A hardwood flooring adventure ends happily

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | June 6, 2012

When the Kennedy family bought their Reno, Nev.-home seven years ago, they knew they would want to replace the existing tile with new hardwood floors one day.

Their renovation became a crash course in hardwood flooring, costs, borders, installation, humidity and more.

Making the choice for new hardwood floors

Before the Kennedys chose hardwood, they looked at other options. "We considered wood laminate, which looked great," Joanna said. "The question for us was how long we would be in the house. We don't plan to move anytime soon." They worried that laminate can only be resanded a few times, so they went with hardwood since they expect to own their home for at least twenty years. That was the first of many decisions.

tile kitchen floor Kitchen floor:  before

 hardwood floor kitchen Kitchen floor:  after

"We took samples home and put them in different lights and different rooms. We looked at alternative woods and stains and checked how they looked at different times of day. We placed samples next to wood cabinets and built-in entertainment centers to check for appealing contrasts."

They finally chose Mullican Muirfield floors in Hickory Saddle finish, alternating with 3- and 5-inch planks (at $6.76 and $6.99, respectively). They chose a 2 1/4-inch border in Oak Saddle. The hardwood flooring costs for about 1,630 square feet came to just over $11,375, while the labor ran another $12,000.

Though the time estimate was 10 days for the entire project, delays in getting the right border color and other issues led to the project taking a bit longer.

Important details of hardwood installation

"There is a staging element to a project like this," Joanna said. Hardwood flooring is not a material you can simply bring home and start to install. It has to acclimate to the humidity of the rooms in which it will be installed, which means it may be in your house -- and possibly in your way -- for at least a month prior to installation.

tile floor in dining room Dining room floor: before

 hardwood floors dining room Dining room floor: after

Where will those large pallets of wood sit, and where will you put whatever it is you have to displace to make room -- in Joanna's case, it was where to park the vehicles. "The flooring contractor filled up the garage with all the material, so we lost the ability to use the garage for a while," Joanna said.

Humidity requirements can be a challenge, depending upon where you live. "We live in a high desert, and we had friends who pulled out their floors after only a few years because the hardwood buckled," said Joanna. "We installed a humidifier suitable to maintain at least 35% humidity on our first floor. We used a humidity detector so we could monitor the air while the wood was acclimating. It turned out we needed to have our new humidifier adjusted several times before we established the correct climate," she added.

When it came to installation, there was another issue to consider: which direction to run the boards.

"I thought we had agreed that the boards would be run from east to west, but quite a bit of time elapsed from our initial discussions with the contractor. When installation began, we saw that the boards were being installed from north to south when we came home from work one day," Joanna said. "Most people go with the long length of the house. We realized that while the house itself was long east to west, the rooms felt a little more oriented north to south." Focus on the individual rooms, then make a sketch of your decision to make sure everyone is on board.

Little surprises and lessons learned

Almost no remodel goes exactly as planned, Joanna discovered. You should leave wiggle-room in your budget.

"The tile had been mopped for 10 years," Joanna said, "and as a result, the baseboard wood had warped terribly in many spots. Using the old baseboards would have looked bad, so we wound up replacing them." That change added about $600 to their bill.

carpet library floor  Library floor: before

 hardwood floor library Library floor: after

Following the installation, there were some details to work out. "After the job was done, sometimes we would hear a little click when we walked across the floors," Joanna said. After they marked each problem spot with blue painter's tape, "the flooring contractor came back and went into the crawlspace to fix the areas where we heard the little noises," she noted. The floors are now exactly what the Kennedy family always wanted.

 "When we first walked into the house as potential buyers seven years ago, we thought was that these floors would have to go," she recalled. "Now we walk into this house, and we love the floors."

About the Author

Shannon Lee has written professionally for two decades on a wide variety of topics, including medical and health issues, home repair, education and relationships.