When we moved into our fixer-upper home, it had a beautiful lake of teal carpet throughout the entire first floor, including the bathrooms.
We wanted wood floors – no question. Turns out there were a lot of things I was unaware of – hopefully this information will help you out before you take the plunge!
How We Chose a Contractor
We had just moved to the state 2 months prior, and that didn’t leave us much room for contractor referrals. I found two from Yelp and received a referral from a new coworker.
We interviewed and received quotes from all three for “finish-in-floor” (meaning they install the wood and then finish it, instead of installing pre-finished wood). They all seemed reputable and I trusted they’d do a good job. One was extremely thorough but a few hundred dollars more. In the end, the one that was the least expensive was the referral from the coworker.
At the time, money was a concern, so we chose the least expensive of the three. I wouldn’t recommend doing that if you can avoid it.
How You Should Choose a Contractor
- Get referrals if possible, and if not, find vendors through a source like Angie’s List or Yelp.
- I tried Home Advisor for another project, and I was not a fan of what I felt was a somewhat deceptive practice. I had found a contractor through their site that I liked and wanted to use, but when I called them, it was a call center who gave me three different names and had those people contact me. I felt like it was a bait and switch situation because I couldn’t get in touch with the original contractor I found on their site.
- Meet with multiple vendors – try for at least three.
- Get comparable quotes – make sure you’re asking for exactly the same things from the vendors so you’re comparing apples to apples. If not, you may choose a cheaper vendor but not get everything you want.
- Talk to their previous clients if possible to see what kind of service they provided.
- Use a company that is reputable. Check the Better Business Bureau in your area. If they’re established they will be there to answer your questions long after the floor is installed.
What To Expect Before Installation
- Your contractor will most likely be the one putting in the order for the wood, but regardless of who orders it, be sure to check the order once it arrives.
- We were given the wrong order and we didn’t check it, so we not only had be home for the first delivery, but also for the second “switch” delivery when we received the wood that was actually ours.
- The wood will need to acclimate to the humidity (or lack thereof) in your home. This means it will sit somewhere untouched and inside your home, for about 2 weeks (or to your contractor’s specifications), before it’s ready to be installed.
- You will need all furniture/items out of the rooms you are having the floors installed. You may also need to remove appliances depending on where you are installing the wood.
- Be clear on who is removing and disposing of current flooring. We took care of removal/disposal of our old carpet and padding, but your contractor may take care of that for you for an additional charge.
What To Expect During Installation
- The timeline for installation will depend on the size of your home, the complexity of the project, and your contractor. If you have a smaller home and one or two guys working on the floor, it could take a week. If you have a large home, or are doing intricate things like inlays, expect it to take longer.
- Once the floors are ready to be installed, your contractor will lay a thin layer of paper (see the red/brown paper in the photo below) between the subfloor and your new wood floor. Then, they will lay out the pieces in a loose pattern on your floor. Depending on where the wood is being installed (ours was in the main traffic area of our home), you may need to walk on it to get from room to room.
- Once they’re happy with where things are placed, they’ll start nailing the boards down.
- Once the boards are nailed down, they should wet the floor to raise the grain. Then they’ll do an initial sanding. This helps reduce any grain that may raise with sitting water on your floor (though once the floor is finished you should never let water sit on your wood floor!).
- They should also go over the floor and fill in any large holes or gaps with filler or epoxy.
Filler above, epoxy below.
- Then, it’s time to choose a stain! We chose a stain that’s more traditional and not trendy, hopefully increasing the buyer’s appeal once we do sell. See our options below – can you guess which one we chose?
- One last step before sanding – a large paddle is used to coat the entire floor in wood filler. This gets all the teeny gaps and cracks in the wood, ensuring you have a smooth surface after sanding.
- SUGGESTION: I trusted everything this contractor said, but once the floors were finished (and after doing some woodwork myself), I wish I’d questioned his choice for the color of the filler. There are some areas that look like we took peanut butter and filled in some cracks. Either he should have used a different color filler, or different pieces of wood in those spots. I have seen “stainable” filler, which doesn’t mean the filler itself can be stained, but that it takes a stain coat on top of it. That may be what he used, but in our case the filler didn’t change with the stain. This is especially important if you’re going with a darker-than-neutral stain and don’t want light, non-grain spots to be apparent in your floor.
- After this, they will sand the entire floor. Many systems nowadays are considered “dustless” and it’s pretty impressive at how dustless they really are. To my naked eye, I didn’t see dust on windowsills or walls.
- Then, they’ll do a few coats of stain and sealant. This can be the most trying time for you because you usually can’t walk on the floor for a few hours each night after they’ve finished. Even then, you can only walk on it with stocking feet. Once they put the final coat it, it could be 24-48 hours before you can wear shoes on the floor or put the furniture back. I had to carry my dog for a few days between the kitchen and the bedroom so his nails wouldn’t ruin the new finish.
- Finally, if you’re planning to do more work after your floors are finished, please protect them! It’s simple – get a roll of craft paper and use painter’s tape it down on the high traffic areas. You’ll thank me later.
Should I Paint Walls First or Install Floors First?
I discussed this with a few people, and there’s considerations for both sides. If you paint first, you definitely won’t get paint on your new floors. If you install the floors first, you won’t get dust all over your new paint.
We painted first, and due to these great dustless systems we did not have dust all over our walls.
What Wasn’t Expected
Pet Nails Ruin The Floor: Our contractor was adamant that this floor and sealant would hold up to dog nails. Boy was he ever wrong. Either that, or our dog is a monster. I’m not an idiot – I know hard things scratch softer things – but I was hoping this was the wood floor of the future and would be as beautiful three months down the road as it was after installation. It isn’t. It still looks great to the naked eye, but look at it at an angle and you’ll see tracks of dog everywhere.
Wood Floors Crack At The Seams: A few weeks after installation, I was standing in the dining room and it sounded like ice was cracking all around me. Turns out it was the floor. Our contractor had never explained this to me, and it wasn’t anything I ever read about online. I’ve since read things about it and it’s normal, but it was another thing I did not expect.
Our Contractor Got Paid And Never Returned Another Phone Call: This is why I highly suggest using a reputable company that will be around after your floor is installed. I contacted our guy three times via email and two times via phone after the floor was installed to ask him questions, and he only picked up the phone once. After that, he never returned another call or email. I was beyond frustrated and felt like we’d spent a ton of money on something that wasn’t standing up the way I was told it would. I ended up writing a review on Yelp which hopefully will give others more information than I had before they consider hiring him.
Good luck! And if you have any questions, ask your reputable contractor!