The popularity of hardwood floors is easy to understand. They bring a feel of warmth and natural beauty to a home. They are relatively easy to clean and maintain. With proper care, they can last for generations. And they typically can increase the value of the homes where they are found.

However, for end-users to realize these benefits, hardwood floors need to be properly installed. Here are six common hardwood floor installation mistakes and how flooring contractors and installers can avoid them.


Failure to Properly Acclimate the Hardwood

The number-one mistake when installing hardwood floors is likely improper acclimation of the hardwood. This can lead to a range of costly problems, including excessive expansion, shrinkage, dimensional distortion and/or structural damage to the boards.

Hardwood flooring is properly acclimated when it is neither gaining nor losing moisture in the indoor environment where it is to be installed, as determined by moisture testing over several days. When and only when that equilibrium has been reached should the installation begin. There is some variation in exactly how much acclimation time is required based on site conditions and type of hardwood, so it is essential that this is thoroughly researched by the installer prior to installation. The best source for this type of information is the manufacturer or the manufacturer’s website, which will almost always have detailed installation instructions.


Failure to Inspect Hardwood Boards Prior to Installation

The best flooring installers realize that they are the final inspectors of the hardwood boards they install. This is critical in today’s litigious society because, once the boards are installed, the end user can assume that they are free from defects and suitable for installation. While hardwood floor manufacturers will likely warrant manufacturing defects in most cases, the installer will be responsible for the labor portion of any claim.

The best approach is for installers to identify any issues as the hardwood boards are pulled from the box and discard those boards that are problematic. If the installer finds a pervasive problem, it is best to halt the installation and order a complete replacement set of boards.


Failure to Deal with Shade Variations in the Boards

Hardwood is milled in “runs” and boards produced from the same run typically have a similar shading. However, larger installations may require boards produced from several different runs, in which case the boards can have significant shade variations. The larger the job, the greater the likelihood that the boards will have come from more than one run of wood.

To avoid a sharp contrast in shading when installing boards from different runs, installers should pull boards randomly from several boxes simultaneously during larger installations. This will mix the boards from the different runs in such a way that the shade variations will blend together and will result in a beautiful look.


Failure to Properly Install Expansion Joints

Since hardwood flooring is made of natural wood, it is almost certainly going to expand and contract with the rise and fall of humidity in the indoor environment where it is installed. Improperly installed expansion joints on the edges of the floor will not accommodate the wood’s natural tendency to expand and contract. As a result, the floor could expand directly into the wall or buckle in the middle, resulting in headaches for both the homeowner and the installer.

The general rule of thumb is that engineered hardwood requires ½” expansion space and solid hardwood will require up to ¾” due to its tendency to expand more than engineered hardwood. The larger the installation, the more expansion space is needed. This space is necessary around all walls, as well as any fixed objects, such as island counters. The required expansion space can vary slightly by manufacturer and hardwood species, so it is important to adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines.


Failure to Properly Space Nails or Staples

It is important to have correct spacing of nails or staples to ensure that the boards are being held down properly in order to avoid any peaking, excessive movement or lippage from board-to-board. Generally, nails or staples should be spaced 10 to 12 inches apart, with at least two nails or staples per board.


Failure to Set Realistic Expectations with End-Users

Hardwood floors still reign supreme among flooring options, thanks their unmatched beauty and ability to increase the value of a home. Despite the obvious benefits, they are, however, not for everyone.

Architects, designers and/or installers need to be clear with end-users that hardwood floors do have some limitations. They are highly susceptible to water damage, dent easily, are vulnerable to scratching, including scratches from pets’ nails, and have a tendency to fade somewhat after several years of exposure to direct sunlight.

It has been said that a satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all. Avoiding the mistakes referenced in this article will enable floor covering installers to more than satisfy their customers with beautiful hardwood floors that enhance the overall ambience of their customers’ homes.