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Can you nail hardwood flooring to a chipwood subfloor?

can you nail hardwood flooring to chipwood subfloorsHardwood floors are a beautiful addition to any home. While they add warmth and character to a room, they must be installed properly or you’ll have nothing but problems with them. This means than the subfloor must be strong and stable, which rules out chipwood or particle board.

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Just as a house is only as sound as its foundation, a floor, whether wood, tile, or laminate, is only as sound as the subfloor. The subfloor is the layer of flooring support that the finished flooring goes over. With hardwood floors, it’s especially critical that the subfloor be strong and level.


The subfloor is the rough layer of flooring underneath the finished layer of flooring. While the finished flooring can come in all types and shapes, there are generally two types of subfloors–wooden and concrete. However, a wooden subfloor can mean many, many things.

Joists, which are wooden beams that run parallel to each other to support the floor, run under a wooden subfloor. There are usually gaps from 12 inches to 16 inches between the joists.

Thus, a flat layer of material needs to be laid across the joists so that the finished flooring has a flat, even surface on which to lie. Millersville University has helpful pictures of what this looks like on its website.

can you nail some hardwood flooring to a chipwood subfloorHowever, there are different materials that can be used as this subfloor. The recommended, and industry standard, material to go under hardwood flooring is 3/4-inch plywood. Three-quarter inch OSB, or Orientated Strand Board, is also acceptable. OSB is a wood product made up of thin wooden flakes or strips that are bonded using special resins and then pressed tightly together. It is a common material used in construction.

However, construction methods have not always been as uniform as they are today. In older homes it is common to run across other products used as subflooring, like chipwood. Chipwood is also commonly found in mobile homes.

Chipwood, also called particle board in the United States, is made by compressing small wood particles, like shavings, chips, or sawdust. Similar to OSB, adhesive or resin is used, along with the compression to create the end product. However, chipwood is not as strong as OSB.

Chipwood should never be used as the subflooring for hardwood floors. The good news is that you don’t have to rip up the chipwood if it has been installed in your home. Instead, you can lay a plywood subfloor directly over the chipwood.

Installing Plywood Subfloor

Laying a plywood subfloor is not hard, though it does take a bit of planning. Plywood normally comes in four foot by eight foot sheets.

You’ll need to lay out the sheets across your floor so that you can figure out the way they should be placed in the room. This will allow for the fewest cuts.

If you are laying the subfloor directly over the joists, you need to make sure the seams of the boards meet over a joist. If you are laying the subfloor over an existing subfloor, mark where the joists are. Screwing into the joists and not merely the existing subfloor can help reduce squeaking.

can you nail hardwood floors to a chipwood subfloorIf the subfloor is over any plumbing, ductwork, or electrical components, either mark their position, or use screws that are only deep enough to go through the two subfloor layers, with longer screws used only for screwing into joists. This will avoid screwing into things which shouldn’t be screwed into.

You can also apply a construction adhesive to the joists or existing subfloor before laying the plywood down for added stability. Be sure to check to see if the boards you are laying are level as you go along.

Also be sure to leave expansion gaps of at least one-eighth of an inch between the subfloor and the walls. Just as wood flooring can expand and contract as the humidity in the room changes, so can wood subfloors.

For more information on laying plywood subfloors, see this article from


Underlayment is a layer that goes between the subfloor and the finished floor. This can be made of different materials, depending on the type of subfloor and the type of flooring being installed.

can you nail hardwood flooring to any chipwood subfloorsFor example, if you are laying hardwood or laminate flooring over a concrete subfloor, it is recommended that you first lay a vapor barrier. This is usually sheets of plastic that are taped together to prevent any moisture from the concrete seeping up to the floors.

Another type of underlayment is used for sound absorption under hardwood and laminate flooring. This can be laid across the floor first, and then the flooring is applied on top of it. In other cases, especially in floating floors, the sound-dampening underlayment is attached to the bottom of the flooring planks.

There is a wide variety of underlayment materials available. The oldest are probably the felt and foam versions. There are also cloth-like products that are made from recycled fabrics and other materials. Cork is also an environmentally friendly underlayment option.

Installation Methods for Hardwood Floors

There are three methods of installing a hardwood floor. The choice depends partly on the type of subfloor you have, and partly on the product you buy.

Almost every modern hardwood flooring product has a tongue-and-groove application. This refers to one side of the flooring having a long slit, while the adjoining plank has a protrusion that fits into the slit. This locks the planks together.

The first option is a nailed down installation. With this method, the initial row of planks is nailed from the top where the baseboards will cover the nail holes. After that, the tongues of the planks on the proceeding rows are nailed down to the subfloor with a special flooring nail gun. This method can only be used on wooden subfloors.

can you nail hardwood flooring to a chipwood subfloorSome hardwood flooring is glued down. Glue is spread in small sections on the subfloor or underlayment. Then the floor boards are fitted together and pressed down into place. The glue down method can be used on either wooden or concrete subfloors.

A popular alternative is the floating floor. In this method, the flooring planks click together with the tongue and groove, but are not attached to the subfloor in any way. While most laminate floors are floating, there are also many hardwood floors that are also floating. This can be used atop either wood or concrete subfloors and is the easiest installation method.

For more information about hardwood floor installation, visit the World Floor Covering Association’s website.

Hardwood Floors Can Be Environmentally Friendly

There is a growing trend to ensure that the things we bring into our homes are environmentally friendly. Since no one wants to strip down forests to provide floors for us to walk on, many companies provide environmentally conscious flooring options.

can you nail any hardwood flooring to a chipwood subfloorDid you know that wood floors can be recycled? Many companies are taking old wooden beams from homes and barns that are being torn down, and turning them into beautiful floors. They have a charming, rustic look that is hard to duplicate with new wood. Best of all, when you do this you’re reusing wood, rather than harvesting new wood.

Bamboo is a wood that comes from the bamboo plant, which can grow as much as 12 feet a year. It doesn’t die when it is cut, so the same plant can be harvested again and again. Bamboo also makes a beautiful flooring option.

Even new hardwood flooring can be “green.” Many companies are using forest-saving techniques when they harvest trees for flooring. If you are interested in this type of product, look for the FSC seal, which means it is approved by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Choosing Hardwood Floors

How do you choose which hardwood floor to install in your home? There are many things to consider, since this will be a substantial monetary investment in your home.

The first thing to do is to set a budget. Measure the room to see how many square feet you need and then add 10% for waste or accidents.

Flooring is priced by the square foot, so figure out the most you can spend per square foot to make shopping easier. If you are having the floor professionally installed, be sure to figure in that cost as well.

can you nail a hardwood floor to a chipwood subfloorNext, consider the type of wood. Bamboo is growing in popularity, but oak is still a bestseller. Birch has a similar look, but is usually less expensive.

Maple is much lighter in color than oak but is a harder wood. It also needs more of an expansion gap during installation because it is more susceptible to humidity. Cherry is very rich and is great for a more formal or luxurious look. Pine is best for those striving for rustic charm.

As a rule, more formal rooms tend to have darker floors, while lighter floors give an informal look. Darker floors do tend to show dust a bit more than medium tones. Medium tones also don’t go out of style as quickly or easily as very dark or very light shades.

You’ll also need to decide on the plank size and the type of edge you want. Wooden floor planks come in a variety of widths. Generally, the wider the plank, the higher the price per square foot.

The way the seams meet is also a consideration. You can have a flush edge, where it is hard to see where one plank abuts the next. Or you can have a beveled edge where the planks form a V when they meet.

Most of these are aesthetic choices only you can make for your home. But if you have kids or dogs, you’ll probably be happiest with a very hard floor that won’t scratch or dent as easily.

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