Tongue and groove flooring was developed in the late 1800’s when flooring manufacturers began producing planks with interlocking edges as a way to make hardwood flooring that eliminated the need for exposed nail heads while creating a smooth, level surface. This material is available in solid and engineered hardwood and is commonly called T & G flooring.
Many homeowners consider using tongue and groove to be the best way to create a perfect hardwood floor, whether you DIY or hire a pro.
- What is Tongue and Groove Hardwood Flooring?
- Types of Tongue and Groove Hardwood Flooring
- Pros and Cons of Tongue and Groove Flooring
- Tongue & Groove Hardwood Flooring Costs
What is Tongue and Groove Hardwood Flooring?
Tongue and groove planks have a protruding ridge or “tongue” on one side and a concave slot or receiving “groove” on the opposite side. During installation the tongue of one board fits into the groove of the next. The ends of the boards also have a tongue and a groove.
Tongue and groove creates a tight, solid seam while allowing some movement between the separate boards so that the wood flood can expand and contract with humidity and temperature changes.
Tongue and groove flooring is relatively easy to install because the tongue will fit securely into the groove on the adjoining board.
Types of Tongue and Groove Hardwood Flooring
There are two different types of tongue and groove flooring – solid hardwood and engineered hardwood. Both of these types of flooring come in nearly endless varieties of color, texture, and grain.
Solid Hardwood T&G Flooring
Solid hardwood flooring is made from a single solid piece of hardwood. Solid hardwood is durable, easy to maintain, and can be sanded and refinished several times.
Engineered T&G Flooring
Engineered hardwood is made with a real hardwood top layer or veneer, a piece of wood on the bottom, and a highly stable core in the middle. The core consists of 5 or more layers of plywood pressed and glued together in a crisscross pattern. This type of construction makes engineered hardwood less likely to expand and contract with temperature and humidity. Most engineered hardwood flooring can be refinished at least once depending on the thickness of the top layer.
Buying Tip: Another advantage of engineered hardwood flooring is that it can be installed in areas of higher humidity such as a bathroom or below grade. Check with the manufacturer to make sure it is designed for your specific use.
Pros and Cons of Tongue and Groove Flooring
Buying Tip: Buy an extra box or two, so that you’ll have replacement planks from the same “run” of flooring for repairs.
How to Install Tongue and Groove Flooring - DIY
Installing tongue and groove hardwood flooring is an average-to-difficult DIY project partly because most homeowners don’t have the necessary tools to do the job, which include a circular saw and a finish nail gun. However, if you’re a committed DIY homeowner, the cost of the tools and wrecking a few planks while you learn the installation technique is a lot cheaper than hiring a pro.
Hardwood, whether solid or engineered, can also be difficult to measure, cut, and get the first row of planks very straight. If the first row isn’t straight, the entire floor will be affected. Installing tongue and groove flooring will require a good amount of time and effort.
Quick Question: How long does it take to install T&G flooring?
Pros work at a rate of about 17-22 square feet per hour. Depending on your experience as a DIYer, you might be able to install 10-20 square feet per hour.
Installing tongue & groove step by step. Following are some of the basic steps for how to install tongue and groove flooring:
Prep the Room -Completely clear the room and remove the moldings, baseboards and old flooring.
Install the Subfloor- The subfloor for hardwood flooring should be made of OSB (Oriented Strand Board) or plywood of at least ¾”. If you use OSB, you will need to seal the cut edges because the raw edges can swell when exposed to moisture and high humidity.
Install the Underlayment – An underlayment isn’t always necessary but there are benefits to using one. An underlayment will smooth subfloor imperfections, add stability and durability to your hardwood floor, and prevent your floor from sounding hollow or squeaking when walked on.
While it is possible to lay a hardwood floor on a concrete slab, it is not recommended and a waterproof underlayment is always necessary over concrete to prevent moisture from damaging the wood.
Buying Tip: Whenever installing hardwood over concrete, choose engineered hardwood.
Organize the Boards – It will make installation go faster if you sort the boards by length and examine the boards for imperfections, such as warping and rough ends. If you can cut off the damage, you may be able to use these boards when a shorter length is needed.
Most hardwood flooring comes in random lengths, so the board ends will not land at the same place, but will be staggered across the floor. Sort and stack your boards by length, so you can quickly locate a board of the right length during installation to avoid end gaps that are too close to one another.
Lay the Floor - Place the groove end of the first board ½ inch from the wall to allow the wood to expand. Make sure the board is straight then nail it to the floor with finishing nails along the board edge closest to the wall. These nails will later be covered by the baseboard and molding.
Also nail the first board through the tongue at a 45 degree angle where the tongue meets the board. The nail will be just below the surface of the board, so it will not be visible when the next row is installed.
Set the next row by inserting the tongue on the first board into the groove on the second board, tap the board with a rubber mallet to make a tight connection, then nail the board through the tongue on the second board.
Move across the floor making sure the ends of the boards are staggered. You will probably need to make cuts to the ends of some boards to accomplish this. Always cut the groove end of the board that will meet the wall so you won’t lose the tongue.
Here is a helpful video showing how to install a tongue and groove hardwood floor.
Top Brands of Tongue and Groove Hardwood Flooring
The top brands of tongue and groove hardwood flooring include Bruce, Mohawk, Shaw, Hurst Hardwoods, Mannington, and Armstrong.
Among these brands you can find just about anything you can imagine in both solid and engineered hardwood flooring. These manufacturers make flooring from domestic species like Oaks, Maple, Walnut, Pine, and Hickory and exotic species such as Bamboo, Teak, Mahogany, Brazilian Cherry, and Tigerwood in a variety of finishes and colors.
Where to Purchase Tongue and Groove Flooring
You can find t & g flooring just about anywhere hardwood flooring is sold including big box home improvement stores, in both solid and engineered options.
You can also find tongue and groove hardwood flooring though large online flooring retailers like Floor & Décor and Efloors and through specialty online companies like Hurst Hardwoods and Carlisle Wide Plank Floors.
Buying Tip: Floor & Décor and Efloors offer low-cost to average-cost flooring. Hurst and Carlisle sell average to premium hardwood flooring.
Tongue & Groove Hardwood Flooring Costs
While tongue and groove hardwood flooring costs, on average, between $6 and $12 per square foot, you can find sale prices as low as $3 per square foot. Exotic and premium hardwood flooring can cost as much as $15 to more than $25 per square foot.
Besides wood species, factors that affect the cost of tongue and groove hardwood flooring include the grade of the wood, the width of the boards (wide planks are often more expensive) and the finish on the wood.
How do I know if I’m purchasing tongue and groove flooring?
If you see hardwood flooring that indicates it requires a nail or staple-down installation, you can be quite certain it is tongue and groove. Solid hardwood flooring is almost always tongue and groove, with the exception of plank flooring, which is installed by nailing to the floor joists so the nails will be visible. Plank flooring will be specified as such.
Engineered hardwood flooring is often tongue and groove but may also be click or lock which is detailed below.
What is the difference between tongue and groove and click or lock wood flooring?
Click or lock flooring is very like tongue and groove but has a slightly different profile around the edges making the boards actually click or lock into place against each other. Click or lock flooring is more often found with engineered hardwood, rather than solid hardwood, and is installed as a floating floor without nails.
Can you nail hardwood on the groove side?
No, you must nail the hardwood flooring on the tongue side. Place the nail (or staple) at a 45-degree angle just where the tongue meets the board so the nail will be concealed when the tongue is covered by the groove on the adjacent board.
Can tongue and groove hardwood flooring be floated?
A floating floor is an installation method and means the flooring will not be nailed or stapled to the subfloor. Many tongue and groove floors can be floated with good success if a premium underlayment is used. Instead of nailing the floor down, the tongues and grooves are glued together with a wood adhesive.
Floating floors are better suited to engineered hardwood and generally not recommended when using solid hardwood flooring.