In this article I will give you the inside story on how to nail down a new strip floor so that no future squeaks will occur. I will tell you the hidden truths about OSB (oriented strand board) subfloors. Believe me when I tell you that this article goes well beyond the “industry standard”.
Let’s start out by defining just what strip floor is. My definition may be different from many contractors, but I call strip floor any random length wood floor strips less than 4″ wide. They can however, be any thickness, 3/8″, 1/2″, but the 3/4″ strip is the most common in North America. The 3/4″ strip floor is also the most stable and durable. When a strip floor is too thin for it’s width it will have a tendency to warp, when great variances in indoor relative humidity occur. For instance a 1/2″ thick strip that is 3″ wide is a very poor choice, but a 1 1/2″ by 1/2″ strip should be quite stable. So, as a general rule, try not to exceed a 4 to 1 ratio of the width vs. depth, and 3 to 1 would be ideal. That makes the 2 1/4″ by 3/4″ strip floor the most stable and longest lasting hardwood floor. It has less of a tendency to warp and when it does shrink in really dry conditions, it forms smaller less noticeable gaps.
The 3/8″ and 1/2″ strip floors have a much shorter life span, because only the top of the grooved layer can be sanded and refinished repeatedly. The 3/4″ thick strip floor has a wearable layer of about 5/16″. The 3/8″ strip floor only has a little less than 2/16″ and the 1/2″ floors something in between the two, at about 3/16″. Given the fact that labor costs for installation are about the same for each material, the thinner floors make little sense. The 3/4″ strip floor has 6-8 sanding and refinishing cycles in its life, giving it at least a life span of 150-300 years. Whereas the 3/8″ at best is only cycled thrice, giving it a total life of only 60-75 years. Who knows what costs and availability will be like that far into the future? Installing a long lasting floor now is a wise use of the Standing Tree Nation’s venerable bones. Not to mention it gives a boost to your property value too.
Strip floors are easy to install and whether they come in prefinished or unfinished they make for a straightforward do-it-yourself project. But you must realize these wood strips are meant to nailed down to wood, and the fastener and subfloor choice is as important as the floor itself. One of my most common questions in the Ask the Expert section of this web site is what do I do about wood floor squeaks? Why not avoid future squeaking by installing your strip floor correctly now? I’ll explain how.