Wood flooring contractors often find themselves “under the gun” to meet deadlines. Since the flooring installer is one of the last trades working on the job site, we often see that we’re pushed to complete the installation quickly because the project is behind schedule before we’ve even arrived. It seems we just can’t work hard enough, or fast enough, to complete the job so we can get to the next one. However, working long days and working quickly can often lead to inefficiencies that can affect quality and performance. Here are some tips that can help improve daily efficiency that can translate into optimum performance.
Bidding the Job
Thoroughly inspect the exterior and interior of the home while measuring the floors for your estimate. It’s essential to address situations like missing exterior doors or earth crawl spaces that have yet to be covered or insulated. It’s important to educate the general contractor or homeowner about what is required to ensure the site condition is acceptable before the delivery of the wood. Discovering these issues at the time of delivery means that the job will be delayed and your schedule must be altered.
Document the relative humidity (RH) and moisture content (MC) of the subfloor if possible. When measuring up remodel situations where the subfloor may be covered, take MC readings of other identifiable solid wood that exists in the home such as solid wood chairs or banisters. This is a simple way to determine the target for acclimation of the flooring. Recording RH and MC while bidding the job also gives you an opportunity to educate the end user of the importance of proper acclimation and maintaining a stable environment post installation.
Whenever possible, incorporate a few bundles/boxes of a wider width format. For example, if you are installing a 2¼” strip floor, include a few bundles of 3¼” boards to eliminate any possible rippings of an inch or narrower. Ripping wider boards is safer than attempting to rip small pieces, and the floor will look better, especially if the ripping is tapered to match up with a crooked wall.
Make sure that the transitions and accessories are available at the time the floor is delivered. Sourcing transitions, while the installation is ongoing, may result in having to return after the installation has been completed.
Delivering the Material
When delivering material, determine where the starting point will be and place the material on the opposite wall to minimize handling of the material while racking out. If starting in the middle of the room, place equal amounts of material along both walls that run parallel to the installation direction.
If installing in multiple rooms, bring in the material required for each room and place the material along the walls that will be installed last. Placing material in one room and then distributing the material in the other rooms you will be working in will result in over handling the material and increase the risk of damaging walls and doorways.
If installing on multiple floors, make sure that you only bring up the amount of flooring necessary for the upper floors. Having an excessive amount of flooring on the upper floors will result in over handling the material because you have to bring material back down to the main floor.
Racking Out the Floor
Install the first two or three rows from your starting position and place the boxes/bundles on the floor. When placing the boxes/bundles on the floor to prepare for racking out, make sure that the tongues are facing the direction of installation. This will eliminate having to turn boards around while racking out. Unfinished flooring is usually bundled so that the faces (wear layers) of the boards are facing upward except for the top row. The top row is upside-down. Make sure to place the bundles in such a way that there is only one row of boards to flip right side up. If you are installing material that is in cartons/boxes, carefully remove the flooring from the cartons, flatten them, and stack them neatly in an area that is out of your way. If you’re dealing with factory-finished flooring, have a garbage bag handy to dispose of the protective foam that is placed between the rows of flooring.
Rack the floor starting at the wall on the left or the wall adjacent to the groove side at the end of the board. Make sure you leave enough room for the nailing machine. Rack out in a direction perpendicular to the installation direction as far as you can reach, then continue to rack out the flooring in the direction of installation. This will minimize the need to travel back and forth while racking out.
Place the last boards (the boards that will be cut) backward so that the tongue on the end of the board is facing the opposite direction. This board will overlap the second to last board. Choose boards that barely overlap to minimize waste. The board that will be cut is now in a position to be marked for cutting. Rack out as much of the floor as you can inside the room that you’re about to install.
Remove the doors, and pre-cut all your door jambs, plinth blocks, and casings before starting the installation. Remove tracks and feet associated with sliding doors or bi-fold doors. Always mark the doors before removal if they need to be cut to accommodate the change of the floor height.
Have a plan in place before starting the installation. Some of the things that should be considered are how to deal with the doorways, how to achieve a balanced layout, and where to begin installation to minimize the impact of the more difficult areas.
Determine placement of your saw. The saw should be placed in an area as close to the area of installation as possible to minimize the amount of walking back and forth to the saw when cuts have to be made. Install as much of the flooring as you can before you have to make a cut then mark and cut the last boards. Make sure that you cut multiple boards at a time. Place a trash can close to the saw so that the off-cuts are disposed of immediately to avoid cluttering up your workstation and minimize cleanup at the end of the day.
When installing, make sure you have all the necessary tools you will need handy such as hammer, tape measure, chalk line, nail sets, screwdrivers, chisels, utility knives, and nail pullers. It’s good practice to keep these items in a tool belt or pouch. Wearing a tool belt ensures that you will find the necessary hand tools when you need them, saving yourself a lot of time in searching for tools that you had in your hands just moments before. If tools are strewn about the floor, you risk damaging the floor if these tools are stepped on during installation. This will result in performing unnecessary repairs.
Other tools that can’t be carried in a pouch or belt should be kept in a toolbox. When the tool is not in use, it should be placed back in the toolbox to avoid searching for them when you need them.
Show up for work on time (the earlier, the better). When you are one of the first trades on-site, you can take command of your workspace. It’s much easier to deny another trade access to your workspace than it is to remove a tradesperson that has already started working in the space. Starting work early will also allow you to take advantage of working in cooler temperatures in the summer months.
Never be empty-handed. When you approach the home or work site, carry a toolbox; it’ll save an extra trip. If you need to get something from your vehicle, bring down a full trash bag or bring down a trash can that may have to be emptied. If you know you’re finished with a piece of equipment, bring it back to your vehicle. That way, it is out of your way, and it saves you from having to scramble to get the equipment into the vehicle at the end of the job. Scrambling at the end of the job will often result in throwing your equipment into the vehicle in a disorganized manner.
Put your phone away! When you’re constantly distracted by incoming text messages, emails, and phone calls, you will lose your rhythm and momentum. Designate a time to respond to texts and emails that may accumulate during the day such as coffee breaks, lunch breaks, or at a time when you have completed a room or section of flooring and about to start a new room or section.
Most of the tips suggested in this article seem like common sense; however, a lot of these simple tips get ignored when you’re in the heat of battle trying to meet a deadline. The result is you end up working unnecessarily hard in an attempt to finish on time, and this can often lead to shortcuts or a finished project that is not up to the standard you’ve set for yourself.
The most efficient way to install a floor is to install it correctly the first time. It becomes costly both in time and money if you have to return to a job site after you’ve finished the installation and packed up your equipment. Staying organized and creating good work habits that become routine is the easiest way to optimize efficiency.
Kjell Nymark is Technical Advisor at the National Wood Flooring Association in St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.