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How To Install Engineered Wood Flooring Over Plywood

How To Install Engineered Wood Flooring Over Plywood

I’d be willing to bet you’re a lot like me. You enjoy HGTV, dream about renovations, the what-ifs, the could-we’s. But you’re often pulled back into reality by your spouse or partner, right? It’s hard to get them to say yes to your crazy ideas, right?

Except when they really need to be done. Some home renovations are because you don’t like something, and some are just…necessary. That’s why I’m going to show you how to install engineered wood flooring over plywood subfloors.

The carpet throughout the second story of our house definitely needed to be replaced (just look at those GROSS pictures below). All we had to do was teach ourselves how to install it, and we would have a brand new floor.

With a dog and two kids (though they were just a twinkle in our eyes when we started this renovation way back in 2016), I knew I didn’t want to replace the stained carpet with new carpet. So after looking around a bit, I settled on a gorgeous, distressed, dark bamboo. It would be durable, eco-friendly, and most of all, affordable.

There was a total of about 800 square feet to install, with lots and lots of corners, weird shapes and angles to contend with. I also wanted to tackle the stairs, so I made sure to order a little extra for that. I’ve got a post all about how we ripped out the carpet, dealt with the waste, replaced the risers and installed the caps, painted the risers, and installed an inexpensive runner.

Required Tools

Time to talk tools! My biggest regret from installing engineered wood flooring over plywood was that we didn’t purchase a table saw sooner. I ripped (cut lengthwise) every. single. one. of the boards on the edge of each room with a jigsaw just to save a few bucks.

It was time-consuming, and it’s pretty much impossible to cut a straight line with that tool. Don’t be like me! If you’re planning on tackling this project, buy a table saw!!! Below are all the tools that we used.

Preparation

Acclimation

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

The hardest part of installing engineered wood flooring over plywood? Waiting.

When you’re installing a naturally porous and flexible (relatively) material like bamboo/wood, you have to let it acclimate to the space you’re installing it in, so it can expand or contract based on the humidity, temperature, and elevation in your home. If you skip this step, it can lead to BIG problems down the road with buckling and gaps.

The wood sat in our daughter’s future nursery for a week or so before we ever made our first cut. It was KILLING ME to wait. I was so ready to get started, but I also knew I wanted to do it right. So I waited and passed the time dreaming about the gorgeous floors that would soon be underfoot.

Subfloors

We started with ripping out all the carpet from the entire second story, removing the tack strip, and evening out any really noticeable dips or high spots. We also opted to remove all the baseboards, mostly because they were comically small.

Even if a huge renovation like this sounds daunting, demolition is pretty easy, and something you can definitely DIY to save a ton of money.

Baseboards

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

We did run into one other issue with our baseboards – they were not only nailed in (with some big mama nails), but glued in too. You can see how much we struggled to remove them in the picture above – they just splintered and did NOT want to come off the wall.

I’ve never been able to figure out why the original builders chose to adhere the baseboards so permanently to the walls, but I guess it doesn’t matter.

We ended up using a multi-tool to cut them away from the wall (the caulk was REAL, guys), and then used a pry bar to separate them fully. Brute force was pretty much the only way, and while it did mean we had to repair some drywall, it was worth it in the end.

Door Jambs

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

The only other preparation was to cut down all the door jambs. The carpet didn’t require very much space underneath the trim, but the added height of the new boards meant we would have to make some additional room.

We just used a piece of our new flooring to mark on each door jamb what we needed to remove, and cut that bit away. A multi-tool made quick work of it, and is absolutely the right tool for the job, though technically you could also do it with a hammer and a chisel.

We actually did this step as we went through the installation – it doesn’t necessarily need to be done as a prep item, just before you actually lay the planks underneath each door jamb.

How To: Install Engineered Wood Flooring Over Plywood

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

Step One: Underlayment

After we prepared our subfloors, removed the baseboards, and took care of the door jambs, it was time to roll out the underlayment. Typically, underlayment provides a barrier and helps even out the subfloor and create a softer, quieter feeling underfoot.

The salesman at Lumber Liquidators recommended we use something called Insulayment, but I would advise against it if you have a home similar to ours. I do like that it’s made from recycled materials, but Insulayment is actually a glue-down product (which I didn’t find out until months afterward).

Our salesman said it would be just okay to put underneath with no adhesive, and while it’s been fine so far, if I could do it over again I’d choose something different and actually follow the instructions.

Generally speaking, the thicker (and more expensive) the underlayment is, the quieter and cushier your floor will feel. I’m pretty happy with the product, other than our installation method, though I have noticed one quirk.

When a section of flooring hasn’t been walked on in a while, it creaks when you step on it again for the first time. Not like a scary door opening creak, but more like an oh-no-I’m-getting-old-and-getting-out-of-bed-hurts creak. You know the kind where your whole back cracks when you sit up? No? Just me? Cool.

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

We first stapled it down to the subfloor to hold it in place and then taped each piece together to create a patchwork of blue underlayment goodness. You can see what I mean in the picture above.

Getting it around the weird angles required a LOT of different pieces, but it was pretty forgiving and tape does wonders to hold everything together.

Step Two: Lay Your First Boards

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

Finally, it was time to install our first planks of engineered wood flooring over the plywood and underlayment. We decided to run it parallel to the longest main wall on our second floor, but there really isn’t one direction or another that is right or wrong – it’s really up to what you think looks the best.

I’ve heard that in older homes when wood was installed near the front door, it was traditionally laid at a 90-degree angle to the door to draw your eye in visually.

Since we didn’t have a door to worry about (and our house is about as historic as beanie babies are), I got to choose. Laying it that way also meant it lined up nicely with the stairs that we installed later.

Step Three: Snap and Lock Remaining Boards Into Place

Actually installing the boards was insanely easy. We just measured and cut (where necessary), and placed the new board onto the already placed one, overlapping the joints. It’s pretty foolproof actually – the boards won’t go together if you do it wrong, and once you lock them into place, they don’t really move.

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

We made sure to leave an expansion gap along each wall (you can see the spacers we used in the picture above), and staggered our seams to make sure the installation would be strong and last a long time.

If you don’t leave that gap, you can get buckling and separation, and non-staggered seams can leave your floor more prone to those same issues. I also started with the tongue facing the wall, which turned out to not matter all that much.

See, for a floating floor, it’s pretty easy to install things ‘backward‘. The main wall we started on actually splits our house essentially in two, half of it behind it and half of it in front of it.

That meant we installed about half of the flooring forwards (tongue facing away from you) and half of it backward (tongue facing towards you). The pull bar actually made it a non-issue, but if you plan to nail your floors down, I don’t think it would be possible, since there wouldn’t be room for the gun. Just something to think about!

Top 5 Tips

If you decide to tackle this project, send me an email or DM me on Instagram! I love seeing your DIYs. And I will 100% want to come help, even though my kids and husband want me to stay here.

I’m addicted to DIYing, I think. But even if I can’t come help in person, I can at least leave you with my top five tips to make things go more smoothly.

  1. Spring for the table saw. It will be worth it, even if you aren’t installing as much flooring as we did.
  2. Don’t discard your waste. Keep a pile of messed up cuts, waste pieces, etc. You never know when they’ll come in handy!
  3. Don’t worry about the small chips on the edges of each board where they are cut. These will be covered by the baseboards.
  4. Get the appropriate blade for each saw. Bamboo is a very hard material, and if your blade isn’t sharp enough or aggressive enough, it will chip unnecessarily. If you are using a softer wood, this won’t be as much of an issue.
  5. If you are planning on installing new floors on your stairs as well, finish those last. The stairs were much harder than the initial flooring install, and I was really glad that I had the experience of laying 800+ square feet of flooring behind me before tackling that project.

After a long 5 months (I was pregnant at the time and pretty sick, so progress was slow going), we finally finished our floating engineered wood flooring installation.

Reveal and My Thoughts

Total Cost

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

Once everything was complete for this DIY floating flooring install, we had spent around $5,000.

For the amount of flooring and the fact that we tackled refinishing the stairs at the same time (they ate up almost $1,000 of that budget), I think that’s a bargain, especially when it would have easily been double that to hire a professional.

We actually utilized Lumber Liquidator’s 0% financing and paid it off within the promotional period to help finance the project. I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t usually have $5,000 laying around without a purpose.

I think as long as you can set aside a budget each month to pay off big purchases like this, it’s a great option.

And because if I was reading this post I would be wondering, no, this post isn’t sponsored at all. I bought all of the materials, tools, etc. with my own money. I’m pretty sure Lumber Liquidators has NO IDEA who I am.

As far as how I feel about them? I’m in love. Birds sing every time I look at them. I’m magically transformed into a Disney princess and my hair gets an instant blowout. Kidding, but they are pretty nice.

Durability

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

Our bamboo floors have held up extremely well in the couple of years we’ve had it so far. We’ve had toddlers drag toys across them, babies drool on them, and our dog has dropped her heavy, sharp chew toys on them on more than one occasion.

The only place we’ve seen some wear and tear is in our office underneath the chairs. I didn’t think about the casters potentially scratching the wood, but they did.

Micro-scratches, but they were enough to make it look a little hazy underneath each chair. I just applied some wood reconditioner in a dark stain color, which filled in all the surface scratches, and it looks as good as new! I also switched out the original casters on our office chairs for non-scratching ones. Super easy switch!

Sound

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

Even with two kids, a dog, and several heavy-footed walkers, unwanted sound has not been an issue any more than any other hard surface material would be. Of course, the carpet would absorb a lot more sound, but I never feel like the rooms feel echo-y or overly loud.

That being said, we have a lot of walls upstairs. Our first floor is fairly open concept, but the second floor is pretty chopped up. Sound just doesn’t have much room to travel before it hits a wall. That, and the kid’s rooms are really small. If you have a super open floor plan, I’d say just invest in some rugs!

Cleaning

In terms of cleaning, these floors are super low maintenance. I sweep when they need it, and use a VERY slightly damp microfiber mop to clean them when they get super dirty. We don’t typically wear shoes upstairs, so they stay pretty clean.

Installing engineered hardwood floating flooring over plywood can be intimidating, but it's really a pretty simple project. You only need a few tools, and it's relatively inexpensive! Whether you choose laminate, or bamboo like us, it's an easy job for any DIYer. We had a plywood subfloor upstairs, but I also installed it over concrete on our first floor. We didn't even have to put in any transitions, and got to continue the flooring down on our stairs. #flooring #floatingfloor #diy #renovation #bambooflooring #hardwood #engineeredwood #plywood

FAQ – How To Install Engineered Wood Floors Over Plywood

I get a lot of questions about our floors and how they’ve been holding up. Three years later, I can say I’m incredibly happy with them. It’s easily been the biggest change in our home, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

  • Why bamboo hardwoods?
    • I do my best to do things that are good for our planet AND good for my wallet. This particular flooring was cheap, durable, and green, so it checked all the right boxes.
  • It’s so dark! Does it show dog hair and dirt?
    • Dog hair, no. Dirt, yes. But I’m in the camp of wanting to see the dirt – I don’t want it hiding! Wouldn’t you rather KNOW your floors are clean instead of ignoring the dirt? A color that hides more doesn’t mean your floors are cleaner, it just means you can’t see it as well.
  • Is it loud?
    • Nope! It is definitely louder than carpet would have been, but I never feel like our second story is home to a herd of elephants or anything.
  • Why floating?
    • It was the easiest installation method. I wasn’t interested in renting a flooring gun or gluing anything down.
  • Where are the transition pieces?
    • I read, re-read, and read again the instructions/installation manual that came with our floors. Floating installations can tolerate a certain amount of length and width before you need to install a transition, and we came in just under that so the entire installation is seamless.
  • My installation guide says to mix wood between the boxes. Do I really have to do that?
    • I didn’t. Mostly because I couldn’t remember what wood was from what box, and partly because I just didn’t see that much variation from box to box. It might be more important in a lighter colored material, but with something as dark as what we installed, it was a non-issue.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out! Learning how to install engineered wood flooring over plywood is totally doable for pretty much anyone.

Do the research, be patient, put in the work, and installing a floating bamboo floor won’t seem so hard.

It will also generally go much more quickly than ours did (since you probably won’t be super pregnant and therefore incredibly uncomfortable the whole time. Bless my husband for putting up with me during this renovation).

I would do this project again in a heartbeat, and love walking on these floors every single day.

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Melissa

Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

Welp. Looks like I'm doing it, your article definitely helped make some decisions :) thank you!

Catherine

Wednesday 30th of December 2020

Hooray! Send me some pictures - I'd love to see the transformation!

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