Installing Engineered Hardwood Floors – Ultimate Guide

Learn What the Pros Know: When to Glue, Nail, or Float…and How to Avoid the Three Negative R’s of Construction!

The generous use of hardwood flooring throughout the home is one of the recent hottest design trends in residential architecture. Both interior designers and homebuyers have re-discovered the warmth hardwood flooring brings to the interior of a home. The natural material brings a sense of balance and synergy.

how to install engineered hardwood floors

Residential builders have found that newer products, such as engineered hardwood flooring, can be simpler and more cost-efficient to install than traditional hardwood. Engineered wood floors provide amazing alternatives to other flooring materials, but they are not free from potential challenges.

This article shares some best practices for installing engineered hardwood floors. The first best practice is thorough planning. Investing time upfront to plan your installation project is well worth it to avoid the Three Negative R’s of Construction: Repair, Revise, and Redo!

8 Flooring Questions to Ask Before Installation

Installing an engineered wood floor is a major project. Treat it with the respect it deserves. Here are the eight critical questions you must research and answer to plan and budget for a successful engineered hardwood flooring installation.

1. What are the Best-Engineered Hardwood Floors to Lay Over Your Concrete Slab?

Engineered hardwood products vary in-depth, ranging from three-eighths to just over half an inch thick.

Thinner material can be more cost-effective and is advantageous if overall floor height is an issue. Premium grades have a thicker wear layer, which offers more opportunities to be sanded and refinished, extending the life of the engineered wood flooring.

2. What Type of Subfloor Surface Will Lay Beneath the Installed Engineered Hardwood?

You need to understand how to prepare the subfloor surface, which varies a bit based on the type of subfloor surface.

All surfaces should be scraped and cleaned until they’re free of any debris. Subfloor surfaces must also be dry, solid, and structurally intact.

Concrete subfloors should be as flat as possible in accordance with the manufacturer’s tolerances (an eighth-inch across a ten-foot area is a good industry standard).* Concrete floors also need to be at the manufacturer’s specified relative humidity (RH) level to the flooring you’re installing.

You can officially confirm and document the subfloor’s RH level in accordance with the ASTM F2170 standard for determining in situ RH in concrete slabs.

The moisture content percentage (MC%) must be measured and verified appropriately if you are installing over a wood subfloor. The subfloor surface should be firmly secured with no loose material. If this can’t be achieved, replacing or overlaying the existing subfloor surface may be necessary.

3. Should You Float, Nail, Staple, or Glue Your Engineered Hardwood?

Different factors come into play when making this decision. It depends on the type of surface over which you are installing the floor. It also depends on the environment where you live. Is this a retrofit or new construction?

You should install a floating engineered hardwood when you need flexibility. Installing a floating engineered hardwood floor works well at any grade level and over most types of subfloor surfaces.

A floating engineered wood flooring installation on concrete can be an excellent choice if your subfloor is below grade. It’s also a great option if you incorporate a radiant heat system.* (Don’t forget the vapor retarder!)

In contrast, gluing hardwood to concrete provides a permanent solution. Gluing works well when installing engineered hardwood over a concrete subfloor, but be sure you understand the manufacturer’s application instructions before you glue that floor.

When you have a wood subfloor, plan to nail down the engineered hardwood flooring. As long as you use the correct pneumatic nail gun, this technique provides the installer with a simple and controlled approach to the installation.

4. What’s the Best Glue for your Engineered Wood Flooring?

Whatever glue product is recommended by the manufacturer. Different types of glue work best with different types of flooring. Environmental factors also play a part.

Avoid water-based adhesives, as they trigger the expansion and contraction of engineered wood products. A good adhesive form a powerful bond yet remains flexible over the long haul.

5. Will a Radiant Heat System be Incorporated Under the Engineered Hardwood Flooring?

If so, engineered wood flooring is an attractive option here. The manufacturing process of the engineered wood creates a stable core that resists expansion and contraction from environmental changes. Verify that the radiant heat system you are considering is compatible with engineered wood flooring.

Have you planned to install your engineered hardwood in a way that is compatible with a radiant heat system? For example, nailing down or stapling an engineered hardwood flooring over a radiant heat system takes special care. Always consult both manufactures in the planning process.

Free Download – Wood Flooring Installation: What To Expect

6. What Sort of Moisture Testing Will You Conduct Before Installation?

Testing a wood subfloor’s moisture content (MC %) is important. It’s also important if the subfloor is concrete to properly test the relative humidity (RH). Don’t forget to test the engineered wood products you intend to install. Excess moisture is the surest way to a flooring failure.

7. Do You Have the Appropriate Space, Time, and Conditions to Acclimate the Engineered Wood Flooring?

Engineered hardwood needs to acclimate, but different manufacturers require different things. Always consult the specific manufacturer for their requirements.

After your engineered wood products have been delivered, best practice dictates maintaining serviceable conditions within the building for approximately five days. Place open cartons of the engineered wood in the center of the room to promote adequate air circulation while avoiding exposure to direct sunlight. This placement helps to minimize expansion and contraction, which reduces the risk of moisture-related warpage.

8. How Much Time, Effort, and Money Will the Project Take?

Engineered hardwood installation costs vary. Materials range from three to $13 per square foot, depending on the grade of the product. Installation costs run anywhere between $3 to $10 per square foot, depending on the complexity of the design.

If you are a homeowner, you may also be asking yourself whether you can save money by doing your own installation. Perhaps. The more pointed question you have to answer is whether a reduction in upfront dollars spent will be worth the sweat equity time you’ll invest to achieve an inexpert installation – especially when compared to your lower total cost of ownership incurred by a flooring professional.

Get a few professional bids. Analyze the costs of labor and materials against services and warranties offered. Then make your choice.

Flooring Checklist to Make Installation Easier

We’ve created a checklist to help make your engineered hardwood flooring project easier. The first checklist applies regardless of the installation method. Each of the other three checklists addresses a different installation option: gluing, nailing, or floating.

Managing the Subfloor

  • Assess and prep the subfloor surface. Scrape and clean the surface, making sure to remove all debris.
  • Make any necessary repairs on the subfloor.
  • If a concrete subfloor is in place, conduct an RH moisture test on the concrete according to the ASTM F2170 standard to verify its readiness for installation.
  • If a wood subfloor is in place, measure the moisture content percentage (MC%) of the wood subfloor and the engineered wood flooring to confirm all the engineered hardwood is acclimated and suitable for installation.

Handling the Engineered Hardwood

  • It’s critical to unpack and acclimate the engineered hardwood flooring under monitored conditions.
  • Be careful when laying out the engineered hardwood flooring material. Ensure that joints have appropriate offsets and that you avoid discernable patterns.
  • Check to ensure that the subfloor is flat within a minimum of an eighth inch over a ten-foot span.* If needed, apply a floor leveling compound to mitigate variances.

Glue It: The Most Permanent Solution

  • When selecting the starter wall, consider the grain of the engineered hardwood, as well as how light may affect the perspective.
  • Snap a line or use some sort of straight edge to ensure that boards are lined up straight.
  • Allow spacing (typically a minimum of half an inch) for expansion on all perimeters, per manufacturer specifications.* Consider using half-inch spacers to maintain consistency.
  • Trowel spread the glue in a predetermined area. Avoid spreading wider than 36 inches as it may dry faster than you can install, which can create a potentially messy situation.
  • Secure the planks in place during installation so they don’t shift out of alignment. You can assert downward pressure on the planks by rolling the flooring using a 150-pound wheel roller. A simpler option is to set five-gallon buckets filled with water on the planks.
  • The bottom line is that you want broad, uniform contact between the flooring material and the adhesive.
  • Always clean excess adhesive before it has a chance to dry.
  • Finish by installing baseboard and trim products.
  • Important “Don’ts”
  • Don’t use a rubber mallet as it can damage the flooring. Do use a tapping block to fit the planks snuggly.
  • Avoid any heavy foot traffic for at least 24 hours.

use a nailer to install your engineered hardwood product

Nail It: Using the Right Tools on a Wood Subfloor, Nailing It Is a Fast and Simple Option

  • Choose the correct pneumatic stapler or “brad” nailer to install your engineered hardwood product.*
  • Snap a line or use some sort of straight edge to ensure that boards are lined up straight. Allow spacing (typically a minimum of half an inch) for expansion on all perimeters, per manufacturer specifications.* Consider using half-inch spacers to maintain consistency.
  • Follow the flooring manufacturer’s guidelines for best practices securing (nailing or stapling) the engineered wood to the subfloor.* Tighten using a mallet and wood tapping blocks.
  • Install the baseboard and trim products last.

Float It: The Option with Maximum Flexibility

  • Install an appropriate underlayment according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.*
  • Install your space blocks. Half-inch blocks are typical but check the manufacturer guidelines.*
  • Set your chalk line mark, apply the adhesive, and lay the first board in place.
  • float hardwood floor installationWhen installing a floating engineered hardwood floor, it can be tricky to snug up the tongue and groove joints. You can use five-gallon buckets of water to put pressure on the floor to keep the boards in place. Be careful not to spill any of the water as you don’t want to add any moisture to the flooring.
  • As you install more rows, use blue painter’s tape to keep the joints tight.
  • Use a hammer and block to gently tap the joints tight. Keep the first row straight and square with the room.*
  • Regularly wipe any excess adhesive with a damp, clean cloth so it doesn’t get a chance to dry.
  • Continue with these installation steps as you move through the room.
  • Install the baseboard and trim products last.

Addressing Moisture Control to Avoid

It is vital to properly test the moisture levels of the subfloor and the engineered wood flooring products. Moisture impacts the engineered hardwood flooring regardless of whether the subfloor is wood or concrete. Excessive moisture permeating from floor slabs after installation can cause floor covering system failures such as debonding and deterioration of finish flooring, coating, and microbial growth.

Proper Acclimation of Engineered Wood Flooring Products is Vital

Before installation, the engineered hardwood flooring must acclimate according to the manufacturer’s specifications.* Engineered wood acclimates by being allowed to breathe within a controlled environment. Proper acclimation helps to minimize moisture-related warping as well as expansion and contraction.

To set the conditions for proper acclimation, have the engineered wood flooring products stay onsite under serviceable conditions for up to five days after delivery.

Additional Readings: Wood Flooring Installation – What to Expect.

Last updated on March 19th, 2024


  1. David J Crandon says:


    I compromised with my wife and agreed to have engineered hardwood put down in most of the house rather than the carpet I wanted. I prefer carpet simply because the sound of people walking on a wood floor is something I dislike very much.

    Our floor is concrete, in a single story house. I did some research and had thought that a sound absorbing underlayment underneath the engineered hardwood floor would be good to reduce the sound of footsteps.

    I was then told that in order to put a sound absorbing underlayment down, they first have to put down plywood in order to be able to nail the engineered hardwood floor down.

    Without the underlayment they said they would glue the engineered hardwood to the concrete.

    So my question is is there any benefit whatsoever, even a very small one, that using the underlayment will reduce the sound of footsteps on the floor?

    I’m thinking that if we have to put down plywood, that will possibly amplify the sound of footsteps as much as the sound absorbing underlayment will reduce it.

    What do you think?

  2. Barbara Krupilski says:

    We just bought a patio home on a slab. It has engineered flooring that we would like to carpet. Currently it is glued. What do we need to do?

  3. A great read! Each point is explained really well. Thanks for sharing this content.

  4. Faouzi Trabelsi says:


    We have a 5 floor heritage building that we are to complete an abatement project to remove all plaster and existing ceiling and insulation. All flooring is hardwood and is considered heritage and is to be kept in place during this project.

    My question is what is the requirements to protect the wood during the abatement work period and waiting period for the rehabilitation of the building which may be in another year or two depending on funds?

    Type of covers required?
    do we provide some temporary insulation and vapor barrier on outside walls to keep the same level of temperature heating and cooling setpoints?
    What is the recommended environmental control to keep the wood from shrining or expanding during the project?

    Best regards,

  5. Landon "Wood Expert" Edgington says:

    Hi Jason, engineered hardwood flooring is indeed made installation quite easy. Just make sure that you need to follow instructions properly on how to install them and then alongside your information, we can make proper judgments. But if someone is not confident in installing these on their own, it’s better to hire professionals to do it than botch the job.

  6. M. Kato says:

    Hi Jason – looking for a 2nd opinion here. I’m in the midst of flooring project that has had major set-backs. My condo unit (townhouse style, with lower and upper units) was built in 2002 and has about an inch of light cement for sound insulation and fire retardation between the floor and wood subfloor. I had planned on replacing all flooring with engineered hardwood (had to abandon the thought of hardwood floors due to this concrete layer). While the ugly carpeting came off just fine, my contractor was unable to remove the glued down engineered hardwood (cheap stuff with very thin veneer with no room to sand down) without breaking the light cement underneath. Now I’m faced with having to replace the light cement per Association rules. Here is my question – I have 8 buckets of glue sitting in my condo at the moment (delivered by my flooring contractor, along with boxes of engineered hardwood planks), but given what has transpired last week, wondering if floating them would be a better option. I have the same question out to my contractor, but looking for a 2nd opinion from an uninterested professional. Thanks! – MK

  7. danny payne says:


    I appreciate your info on this site. Very good info for a novice like me. I’m adding a room onto our house on a concrete slab. The house is on a crawl space but the slope on the rear of the house wouldn’t allow for the new room. My question: The room will only be used as an extra dining room 6-10 times a year at most. So we won’t be heating or cooling except on these few days when in use. We are in North Carolina which has high humidity in the summers and cold but not excessive cold winters. What flooring do you recommend? One local flooring store said only vinyl could work. Is this correct? We have hardwoods in the rest of the house which stays at 72F year round. Thanks, Danny

  8. Mark Boudreaux says:

    forgot my 2nd question: in the picture of nailing install, they seem to be using roofing felt as underlayment; is that the preferred way to do it?

  9. Mark Boudreaux says:

    Had 2 questions. 1st is glue vs staples for a 3/8″ thick engineered oak plank in 3″ width which is going on a 2nd floor plywood subfloor. I get that many flooring contractors can save time and money by stapling vs the added cost of a good adhesive and time to trowel then tape the planks. But for the best durability and to limit creaks/pops, is glue or stapling better? I get that you want to allow some movement of floor for seasonal changes, but no one seems to be willing to say which method is preferred (Armstrong floors says all 3 methods are ok, as you do, but really interested in the best installation method when time & cost are less a priority than a solid install. Many thanks. great article.

    • Jason Spangler says:


      Thanks for the questions. First, there are many people out there that do a cleat or staple with a glue assist in an effort to gain the best of both worlds. Personally, I am less concerned with the method of fastening and MUCH more concerned about the subfloor preparation. If the floor isn’t “flat”, the chances of the finished outcome being less than desirable are drastically increased. Everyone has an opinion on this, but a qualified installation professional with a quality flooring product, can have a floor perform exceptionally with cleats, staples, and/or adhesive. The breakdown comes when the floor isn’t flat, the wrong size/gauge fasteners are used, fastener spacing is incorrect, the wrong trowel sized is used for adhesive, or the product is low quality and would be hard to install in the best of situations. Felt is just one option out there. Another product (I usually don’t talk specific products) is Aquabar. Good luck.

  10. Charles Farrell says:

    Our installation will include a sound barrier subfloor mat (5mm) that is glued to the concrete first. Floor originally had parquet squares over 1/2″ homosote that was glued to the concrete. We ripped up parquet and homosote and scraped the concrete surface. How clean is clean? Concrete has a dull black finish that I think is from the previous glue that was used (@1966) and has some remnant dust from the homosote. We have scraped and vacuumed and the concrete seems ready for the new glue for our subfloor (sound deadening) mat to which the 5/8″ x 5″ engineered oak floor will be glued. This is an apartment building, 5th floor. I am pretty sure there is no concrete moisture problem. My real question is how clean does the concrete have to be?? I am a contractor but I have no experience with engineered floors on concrete.

    • Jason Spangler says:


      Thanks for the question. Unfortunately, this is a question better asked of the adhesive company that you are utilizing. They will have a rep and/or technical department that should be able to get you lined out. Good luck.

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