Flooring Installation Best Practices

A Complete Guide to Flooring Installation for the Home Improvement DIYer

Published: January 8th, 2023

Home improvement projects don’t always require calling in the professionals. With access to so many resources, DIYers are able to transform their homes with their own hands. The gratification after a remodel is greatly multiplied when admiring the results of your hard work. We want everyone to experience that feeling and that encouraged us to create this Flooring Installation Best Practices Guide.

What's Covered:

  • Flooring or Painting First
  • What is Acclimation
  • Does All Flooring Need to Settle
  • When to Use Underlayment
  • Moisture Vapor Barrier
  • Can I Install This Flooring Over That Flooring
  • Dealing With Uneven Floors
  • Resources

Flooring or Painting First

When remodeling their homes, many people ask, “What comes first?”. Do you paint first? Or should you install your flooring first? What about the ceiling? The motto is to start with the messiest job and work down. Following these best practices will help you save time, money, and achieve beautiful results in your home.

Ceiling

It is best practice to complete any ceiling work first. Ceiling work can generate a lot of debris that you don’t want to fall over your freshly painted walls or newly installed floor. You will also most likely be using a ladder to reach the ceiling and you don’t want to scuff or dent your new flooring with it. 

Be sure the ceiling is fully dry before moving on. You can also paint the ceiling when you paint your walls to ensure no debris will be trapped.

Remove Flooring

Next, you want to remove your old flooring. This step can stir up dirt and dust, so you want to ensure any ceiling work that involved painting has had proper time to dry. Remove any trim that is around your walls. You will reinstall this after you have installed your new flooring. This will prevent gaps between the trim and flooring. 

Prep Walls

With your old flooring gone, the next step is to prep your walls. This is the best time to take care of patching, filling gaps, and sanding. This is especially important if you are going to install carpeting.

Install Flooring

New flooring should always be installed before painting the walls. Debris or stain could ruin your paint job. You don’t want to spend time prepping and painting your walls only to have to go back and do them again.

After you install your new flooring, replace your trim. When done in this order you can be sure the flooring and trim fit well. You can also paint the trim with the walls to cover any nail holes.

Painting

With all the messy work out of the way, you are ready for the finishing touch – paint. Mask off your floor with painter's tape, adhering the plastic or cloth to the baseboards. Paint your walls and trim. If you didn’t paint your ceiling during the first step, then start there and work your way down.

What is Acclimation

New flooring needs time to adjust to the temperature in the room that the flooring will be installed in. This acclimation process gives the flooring time to reach the moisture content level of the room. The recommended acclimation time is 48 – 72 hours. 

Best practice is to allow all flooring types to adjust to the installation room temperature. This important step will help ensure your new floors look and perform well for many years. Failure to acclimatize your new flooring could lead to gaps, buckling, and locking systems to come loose. 

Does Flooring Need to Settle

Once you have finished installing your new flooring you want to give them time to settle. Each flooring type has its own recommended time frame to settle, so be sure to read the manufacturer's recommendation for your specific product. Don’t undo your hard work and cut the lifespan of your new floors short by skipping this step.

Vinyl Flooring

It is recommended to allow at least one full day to pass before walking on your new vinyl flooring. This allows time for any adhesive used to cure. Walking on the floor before it is fully cured could damage the glue or cause the flooring to shift. Another recommendation is to avoid mopping for the first few days to avoid moisture getting underneath the flooring.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring should be allowed to settle for a full day before walking on it. It typically takes less than a day for the adhesive to fully cure but allowing a full day will ensure it is set and help extend the life of your new laminate flooring. This also helps to ensure that your floor will be even.

Carpet Flooring

Recommendations for carpet vary and it is best to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for your specific product. Some manufacturers suggest waiting a day before you start walking on your new carpet, while others say walking on the carpet immediately is best. 

Whether your product has a recommendation to wait or not, you should always allow a full day to pass before placing furniture back into the room. This will help ensure the carpet can handle the weight of the furniture without compromising it.

Hardwood Flooring

The settling process for hardwood flooring is the longest and varies depending on a number of things. In general, it is best to keep people and pets off your new hardwood floors for 48 hours, and furniture off for a week, to allow them to fully cure and extend their lifetime. Here are some factors that impact settling time:

Wood Species

Each wood type has different properties and reacts uniquely to different temperatures.

Finish

If your wood flooring has an oil-based finish, it may take several days before you are able to move furniture onto it and start walking freely. A water-based polyurethane finish dries much quicker, allowing you to walk on your wood floors within a few hours.

Climate

The environment where the wood flooring is being installed can affect the settling time. If the climate is too dry or has too much moisture, this will affect the acclimation and settling process.

When to Use Underlayment

Underlayment allows your floating floor to expand and shrink as the room temperature fluctuates. Without the underlayment, this process could damage your flooring. Underlayment can also help reduce sound.

Benefits:

  • Smooths the surface
  • Improves Adhesion
  • Improves structural durability

Standard foam underlayment is the most common underlayment and works with any type of floating flooring. If your new flooring has an attached pad, you do not need to install underlayment in addition. It is a suitable choice for any room that does not require a moisture barrier to be installed under your flooring.

Underlayment Options

Rigid

  • Plywood
  • OSB
  • Underlayment Panels
  • Cement Board

Soft

  • Foam Sheet
  • Cork
  • Rubber

Greene-Board

A popular underlayment when installing tile flooring is Greene-Board. It is durable, easy to use, environmentally friendly, and fire-resistant. Its ease of use to work with has made it popular among professional and DIY installers for underlayment, wall board, fire board, and tile backer.

Enstron

A particle board underlayment panel that is preferred by professionals and DIYers. This product is designed to be used underneath vinyl, wood, and carpet flooring and provides a smooth consistent surface. It is made from 100% recycled fiber and is impact resistant.

Moisture Vapor Barrier

A moisture vapor barrier is used to control the movement of moisture. Classified as a VDR (vapor diffusion retarder), it regulates moisture flow at the molecular level. They are used when installing flooring in areas prone to excess moisture, such as basements. This barrier prevents moisture from causing havoc on floor joists, insulation, sub-flooring, and other materials. 

You can purchase underlayment with a pre-attached moisture vapor barrier, or it can be purchased as a standalone roll. You can also buy it in a roll-on, spreadable form.

A moisture meter will give you an accurate measurement of moisture vapor coming through your concrete. You can pick up a decent meter for around $35 at your local hardware store.

Can I Install Vinyl Over Laminate

When installing new flooring, you may wonder if you can install the new product over the existing one. There are situations where you can install your new flooring over your old flooring:

  • Laminate can be installed over sheet vinyl
  • Vinyl can be installed over existing vinyl
  • Carpeting can be installed over hard flooring

The key to success when installing new flooring over existing flooring is that the original flooring must be a solid foundation to support the new flooring. For example, you never want to install any flooring over carpet. It does not offer any support to prevent the new flooring from shifting. 

Uneven Subfloors

It's important to ensure your subfloor is level before installing new flooring. An uneven subfloor can wreak havoc on your new floors, costing you time and money. 

  • Remove the existing flooring
  • Using a level, check for low or high spots
  • Level high spots in wood subflooring with a sander
  • Level high spots in a concrete floor with a concrete sander
  • Level low spots by using underlayment, floor leveler, or a floor patch product
  • Be sure to vacuum thoroughly

As you are inspecting the subfloor for levelness, replace any nails that have loosened and look for any mold, termite damage, or other structural problems.

Leveling for Laminate

Ensure subfloor is level to avoid damage to your laminate. If the subfloor is in very rough condition, place plywood over it before laying your new flooring.

Leveling for Hardwood

After ensuring the subfloor is level, use a flooring leveler that you will be able to nail through. Then follow your hardwood flooring manufacturer's installation instructions. 

Leveling for Vinyl

Leveling a floor for vinyl flooring is probably the simplest. Unless your subfloor is in really bad shape, nothing needs done beyond addressing the low and high spots. 

Leveling for Tile

After addressing any low or high spots, you want to install a cement-based backerboard. Then you will want to use a tile leveling system to produce the best possible results.