Laying Wood Floors on a Budget

Each major step in the farmhouse renovation process makes it feel more like a home, and installing floors has been no exception.

by Stephanie Staton

Each major step in the farmhouse renovation process makes it feel more like a home, and installing floors has been no exception.

In our previous home, we installed engineered hardwood, a thin layer of wood over a composite material. It had the look of wood but floated above our concrete foundation, making for a quicker and easier install on a tight budget. Unfortunately, our dogs’ nails wreaked havoc on the floors, scratching and chipping them. While the manufacturer assured us it could be sanded and refinished, we weren’t able to secure a contractor experienced with sanding engineered flooring and couldn’t risk hiring an inexperienced one who might sand too deep and ruin the floor. This experience led us to the conclusion that we would go with the real thing next time around, leaving us to decide only on species, color and style.

We scoured the Internet for deals, colors and sizes. We were able to conclude that a 5-inch width gave us the aesthetic we wanted without blowing the budget, but discerning colors online wasn’t really an option—I wasn’t keen to trust an order of this magnitude (basically the whole house) to a small, square swatch on my computer screen. So we pulled prices and ideas from our searches and took them with us as we shopped other retailers in our area.

Feeling a little discouraged through the process, it was a turn of luck that I happened to be placing an order with the lumber mill in my hometown and noticed they offered flooring. They didn’t make the flooring themselves but sourced it directly from the manufacturer one state over, and their prices were better than those we’d seen online and in person elsewhere.

They gave us some samples so we could see how they looked in the space and take them to the store where we purchased our cabinets to see how they would look together. We chose hickory for its simple grain and durability, as well as for the fact that it’s a native species of hardwood. We picked up the order from the mill and set it in the house to acclimate to the house’s temperature and humidity—a must for hardwood floors to avoid too much expansion or contraction after install, which could greatly damage the flooring.

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Once ready to install the flooring, we laid roof felt between it and the subfloor to serve as a vapor barrier, running the flooring along the longest wall perpendicular to the floor joists. Taking the flooring the opposite way over the joists helps prevent twisting and warping by bracing the wood in a cross pattern. We also left a 3/4- to 5/8-inch gap around the edges to allow for swelling of the wood as the seasons, and therefore humidity, change.

A nailer that uses compressed air to help drive nails is will speed up a home floor-installation project. Photo by Stephanie Staton (

The tool we started with was a manual nailer, which uses manpower to whack a driveshaft for driving in the nails. However, we soon found it too time- and energy-consuming, so we upgraded to a similar version that uses compressed air to help drive the flooring nails when you hit the driveshaft with a mallet. Speeding the process, the guys worked their way across the room, staggering the wood strips.

When they came to a doorway, they placed a full run of planks along the entrance (unless a wall to work off of was next to it) and continue the staggered pattern into the room. They then used a spline, a small strip of wood that fits into the groves of flooring to change the direction of the grove, to flip directions and work their way back to the other side as needed. When they got close to a wall, the nailer wouldn’t fit so they had to face nail (aka nail through the top of the wood) the planks in place. Most of these nails will be hidden by the trim, but we used wood filler and a stain marker to hide any that weren’t covered.

While I enjoyed admiring the beautiful floors, we couldn’t risk damaging them as we worked and hauled tools and other materials through the house. To protect them, we rolled and taped down paper overtop, then flattened the boxes that held the flooring and spread them across the floor as an added layer of protection. Even though they’re hidden beneath a cardboard facade, I take comfort knowing that one more major step in the renovation process is complete.

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