Hardwood floors will usually be a challenge to install because they’re heavy and durable. But you may be wondering if the baseboards along your walls should be installed first. After all, baseboards are never fastened directly to the floor. Instead, they’re attached to the wall studs. So, whether you are remodeling or replacing your floor with hardwood, we have thoroughly researched if you should install the new hardwood floor under the baseboard.
While baseboards are ordinarily added before most flooring, it is best to install hardwood floors before the trim. You should consider that there are serious advantages when you apply the baseboards after your hardwood floors:
- Less mess
- Cover gaps
- Neat lines
Although hardwood floors can be a little difficult to work with, they are also beautiful, have a long lifespan, and add resale value. So, it’s worthwhile to make sure they are installed correctly. Keep reading to learn about the relationship between your floor and the baseboards, what causes the gap between them, and how to fix it.
Install Flooring Beneath Baseboards For Less Mess
Baseboards are just the protective strips of wood that run along the feet of your walls. You can read the post "Should You Glue Or Nail Baseboards?" to find the right approach to fastening the baseboards. They often go unnoticed because they tend to share an identical color of paint with the walls. However, therein lies the problem, should you choose to install hardwood floors after them.
If you install your baseboards first, it will become a challenge to restore and repaint the trim later on. Keep in mind that baseboards are specifically built to protect your walls from common damage such as furniture scrapes. Your walls are typically going to be made of drywall, which is a weak gypsum plaster that is easily dented or splintered.
In other words, you are likely going to have to restore damaged baseboards at some point. It will be easier to repaint and repair baseboards that aren’t tucked below a hardwood floor.
Also, you are more likely to damage the baseboards when you install the flooring rather than the other way around. Sliding heavy, durable hardwood underneath existing baseboards is just too complicated. One slip up with the floorboards can result in replacing an entire piece of baseboard.
What Causes A Gap Between The Floor And Baseboard?
Any kind of wood is going to expand and contract due to temperature and humidity. This tends to cause many problems, such as nail pops later on. Specialists such as Wood Floor Warehouse agree that you should leave an expansion gap between wood floors and the walls. This way, the hardwood flooring can breathe during hotter months.
But a poor installation can result in a gap that is either too large or too small, both of which can cause serious problems. There are typically two separate companies to install flooring or trim, which means that they won’t always coordinate correctly.
However, most of the time, you’ll find a gap between your floor and the baseboard because of age. Over time, a gap is allowed to grow between the floor and the walls because the house is settling.
This means that shifting soil is allowing the foundation of your home to slowly sink. This only tends to occur during the first three to five years after the house is initially built and completed. But it can lead to trouble such as cracks, awkward angles, and gaps throughout the home.
How Far Off The Floor Is Baseboard Installed?
It is usually best if the expansion gap between your floor and baseboards measures around half an inch, up to three-quarters of an inch. This will ensure that the flooring does not squeak against the baseboards or damage them when warmer seasons increase humidity, making the hardwood swell.
However, as a general rule, you need to consider the size of your individual rooms. Every floorboard in a given room is going to need to expand. That means that larger rooms in your home will need even more room to breathe.
Therefore, not all expansion gaps should be the same. You will have to determine the ideal expansion gap size for each room in particular so that the gap and the flooring size will remain proportionate.
Minding the Gaps
Since the measurements for your expansion gap may be subject to change, installing your baseboards after the flooring can help you control the distance.
You don’t want to wait until after installing the baseboards to find out that you have a large gap, which always makes the floor look uneven. Then you’ll have to invest in one of several methods to cover a gap that the baseboards themselves could have resolved.
On the other hand, baseboards that are installed afterward can also end up flush with the floor. Unfortunately, this can result in an entirely different problem.
Most baseboards are also made of durable materials. This includes solid wood, or sometimes MDF, which is simply engineered wood made from recycled wood. That means that any contact between the baseboards and the hardwood floor is going to cause a frustrating amount of squeaking.
In places of heavy foot traffic, it will quickly become necessary to fix the issue. But the best way to do that is to reinstall every piece of baseboard that is fastened too low. That will be costly and time consuming.
Additionally, bear in mind that the subfloor itself is rarely going to be perfectly even. The subfloor is the foundation underneath the surface layer, so it’s usually made of concrete and may not be level. The subfloor can even result in odd waves and not just one awkward angle to fix. If you know where all of these gaps are going to be ahead of time, you can plan out the baseboards to cover them properly.
How Do You Fill The Gap Between Baseboards And Hardwood Floors?
There are a number of ways to successfully close this distance if you want to avoid reinstalling either fixture. That would certainly be expensive and take up lots of valuable time. Instead, you can resort to three types of bandages that will still result in a cleaner look than disconnected baseboards.
The first method is to line the gap with caulk. Caulk is specifically designed as a sealant, and it can be made of various different ingredients. Most of the time, your caulk will be made of acrylic latex, which is generally easier to paint, apply or replace.
But areas like the kitchen or bathroom are more vulnerable to water damage, so you might need to specifically find a waterproof caulk. You can read the post "7 Types Of Caulk For The Bathroom [And Which To Choose]" to discover the best caulk if you're working with a bathroom.
Similarly, another approach is to use caulk-based trim strips. These are long, self-adhesive strips that can simply be peeled and stuck into the target gap. This is an even easier process than committing to a traditional caulk installation. Trim strips are flexible and designed to find a centered position in any gap.
Click here to see these trim strips on Amazon.
Shoe Moldings/Quarter Rounds
The final method is the most problematic. You can install shoe moldings or quarter rounds to the baseboards in order to cover up most gaps. Both the shoe moldings and quarter rounds are just strips of wood that can be fastened to the foot of a baseboard. But shoe moldings are taller and thinner, while quarter rounds are short and wide.
Click here to find this wood quarter molding on Amazon.
These extra trimmings are mainly used to add more personality, but they can also help cover up larger gaps. Unfortunately, you will have to measure how much you would need, and they would have to be installed as well. Shoe moldings and quarter rounds generally require a brad nailer.
Click here to find this brad nailer on Amazon.
Baseboards Create Neat Lines Throughout the Home
Because you will know the position of your flooring and its measurements beforehand, you can adjust the baseboards to create tidy lines throughout the home. You will have the freedom to scribe your baseboards in advance. This process involves using a compass-like tool, which will leave accurate markings to guide your installation.
Click here to find this wood scribe tool on Amazon.
Your baseboards will not look buried. Consider that it can be irritating to pay for a certain amount of wood and then leave it hidden underneath the floor. This is especially useful when you have paid for solid wood baseboards instead of the cheaper MDF.
And when your baseboard lines are clean, then you won’t need to install any moldings. Naturally, this will save you time and money. But avoiding further trimming can also be crucial for certain interior designs, such as minimalist scenes. These rooms prefer a smooth and open look without elaborate fixtures. Shoe moldings or quarter rounds would look too ornamental for that kind of style.
Hardwood floors can last a long time, so it’s important that you don’t compromise them with a simple mixup about the order of installation. However, baseboards will always be a necessary addition to your walls too. Now that you know how to properly install both of these fixtures, you can avoid many of the problems that come up when they’re placed out of order.