What’s under your feet (or however you get around) is as important as anything when it comes to home. That’s why this fall, we collaborated with The Home Depot on an A to Z guide that’ll give you the confidence to make flooring choices you’ll love. Check out the A to Z handbook here.
Let’s be real: the installation process for any type of flooring is always a complicated, time consuming, and deeply personal process. And while methods and materials vary wildly, whether you’re installing new wall-to-wall carpet in your bedroom or giving your sunroom a porcelain tile facelift, there are foundational tips for any type of flooring installation that will benefit both the health of the project and your own personal health, especially if you are going the DIY route. The Home Depot has products, tools, and even professional installers to help along the way.
Physical health: Always use protection
It might seem like there are dozens of tools out there, depending on what kind of flooring you’re putting down—miter saws, pneumatic nail guns, trowels, drill bits, and more. (See our T section for more on tools!) But the most essential instruments in your flooring arsenal are about protecting your health, not just getting the job done.
First and foremost, invest in good quality kneepads. Sure, you might look like a ’90s rollerblading enthusiast, but putting pressure on your knees for long stretches of time can lead to short-term pain and long-term damage. (There’s actually a specific type of knee condition—prepatellar bursitis, also known as “floor-layer’s knee”—that is the bane of professional contractors.) You can purchase kneepads that are made specifically for flooring projects, with special features such as thigh supports, gel inserts, and varying cap styles (hard-cap, curved-soft, and flat-cap) that match how much movement you’ll be doing in the pads.
Goggles are also a must for anyone who values their optical health (which is, hopefully, everyone). There are many options on the market, but choosing a pair that meets the American National Standards Institute goggle guidelines—protecting against things like chemical splash and dust—will ensure peace of mind.
Oh, and this probably goes without saying, but construction zones should always be flip-flop free. Wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes, like a work boot, when working on any flooring project.
Environmental health: Dust, VOCs, and eco-friendly products
Flooring is a messy business, and can release a lot of byproducts into the air over the course of an installation process. That’s why you should prepare the safest environment possible prior to beginning your work.
Begin by closing off the room you’ll be working in, using plastic and sturdy painter’s tape around doorways, air ducts, and windows to prevent debris and chemical smells from spreading to the rest of the house. (If there are multiple entries, designate one doorway the “entry and exit” place and keep all other access points sealed.)
Always wear a protective mask when doing any sort of flooring work, whether you are cutting wood or applying sealants, to protect your lungs from dust and chemicals. While many flooring products today pride themselves on possessing low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—indeed, there are many beautiful low-VOC laminates on the market now, whereas, a decade ago, the options were slim—it’s always best to err on the side of caution and wear a mask.
During hardwood installation projects, dust is a force to be reckoned with and must be treated as such. Consider renting a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) vacuum and using it repeatedly throughout the project to suction up any lingering particles.
And remember, fans are mostly your friend. They can help keep temperatures well-regulated while working on vinyl or tiling projects in hot weather, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends ventilating any freshly carpeted area for 72 hours after the project is complete. (Setting up fans willy-nilly in a hardwood installation, however, will just leave you with a whole lot of tiny dust tornados.)
Mental health: Extra, extra—give yourself extra time
It can be quite disheartening to read online that a flooring project should only take “about an afternoon” or “one day, total!” and realize on the morning of day three you’re not even close to being finished. Give yourself a little breathing room, and whatever the estimated “time to completion,” double it. If you finish it early? Great! If you don’t? There’s no need to stress that you’re not working hard enough or making fast enough progress. Your sanity will thank you.
Health of your home: Follow instructions, please!
There are those among us (this writer included) who are not inclined to read directions, and tend to forge ahead without knowing exactly what’s going on. With flooring projects, that’s a recipe for disaster. If a product includes manufacturer’s instructions—or rules for which products to use with certain types of flooring—always follow them to the letter. Otherwise, your house could be damaged permanently, you could lose your warranty on the product, and you’ll be left with a very expensive mess to clean up.
A good example of this is adhesive. Flooring adhesive is a type of permanent glue that bonds your flooring to the subfloor or underlayment. The type of adhesive best suited for your unique undertaking is determined by factors such as the condition of your substrate, the location of the room you’re rehabbing, and the flooring material you’ve selected. Whether you’re using vinyl, tile, or carpet, there’s a type of adhesive out there to match up with your product.
If you’re attaching to a concrete subfloor, for example, you’ll need a different type of adhesive than if you’re attaching to a plywood subfloor. If you’re installing flooring in an indoor-outdoor room—or a strictly outside space—you’ll need an adhesive that can handle the fluctuations of the elements.
If you follow the instructions and use an adhesive intended for carpet in an indoor-outdoor space that has vinyl, be prepared for a sticky mess on your hands. The bottom line: Always read the instructions and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines, for the health of your home.
Emotional health: Help (can be) on the way
While vinyl and laminate flooring tend to be easier to install on your own, other materials like hardwood, tile, and carpet may prove more trouble than their worth to DIY without the help of a professional. If things get too overwhelming (or if the kneepad-chic look isn’t really working for you), The Home Depot’s installation service team is always at the ready to launch a new flooring project for your family, or jump into the middle of one if things haven’t gone quite according to plan. They are the pros, after all.