Which Direction Should Wood Floors Run?

American Walnut Hardwood Floor
Photo Credit: Boa-Franc

One of the most valuable improvements you can make to your home is the addition of wood flooring. Wood floors have their own special maintenance considerations, but you may not be aware that they also have unique rules for installation.

Understanding the aesthetic and structural requirements of your new floor can mean the difference between disaster and raising both the value and enjoyment of your home.

Aesthetic Considerations

When working with wood floors, even simple mistakes can become quite costly. Unlike laying carpet, you must consider the wood’s texture and the shape of the floorboards. These factors can have a huge effect on how your new floor will look. The following are a few of the most common factors to consider.

Diagonal Floors

While not common due to the higher cost, you can lay your floor at a slight angle to improve the transition from one room to another. Depending on the situation, such an angle may help tie the two rooms together. This technique is most commonly used for oddly-shaped rooms.

Inlays and Partial Replacements

Working with a portion of the floor as opposed to the entire floor creates room for exceptions to the normal aesthetic rules. For example, replacing a portion of the floor with a different type of wood or being unable to match stains can be a good excuse to change the direction of the new boards. This makes the transition appear to be planned.

Inlays, borders, and similar features are also a good reason to place the boards in different directions from the main portion of the floor. Having multiple directions, in this case, brings more attention to the detailing. Many expensive homes use this technique to add extra beauty and complexity to a room.

Main Entrance

The direction of boards has an effect on how the size of a room is perceived. As a general rule, laying the boards so that they run away from the main entrance to the room makes the room appear larger than it is and gives a much cleaner appeal.

When placing wood floors in multiple rooms and a connecting hallway, the boards should all be directed away from the main entrance to the hall, and adjoining rooms should continue in that same direction.

Length and Staggering

A general rule of thumb is to aim for long floorboards. The longer the boards, the more visually appealing your floor will be. For smaller rooms, this may also mean that you will not need to stagger the boards and instead can run them from one end of the room to the other unbroken.

In most cases, you will find yourself staggering boards. The edge of each board will be a visible feature, so it is important to plan the amount of staggering prior to cutting the boards. Some designs will alternate boards so that any given board ends at the middle of the two boards beside it. However, most floors are staggered in such a way that no clear pattern is visible.

Structural Considerations

Contractors Installing Subfloor Over Floor Joists
© ftfoxfoto / Fotolia

While laying wood floors require mostly aesthetic planning, there are a few important structural considerations which will affect the appearance and stability of your new wood floor. These factors can also affect the amount of work involved in laying the floor.

Floor Joists and Subfloors

When laying a new wood floor, you must consider what type of subfloor is present. Cement or stone subfloors are sturdy and will support the wooden boards regardless of direction. Older floors with diagonal one-inch planks can also support boards in multiple directions.

However, on a lighter subfloor, such as plywood, you will need to add a layer of three-eighths inch plywood if you wish to run the floorboards parallel to the floor joists. You will only be able to run boards perpendicular or diagonal to the joists without a sturdy subfloor, as the boards need support to prevent sagging.

Uneven Walls

Opposing walls aren’t always perfectly parallel, and the angle of room corners may not be exactly 90 degrees. This will have an effect as you lay down floorboards, since you may end up having to cut the boards to fit at odd angles.

For this reason, it is always best to first measure a room and determine if the boards should be laid straight or at a very slight angle to better match the walls.