How to Develop a Plan for Wood Flooring Layout
The installation crew enters and rolls out felt across the entry at the front door, into the dining room to the right and into the study to the left. They start the first row left to right across the front door headed toward the rear of the house. Five runs later they catch up the front wall around the cased opening in the dining room. Four feet later they go into the study. They continue left to right through the entry and dining room for 16 feet, 6 feet across the main center hallway, into the 20-foot-wide great room and other rooms off the hallway, 13 feet across the great room into the adjoining kitchen with a reversal toward the front, to the back wall and into the 11-foot breakfast area and bay window. It is a continuous run of 53 feet from front to back. The floors are sanded and finished, and in November the owners move in.
Later in the summer, in late July, the floor buckles at the hallway to great room cased opening and about 2/3 across the great room where the flooring extended into the kitchen and eating area. Everyone screams, "excessive moisture!" The kitchen floor was not buckled. The moisture content of the flooring ranges from 8 percent to 11 percent, averaging 9-10 percent. Some cupping is present with the most obvious cupping toward the rear half of the home. There is still expansion space along all walls.
What is wrong with this picture? I've seen it happen many times. With any hiccup in the environment this floor will likely fail. A continuous 53 foot run from front to back of the home; a run wide enough to be a gym floor and with no spacing every 2, 3, or 4 feet like you find in a gym floor. "Excessive moisture," you say, like the others report? No, 8 to 11 percent moisture content is pretty normal in this area during the summer.
And what about the obvious tapered runs? Wrong, game plan! Start with the lay out. Little thought was made of where the flooring was going, and even less thought was given about where to start. The front entry was 11 feet wide and as a starting point the entire house was squared to this 11-foot run. This run was also broken by the 36-inch door, door frame, 2 side lights, a corner 24 inches from the side light, and a short 12-inch wall with column separating the entry from the dining room 24 inches from the opposite side light. Any of these items can be off by just 1/4 inch and the flooring along the opposite walls will be angled.
Let's consider a better game plan. Look for the longest straightest continuous run that is not the front or back of the home. In most cases this is somewhere through the center of the home. In this house the hallway wall fit this requirement with the rear wall chosen as the starting line. After selecting the starting line check to see if an island or a stairway creates a problem when the flooring meets on the other side. Pull the starting line 3/4 inch plus the width of the flooring (remember expansion allowance), from one end of the home to the other. I like a string line for the long runs; you can add more nails near the ends to adjust the line left or right for squaring to the walls. This particular house was 60+ feet from left to right. Now measure to all parallel walls, particularly the front wall and back wall to check for square to the hallway and adjust as necessary. Adjust the starting line to split "off-square" conditions between starting walls and pull up wall. If the variation is too great advise the builder and homeowner the condition and the looks that will result. Give them options on where to locate the off-square runs.
The following should be considered when laying out a floor for both engineered and solid flooring, but solid flooring requires the most attention to layout because of the greater width coefficient.
Some general rules to remember:
• Nail down flooring expands most in the direction laid, away from the tongue.
• Solid wood flooring expands and shrinks little end to end.
• For width runs over 20 feet consider starting in the center or at a point to reduce the total run to less than 20 feet and reversing the direction at the starting line.
• Consider the longest end to end run of the structure as the starting line.
• Check for focal points that will be impacted by the flooring, entry, fire place and hearth, hallway, etc.
• Check joist direction for establishing direction of flooring.
• With slabs the flooring will generally follow the greatest dimension of the room.
• Establish where expansion gaps are necessary, stone hearth, slate entry, exterior sliding doorway, etc.
• Where smaller expansion gaps are preferred consider an end layout or starting the flooring at the structure and laying away.
• Changing direction of the flooring is often necessary, plan for changes in the doorway, cased opening, room transition, etc. Even for installation in a one or two room area a game plan is necessary. The best look is to orient strip or plank flooring along the long dimension of the room. This is most often perpendicular to joist direction of wood framed floors. Work along the longest wall, or as in the photo (Photo 1) the starting line would run through one jamb of the doorway run parallel to walls and square to adjoining rooms and features. A common focal area in a large great room is the fire place. A line out along the front edge of the hearth can be squared with the far wall and adjusted to include a full width board (Photo 2). This can balance the fill in on both sides of the hearth. Also, if the flooring is laid away from the stone hearth the 3/4-inch expansion gap can be reduced to 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch, which is similar to a grout line and can be filled with a colored silicon type sealer. Remember the flooring tends to expand in the direction laid, away from the hearth.
What if you made a mistake? Find out early on. Say you are installing flooring and after 2/3 of the installation you measure to the far wall and one end is closer by 1 1/2 inches than the other end. Now is almost too late. If you discovered this earlier gradually tightening the closer area and loosening the other end to gain width could straighten the run to the far wall. Now you have a choice either take up the flooring installed or adjust every run to the far wall.
For pattern floors, boarders, features at doorways, etc. (Photos 4 and 5).
• Make a sketch.
• Show direction of installation.
• Reference how tongues are oriented.
• Schedule the sequence of installation for each area.
• Establish a starting line.
• Measure and square all included room(s).
• Install starting run.
• Proceed with installation and measure frequently.
Attention to detail and writing the game plan on the work order or job ticket can make you more productive and prevent trouble later as the home in the sunny south illustrates.