The most common way to lay/install hardwood flooring is by aligning the planks parallel to the longest wall or run in the installation. Apart for a few exceptions like sagging joists, this is the preferred direction to lay wood floors because it provides the best result aesthetically. In most homes this means running the planks lengthwise straight away from your front door all the way to the back. The one exception is if your sub-floor is sagging between the joists – in which case you’ll want to run the planks across the flooring joists to avoid any problems. Try to avoid changing directions in your floor in different rooms, and do your best to plan the exact layout prior to beginning your installation.
If this is the first time you’ve laid a hardwood or bamboo floor, it’s natural to wonder in what direction the floorboards should run. Although it may not seem obvious, laying your floorboards in the right direction actually adds a lot to the overall look of the finished floor. Here are a few things to keep in mind when preparing to lay your hardwood floor so that the finished product looks like it was done by a pro …
Check Out Your Joists and Existing Sub-floor
Newer Homes (built post-1990′s). Due to more strict building codes, newer homes have more level sub-floors that are required by code to meet minimum deflection ratings. Therefore the direction you lay hardwood floors in a new home is based more on aesthetic and design factors as opposed to the direction of the joists. In these instances the hardwood floor planks are usually laid in parallel to the longest run or wall in the installation.
Older Homes (pre-1990′s). If you’re laying your new floor in an older home that has a plywood sub-floor, the first thing to consider is the direction of the floor joists that support it. In these cases, the conservative choice is to go perpendicular across the floor joists and allow them to support the new floor as well as the sub-floor. If you go parallel to the joists, you may end up with areas of flooring that aren’t fully supported. Over time, this can lead to the sub-floor sagging in between the joists, and if the sub-floor sags, it could potentially cause your hardwood floor to buckle leading to the joints breaking. Obviously, that’s not the outcome you’re after! That leads to the need to replace floor boards, and a new finish for the entire floor would be necessary so that everything matches.
Regardless of whether the home is old or now, always inspect the sub-floor first to determine how flat it is. Is there obvious sub-floor sagging between the joints visible to the naked eye? Does the sub-floor bounce considerably when walked on? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then you will want to lay the hardwood planks across the the floor joists in a perpendicular fashion. Still in doubt? There are also tools you can use to measure the deflection or flatness of the floor, and of course you can also hire an engineer to come inspect the floor joists and sub-floor to calculate deflection and grading.
Tip: Once you’ve determined the direction and position of the floor joists, mark them on the wall where the base molding will hide them when you install it. This will allow you to measure 4′ in from each end of the long wall, mark your measurements, and then snap a chalk line between the two marks on the underlayment to serve as a guideline when you’re laying your first rows of boards, keeping them straight and parallel to the wall. (Note: It’s a good idea to measure from your marks to the opposite wall, too. If the measurement is the same, the walls are parallel. If it’s not, you’ll need to adjust your guidelines to account for the difference.)
Your New Floor and Your Front Door
If you’re laying a hardwood floor near your front door, you may want to consider laying it so the boards run perpendicular to the entrance, if you can. Why? Laying the boards in this way allows them to flow naturally with traffic and just looks better.
Consider the Dimensions of the Room
If you’re laying your new floor in one particular room, like a bedroom, for instance, it’s wisest to lay the floorboards parallel to the longest wall in the room. If you lay them perpendicular instead, and the room is somewhat long and narrow, your floor will end up resembling a ladder!
You can always opt to lay your floor on the diagonal or choose an interesting pattern like a herringbone. Patterns can add depth and dimension to a room and are unquestionably beautiful when done correctly. If you choose this option, though, you’ll need to consider a couple of important factors:
- It’ll cost you more since you’ll need to add 15% (as opposed to the usual 10%) extra material to account for cutting and waste.
- Patterns, especially complicated ones like herringbone, really require a seasoned hand to lay, so it’s probably not a wise choice if this is your first go-round at laying a hardwood floor.
Think About the Light Source
If you’re installing your new hardwood flooring in a room with lots of natural light, you may want to consider running the boards in the direction of the light. That’s because if you run them perpendicular to the light source, the light will run across each individual joint, and any slight variation in the height of the boards will show up and cast a small shadow. Running your floor in the same direction as the light source eliminates this problem and results in a better-looking floor.
Some Handy Tips for DIYers
- At floor heating registers, make sure to cut your boards to fit the opening before installing them.
- If you’re abutting a fireplace hearth, miter the boards to create a neat border that will frame it. Glue the boards in place and then face nail* them. You might also think about gluing the ends of any boards that fit snugly against the hearth.
*If you are faced to nail by hand, be sure to drill a small pilot hole in the surface of the floor board, then drive a finishing nail in until its head almost reaches floor level. Finish driving the nail using a hammer and a nail set. Afterward, fill the hole with wood putty and wipe away any excess.
Consider a Bamboo Floor
If you haven’t yet purchased your flooring, consider the advantages a bamboo floor offers. Besides the fact that it’s as attractive as any hardwood flooring, it’s also way harder than almost any hardwood you can think of. It’s also a greener alternative since bamboo is a grass that grows immeasurably faster than a replanted hardwood tree. (We’re talking about 4 years vs. decades!)
Ambient Bamboo Floors is your number one source for affordable bamboo flooring with the best quality you’ll find anywhere! (We’re not kidding — do an internet search and see for yourself!) Plus, we use only premium raw materials like Moso bamboo, which is aged 5-7 years, and all of our bamboo is sourced from FSC-certified and well-managed forests. We have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, so you can feel confident you’re dealing with a reputable and reliable company. We love our bamboo flooring, and we think — no we know — you will too!