Installing Wood Floors Jobsite Conditions Checklist

Installing Wood Floors Jobsite Conditions Checklist

Is your home ready for wood floors?

What your Wood Floor Contractor should do!

For the short and long term success of your wood floor installation. responsibility as the installer begins as you park your truck. You, being possibly the only member of your firm to actually see the job, must make the following judgments, and decide that the product in your truck is correct for this particular installation.


Check the following:

Water Must be Properly Drained on Property:

Outside —the eave overhang should be sufficient to prevent rain from flooding the foundation. Gutters to carry the rain from the roof, and downspouts to exhaust water away from the foundation are a must. The yard should be graded to sope away from the foundation. If the lot is heavily wooded and has a lake nearby, with the product to be installed a 3/4 thick solid random width plank, plan to use extra expansion, especially within the field. Another alternative would be to change the product to a laminated plank. Planter boxes are a real problem especially if the owner added them without regard to soil within being higher than the floor line inside the house. Never water proofed, with lots of water to make the posies grow — and the water flows inside.

Garages converted into family rooms are common, as are patio conversions and no builder will protect beneath these slabs against moisture — CAUTION! Patios added with insufficient drainage or caulking under door thresholds are trouble.

Pools and foundations that leak, are higher than nearby floor surfaces, or that drain or are graded toward the house are dangerous. As you turn off your truck’s motor, look at the house- are any floor surfaces below the soil line around the house; i.e. NEVER install solid wood below grade, use laminated only.

Also, as you look at the house, if you notice that there are several steps up to the front porch, and then when you are inside the home you are walking on a wood subfloor system and the house has a basement and the house is built over a crawl space; i.e. A perimeter poured or block foundation with a sill plate and conventional wood joist system. Before installing any solid wood floor anywhere on the first level there must be two requirements met by the builder or owner:

  • Perimeter vents through the foundation so located as to provide cross-ventilation with opening area equal to 1 1/2% of the square foot area within the crawl space. Example, a 1000 SF crawl space house must have 15 SF of vents. Inform the owner the vents must be left open year-round, even in Fargo, North Dakota!
  • The soil within the foundation must be covered with 6 mil poly-film with 6 lapped joints. See GRADE LEVEL- Subfloors (graphics) A recent research project determined that a 1000 SF crawl space house will draw 14 gallons (!) of water every 24 hours out of the soil inside and outside of the foundation and send it up into the house! Ground cover and open vents are a must!

Sounds silly for a wood floor installer to survey the exterior of a building, but with your knowledge -and your eyes open -you can see and sense things others miss. We all are rightfully proud of a beautifully installed wood floor! How sad it is to return two weeks or months later and see it destroyed by a predictable and obvious source of moisture; walk around, look, see, and speak out! Wood Floor Contractors who increase their professional stature in the eyes of their customers and increase job satisfaction, will always have many referrals for more work.

Learn to Read the Danger Signs of Moisture

Inside — As you walk in the door, be sensitive to air that is heavy, damp, musty or stagnant. Is the house free from construction dampness- check plaster, mortar in fireplaces, slabs- do they feel cool and damp? Plywood subfloor that has expanded, bowed, or the top layer has curled, delaminated, or stained may be loaded with rainwater. The clothes dryer must be vented to the outside. Learn about the central heating system -it must be operating to provide a controlled atmosphere within the home during and after the flooring is installed.

Electric heat is extremely dry, as are steam radiators and hot water baseboard- they introduce no moisture into the home, as does gas forced air. Remember that very dry heat and long winters followed by humid summers result in a large swing in humidity extremes that will cause excessive expansion/shrinkage in the wood- allow expansion for solids.

An in-the-floor, or slab, heat (called Radiant ) should never be covered with any solid wood floor, again because of the not/humid extremes. For radiant heat use laminated floors only and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for adhesive and temperature limits.

If the home has humidity controls, suggest they are set for 40-50% for the benefit of the wood, and the comfort of the occupants. Likewise, in a dry house, suggest humidification. Look for the certain signs of heavy moisture, such as paint peeling on door and windows, water stains, basement dampness, alkali bloom (puffy white crystals), condensation on cold water pipes or a matching pattern of rust marks, recent foundation repairs and patches, heavy rust on metal or rusty nail heads with blue stain in the surrounding wood.

Rooms that have been added on have potential roof leaks where the tie-in is made and spongy joist/subfloor at the old house line. Check for vents and ground cover. If the addition is on a slab look for a moisture barrier and especially check the joint between the old and new slab. If the room is a converted porch or garage, again, you know you must both level and surface damp- proof the slab. Make note of door bottoms to be cut, electrical outlets to be extended, heating fixtures to be elevated, radiators and appliances needing adjustment for added floor thickness.

Be aware of work yet to be done should the wood floor go in now;’ for instance, an incomplete brick or stone fireplace, an adjoining bath minus tub and plumbing hookups, paint and wallpaper. The floor should follow these projects. Since you are the installer responsible for one of the most important interior surfaces, it is true professionalism for you to investigate anything that will affect your work and the ultimate success and satisfaction for your customer.

Follow This List of Subfloor Preparation Suggestions

Installing Wood Floors Jobsite Conditions Checklist

Subfloor: The finished floor is only as good as what is under it. Every installation of wood will require some degree of attention and correction to the subfloor, maybe nothing more than a broom- sweep, maybe more. It is crucial for you to properly assess the condition of the surface over which you are to install a wood floor. If the subsurface is concrete, check the following:

  1. Moisture: (Concrete should be 50-60 days old in most sections of North America.) The easiest, and most accurate test for moisture (see Moisture Detection Equipment) in concrete is to tape a 2′ x 2′ square of poly-film to the slab in 3 or 4 locations (more if the area is large) and, if practical, place a lamp on the poly, for 24 hours. The presence of moisture is certain if the slab is discolored, the poly is cloudy, and especially if water droplets are on the underside. To avoid the delay, moisture meters are available that will give an instant reading. There are many more tests, however, these are two of the best. Another is logic: What is the history of other homes in the area, and the history of this builder and cement contractor. If the answer is moisture problems, damp-proof the slab! If the history is problem-free and your test shows no dampness, go to it! See Moisture Detection Equipment
  2. Level: The ideal slab is level to within 1/8 deviation in 10 ft. This amount of variation will never be discernable in the completed floor. With certain wood floors, and their required adhesives systems, the adhesive presents a bed that helps level, and 1/4 in 10′ is satisfactory. To test for level, some can eyeball’,’ some have a floorman’s foot, but best is a 10′ straight edge. Place the straight edge, in various locations over the slab and pivot it over the area as you look for gaps beneath the edge. Mark the highs to be removed, and the lows requiring fill.
  3. Sealers or Cutting Agents: Chemicals used to seal or cure slabs will generally lay on the surface of concrete, create a barrier against the penetration of wood floor adhesives or present such a slick surface that the adhesive will not adhere. Ask the builder or cement contractor if such a substance was applied to the slab. All tilt wall buildings will for certain, have an oil or paraffin-like release agent on the concrete. An easy quick test is a drop of water on the surface. If it beads rather than spreading and soaking into the slab, suspect a sealer and plan to remove it. Painted concrete should have the paint removed, especially if enamel-type or flaking and chipping. Oil spills must be cleaned.
  4. Hardness: Lightweight or acoustical concrete may be very soft, grainy, sandy. Scratch it with the tip of a knife or screwdriver. Adhesive will have a difficult time holding to a soft surface so prep will be needed. Spalled’ flaky concrete surfaces will have to be scoured or sanded to correct. If the job is a fire damage repair, carefully check the slab condition (and for dampness).
  5. Existing Floor Covering: Peek under the carpet! Many times the installer arrives expecting wood, and its concrete and vice-versa. Or particle board. Or VA tile! Find out for sure. Old adhesives require removal. Loose lay or 66 perimeter glue sheet goods must be removed. VA tile that is cracked, curled, missing, showing evidence of moisture or loose must be removed. Some wood adhesives will not work properly over resilient floor covering. Use the proper primer over sheet vinyl to stop plasticizer migration. Some manufacturers insist upon removal of resilient floors. Removal is always the best practice !

If the Subsurface is Wood, check:

  1. Level: Sagging subfloor indicates weak or twisted joists and will require structural repair from below (not necessarily within the domain of a wood floor installer !) If the board or plywood are cupped, or uneven at the joints, sanding will be needed.
  2. Squeaks: Fix them first, or the new floor will squeak too. Plan to re-nail. What is the joist spacing and the subfloor thickness? Maybe the squeaks are the indication of a flexing, weak system. Strip or plank will add strength because they span the joists. Parquet rides the subfloor and will require added strength.
  • Particle Board: DO NOT nail to, or through, particle board. It does not provide enough nail-holding strength to control a nail-down wood floor. Nail floors to multi-layered products or solid lumber only. If it is clean, not oily, and dense enough not to be loose on the surface, adhesive applied wood should be okay.
  • Expansion: Be sure the wood subfloor has its own expansion within. Solid boards must be spaced 1/8 to 1/4 between. Plywood sheets must have 1/8 at all edges. Particle board and hard board, to receive glue-down floors, should never be installed as 4′ x 8′ sheets. Always cut to 4′ x 4′ or smaller. The installer may have to make corrections.
  • Direction: Plywood should be installed with the face grain running at 90 degrees to the joists to get the most strength in the subfloor. (i.e. 4′ end on a joist and 8′ length across the joists) Diagonal solid subfloor boards should be covered with plywood (or other) for adhesive floors. If diagonal nail-down is planned, be sure to run flooring opposite to the subfloor. Never marry a nail-down floorboard to a subfloor board. Split out and double expansion will occur. This is especially true when nailing over an old strip or plank floor. The direction must be 90′ opposite, or plan for corrections.
  • Whether the substrate is wood or concrete, as you appraise the installation, be particularly careful to note any elevation changes, or special features in the area that will require special treatment. Suppose when the carpet is pulled, there is an old floor drain exposed that will have to be plugged and leveled. A fireplace will require carefully installed expansion treatment. A sliding glass door track level to the subfloor. A step-down requiring nosing. A step-up requiring a riser. Special features omitted in the original pricing of the job can wipe out the profit expected for the job, or contribute to less than professional compromise solution and a dissatisfied customer.

    Correcting Job Conditions:

    It is unlikely you will ever encounter a job with all the problems identified in the previous section, however, several on many jobs will prove common. What do you, the installer, do about it? Make sure the following are in place, signed. and a part of your agreement, prior to the start of any work:

    • Contract: It is suggested a contract form be used by your company and the customer that specifically excludes your responsibility for conditions over which you have no control.
    • Release: Have a release form (see checklist form ) that complies with your state laws to be used by you and your company to exclude responsibility for those jobsite conditions that you note as being potentially hazardous for the success of your installation. This form should be completed in its entirety, corrective action suggested, discussed with and signed by the owner, builder, agent, or other responsible party, and returned to your company for any future need.

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