Armchair Builder

Hard Surface Flooring Installation

How to Build a Home, Step 43

Subfloor Preparation for Finished Flooring

After painting the walls and ceilings, our next activity in our article series on How to Build a Home is hard surface flooring installation.  When we say hard surface flooring, we are referring to the installation of all hardwood, tile and vinyl.  This also includes any wall tile installation for showers and tub/shower surrounds.  Here we will discuss the schedule for installation, the preparation required, and the quality checklist to make sure everything is done properly.


Prior to installing all finished flooring, it’s important to perform a quality check of all subflooring to make sure everything is ready to go.  All seams should be checked in the the subfloor sheathing for loose nails, screws or panels.  For oriented strand board subfloor (a.k.a. OSB), all seams should be sanded smooth as in the photo above.  Most of the time this is carefully completed with a floor belt sander to level out the edges of each piece of OSB.  This material can swell when it gets wet and there is a good chance it was subjected to water during the framing process prior to the roof going on.  Here’s a quick checklist for the subfloor…

  • OSB seams sanded (see photo above)
  • Fasteners all secured tight to the subfloor
  • Holes:  Any holes or damage to the subfloor should be repaired
  • Transitions:  Mark all transitions on the floor.  This will tell the flooring trades exactly where you want the tile, hardwood or vinyl to end for each room.  If a door is involved, most of the transitions should be located directly under the door when it is shut.
  • Cabinets:  Mark the locations of cabinets on the subfloor.  This will tell the flooring trades where to stop the floor and wall tile. If your bath vanity cabinets have walls on either side, make sure to mark where tile should end.   If the cabinets were designed to fit tightly to the framing, the tile may get in the way.  Meaning, if 5/8 inch thickness of tile goes up on a wall that a vanity cabinet butts up to, you may need to remove the tile in order for the cabinet to fit.
  • Temperatures:  If the outside temperatures are cool/cold, make sure the heat is on in the home.


We install flooring after the walls and ceilings are primed and painted.  This makes it easier to paint without worrying about damaging the flooring.  It’s also a good idea to install flooring prior to cabinets and trim.  This will tell the trim carpenter exactly how high to shim the cabinets up off of the subfloor to get the desired height from flooring surface to countertop surface.  That’s right, we don’t install flooring under cabinets that are closed underneath.  Why?  When flooring labor and material costs anywhere from $5 to $15 per square foot to install, it just makes sense not to install a finished flooring that will be covered up.  The other reason to install flooring prior to trim is to get the base molding tight to the finished floor.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how the flooring schedule should work.  Remember, these will vary based on the types and quantities of materials going down.

  • Delivery:  All material should be delivered to the home at the end of the day of the paint walls and ceilings activity.  If outside temperatures are colder than inside the home, the materials should be placed inside the home to acclimate.  This is especially important for hardwood.  Be sure to check all material delivered is per your selections.
  • Day 1 morning:  Underlayment is installed for tile and vinyl flooring
  • Day 1 p.m.:  Vinyl is installed, Tile setting begins
  • Day 2:  Tile set continues, Hardwood installation begins
  • Day 3:  Tile is grouted and hardwood finished up.

This schedule assumes the hardwood is pre-finished and you a sufficient number of workers on the installation crews to finish the job.  If your home is going to be all hardwood or tile, you will probably need to add days to the schedule.  Be sure to have clean water available for the tile installer to mix thinset and grout.

Quality Check

After the flooring has been installed, there are a few things you will want to check.  First, review all of the walls in the hard surface flooring areas to make sure no excessive damage was done.  Remember, we’ve already painted them so the flooring contractors should have done everything possible to keep them clean.  It’s also a good idea to check all of the transitions in the flooring to make sure they are correct.  If something needs to be changed, now is the time to do it.

For each flooring type, there should be some leftover material for future repairs.  Make sure these are placed in a safe, dry place.  All flooring surfaces should have a protective covering installed, leaving a four inch gap at the edges for base molding to be installed by the trim carpenter.  If you haven’t already, you may want to add this requirement into each floor contractor’s scopes of work and specification.

Here are a few other quality items to review…


  • Planks should be installed perpendicular to the floor joists below
  • Surface nails are putty with matching putty
  • Gaps are left at perimeter for expansion and contraction
  • Proper transitions are installed between differing materials


  • Grout Lines:  Check that all grout lines are consistent in width and are straight
  • Grout Removal:  Make sure all grout has been removed from the face of all tile
  • Tile Cuts: No tiles should be cut to less than 1/2 the manufactured size
  • Tile Layout:  Tiles should be installed straight with all walls…unless a diagonal pattern was requested
  • Underlayment seams should be staggered with subfloor seams.  Minimum thickness is 1/2 inch.


  • Seams:  All sheet vinyl seams should be tight and sealed properly.  They should be installed in the low traffic areas when possible.
  • Pattern should be installed square with walls
  • 1/4″ underlayment should be installed with seams staggered and perpendicular with subfloor

If you missed any of the recent steps in our series on How to Build a Home, you can click on the links below.

Paint Walls and Ceilings, Step 42

Install Masonry, Siding, and Garage Doors, Step 41

Drywall Finish, Step 40

Insulating Your Home, Step 39



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