Whether you go for vinyl, carpet or even ceramic tiles, changing your floor covering is a great way to give a room a new lease of life. But before you start work, make sure the surface underneath is sound and level. If it isn't, any defects are likely to show through. This will spoil the look of your new floor and eventually cause it to wear unevenly. Luckily, there are some effective ways to deal with problem floors which we will share with you.
How to level a wood floor
By using hardboard sheets, you'll be able to level a boarded floor as well as reducing any draughts coming from below.
For your comfort and protection, it's a good idea to wear knee pads when you're working on your floor.
Top tip - Pyramid nailing
To prevent hardboard sheets buckling as you nail them down, position nails in an expanding pyramid pattern, starting in the middle of one edge and gradually working across to the other side. Around the edge nails should be spaced at 150mm intervals, while in the centre they can be 225mm apart.
Choose 3mm-thick sheets and condition them first by brushing or spraying water over the textured side before stacking them on the floor of the room, back to back, for 48 hours. This expands them very slightly, and means they'll dry and tighten rather than expand and buckle after you've laid them. Before laying your sheets, you'll need to drive in all the floorboard nails below the surface and plane or sand down any boards that stick out more than the others. Then fix the sheets in place with 19mm ring-shanked nails, which are too short to go right through the floorboards and damage any pipes and cables below.
Lay the hardboard sheets texture-side up (unless the instructions for the flooring say otherwise). This will give you a key for the adhesive and accommodate the nail heads. Start in a corner of the room and set the nails about 13mm in from the edges of the sheet in a pyramid pattern. You can cut scraps of wood to use as nail-spacing guides.
Butt the sheets tightly together, nailing along each meeting edge first, before carrying on in a pyramid fashion. When you've reached the end of the first row of sheets, you'll need to cut the last one to size.
Use the off-cut from the last sheet in the first row to start the second one. This prevents any waste and ensures the joints are staggered. Then just carry on like this until you've finished the floor.
How to replace a wood floor
If a lot of your floorboards are damaged, you'll find it cheaper and easier to pull them all up and fit tongue-and-groove chipboard flooring panels. These will give you a firm foundation for your final floor covering.
Start in the corner of the room. Lay the first panel so that its long side spans the joists and its end rests on a joist (if you need to cut it down, it's best to do this on the skirting edge). Position the board about 9mm from the wall to allow for any expansion. Then nail along the joists, beginning about 18mm from the edge, using 50mm ring-shanked nails spaced at 300mm intervals. Remember to mark the location of any pipes or cables beneath on the boards.
Check the fit of the next panel. If its tongued end doesn't meet a joist, cut it back as necessary. Then apply PVA wood adhesive to the end tongue of the first panel, slot the end groove of the second over the tongue (aligning the long edges) and nail down the second panel. Wipe off any excess glue with a damp cloth.
If you've shortened the second panel to meet a joist, you'll also need to cut off the grooved end of the next one so you can butt and glue them together over the joist. Cut the last board in the row to size, remembering to leave a 9mm expansion gap at the wall. Lay the first panel of the second row against the last panel of the first so the joints are staggered.
Make sure the panels fit tightly by driving each into place with a grooved panel off-cut. Continue to do this until you reach the far side of the room, staggering the joints and allowing an expansion gap at the wall. Then measure and cut the last row of boards to fit.
How to level a concrete floor
If your solid concrete floor is basically sound, the easiest way to level it is with a latex self-levelling compound. Before you use this, make sure you repair any cracks or holes. Then pour the compound onto the floor and trowel it until it's smooth.
Making it easier
If your trowel marks are still visible after a couple of minutes, sprinkle water on them and smooth the compound again.
First, dampen any cracks or holes by brushing them with water. This stops your filler from drying out too quickly and cracking.
Fill any large cracks or holes with a sand and cement mortar mix. You can treat the smaller ones with self-levelling compound, trowelled smooth as above and left to harden. Once the floor has set, you can prepare it for the compound by pouring a little water onto the floor and brushing it out to dampen the surface. Make sure you don't flood it, though.
Mix the compound by following the manufacturer's instructions. Start in the corner furthest from the door and pour the compound onto the floor. Spread it to a thickness of about 3mm with a plasterer's trowel using long, sweeping strokes. And while you're doing this, get a helper to mix the next bucketful.
Work quickly, but carefully. The compound will set in around 15 minutes, and you should be able to walk on your floor in a few hours.
How to ensure your floor is smooth
If you stagger your panel joints in adjacent rows, you can stop any annoying lumps and bumps from forming in the floor and showing through your floor covering.