Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Whether you are building a new home or room, remodeling one, or just doing a few touch-ups, baseboards can add both a unique touch to the room and help to hide flooring edges. Baseboards can add a bit of elegance to a room, but can also be a safety measure as well when it comes to hiding the tacking strips in carpeting.
How high should baseboards be off the floor? This actually depends on a number of factors:
- What type of flooring are you using?
- Is it already installed, or do you need to make room for it?
- Are there extra components involved?
- Is the floor or subfloor level all the way around?
The answers to these questions will determine if you can put the baseboard flush or if you need to leave a gap as much as ½” between subfloor and baseboard.
I want to go over each question individually and demonstrate how the answers can affect the spacing, or lack of spacing, used when installing your baseboards. While the standard is usually ⅜ to ½ inch space, there are factors which can affect that. I want to go over some of those factors which can make a difference in the gap needed.
If you are just replacing the baseboards without flooring in place, then most contractors will ask you to give them between ⅜ and ½ inch of room between the subfloor and the baseboards. This will allow them the room they need to tuck your flooring underneath the baseboards. This can be done mainly for aesthetic purposes, but can also be a safety feature as well.
For carpeting, there are usually tack strips that help hold both the carpet and the pad in place to give a nice, smooth floor without lumps or bubbles. These tack strips can poke through the carpet and can injure bare feet. Oftentimes, it is best to install the baseboards after the carpet is installed simply because of these tack strips.
For things like tile or hardwood, you would want to give a ⅜ to ½ inch clearance for the installers to be able to put the flooring in and be able to slide the edges beneath the baseboards. Tile can be sharp, and the edges can cut if they are not covered. Even if there is a small gap between the tiles and the baseboards, this is usually not noticeable and will protect bare feet from cuts.
If you are installing baseboards before you have the floor installed, using a wood shim or similar device can help you to make sure that you have the baseboards at the required height. Checking with your contractor can help to make sure that you have enough of a gap between the subfloor and the baseboards can ensure that your work does not have to be redone.
What Type of Flooring?
The type of flooring you plan to use will make a huge difference in how much room needs to be made for it. For the most part, you will want the baseboard to be flush with your flooring so that it covers up the edges, which can really improve the aesthetics of your home. You will need to take the type of flooring into consideration because of the height difference in types of flooring.
In the case of carpeting, baseboard also becomes a safety feature as it can cover up the tack strips around the edges, which prevents accidentally getting a tack into a bare or stocking foot. Carpeting also includes a pad underneath it as well, which can affect the height of the end result, so this also needs to be taken into consideration when installing baseboards.
Whether you are looking at hardwood or ceramic tiles, knowing the thickness of the type of flooring can make a big difference. You need to make sure that the baseboards are above the flooring since the installers will want to put the flooring under the baseboards. This allows for a more seamless look and will keep the beauty of the baseboards from being hidden.
For tile, there is usually grout of some type of adhesive cement used to adhere the tiles into place. This will also keep them from cracking if the subfloor is uneven in areas, potentially leaving open spaces that the tiles may float on top of. The thickness of this grout is something else to take into consideration when installing baseboards above the tiles.
Is the Flooring already Installed?
If the flooring is already installed, this can reduce the guesswork as you will be laying the baseboard on top of the existing flooring, whether that is carpeting or if it is hardwood. If you are just replacing the existing baseboard, then you should be able to use the placement of the existing to judge where the new boards will need to be placed.
When working with installed flooring, the main concern is not the gap, but making sure that you keep the baseboards even.
While this tends to be the preferred option, it is not always a viable one, especially when working with contractors that have other jobs they are working on as well. If you are able to wait until the flooring is installed, this is preferable.
Are there Extra Components to the Flooring to Consider?
Extra components such as underfloor heating also needs to be taken into consideration as well as this can change the height of the actual flooring above the subfloor. While this may not be a concern for most home improvers, those who are experienced in remodeling or construction may want to take this point into consideration as it can affect the height of the baseboards.
Is the Existing Surface Level?
Whether you are looking at the floor or the subflooring, you want to ensure that everything is as level as you can get it. By taking the extra time to ensure this, you ensure that using a spacer, if needed, will give you a level baseboard around the room.
This is very important, and I learned how important this was when a friend decided to refinish his floors. He forgot to check the leveling before he applied the resin coating and discovered later, although it LOOKED level, it very much was not. On the upside, we had a laugh watching that marble go all over the place, seemingly on its own.
When the new flooring is installed, your contractors will probably do what they can to make sure everything is as level as they can get it, but this is not always the case. For carpeting, it can be hard to level things out too much, but in the case of flooring such as tiles, a little extra grout can help to keep things level.
When just doing touch-ups, like replacing portions, or even all of your existing baseboard, you may not need things like building permits because essentially, you are not doing much more than just repainting a room. Replacing existing baseboards could be simply considered home repairs rather than something that requires permits.
That said, you should check with your local municipality or local government to make sure there are not any regulations that you are unaware of when it comes to things like this. It is possible that regulations were either changed or put in place since the original baseboard was installed, in which you do need to familiarize yourself with this, just to be on the safe side.
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