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Which comes first - floors or trim?

Zoe25's picture

Which comes first -- hardwood floors or baseboard trim?

We are building a new home and have been struggling whether to put the hardwood floor or baseboard trim first.  At first, the builder wanted to put the baseboard first, then the hardwood.  He explained that any gaps due to expansion wouldn't be seen unless you were over the baseboard looking down, whereas if you installed the hardwood first, you would be able to see expansion from across the room.  

Then he advised us that the best, but more expensive way, would be to scribe the floor to the baseboard.  We agreed and he said he would install the baseboard about 1/2" above the floor so the hardwood could be scribed to fit. 

Problem is, when we met with the flooring people the baseboard was not up 1/2", but flush to the floor. 

What would be the best way to proceed?

(post #84373, reply #1 of 87)

Always, always, always install floor first.  Especially hardwood.  That's what shoe molding is for. 

There are only a couple exceptions to this rule, but this is not one if them.

No Coffee No Workee!


No Coffee No Workee!

(post #84373, reply #2 of 87)

Floor then base and baseshoe.  Then find new builder to determine what else this idiot screwed up.

(post #84373, reply #3 of 87)

I've always done it floor first, then door casings, then baseboards.

Mostly because the floors need some space at the walls to allow for expansion- at least 1/2" or so. If the baseboards are installed first,and then the floor tight to the baseboards, then there can't be enough room for expansion.

And the floor shoe should be nailed at an angle, into the floor, NOT the baseboard.

That way, the shoe will stay tight to the floor as things move, eliminating the possibility of a gap.

(post #84373, reply #4 of 87)

Is this prefinished or site finished hardwood?

Is shoe molding to be applied to the floor/base molding intersection?

If the base is already installed, then install the hardwood with a gap and then the shoe molding to cover the gap.

more to come once you answer the 2 Qs above.


(post #84373, reply #5 of 87)

It's pre finished marbau. we weren't planning on using a shoe mold originally. The house is in final phases. Should we ask the builder to remove all the base boards or reattach 1/2 inch higher? they have been caulked already etc...

Is our only option to run the floor against with the shoe molding? Thanks

(post #84373, reply #8 of 87)

No, it's not your only option.  Even on the prefinished floors I've had them laid before I came in to run base.  I can't think of a case where I needed to run shoe, the base was that tight to the HW floor.  Maybe a thinner base would need the shoe, though. 

Get what you want. Have him pull the base so you can get the floor in. 

Is this his 1st house?

(post #84373, reply #9 of 87)

Thanks John. This is like his 300th built house. He's also there all day long and engaged. We built our first house 13 years ago and we're having a better/great experience with this builder. It's just this chicken and the egg thing around the base trim and the floor. Ironically, he said he'd have his carpenter install the base trim about 1/2 higher so we could miter in the floor under. It didn't happen, painter's have been in, caulked the base boards and my brother in law that does floors for a living was upset when he came by today to scope out the job for the prefinished we want him laying next week and saw the base boards flush with the plywood flooring.

(post #84373, reply #10 of 87)

The contractor knows he is wrong.  You never install the base first, he sounds like he is making up a good story.

(post #84373, reply #11 of 87)

I don't think there is a case at all where you install base tight to the subfloor.  Even with carpet you hold it up 3/8" or so.  I wonder if the guy got in some scheduling trouble or something? How tall is the base? Remember that the floor is going to hide 3/4" of that height and cloverleaf shoe molding another 3/4".  I think in this case you are going to have to install shoe to hide what will be a gap between base and HW floor.  So whatever the base measures, subtract 1 1/2" (3-1/4" will end up 1-3/4 showing, top profile on ogee base is about 5/8 or so so that leaves you with 1" flat stock showing ).

I by no means have all the answers, and I realize everyone does things differently.  But there are some "rules" to follow, and I have always been taught and understood the ones I have mentioned here are some of those "rules".  Your brother-in-law seems to know this rule as well.

The good news is, this ain't gonna make the house fall down! 

No Coffee No Workee!


No Coffee No Workee!

(post #84373, reply #12 of 87)

Thanks Jed. The base trim is actually about 6 inches high so in theory, we have space to lose and it'll stick look "thick".  Might be best to just have the florr run up against and see if we need a shoe to hide the space. We'll still try to get the base boards pulled off or raised and see if he bites. We're the first house in his cul de sac and he needs us to be good references in this economy and as he's selling the other 6-7 lots! This has been great to hear the feedback from everyone to help us decide next best steps.

(post #84373, reply #13 of 87)

Flooring first always
I've worked on a few jobs where the base was installed first both with a gap and tight to the floor. Both later looked like ####.

If the builder did his job then the trim guy "might" have some scribing to do where the base meets the finshed floor. Shoe is only installed(IMHO) to hide the gap from base to floor.

(post #84373, reply #15 of 87)

        Wow, I always love it when someone ( or a bunch of someones) take the "this is the only way to do this, and your builder is a moron" approach....Got news for ya.

         In New England, it's been common for years to run base first, and oak later. In fact, in the circles of higher quality builders around my neck of the woods, it's " gaff" to run base over with shoe mold. "hack".

          I've gotten to the point where I've accepted that it's a regional thing, and that if it works for you, and the guy you learned from, and the guy he learned from, how can you say, " NOPE! THAT'S HACK!!" ?

          I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Oak, in this area, bought and acclimated DOES NOT SWELL! period. I have seen it shrink in minor fashion, never, ever, ever swell. ever.

           I can show you pictures of floors I did 10 years ago, that still look great, and this thread may be the one that pizzes me off enough to figure out how to post them.:) Seriously, tho, I think it's wrong to say things like " Is this his first house?" or " Your builder knows he's wrong" just because you do it differently.

        To the op, I live in Rehoboth, MA, and if you want to e-mail me, I'll snail mail you some pix, or if you're close enough, you can look at any number of floors that I've laid over an extended period of time before you condemn your builder.


(post #84373, reply #16 of 87)

Is shoe mold commonly used there?


(post #84373, reply #18 of 87)

          Honestly, and this will sound like I'm saying it to support my opinion, it is not used alot in custom built houses.

          It is used predominately in quick built, slapped up, multi peaked, vinyl sided kaka houses.

           But I have seen it in a few nice houses. And that's why I've grown into the  "to each his own" mindset.

           Without the shoe mold, everyplace the trim meets the oak is a perfect, clean line of oak and painted trim, door casing ( yup, hang and case the doors first, too) stair skirts, cabinets, etc. At least if it's done by someone with talent. That's what cracks me up about the fellas that jump on this subject like the builder is satan....It's harder to do it this way!...... But it looks (imo) nicer.




(post #84373, reply #25 of 87)


I very much subscribe to the more than one way to skin a cat type philosophy. 

I also believe that regional differences are just that - regional differences.  I once had a lady from Hawaii tell me: "Oh no - we don't like trim.  We like the nice clean look of no trim."  OK - I can respect that - not my cup-o-tea though.    Another example is that I know some people in the mid west like all trim and doors stained.  Very unpopular there. 

I hope you didn't take my long response as "this is THE way to do it".  I just said what works for me and what is common here.

It doesn't surprise me that you say that shoe mold is not common there.  Just a regional difference.  That was why I asked the question.  Like I hear some of you all always "strap" ceilings.  I don't have any experience with homes over about 2 mil though. 

One other Q though: >> Without the shoe mold, everyplace the trim meets the oak is a perfect, clean line of oak and painted trim, door casing ( yup, hang and case the doors first, too) stair skirts, cabinets, etc. At least if it's done by someone with talent. <<  So, are you saying that the flooring butts up to these vertical surfaces or the floor goes under the vertical surfaces - or a mix?  I gather you are saying the floor butts up to the base with a uniform gap?  - if I'm reading you correctly - Not sure I'd care for that look.

Not argueing here - just discussing and trying to learn something.

Edited 10/26/2008 10:30 pm ET by Matt


(post #84373, reply #17 of 87)

The floors we are having installed are an exotic, pre-finished wood called Merbau.  It looks a bit like Brazilian Cherry.  Do you think that would make a difference vs. oak?  We were going to have the wood brought to the house to acclimate before installation.  

Also, I don't really like the look of a shoe mold.  I haven't really seen them much in houses in this area and when I do it looks like they were used to cover a mistake.  It was interesting to hear that is not usually the case.

(post #84373, reply #21 of 87)

        I can't speak from experience in regards to your Merbau, because I haven't specifically used it, but I have used Brazilian Cherry going against the base, with no problem.I would think that yours being prefinished would tend to be more stable. 

        Acclimating as long as possible is a good start, as is keeping the house dry.I agree in regards to the molding looking like it's covering a boo boo, but I think its because I'm not used to seeing it on the floors of most of the houses I'm in. Very rarely see it in older houses here.

        As to keeping the base 1/2" above the subfloor, we do this so we can maintain the same base height throughout the house. I put half inch sanded ply where we're putting tile, and the base goes down tight to that. Yes, we tile up to the base also. No, we don't put the base on top of the tile. Anyhow, this carries the same height thru from tiled areas to hardwood areas.



(post #84373, reply #48 of 87)

Sounds like that will work out pretty good since the base is a little larger.

I would like to re-state that I said I do not have all the answers and everyone does things differently.  Seems like someone here got a little angry about the opinions we were giving.  I also did not and would not call your builder a "hack".  Never met the guy, and the fact that you like him says something at least.  The things I suggested were rules I was taught to follow.  Rules, of course, were made to be broken, and things happen you have to work around (which is why I asked if he had some scheduling mis-fire or something). 

In summary - good news- the base isn't going to look like it's 1 1/2" tall, you love your builder, and the house is gonna survive!  Bad news-You can't please all of the people all of the time!

Congrats on your house! Good luck!

No Coffee No Workee!


No Coffee No Workee!

(post #84373, reply #55 of 87)

     I think you may have misinterpreted my post(s). First, none were directed at you, as you're pretty much offering opinions, and advise, without condemning the guy. I think that's fine. It's what we should all be doing!

      Secondly, I'm not even remotely angry, I just don't like it when, because a method is different, certain people jump on it without all the info that's pertinent. I don't need proof that my method works; I've been doing it that way for long enough that my conscience is way clear. But the op is in a position of " Holy ####, does this guy have a clue?" and to rag on their builder, especially when it sounds like their client/builder relationship has been a love fest so far, is, I think, unfair in this particular case.We're not talking about a roofer that butted his shingles up against a wall and filled the space with caulk instead of step flashing it; then, I would scream foul, as would anyone here. And regardless of whether the response was "use aluminum" or " use copper" they'd be right.(Although we'd probly argue about that too, so...:) It's a lot less cut and dry........



(post #84373, reply #65 of 87)

Agreed.  Thanks Bing187.

No Coffee No Workee!


No Coffee No Workee!

(post #84373, reply #6 of 87)

Maybe this is a regional thing, but we have always installed base before unfinished and prefinshed hardwood (3/4).  They both  should be aclimated(sp) before install so that expansion and contraction is minimal.  I agree with your builder, the gap is alot less visible done this way.

The laminate flooring needs the expansion and should be installed prior to base install.

This is one of those areas where different techniques are used by different people, as you can see by the varying opinions.  I don't think your buider is as incompentent as some people here feel.





(post #84373, reply #7 of 87)

We're building in MA and are Sox (Red) fans. The builders been a great guy and been good to us so far. My sister's company is doing the floors. My sister has said she's never installed after base board...The Builder swears he's alway argues with the flooring folks on this and he's suggesting the better way and he thinks the floor people hate the extra work...lastly, to your point, we are building a NE home too if it matters on region.

Edited 10/26/2008 6:46 pm ET by Zoe25

Edited 10/26/2008 6:49 pm ET by Zoe25

Edited 10/28/2008 6:43 pm ET by Zoe25

(post #84373, reply #14 of 87)

prefinished huh....

I always install prefinished flooring as late in the building process as possible.  Reason?  Less chance of the floor getting damaged.  That means after the trim installation, first painting, the plumb, HVAC and Elect trim outs.  The only exception is if the hardwood has to go under the toilet(s).   The only downside to trim (etc) first is that the flooring guys have to do a good job of cutting the door jambs to just the right height so the hardwood can just slip under them.

If it is a site finished hardwood floor I have the boards nailed down before any trim but sanded and finished after most trim and paint but before the shoe mold.   Then the trim carpenters are responsible for minimizing the gaps at the door casing and jamb to floor intersection.

We use shoe mold on all hardwood floors. 

If someone doesn't want to use shoe mold then the base must be installed after the floor.  The reason for using shoe though is that it will conform better to irregularities in the floor better than base mold.  The gaps left under the shoe mold are going to be smaller than they would be using base alone.  The alternative of no shoe mold often requires that the base be not only installed after the hardwood, but also that the base needs to be carefully scribed to the floor in some areas. 

BTW - The shoe is nailed to the baseboard.  Think of the wall, baseboard and shoe mold as one assembly or the "wall assembly" and the floor itself as a separate assembly.  The joint at the floor/"wall assembly" intersection is a slip joint that allows the floor to move around.  The large floor expanse of tightly mated boards will expand and contract with temperature and humidity changes.  The trim nailed to the wall will be pretty stable.

Personally, I like the look of shoe mold - usually painted shoe mold unless the base is stained rather than painted.  Floor areas intersecting with stained cabinets always get shoe to match the cabinets.

IMO in your situation, since the base is already installed, you need to have the floor installed with maybe a ~1/4" gap at the base mold and then shoe installed.  The only detriment to your current situation is that the base looks a little more "squatty" when 3/4" (or whatever) of it is hidden behind the edge of the flooring.

Personally I think builders have better perspective as to how a job should be sequenced than a subcontractor.  The builder is responsible for the overall result and the overall budget.  The sub is only responsible for one part of the job and tends not to have as clear a picture of the overall project.  For example, ask a flooring contractor what kind of shoe is to be installed and he possibly won't know unless he is responsible for installing the shoe.  The builder has to know at least a little bit about how every job on the job site is done.  The sub knows one job very well.  OK - the sub may know several jobs very well of he offers several trades as his service offering.  OTOH, it is a mistake for anyone to think he might know another person's trade better than the guy doing it - unless he has done that job as a profession.

BTW - I was at the UNC/Boston College game yesterday when the BC team was beaten pretty well... ;-)


(post #84373, reply #19 of 87)

I was taught, over 30 years ago, to nail the shoe to the floor, or better yet, into the subfloor.

That way, the shoe stays tight to the finish floor, and won't leave a gap if/when the baseboards move. And the baseboards/wall can move without disturbing the joint at the shoe.

Its worked for me for over 30 years, and it worked for my dad for a lot of years before that.

If your method works for you, don't change it. There's more than one way to do things.

(post #84373, reply #20 of 87)


I was taught, over 30 years ago, to nail the shoe to the floor, or better yet, into the subfloor.

Sit back and enjoy this thread. Have fun!


Joe Carola
Joe Carola

(post #84373, reply #31 of 87)


that's a long thread for when to run base LOL.

I go to JLC on occasion, and saw the beginning of that thread. But I had no idea it would stay so long.

And I see there's no consensus on how to nail shoe at JLC, either.  My way worked for me for me and my dad for over 50 years, so I'm not changing now. But if nailing to the base works for others, even tho I wouldn't do it that way, I don't care if they continue.

(post #84373, reply #24 of 87)

I hear ya. I'm actually glad you chimed in being in somewhat close proximity to us. Regarding our builder, I'm actually a big fan of his and the way he's been treating us and how good the experience has been to date. Don't think I've thrown him under the bus yet. In fact, the reason we're at this point, is I've learned to trust his tell it like it is style, similar to mine. In the spirit of flushing it out one more time, and while things can be adjusted if necessary, I turned to you all for some feedback. And great feedback it is. And very much appreciated. This is obviously a good topic because of the feelings on both sides of the fence.

Of course, I'm liking what BaDaBing is saying here!...with conviction no less.


Thanks guys!!

Edited 10/26/2008 10:16 pm ET by Zoe25

Edited 10/28/2008 6:45 pm ET by Zoe25

(post #84373, reply #22 of 87)

I have done it both ways. you can run the flooring up to the base but usually you do that in an older home where you want to add hardwood floors. it is easier to install the floor before the trim.

you could leave the base up high enough to slip the flooring under, then shoe after the floor is finished. if you do that you have to re-cut all of the door jambs and casings so you can slip the flooring under those

that's just unnecessary work for the flooring installer.

floor installers are notorious hack artists. I dont know about you but I dont want the flooring guys hacking at my trim with a jamb saw

as far as your question as to the best way to proceed, remove the baseboard and reinstall after the floor. it'll come off easier than you think and its already cut to lengths. this time scribe it to the floor

(post #84373, reply #23 of 87)

        I think pulling your base would be a ridiculous waste of money and labor....A good installer can make this look great, and last for as long as any other floor.Find one that's good, ( even if it p.o's your sister), and he won't even bat an eyelash at fitting to it.

         And as for "floor installers being notorious hack artists".... I find that guys who have screen names like "Maverick" are notorious Tom Cruise fans. Generalization doesn't help anybody, and you're guaranteed to tick someone off.......


(post #84373, reply #26 of 87)

PS - I hate Tom Cruise... :-)  OK - he is a pretty good actor - but the money he has made has over-inflated his ego to astronomical proportions....