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How to Buy Flooring

Experts offer the following tips for purchasing and installing flooring.

  • Consider the usage of your space. When deciding on flooring type, consider what your space will be used for and what foot traffic levels will be. Purchase flooring based on durability levels and resistance to dirt and wear, and remember to consider how your usage of an area might change over the lifetime of the floor.
  • Factor installation costs. Not all flooring types make for a good do-it-yourself project. See the installation section above.
  • Consider the costs. Realistically calculate the cost of the flooring based on the square feet you need to cover, adding 10% for surplus flooring. Add in any installation costs or, if installing the floor yourself, add the costs of any required tools and/or materials.

Installation notes

Whether professional or do-it-yourself, all floors are installed using one of three basic installation methods.

  • Nail-down/staple-down installation. This type of installation is most commonly used for solid wood and engineered wood, although it can also be used for linoleum, bamboo, cork and vinyl. Nail-down/staple-down installation must be done over a wood subfloor; felt or rosin paper is often laid between the subfloor and the flooring material to reduce noise and wick away any moisture. Staples are applied directly with a pneumatic stapler and are evident upon close inspection of the floor. Nails may be applied diagonally to make them virtually invisible or they may be nailed in straight and topped with decorative fasteners. Wood flooring may also be screwed down using countersunk holes and wood plugs.
  • Glue-down installation. This type of installation is most commonly used for engineered wood, tile, stone, vinyl and linoleum. Glue-down installation must be used with a wood or concrete subfloor or over existing flooring. Flooring material is glued down to a clean, flat subfloor using adhesive and a trowel for even application. Another glue-down alternative is flooring backed with adhesive, most commonly found with tile vinyl. With glue-down installation, no noise or moisture barrier is required.
  • Floating installation. This type of installation is most commonly used for engineered wood, laminates and some types of linoleum. Floating installation requires a wood or concrete subfloor or existing flooring that is clean, dry and flat. The flooring material comes in planks or tiles that snap or lock together, although some types may also require glue at the joints. The flooring is installed over a thin foam or cork pad to improve flooring aesthetics and reduce noise. If installation is over a plain concrete subfloor, a thin plastic vapor barrier is also required.

Whatever flooring and installation types are used, it is important to plan carefully for new flooring. If using professional installation, discuss needs and preferences with the installer and do a walk-through to ensure agreement on where the flooring should go and how the finished product should look. If installing the flooring without professional help, lay out the flooring and cut with proper tools, use the proper adhesive and follow directions carefully.

It is important to follow any recommendations for preparing the subfloor. Some wood subfloors require preparation, such as sanding and/or sealing. Concrete subfloors require filling of any dips or cracks that make the floor uneven or compromise its integrity. Any padding or vapor barriers can also be laid at this point.

Installing wood flooring requires a few extra steps. Prior to installation, wood should be unpacked and laid out in the room in which it will be installed. The wood should be allowed to rest and acclimate in the room for 24 to 72 hours so the temperature and humidity levels of the wood match the conditions in the room. Once the wood has been installed, the room should not be heated immediately; instead, the temperature should be raised gradually over the course of a week, allowing the wood to adjust to the temperature change.

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