The installation process for bamboo flooring is a multi-step process, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible! There are three cardinal steps in the process: acclimation of planks, subfloor preparation, and the installation itself. Engineered bamboo floors are especially simple: they have a convenient click-lock mechanism that allows them to be installed without expert experience in nailing or gluing. The ease of do-it-yourself installation is one of many enticing features that attract DIY-homebuilders and professionals alike. Other types of bamboo flooring – such as tongue and groove – will necessitate nailing or gluing, and it’s up to you whether you’d like to try your hand or hire a professional.
You may have already poured over the internet looking for hints and tricks to make this job go a little easier. If so, chances are you probably ran across some misleading or contradictory information. If there’s one thing the internet can agree on, it is that we can’t agree on anything!
You’re going to find help for every step of the installation process in this easy-to-follow guide. You’ll get all the basics, from preparing the subfloor and acclimating the new flooring to choosing the right tools and cleaning up afterward. Whether you’ve decided to nail, glue, or float your floors, we have got you covered. As a bonus, you’ll even find info on installing bamboo floors over crawl spaces and radiant heat systems. If you’re ready to get your learning on – then keep reading, you fearless DIY-er!
Tip 1 – Read the Installation Instructions!
If the only thing you take away from this guide is this number one tip, you’ll already be on your way to success. And the most important tip? Read the installation instructions provided by your manufacturer!
Why is this important for any successful installation? Well, every flooring manufacturer is a little different, and those small differences add up.
Different acclimation times, tools, and job site prepare some of the areas where installation can vary. Most, if not all, of the errors we see with installing bamboo floors, could have been avoided if the installer had simply read the installation instructions first. So, print them out, take out a highlighter, dog-ear a few pages, and spend 30 minutes reading them over so you have a better understanding of what is required of you for a successful installation.
Tip 2 – Safety First!
With any DIY job, safety is a top priority. Protect your eyes with goggles or a face shield when cutting planks. And speaking of cutting planks, use an 80 tooth 10” tungsten carbide tipped saw blade for the cleanest cuts. Strand bamboo and eucalyptus floors are dense, so not just any old saw blade will do. All successful projects start with the proper tools!
Wear an N95 dust mask while cutting planks so you don’t breathe the dust created by sawing.
Because there will be dust, place a towel or old bathmat under the saw. It will trap some of the dust reduce the amount you track with your shoes.
Just as you wear a mask to keep dust out of your respiratory system, you need to keep the dust out of your home’s respiratory system – the HVAC or forced air furnace.
Before you cut, cover return and supply vents to prevent dust from coating the coils and ductwork.
Tip 3 – Handle with Care
During renovations, it’s important to keep your flooring protected. All prefinished flooring has a finished surface that can be scratched or otherwise affected by dirt, grit, and construction debris. Cover all exposed planks with a tarp to ensure they maintain their attractive finish.
You can toss around unfinished floors and scratch and scuff them up with little concern because you will sand and finish them on site.
If you are nailing planks, don’t use too much force when hitting the nail gun with the mallet. This could crack or chip the plank!
If you are gluing planks, be sure to wipe off excessive adhesive before it sets.
Tip 4 – Take Time to Acclimate
What is the deal with acclimation anyway? Some companies say it takes 10 days, others tell you to wait 72 hours, and some say two weeks!
The quality of your bamboo floors – or the place you purchased them from – doesn’t always determine how long you should acclimate your flooring. Even high-quality floors need to be acclimated, ideally in the same room in which they will be installed, before installation even begins.
Acclimating Before Installing Bamboo Floors
Acclimation time depends on a) the specific type of bamboo flooring you’re using and b) the moisture-balancing process that was utilized by the manufacturer of your flooring. Ambient’s floors require less acclimation time than some others because our flooring is pre-acclimated and moisture-balanced properly during the manufacturing process. That longer moisture-balancing stage during manufacturing results in a much more stable product – so you need less time to acclimate your floors. Pretty sweet, huh? Most of the time, an acclimation period of 72 hours is perfectly suitable.
But there’s one caveat: If you live in a very dry or really humid region, we recommend that you acclimate the flooring for at least 10 days. No matter what brand you purchase, we encourage you to just play it safe.
Make sure the climate control is on and adjusted to a normal living range for at least 48 hours before you bring the boxes in to acclimate. Then, be sure to maintain those settings during acclimation and installation.
Unconditioned spaces are not appropriate for acclimation. You can store the flooring boxes in a dry place (garage, attic, basement) as long as you acclimate the flooring before installation.
Micro-climates in your house
Another great tip is to micro-acclimate the flooring. That means you should acclimate the flooring in the room(s) in which they will be installed. Sure, it might mean that you have a stack in the living room, and another stack in a bedroom, but it’s worth taking that extra care to ensure a smooth installation and long life from your floors.
If you are acclimating the floors over concrete or a crawlspace – anywhere there’s chance moisture coming from below and affect the flooring – lay down a 6 mil (or thicker) sheet of tarp or plastic and set the boxes on top of that during acclimation. Make sure the edges of the plastic are at least 18 inches away from the cartons of flooring.
When acclimating, cross stacking the flooring is recommended, and it’s good practice to leave a few feet in between each stack of flooring, as this helps with airflow. Make sure to cut open the boxes on three sides, including the interior protective plastic barrier. Let that bamboo flooring really breathe!
Tip 5 – Prepare the Subfloor
You may be anxious to get gluing, nailing, or floating but hold your horses – properly prepping the subfloor is essential for a successful install. It’s not that hard to do, and the effort certainly pays off.
For hardwoods and most tile flooring installations, you always need to ensure the sub-floor is level to 3/16” within a 10-foot radius. If it is not, you will need to grind down any mounds/bumps/high spots and fill in any dips with a leveling compound (make sure it bonds with the adhesive). Then, ensure the subfloor is free of any dust and debris.
Tip 6 – Installing Bamboo Floors with Cabinets – The Right Way
One question we get asked a lot is regarding which gets installed first: flooring or cabinets. The answer is…it depends! The installation method is actually what determines the order:
If you are going to glue or nail down the floors, the floors go down first.
If you are floating the floors, the cabinets go in first, and then the floors.
This rule applies to kitchen islands too.
Installing Bamboo Floors: Glue or Nail-Down Method
Not every floor goes down the same way. To help you focus on just the awesome tips you need for your chosen installation method, we’ve broken them up for you. Pick your method and drink in the knowledge!
How to Avoid Sticky Situations with Glue Down Installations
Ready to roll up your sleeves and start troweling out some glue? First things first – let’s talk about the tools and steps you need before you glue that first plank down. They’ll vary depending on the type of sub-floor.
Get the right adhesive for the job.
If you are gluing down to a concrete slab, or on plywood that is over a crawl space or unconditioned space, you will need glue with a built-in moisture barrier, often referred to as a vapor-lock glue or an all-in-one glue. To determine the glue, you’ve got to know the vapor emission levels coming from that subfloor as some slabs/sub-floors can be much wetter than you think.
This is where a calcium chloride test kit comes in handy. Use multiple test kits if you have a large installation project – three per 1,000 square feet is typical. Set up the test kits in different areas of the home to ensure you get the most accurate results.
Once you know your test results, you know which glue to purchase! For example, if tests indicate 6 lbs. of vapor emissions per 1,000 square feet, then you might consider an adhesive with at least a 12 lb. or 15 lb. upper moisture limit/blocking factor. It is always better to spend a little more money now to ensure that the slab does not exceed the allowable limit of the glue than to be stuck with a cupped floor. In the rare case that you have a slab that exceeds the upper moisture limit of a standard vapor-lock glue then you may need to consider a vapor-lock glue with an unlimited moisture limit such as Bostik Ultra-Set Single Step.
Use the right trowel for your adhesive.
Alright now that you have the glue, let’s talk trowels for a minute. The spec sheet for the adhesive, or even the label on the pail, should have information on which type of trowel you need to purchase to achieve the proper spread rate and coverage of the glue on the sub-floor to achieve an effective moisture barrier. You’ll see that multiple trowels with different spread rates are listed – you only need to purchase the one that leaves the correct amount of adhesive behind to form the moisture barrier.
When spreading that vapor-lock glue, you’ve got to spread it out in a layer that is thick enough to 100% seal the sub-floor! When gluing down over a sub-floor that emits moisture, you should not be able to see the subfloor in the grooves of the glue. That subfloor should be completely covered!
Yo ho, lay the planks down!
Now as you trowel out the glue, make sure to let the adhesive get slightly tacky before you press a plank down. Read the adhesive spec. sheet for tack or set times. The set time varies by brand, temperature, and humidity.
If you put the planks down too soon, they are going to slide all over. But wait too long and the glue will not compress to an even level. Once the planks are down, DO use 3M Delicate Surfaces tape to tape them together to ensure a tight fit until the glue dries. DO NOT use blue painter’s tape or other types of tape as they may peel the finish on floors and moldings.
Clean as you go.
As you start making progress – it’s super important to clean up as you go. Use adhesive remover wipes to wipe up any errant drips of glue that get on the surface of the floors. Letting glue dry on top of wood floors can permanently damage the finish. After you use the wipes, go over the area with a soft cloth and floor-safe cleaner to ensure there is no leftover residue that will dry and leave a haze on the flooring.
Use delicate surface flooring tape to tape up the seams as you go which will keep tension on the planks and prevent them from gapping as the glue dries. Avoid harsh cleaners such as mineral spirits, paint thinner and others or you could damage the finish and test all cleaning products on a sacrificial plank before applying them to the entire floor.
Tips to Nail It with a Nail Down Installation
Apart from a few small differences, nailing down a strand bamboo or eucalyptus floor is just like nailing down any other hardwood floor. But because these floors are the densest and hardest floors on the market they require some special tools to get the job done.
Make sure this method is right for your subfloor.
We’ve already covered prepping subfloors but you need to know which subfloors are okay for a nail down installation. One very common subfloor is Oriented Strand Board (OSB). This cheaply made subfloor, like particleboard, is not sturdy enough to hold cleats for a nail down installation. The only exception is Advantech OSB. That is the superior OSB and the only one you can nail down over.
MagPanel isn’t OSB: it’s a magnesium oxide compound compressed into panels known as MgO board, and it’s great for a nail down installation. Plywood (5/8” thick) is another option for a nail down, but you can also install over an existing hardwood floor as long as it’s covered by 19/32” plywood.
Check out the full list below to ensure your subfloor will work with your preferred installation method:
No matter the subfloor, make sure it’s level and free of debris before you begin.
Cleats and Nailers, Oh My!
Softer floors like oak or maple, staples are typically used to nail the planks down. Strand bamboo and eucalyptus floors are exceptionally hard. They specifically require an 18 gauge “L” cleat (1-1/2” recommended) and a flexible pneumatic floor nailer. Anything larger than 18 GA will result in bumps or cracks on the surface, and anything smaller will just bend and won’t be driven into the plank properly.
Which nailer is right for you and are all 18 GA nailers the same? Just like most tools – you get what you pay for. A $750 nailer from a well-known brand will perform leaps and bounds over a $250 nailer from some no-name brand. This is an important distinction to make because nobody wants to continually stop in the middle of the project due to jammed nails and misfires.
If you’re not keen on purchasing a nail gone outright, Ambient offers rentals! Rent one of our Primatech Q550 Nailers today.
Configuring the Nailer
One mistake we see over and over again is not taking the time to properly configure the nailer and the air compressor.
First, adjust the height of the floor nailer using a small piece of bamboo flooring. This ensures that the fired cleat goes directly into the tongue of the flooring plank rather than below it or into the surface. Next, set the PSI of the air compressor between 90-120. Practice on a sacrificial plank, increasing the PSI slowly, until you achieve the perfect setting.
Perfect means the cleat head doesn’t protrude above the surface or sink in deeply. Go for nice and flush with the tongue.
Even with the perfect settings, some tongue splitting is acceptable with dense hardwood like strand bamboo flooring and eucalyptus flooring. Just keep it to less than 30% of the planks.
Don’t Overlook the Underlayment
The right underlayment is just as important as the right tools and materials. In the old days, red rosin paper was the go-to underlayment. It’s basically red-dyed wax-coated construction paper that goes over the subfloor and under the new hardwood floor. It’s fallen from favor because new products won’t leave red dye covering your hands and shoes.
Most installers use the 15 lb. asphalt-saturated felt paper commonly found in the roofing section of the building supply store. This option prevents wood from rubbing and acts as a limited vapor barrier (use two layers over crawl spaces or unfinished spaces).
While companies may sell padded silicone, felt, or foam pads labeled for a nail down installation, the National Wood Flooring Association does not recommend these products for nail down installations.
Squeezing in the Tight Places
Face it – there are areas where you can’t use the floor nailer. But you do have options:
- Glue the planks down
- Pre-drill and screw/nail them down
- Use epoxy tape
- Face nail the planks with a 23-gauge micro pin nailer (good for installing trim pieces too)
Each method has pros and cons including cost, labor, time, and appearance. You can hide screw heads by sinking and covering with matching wood putty or wooden plugs pulled from scrap flooring.
Installing Bamboo Floors: Floating Method
Preparing the subfloor is always important, but it’s even more critical when you install a floating floor. Trust us, you will feel any dips and rises in that subfloor if they aren’t addressed before the floor is installed. The subfloor should be flat to 3/16” per 10-foot radius. Otherwise, you’ll bounce when you walk on the floor and may even hear a creaking or crackling sound.
Level floor dips by filling them with a leveling compound. Grind down any mounds or bumps.
Know which floors can be floated.
Do you know which floors can be floated, and which ones can’t? In general, most floors designed to be floated will have a click-lock mechanism milled into the edges of the planks so they securely snap together.
Some engineered tongue and groove floors can also be floated by gluing the planks together. Never, ever float a solid hardwood floor. If you’re performing a floating installation, always use an engineered flooring product!
Understand your underlayment.
Is underlayment absolutely required? No, but it’s certainly recommended. And with so many different types, there’s one for every budget.
Look for an underlayment marked 3-in-1. This gives you cushioning, a vapor barrier, and will block and absorb sound. The least expensive underlayment products are usually just puffed, expanded foam, and have the lowest sound and impact ratings.
A step up from basic foam is recycled felt and cork underlayment. These are both environmentally friendly choices! On the higher end, are rigid cross-linked foam and rubber underlayment products. These materials may cost more but provide the highest sound ratings and the most cushion underfoot.
Decode underlayment ratings.
The two most common sound ratings are Sound Transmission Class (STC) and Impact Isolation Class IIC.
A high STC rating means that the underlayment would absorb much of sound from a second-floor television, providing peace to the ground floor.
A high IIC rating means that the underlayment absorbs much of the sound of footsteps or from items dropped on the floor.
Plan for all seasons.
Floating floors, unlike glued and nailed floors, are more sensitive to humidity. So, if you live in an area where indoor humidity fluctuates more than 25% over the course of a year, you’ve got to take some special installation precautions. These precautions limit how far you should lay the floor in any successive direction.
In these environments, the longest recommended successive distance for an engineered floor is 45 feet longitudinally (down the lengths of the planks) and 25 feet tangentially (across the widths of the planks).
If your runs exceed these limits, add breaks in the floor at doorways. Then cover them with a matching T-molding. Or, you can control the humidity using humidifiers and dehumidifiers, or even install a humidity modulator on your HVAC system.
Tips for Installing Bamboo Floors in Special Places
Bamboo flooring is a great option for any room in the house. But, some spaces require special care.
Over Radiant Heat
If you live where winters are cold, radiant heat is a popular way to keep warm. So, can you install bamboo flooring over radiant heat systems? Yes and no.
If the manufacturer approves installation over radiant heat without voiding the warranty, go for it. But read carefully, sometimes only certain types or thicknesses of bamboo flooring are approved. If it’s good with the manufacturer, then read the Radiant Heat Protocol put together by the folks over at the NWFA next.
Now that you’ve got the green light and understand the install, here are a few more tips.
- When installing bamboo floors or other hardwoods over radiant heat, you must have a way to monitor the temperature of the radiant heat system. This is true for both hydronic and electric systems.
- Leave plenty of room around doors and the walls for the flooring to expand. An expansion gap of 1/4”-1/2” is common.
- Try to maintain a constant subfloor temperature of 65° F while the floor is acclimating and during installation.
- If the radiant heat system is embedded in a substrate that releases moisture, place a 6-mil polyethylene sheet between the subfloor and the bamboo flooring cartons.
- For floating floors, a 2 mm foam or similar underlayment should be installed over the radiant heat system and under the flooring.
- After installation, keep the radiant heat system temperature under 85° F. Never increase or decrease the temperature by more than 1.5° F per day and avoid room temperature fluctuations of more than 7° F year around.
Over Crawl Spaces
Installing bamboo floors over crawl spaces and other unconditioned spaces is certainly doable if you prepare that space as carefully as you prepare the subfloor. So, bring the crawl space up to spec before you acclimate the floors. You can install perfectly, but if you don’t address the crawl space, you can still end up with cupped floors. That’s because warm air finds its way into crawl spaces and collects on the cooler surfaces of the structure. These steps are crucial to stop moisture from reaching your hardwood floor.
- There must be a minimum of 18″ clearance from the ground or slab to the bottom of the joists.
- The earth or slab must be 100% covered by a vapor barrier such as 6 mil polyethylene or any puncture-resistant Class C membrane that meets ASTM D-1745.
- If local building codes require venting, make sure the crawl space has minimum perimeter venting of 1.5 sq ft per 100 sq ft of crawl space.
- If there is no ventilation, the vapor barrier sheets must overlap at least six inches and be sealed with tape. The vapor barrier must run up the stem wall at least six inches and be sealed at the top.
We hope that you found our tips and tricks guide useful and that it will help you tackle your next flooring project with extra confidence!