Are you stuck at crossroads, wondering how to proceed with laying floorboards on concrete? You’re not alone. Concrete is often seen as a challenging surface for the installation of wood flooring owing to its porous nature and the risk of moisture-induced damage to wood. But, with the right preparation, tools, and professional advice, you can successfully lay solid timber or engineered hardwood flooring over a concrete subfloor.

In the big flooring world, the shift to hard surfaces has particularly reflected in the popularity of “lived-in” wood flooring – a dream for many homeowners, just like you. However, the specific process of installing this type of flooring on concrete can feel like traversing an uncharted territory.

At California Flooring and Design, we’ll guide you through the entire process, making it as smooth as possible. To give you a quick peek, here’s a brief structured snippet of what we are going to cover in this guide:

  1. Understanding the Challenges of Laying Floorboards on Concrete
  2. Preparing the Concrete Subfloor
  3. Installing a Moisture Barrier
  4. Laying the Plywood Underlayment
  5. Choosing the Right Wood Flooring for Concrete Subfloors
  6. Installing the Wood Flooring
  7. Caring for Your New Wood Floor

Take a quick look at this step-by-step infographic, laying out the complete process to get a better understanding of what lies ahead.

Detailed step-by-step infographic showing the process of laying wood flooring over concrete, including steps for subfloor preparation, moisture barrier installation, laying plywood underlayment, and final hardwood floor installation - laying floorboards on concrete infographic process-5-steps-informal

Finally, we recognize that every flooring project is unique. Therefore, this guide will not only provide practical instructions but also delve into the best materials for your specific situation, ensuring that your beautiful hardwood floors last for decades. So, let’s dive in!

Understanding the Challenges of Laying Floorboards on Concrete

Laying floorboards on concrete might seem straightforward, but it can pose several challenges if not done correctly. It’s essential to understand the nature of the materials involved and the potential issues that can arise, especially when dealing with wood and concrete.

The Porous Nature of Concrete

Concrete is a porous material. While this may not seem like a big issue at first, it can lead to potential problems when laying wooden floorboards. Moisture can easily seep up through the concrete, especially if it hasn’t been sealed properly. Even if the concrete appears dry on the surface, moisture can remain within its pores, and over time, it can wick up and affect your wooden floorboards.

The Risk of Moisture Damage to Wood

Wood is a natural material that reacts to changes in environmental conditions. When exposed to moisture, wood can warp, swell, or shrink, causing damage to your flooring. This is especially true for solid hardwood floors, which are more susceptible to moisture damage than engineered wood flooring.

As Fix Wood Floor Popping Up: A Comprehensive Guide to Restore Your Flooring – California Flooring and Design explains, moisture issues with wood flooring applications are almost guaranteed if the concrete slab has not been properly dried. Any moisture that gets trapped between the subfloor and the flooring can cause problems over time. This can lead to visible signs of damage such as cracks and separations between boards, or invisible moisture problems in wood subfloors and concrete subfloors.

The Importance of Proper Subfloor Preparation

Given the potential challenges that come with laying floorboards on concrete, proper subfloor preparation becomes crucial. This involves ensuring that the concrete is fully cured and dry before installing the wood flooring. The concrete subfloor should ideally not exceed 2% MC (moisture content). If the moisture levels remain high, a suitable damp-proof membrane should be installed to protect the wood flooring from potential moisture damage.

In addition, the concrete subfloor should be clean and level to ensure a smooth and stable surface for the wood flooring. Irregularities in the subfloor can lead to problems such as squeaking or movement in the finished floor.

At California Flooring and Design, we understand the importance of proper subfloor preparation. Our expert team ensures that all these factors are taken into account before laying floorboards on concrete, helping to ensure the durability and longevity of your new wood flooring.

Preparing the Concrete Subfloor

Before starting the process of laying floorboards on concrete, it’s crucial to prepare the concrete subfloor properly. This consists of three main steps: ensuring the concrete is fully cured, cleaning and leveling the concrete, and sealing the concrete.

Ensuring the Concrete is Fully Cured

First, you need to ensure that the concrete is completely dry. The moisture content of a concrete subfloor should not exceed 2% MC (moisture content). You can check the moisture level using a moisture meter (hygrometer). If the meter reading is too high, you must allow additional time for the subfloor to dry out. A concrete slab requires a minimum drying time of 60 days to be fully cured. If the moisture levels remain high, you can install a suitable damp proof membrane to keep moisture away from your floor.

Cleaning and Leveling the Concrete

The next step is to clean the concrete and ensure it is flat and level. Loose or flaky concrete must be removed, and the surface should be free of paint, oil, existing adhesives, wax, grease, dirt, sealers, and curing compounds. Grinding high spots in concrete is recommended over using filling compounds. If a leveling compound is used, it must be a Portland-based compound with a high compressive strength. The concrete must be level within 3mm in a 3m radius to ensure a proper bond of the adhesive between the concrete and the planks.

Sealing the Concrete

Finally, you need to seal the concrete to increase its moisture resistance. This step is crucial, especially for below-ground applications like basements, which are more susceptible to moisture. Sealing the concrete can be done using a high-quality concrete sealer, which forms a protective layer on the concrete, reducing its porosity and making it more resistant to moisture.

Proper preparation of the concrete subfloor is key to the successful installation of wood flooring. At California Flooring and Design, our expert team is committed to ensuring that every step of the process is done correctly, ensuring the longevity and beauty of your wood flooring.

Installing a Moisture Barrier

A critical step in laying floorboards on concrete is the installation of a moisture barrier. This step is vital to protect your beautiful hardwood floors from the potential damage caused by moisture seeping up from the concrete slab. Let’s take a closer look at the role of a moisture barrier, how to choose the right one, and how to install it correctly.

The Role of a Moisture Barrier

Moisture barriers, also known as vapor retarders, serve a crucial role in preventing moisture from the concrete slab from reaching your hardwood floors. Concrete slabs, being porous in nature, can absorb moisture from the ground and release it over time. This moisture can cause various problems for wood floors, such as warping, cupping, or even mold growth.

A moisture barrier effectively blocks this upward moisture movement, ensuring your wood flooring remains dry and stable. It’s an essential preventative measure, especially for homes built on concrete slabs.

Choosing the Right Moisture Barrier

The choice of a moisture barrier largely depends on the specific requirements of your wood flooring and the overall moisture conditions of your concrete slab. According to the National Wood Flooring Association, options for moisture barriers can range from layers of asphalt felt with asphalt mastic to 6 mil polyethylene sheathing.

When selecting a moisture barrier, consider factors such as its permeability rating, ease of installation, and compatibility with your chosen flooring type. Additionally, some moisture barriers also offer additional benefits such as sound reduction and thermal insulation.

Installing the Moisture Barrier

Once you’ve chosen the right moisture barrier, it’s time for installation. The process involves covering the entire concrete slab with the moisture barrier, overlapping the edges to ensure complete coverage. For example, if you’re using a 4 to 6 mil polyethylene film, the edges should overlap by 4 to 6 inches, with enough film extending under the baseboard on all sides.

In conditions with higher moisture levels, you might need to prime the slab and apply a cold, cut-back mastic before laying the polyethylene film. Always ensure the moisture barrier is laid flat and free of punctures or tears.

Though the process might seem straightforward, it requires precision and attention to detail. At California Flooring and Design, our experienced professionals ensure meticulous installation of moisture barriers, providing a solid foundation for your beautiful wood flooring.

Correct installation of a moisture barrier is a critical step in laying floorboards on concrete. It offers your hardwood floors the necessary protection against moisture damage, contributing to their longevity and beauty.

Laying the Plywood Underlayment

Now that your concrete subfloor is sealed with a moisture barrier, the next step in laying floorboards on concrete is installing the plywood underlayment. This layer is crucial as it provides a smooth, flat surface for the flooring, absorbs everyday wear and tear, and acts as an additional moisture and sound barrier.

Why Plywood Underlayment is Necessary

Plywood underlayment plays a critical role in the installation of hardwood flooring over a concrete slab. This layer offers several benefits:

  1. Surface Preparation: Plywood underlayment ensures a smooth, even surface for the hardwood flooring. It can help to smooth out minor imperfections in the concrete slab, resulting in a flawless finish for your hardwood flooring.

  2. Moisture Protection: Even with a moisture barrier in place, the plywood underlayment provides an extra level of protection against moisture damage from the concrete subfloor.

  3. Sound Insulation: The underlayment can also reduce sound transmission, making your flooring more comfortable and quieter to walk on.

  4. Durability: The plywood underlayment can absorb pressure and wear inflicted on the floor due to everyday usage, extending the life of your hardwood floor.

How to Install Plywood Underlayment

Installing plywood underlayment involves several steps:

  1. Measure and Cut the Plywood: Measure the room and cut the plywood to fit. Remember to leave a gap of about 1/8 inch between sheets to allow for expansion and contraction.

  2. Lay Polyethylene Sheeting: To minimize moisture migration from the concrete up into the wood flooring, lay a 6-mil polyethylene sheeting over the concrete.

  3. Fasten the Plywood: Fasten 3/4-in. treated plywood to the concrete using concrete screws spaced every 16 inches. Alternatively, you can screw rows of treated 1x4s to the concrete 16 inches on center. Lay the 1x4s perpendicular to the direction you intend to install the floor planks.

  4. Check for Flatness: Once the plywood is installed, check for flatness. Any high spots should be sanded down and low spots filled with a self-leveling compound.

At California Flooring and Design, we understand the importance of a well-prepared subfloor. That’s why we ensure our plywood underlayment is meticulously installed, offering a sturdy foundation for your hardwood floor.

Next, we’ll discuss how to choose the right hardwood flooring and the best methods for installing it over a concrete subfloor. Stay tuned to learn more about the ins and outs of laying floorboards on concrete.

Choosing the Right Wood Flooring for Concrete Subfloors

When it comes to laying floorboards on concrete, not all wood is created equal. Let’s delve into the two main types of wood flooring that you can consider for your concrete subfloor: solid wood flooring and engineered wood flooring.

Solid Wood Flooring vs Engineered Wood Flooring

Solid wood flooring is exactly what it sounds like – a solid piece of wood throughout. It has a timeless aesthetic and can be refinished multiple times, making it a long-lasting choice. However, it’s important to note that solid wood flooring is very sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. This can lead to warping or swelling if the moisture levels in the concrete are not adequately controlled. For this reason, it’s crucial to install a moisture barrier when laying solid wood flooring on concrete to prevent any potential damage.

On the other hand, engineered wood flooring is made up of multiple layers of wood that are bound together. The top layer is a veneer of the desired wood type, while the layers beneath are made of less expensive, yet highly stable, plywood. The multilayer construction of engineered wood flooring makes it more stable and less susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity. This makes it a safer bet when installing over concrete.

As a rule of thumb, if you live in a location with large fluctuations in temperature and humidity throughout the year, engineered wood flooring may be a better choice. But if you’re set on the authenticity and longevity of solid wood, we at California Flooring and Design are here to guide you through the necessary precautions to ensure a successful installation.

The Impact of Temperature and Humidity on Wood Flooring

Both temperature and humidity can have a significant effect on wood flooring. Wood is a hygroscopic material, meaning it absorbs and releases moisture in response to the surrounding environment. This can cause the wood to expand and contract, potentially leading to warping, cupping, or gapping if not properly managed.

For solid wood flooring, the ideal conditions are a temperature between 60-80°F and a relative humidity level of 35-55%. If you’re installing wood flooring over a recently laid concrete slab, it’s crucial to let the slab dry thoroughly before proceeding. It requires a minimum drying time of 60 days, and ideally, the moisture content of the concrete subfloor should not exceed 2%.

If you’re uncertain about the moisture levels in your home or the state of your concrete subfloor, don’t worry. We have your back. Our team at California Flooring and Design can conduct expert moisture testing and guide you through the necessary preparation steps to ensure your wood flooring installation is successful.

In the next section, we’ll guide you through the different methods of installing your chosen wood flooring on a concrete subfloor. Whether you’re considering a floating method, gluing, or nailing, we’ll cover it all, ensuring you’re well-equipped to make the best decision for your new floor!

Installing the Wood Flooring

After meticulously preparing your concrete subfloor and choosing the best wood flooring for your home, it’s time to proceed to the installation phase. There are three common methods for laying floorboards on concrete: the floating method, the gluing method, and the nailing method. Each approach has its unique advantages and requirements, and the choice largely depends on the type of wood flooring you’ve selected and your personal preferences.

The Floating Method

The floating method is a popular choice for installing engineered wood flooring or laminate over concrete subfloors. This approach doesn’t require the flooring planks to be attached directly to the subfloor. Instead, the planks are interlocked together, forming a ‘floating’ floor above the subfloor.

This method is relatively simple and doesn’t require specialized tools. It’s an ideal choice for do-it-yourself homeowners. The key to this method is making sure the subfloor is clean, level, and properly sealed to prevent moisture issues.

The Gluing Method

The gluing method involves spreading a special adhesive directly onto the concrete subfloor before laying down the wood flooring. This approach is often used when laying solid wood flooring or particular types of engineered wood flooring over concrete.

The adhesive used must be flexible and suitable for wood flooring, such as Mapei P990 or Pallmann P4/P5/P6. It’s crucial to spread the adhesive evenly and ensure there’s enough coverage for a proper and permanent bond between the flooring and the concrete.

This method can be messy and requires careful planning, as you should only spread adhesive for the area you can cover within the adhesive’s recommended drying time. Despite being somewhat more complex, the gluing method provides a strong, secure installation and is a good choice for high-traffic areas.

The Nailing Method

The nailing method is traditionally used for installing solid hardwood flooring onto wooden subfloors. However, it’s not typically recommended for direct installation onto concrete, as it requires a wooden subfloor for the nails or staples to grip. If you’re set on using solid wood flooring and your home has a concrete subfloor, you’ll need to first install a plywood underlayment to allow for the nailing method.

This method involves fastening the wood flooring directly to the plywood underlayment with nails or staples. It ensures a secure, tight fit but requires the use of specialized tools and more technical skill.

While each of these methods has its pros and cons, they all result in a beautiful and durable wood floor when done properly. At California Flooring and Design, we’re experts in laying floorboards on concrete and can guide you through each step of the process, ensuring a flawless installation and a fantastic result.

Caring for Your New Wood Floor

Now that you’ve laid your floorboards on concrete, it’s crucial to maintain them properly. This not only preserves their beauty but also extends their lifespan.

Regular Cleaning and Maintenance

Regular cleaning is one of the simplest ways to keep your wood flooring in excellent condition. This involves sweeping or vacuuming to remove dust and debris, which could potentially scratch the floor’s surface.

When mopping, ensure the mop is damp, not wet, to avoid excessive moisture. Remember to immediately wipe up any spills to prevent water damage. Avoid using harsh cleaning products which could discolor or dull your floors. Instead, opt for cleaners specifically designed for wood floors, or natural solutions like vinegar or mild soap.

Addressing Potential Moisture Issues

Even with the perfect installation, moisture can still pose a threat to your floors. It’s vital to maintain a balanced humidity level in your home to prevent your wood floors from warping or cupping. Using dehumidifiers during humid months can help maintain this balance.

If you notice signs of moisture damage, such as discoloration or buckling, it’s essential to address the issue promptly. This might involve fixing leaks or improving your home’s drainage system to prevent water from seeping into your floors.

The Benefits of Professional Installation and Restoration Services

While maintaining your floors is certainly a task you can handle, there are some instances where professional help is beneficial. This is particularly true in the face of significant damage or when your floors need refinishing.

At California Flooring and Design, our team of skilled craftsmen can help restore your floors to their former glory. We also offer expert advice on proper floor care and maintenance, ensuring your floors continue to shine for years to come.

Not only that, but we also provide a solid 5-year guarantee on our products and services. This offers you peace of mind that your investment in your home’s flooring is protected.

Caring for your new wood floor is an ongoing process, but it’s one that pays off in preserving the elegance and durability of your flooring. Through regular cleaning, addressing moisture issues, and leaning on professional services when needed, you can enjoy the beauty of your hardwood floors for many years.


Laying floorboards on concrete can be a complex task, but when executed correctly, it can yield stunning results. From understanding the challenges involved and meticulously preparing the concrete subfloor, to choosing the right hardwood and employing proper installation methods, each step matters. It’s about making the right choices and taking the time to do it right.

For homeowners, this guide provides a basic understanding of the process. However, keep in mind that the precision, technical skills, and knowledge required for this job often make it a task best left to professionals. The longevity and performance of your hardwood floor greatly depend on the quality of the installation.

At California Flooring & Design, we believe in delivering excellent craftsmanship and quality in every project we undertake. Our team of experts is equipped with the knowledge, experience, and equipment necessary to ensure that your hardwood flooring is installed correctly, even over concrete subfloors.

We understand that every project is unique and requires a tailored approach. That’s why we offer a range of flooring options to suit various needs and preferences. Whether you’re considering solid wood flooring or engineered wood flooring, we are here to guide you in making the best choice for your home.

Your new floor is an investment. It’s not just about aesthetics, but also about durability, comfort, and overall home value. This is why we back our products with a 5-year guarantee, giving you peace of mind in knowing that your investment is protected.

In conclusion, while laying floorboards on concrete can be challenging, it’s not impossible. With careful planning, proper preparation, and expert installation, you can transform your concrete subfloor into a beautiful, durable, and long-lasting hardwood floor.

Don’t hesitate to contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help turn your flooring vision into a reality.

About California Flooring & Design

At California Flooring & Design, we don’t just sell flooring products, we create living spaces that you and your family will enjoy for years to come. Our commitment to quality and customer satisfaction goes beyond the standard flooring service. We are dedicated to ensuring that every step of your flooring journey, from selection to installation, is a positive and rewarding experience.

Our Commitment to Quality and Customer Satisfaction

We understand that laying floorboards on concrete is a significant investment, and we believe you deserve nothing but the best. Our team of skilled craftsmen goes the extra mile to ensure your flooring is installed correctly and to your satisfaction. We stand by our work and are always ready to address any concerns or issues you may have.

Our commitment to customer satisfaction is evident in the positive feedback we receive from our clients. As one satisfied customer, Peter C., stated, “Ray truly made me feel like a valued customer and cared that I was 100% satisfied with the job.” This level of dedication is what sets us apart and makes us a trusted choice for homeowners in San Diego.

Our 5-Year Guarantee on Products

We are confident in the quality of our products and the skill of our installation team. That’s why we offer a 5-year guarantee on all our flooring products. This assures you that any issues related to the installation of flooring products will be addressed promptly and effectively. With our 5-year guarantee, you can enjoy peace of mind, knowing your investment is well protected.

Why Choose Us for Your Wood Flooring Needs

Our expertise in installing hardwood flooring over concrete subfloors sets us apart from other flooring companies. By choosing us, you are choosing a team of professionals committed to delivering high-quality flooring solutions. We install only first-quality materials backed by manufacturer’s warranties and provide a ten-year craftsman warranty against any defects in the installation of your floors.

At California Flooring & Design, our guarantee is not just a promise; it’s our way of ensuring that our customers are always covered. We invite you to explore our floor fitting guide for more information on what to expect when laying floorboards on concrete.

We believe in transparency and are always available to answer any questions you may have about our products or services. Contact us today to discuss your flooring needs or to schedule a consultation. We look forward to serving you and helping you create beautiful, durable floors for your home.