With the popularity of intricate hardwood patterns rising comes the need for advanced installation skill and know-how. We checked in with hardwood installation experts to find out what you need to know to install these floors beautifully and properly.
“Pattern floors have always had a certain amount of interest from the design community,” said Jason Elquest, owner of Blackhawk Floors in Scottsdale, Arizona. “With social media and design websites like Houzz and others, it gives the average consumer the ability to see some of the possibilities.”
When it comes down to it, these patterns have a timeless appeal that will simply never go out of style, says Ben Totta, owner and operations manager of Kansas City, Missouri-based Totta Hardwoods. “I think it has to do with their general simplicity myself. Herringbone is identical length boards which are laid in alternating perpendicular. Basketweave is really just two elements repeated throughout the floor. Simple, yet very stunningly beautiful when built across a whole floor.”
The key to enjoying these designs starts with proper installation, Totta added. “It’s vital to learn and understand how to install them correctly, that’s where it starts. This also helps in the design selection stage as you help guide a customer to what is fitting for their space.”
The experts all agree that proper installation starts with education and ends with implementation.
“Installers need to stay sharp when tackling a pattern floor installation,” Elquest advised. “Factors that are often ignored or taken for granted while installing a [traditional] strip floor will cause major issues with pattern floors. These include, but are not limited to, acclimation of both the jobsite and the product, subfloor prep, layout, installation technique, and sand and finishing.”
Though installing traditional plank flooring is relatively simple compared to installing a pattern floor, some things remain the same for both, like the importance of proper subfloor preparation.
“In order to ensure the longevity of these patterns, proper subfloor moisture barrier and adhesive is essential,” said Michael Dittmer, owner of Michael Dittmer Wood Floors in Putnam, Illinois. “Proper splines and grooving insures pattern pieces stay level and true over the years.”
In fact, flatness should be as close to perfect as possible, Elquest says. “We will often pour a skim coat of self-leveler on the entire floor to bring the flatness into specification. Notice, I am using the term flat and not level. There is a difference, and if ‘level’ is written in a contract, that could be a problem.”
Why the emphasis on flatness? Well, if the floor is not flat enough, the pattern will start to grow and your working lines will not stay the same, Elquest advises. “It is very important to keep your floor following the working/layout lines in order make the installation successful. This is especially important with a pre-finished floor. It is a little more forgiving with a custom finished floor.”
This brings us to another important factor when it comes to installing hardwood patterns, and one of the biggest differences between these and traditional installations: layout.
“Much more time is spent in layout and planning,” said Totta. “You use a center layout method almost exclusively as opposed to a wall-line layout for straight laid floors. In general, they are much more time consuming of an install, so you need to factor that into your pricing. Patience is key. Make as many minor corrections as you can toward perfection (though you’ll never quite achieve it), or else you’ll end up with large problems later on.”
Installers should be aware that it takes time to grasp and master layout and planning. “Center layout as well as keeping parallel and perpendicular lines throughout the installation are essential for a quality installation,” Dittmer added. “Much more time is required to keep your pattern straight and square in any room setting. The installation time is usually three to four times longer than traditional plank floor.”
Dittmer says that some of the challenges to be aware of when installing pattern floors are things like going around obstacles such as an island in a kitchen or transitioning from room to room, and keeping a square and perpendicular pattern throughout. He recommends using lasers, chalk lines and squares to keep a true installation throughout the process.
“One would not believe the challenge it is to go around a 4 x 8 island in the middle of a kitchen,” said Dittmer. “On a recent installation, we lost over a half a day of time just from going around a kitchen island to keep our pattern perpendicular and square. We chalked lines, but still weren’t able to meet up perfectly on the finishing side of the island. After some perseverance, we were able to identify that the weight of the island—because of the granite countertop—caused some change in subfloor elevation, which contributed to our inability to complete the pattern on the finishing side of the island.”
Once the layout is set, making sure that pattern floors are adhered well and installed properly will ensure the greatest longevity. “I’d recommend employing adhesive as well as nailing to your installation method, it will increase the hold and solidness, Totta said. “Also maintain tongue and groove joints throughout all sides of every piece if possible.”
Whether the job calls for gluing or nailing, as always, be sure to follow manufacturer guidelines for both. “They will be very specific for trowel size and application technique,” Elquest said. “Also, pay attention to guidelines on nail assist/glue assist techniques and any proprietary guidelines from either the adhesive or flooring manufacturer.”
Luckily, manufacturers are doing what they can to help simplify these intricate installations. “Manufacturers have made installation easier due to the better milling abilities available now,” Elquest said. “Also, adhesives, lasers, and planetary sanders have decreased the learning curve when it comes to pattern floors.”
There are a few manufacturers that will custom mill products for the installer to make installation quicker and easier, according to Jon Namba, owner of Namba Services in Salt Lake City, Utah. One such manufacturer is Oshkosh Designs, which has developed a sheet process of installing herringbone floors to expedite the installation as well as to allow the installer to put in a more accurate pattern floor.
And as always, high quality tools help increase your repeatability in the quality of your work, Totta says. “Tool innovations are constantly helping us push the limits of what’s achievable in the field. Particularly good saws—track saws are a fantastic help—are very useful in these installations.”
For installers looking to learn more about these installations, Namba says look no further than the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). “The National Wood Flooring Association is the premier association to get proper technical training that is recognized by the wood flooring industry.”
Specifically, Totta recommends NWFA’s Intermediate Installation course which highlights how to do proper layout, and how to install a herringbone pattern, as well as NWFA University, which he says has some great online courses on installation for at-home learning. And aside from the NWFA coursework, the networking among peers is an additional learning tool, he says. “Rubbing shoulders with other installers from all over the country in these hands-on courses is invaluable in my opinion and personal experience.”