Installing Hardwood Floors? Here Are 5 Things You Need to Do First

Getting your floor ready for hardwood installation is a DIY project in itself. You need to remove the old floor and prepare the surface for new flooring.

If you’re having hardwood floors installed, check with your contractor.

Some installers may cover this prep work in the price of your new floor, but you may be able to save money by going the DIY route.

Clear out the room and follow this checklist to get ready for your hardwood floor installation.

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What You’ll Need

  • Pry bar
  • Hammer
  • Broom and dustpan
  • Underlayment and stapler (optional)

1. Remove Baseboards

Use a pry bar to gently pull your baseboards away from the wall and set them in another room for the duration of your flooring project. Make sure you get any baseboard nails out of the wall.

If you have baseboard heaters, remove the covers so your flooring professional can lay the hardwoods under the heaters.

Removing baseboards and carpet to prepare for hardwood installation
Handy Andy removes baseboards and carpet.

2. Remove Carpet and Padding

Pull up your carpet, roll it up as you go, and send it out the door.

With some luck, maybe the carpet padding will come up easily. If the padding is older, it may have hardened, making it a little more difficult to remove.

It’s OK to leave some of the padding and nails if you’ll be removing the sub-floor underneath. But if you’re keeping the sub-floor, make sure to get this layer cleaned up and remove all nails.

Related: More tips for removing carpet

3. Remove Sub-floor

Under your carpet padding, you should find a layer of sub-floor. This may look like particle board, plywood, or diagonal planks.

To make room for your hardwoods, you will probably need to remove the sub-floor, but it depends on your situation. Chat with your floor installer. Consider how high your hardwoods will make your floor, and whether your hardwoods need to be even with an adjacent floor.

Removing sub-floor before installing hardwood floors
Eric destroys the sub-floor.

If you decide to remove your sub-floor, use a pry bar to get between the cracks and start prying it up. Some pieces will come out in big chunks, while other areas may be nailed down hard. Get the big stuff first, then go back and use a hammer or pry bar to remove the nails holding the remaining pieces.

Restoring your fixer upper? See my home improvement guide >>

4. Clean and Sweep Everything

At this point you will hopefully find a layer of underlayment intact under your sub-floor, but it will be covered in a lot of debris. Remove any remaining nails, staples and debris, and sweep the underlayment until you’re left with a clean space for your future floor.

5. Lay Underlayment

The underlayment is sometimes made of asphalt paper, plastic or foam to act as a moisture and sound barrier, provide added insulation, and create a smooth surface for the floor to attach to. If you don’t have underlayment, then talk with your floor installer. You may need to install underlayment, or they might do it for you.

You can install underlayment by rolling out asphalt paper and stapling it to the floor. Check out this underlayment tutorial to get it done.

We luckily found asphalt paper under our sub-floor, so we were all set.

You’re Ready to Install Hardwood Floors

Your installer will bring the hardwood boards to your home to start adjusting to the temperature, since wood expands and contracts in different environments. After a couple weeks, the wood will be ready for installation.

Mid-century modern living room after installing hardwoods

Once the installation begins, you’ll have a new floor in no time. Our contractor did a great job and installed our living room and dining room floor in less than a week.

While hardwoods are risky for droppers like me (I’ve only dropped and broken one laptop so far), they sure do look pretty.

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