in concrete is to tape a 2' x 2'
square of poly-film to the slab in 3 or 4 locations (more if the area is
large) and, if practical, place a lamp on the poly, for 24 hours. The
presence of moisture is certain if the slab is discolored, the poly is
cloudy, and especially if water droplets are on the underside. To avoid
the delay, moisture meters are available that will give an instant
reading. There are many more tests, however, these are two of the best.
Another is logic: What is the history of other homes in the area, and the
history of this builder and cement contractor. If the answer is moisture
problems, damp-proof the slab! If the history is problem-free and your
test shows no dampness, go to it! See Moisture Detection Equipment
- Level: The ideal slab is level to
within 1/8" deviation in 10 ft. This amount of variation will never
be discernable in the completed floor. With certain wood floors, and
their required adhesives systems, the adhesive presents a
"bed" that helps level, and 1/4 " in 10' is satisfactory.
To test for level, some can "eyeball',' some have a "floorman's
foot," but best is a 10' straight edge. Place the straight edge, in
various locations over the slab and pivot it over the area as you look
for gaps beneath the edge. Mark the highs to be removed, and the lows
- Sealers or Cutting Agents:
Chemicals used to seal or cure slabs will generally lay on the surface
of concrete, create a barrier against the penetration of wood floor
adhesives or present such a "slick" surface that the adhesive
will not adhere. Ask the builder or cement contractor if such a
substance was applied to the slab. All "tilt wall" buildings
will for certain, have an oil or paraffin-like release agent on the
concrete. An easy quick test is a drop of water on the surface. If it
"beads" rather than spreading and soaking into the slab,
suspect a sealer and plan to remove it. Painted concrete should have the
paint removed, especially if enamel-type or flaking and chipping. Oil
spills must be cleaned.
- Hardness: Lightweight or acoustical
concrete may be very soft, grainy, sandy. Scratch it with the tip of a
knife or screwdriver. Adhesive will have a difficult time holding to a
soft surface so prep will be needed. "Spalled' flaky concrete
surfaces will have to be scoured or sanded to correct. If the job is a
fire damage repair, carefully check the slab condition (and for
- Existing Floor Covering: Peek under
the carpet! Many times the installer arrives expecting wood, and its
concrete and vice-versa. Or particle board. Or VA tile! Find out for
sure ! Old adhesives require removal. "Loose lay" or 66
perimeter glue" sheet goods must be removed. VA tile that is
cracked, curled, missing, showing evidence of moisture or loose must be
removed. Some wood
adhesives will not work properly over resilient floor covering. Use
the proper primer over sheet vinyl to stop plasticizer migration. Some
manufacturers insist upon removal of resilient floors. Removal is always
the best practice !
If the Subsurface is Wood, check:
- Level: Sagging subfloor indicates
weak or twisted joists and will require structural repair from below
(not necessarily within the domain of a wood floor installer !) If the
board or plywood are cupped, or uneven at the joints, sanding will be
- Squeaks: Fix them first, or the new
floor will squeak too ! Plan to re-nail ! What is the joist spacing and
the subfloor thickness? Maybe the squeaks are the indication of a
flexing, weak system. Strip or plank will add strength because they span
the joists. Parquet rides the subfloor and will require added strength.
- Particle Board: DO NOT nail
to, or through, particle board. It does not provide enough
nail-holding strength to control a nail-down wood floor. Nail floors to
multi-layered products or solid lumber only. If it is clean, not oily,
and dense enough not to be loose on the surface, adhesive applied wood
should be okay.
- Expansion: Be sure the wood
subfloor has its own expansion within. Solid boards must be spaced
1/8" to 1/4" between. Plywood sheets must have 1/8" at
all edges. Particle board and hard board, to receive glue-down floors,
should never be installed as 4' x 8' sheets. Always cut to 4' x 4' or
smaller. The installer may have to make corrections.
- Direction: Plywood should be
installed with the face grain running at 90 degrees to the joists to get
the most strength in the subfloor. (i.e. 4' end on a joist and 8' length
across the joists) Diagonal solid subfloor boards should be covered with
plywood (or other) for adhesive floors. If diagonal nail-down is
planned, be sure to run flooring opposite to the subfloor. Never
"marry" a nail-down floorboard to a subfloor board. Split out
and double expansion will occur. This is especially true when nailing
over an old strip or plank floor. The direction must be 90' opposite, or
plan for corrections.
Whether the substrate is wood or concrete, as
you appraise the installation, be particularly careful to note any elevation
changes, or special features in the area that will require special
treatment. Suppose when the carpet is pulled, there is an old floor drain
exposed that will have to be plugged and leveled. A fireplace will require
carefully installed expansion treatment. A sliding glass door track level to
the subfloor. A step-down requiring nosing. A step-up requiring a riser.
Special features omitted in the original pricing of the job can wipe out the
profit expected for the job, or contribute to less than professional
compromise solution and a dissatisfied customer.
Correcting Job Conditions:
It is unlikely you will ever encounter a job
with all the problems identified in the previous section, however, several
on many jobs will prove common. What do you, the installer, do about it?
Make sure the following are in place, signed , and a part of your agreement,
prior to the start of any work:
Product Quote from several sources