Considerations Before Attemping to DIY Installation of Engineered Wood Flooring Over Plywood

This is the first of several posts about our journey to installing hardwood floors for the first time. I want to share with you the good, the bad and the ugly in this series so you have an idea of what to expect in order to find out how hard it is to install hardwoods yourself! Before you begin your project, keep a few of these considerations in mind as you starting your planning process.  

Why I Chose to Replace Carpet with Hardwoods

This is a photo of the space from the previous owners of our home.The carpet is shaggy and has a dull brown color that can hide pretty much everything and anything. While that’s good for hiding, it’s really not good for knowing how clean the carpet is. I wanted to replace the carpet not only for aesthetics, but also for the non-allergy reasons as well. Additionally, my kids are habitual spillers of everything, so I personally wanted to have hardwoods in most of the flooring in my home.

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A few years ago, I turned the space into a temporary photo studio (I’m a family photographer). I tried to convince him to put hardwood floors in there at that time, but he didn’t want to take on a massive project, especially with us having a newborn at the time. Since I needed a flat place to lay my photography floor drops, he built me a temporary platform instead. It worked great. But …

photo studio upstairs loft room

I wasn’t too keen on having our second living space becoming a studio. After living with this set up for two years, he finally caved into setting up this space as a photo studio for me! Hubby of the year award goes to Ryan!

However, before he started the project, he wanted me to be aware of ALL the things that could increase the scope, time and cost of the project (like all good engineers would do). And as a former project manager, I couldn’t be more elated. However, he knew that my end game was making sure we finished on time. 

Today, I’m sharing with you all of those risk factors that could increase the scope, time and cost of your project if you were to complete hardwood flooring installation on your own.

Before You Install Hardwoods, Consider These Potential Obstacles

Time Investment

In order to best estimate the time the project will take, you’ll need to look at the trim work, how level your floor is and how many transitions you will need to take into account. For example, if you have a balcony railing edge or door transitions, those areas add a few more hours or even days. Also, I would pad in a few days if you know that you have a non-level floor.

We had all of the above: a seven foot balcony railing, two stair transitions and three bedroom transitions! Those definitely increased the time of the project. Originally, we estimated that if we worked most week nights and a few full weekend days, we could get it done within a month. In reality, we started in mid-May and finished at the end of June. All in all, thee was a total of 60 hours that we had invested between the both of us (mostly Ryan though). 

What we knew going in was prep time would be THE MOST time consuming part of it all. Before starting, we knew we were going to need to level the floor because of how often the floor creaked when we walked over it.In the image below, the grey bar is a steel straight edge so you can see how uneven our floors were. Look at that gap!  The prep time of getting the flooring level took about 40 hours because our floors were so uneven. 

So, the lesson here is: estimate your timeline and add a few days if you have a ton of transitions. What you’ll want to account for is how long you’ll be without normal flooring. For us, this meant that we had to make sure that all the little feet around the house avoided that area until the project was complete.

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Hardwood Flooring Product Choice

There are so many options when it comes to hardwood flooring choices. Do you want real hardwoods? Or do you want more forgiving pre-finished engineered hardwoods? If you want pre-finished engineered hardwoods, what are the chances you want an option to re-finish them in the future?

Something else to consider is whether you have hardwood flooring already in your home.

  • Do you want to match the current flooring?
  • Do you plan on removing the flooring in the other rooms in the future to match due to budget constraints?
  • What’s your end goal – do you want to update this room or the entire house?
  • Are you going to be buying the hardwood floors in batches for each room?
  • Will the company you originally purchase your floors from still carry that brand/line/color in the future when you are ready to tackle that next room?

I know, lots to consider, right?

We compared prefinished solid hardwood flooring, unfinished hardwood flooring, and prefinished engineered hardwood flooring and we decided on having the best of both worlds – prefinished engineered hardwood flooring. While I would love to have solid hardwood flooring, I just know that my family is super rough with our floors (I mean, with four kids….). With pre-finished engineered hardwood flooring, I know that it is a little more resilient for little feet that love dragging and riding their toys on it. Additionally, engineered flooring prevents our floor from shifting during expansion and contraction due to the crazy midwest weather. We decided to install engineered hardwoods upstairs as an affordable alternative to real hardwoods. Engineered hardwoods provided the durability that we needed with our four kids running around. While we do have real hardwoods downstairs, what we learned was that they aren’t as durable when you’ve got four littles all under the age of 7 running around and riding their bikes and walkers inside the house. Yes, I could always do a new poly job, but that would require me to move all the furniture out and leaving the house a few days! I opted for engineered hardwoods because the durability of the engineered hardwoods would at least be a little more forgiving, and if needed, I had one last chance to fix it (for example, if I were to ever sell my home). While I know with real hardwoods, it is the easiest to “refinish” and make brand new, I opted for engineered hardwoods because it would be the most durable. 

In addition, I also have one more flooring project that we are going to delay until next spring that we’d need the same color hardwood flooring for. We decided to use a beautiful collection from Mullican Flooring because (1) their handcrafted White Oak Provincial from the Dumont Collection engineered hardwoods carried a 25 year warranty and (2) they’ve been around forever so I know that my flooring will be there when we’re ready to start our next project.

Deciding Whether Wood Should Match Room to Room and Throughout the House

I know some designers and flooring specialists say that if you do it right, you can definitely mix different types of wood room to room. However, from a “normal person” point of view, I remember going house shopping and seeing floors that didn’t match and thinking “that’s another X amount of dollars I’ll have to go fix.” If you want my unsolicited advice, stick to creating a sense of uniformity and space if you want to sell your home quickly in the future. If you search on various designer boards, you’ll see varying opinions on this. When I DIY, I tend to stick to more traditional and conservative design knowing that I’d like to sell my house one day. Sure, I might go with certain trends at the time for home decor, but when it comes to DIY projects that are impacting the structure of my home, I tend to lean towards a more timeless appeal. Keep that in mind as you decide.

For our home, my end goal was to ensure there was a cohesive look to the hardwoods on both levels of our home, which meant I had to make sure to match the flooring color.  However, I did decide on different “types” of hardwoods. Because of that, there would be some minor visual variations with having different types of hardwoods in the house that were the same color. Since the spaces were divided by a staircase leading up from downstairs to upstairs, it actually made it harder to notice those variations.

Another difference is that the plank width of the hardwoods on the lower level actually varied in three different sizes from 2″ to 4″. We chose to go with a uniform size upstairs (at 5″) to make the project a little easier. 

So I know I talked about making sure you have a cohesive visual look, but that doesn’t mean that the other things can’t vary (plank size, hardwood type).

Underlayment and Floor Levels

Do you know whether your floor is level or not? This is a huge game changer, especially in the scope and cost of your project. Depending on how much leveling you’ll need, it could increase the cost of the underlayment that you’ll need to get.

After pulling up our second story carpet, we found that our subfloor was completely unlevel. There was a HUGE gap. So our options to leveling the floor consisted of either using self leveling cement (which would mean the kids would not be able to walk to their rooms) or using additional plywood and other leveling methods that didn’t include drying time. We chose the latter because we didn’t want to have to deal with the dry time. I’ll explain that process in another post. (We used an unconventional method.)

Transitions for Flooring Leading to Staircases and Door Entry Ways

Transitions are also important. If you have transitions already from carpet/tile to hardwoods in the house, make sure that those transitions match in your project.

We had two areas that lead to a downstairs and step-up room that we had to consider how we would approach adding the wood. We also had a section where we had railing that we had to fill a gap for (and where I had to steer Ryan away from really bad design even though he worked hard to functionally create something). So if you have a floor that leads down to carpeted staircases or up to another flooring transition, you have to make sure that you do it right! Count how many of those transitions you have. I would say add about 2-3 hours per transition area.

Having the Right Tools and Equipment

If you are tackling the installation of hardwood flooring yourself, make sure you have the right tools for the job. My hubs went to Harbor Freight and found a lot of the inexpensive tools did the job pretty well. You don’t necessarily need all the expensive brand name ones. A portable miter saw was a must. If you get one, make sure that you have a wet/dry vacuum hooked up to it, especially if you are in a living space. You do not want to get all the dust everywhere. Since his miter saw and wet/dry vacuum where not of the same model, we soon realized that the ports were not universal from one brand to the next. Save yourself the headache and get an adapter combo kit! I wish we had known about this before we started on this project.

I can’t wait to show you the reveal of our new floors!

things to consider before installing hardwoods

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Working mom, loving wife, lifestyle blogger, family photographer, and the ultimate purveyor of the "honey do list".

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