Installing Laminate Flooring Properly Tips
8 Installing Laminate Flooring Properly Tips
Plastic laminate first came to prominence back in the 1940s and 50s as a popular kitchen countertop material. But by the late-1980s it was beginning to fall out of favor as homeowners began replacing old plastic laminate counters with granite or solid-surfacing materials. To survive, the plastic laminate industry needed a renaissance, which came in the mid-1990s with the introduction a revolutionary new product: plastic-laminate flooring.
Though it was first met with quite a bit of skepticism, builders and homeowners soon discovered that plastic-laminate flooring was extremely durable, highly stain-resistant, affordable, and quick and easy to install. And it came in dozens of wood-grain patterns and colors that mimicked the look of real wood. Today, plastic laminate flooring remains popular and every major flooring manufacturer offers a line of laminate flooring.
One of the advantages of a plastic-laminate floor is that it’s installed using the floating-floor method. The planks aren’t fastened down with nails or glue. Instead, the tongue-and-groove planks are snapped together and then laid, or “floated,” over a thin rubber underlayment. This method is one of the quickest, easiest ways to install a new floor, making it perfect for do-it-yourselfers. It typically takes about 4 hours to install laminate flooring in a 10- x 12-foot room. And once you snap in the last plank, you’re ready to install the shoe molding and carry in the furniture. There’s no time required for sanding, staining or varnishing.
If you’d like to install your own laminate floor, here are a few tips and tricks that can help ensure you end up with a neat, professional-looking job.
Prep the Room
If you’re working in a small- to medium-size room, it’s best to carry out all the furniture. For larger rooms, you can simply move everything to one side of the room, lay half of the flooring, then move the furniture onto the new floor, so you can continue laying flooring across the room.
Next, check to see if the room has quarter-round shoe molding running along the base of the baseboard molding. If it does, you’ll need to remove it before laying down the new floor. But leave the baseboard molding in place. Pry up the shoe molding using a thin pry bar, such as a hive tool, but be careful not to damage it; you’ll need to replace the shoe molding after installing the plastic-laminate floor. And here’s why:
Laminate flooring expands and contracts with humidity, so it’s important to leave an expansion gap—usually ¼ to 3/8 inch wide—between the baseboard molding and the flooring. The shoe molding will cover that gap and allow the plastic-laminate planks to move undisturbed and unnoticed. Important: When nailing the shoe molding back into place, be sure to nail it to the baseboard, not to the flooring.
Trim the Doorways
To ensure the new laminate planks fits neatly around doorways, it’s necessary to trim the door casings and side jambs so the planks can slip underneath. This may seem like a hassle, but it’s much easier than trying to notch the flooring around the doorways.
Start by laying a piece of the rubber underlayment in front of the casing, then set a piece of plastic-laminate flooring on top. This will serve as a guide, making it easy to trim away the exact right amount of wood. Next, handsawor oscillating multi-tool to cut flush across the top of the flooring and through the casing. Repeat to trim the remaining casings and side jambs. Then vacuum up all the dust and debris.
Prep the Subfloor
With the old flooring removed, now’s the perfect time to silence any squeaks in the subfloor. Slowly walk around the entire room, listening for any squeaks. If you hear any, use a cordless drill or, better yet, a cordless impact driver, to drive 2-inch drywall screws through the subfloor at each noisy spot. And whenever possible, drive the screws into a floor joist below.
If there are any wide cracks, voids or holes in the subfloor, fill them with wood putty or self-leveling compound.
Roll Out the Underlayment
Laminate flooring is supported by a thin rubber underlayment, which forms a moisture barrier and adds a cushioning layer beneath the plastic-laminate planks. It also helps deaden sound. There are a few different types of underlayment available, so be sure to use the kind recommended by the flooring manufacturer. It typically comes in 3- to 5-foot-wide rolls in various lengths.
Roll out the underlayment from wall to wall, and trim it to length with a sharp utility knife.
Roll out and cut the next length, then butt it against the first piece of underlayment. Don’t overlap the edges and don’t staple or tape the underlayment to the subfloor. Just butt the strips together and put masking tape across the seams to prevent the underlayment from shifting out of position.
Install the First Row of Flooring
Before installing the floor, it’s important first to calculate the width of the flooring planks in the very first row and in the very last row. That’s necessary for a couple of reasons: First, the floor will look much better—and more balanced—when the first and last rows are approximately the same width. And more importantly, it’s critical that neither row be less than half the width of one full plank. Here’s how to do the necessary calculations:
Measure the width of the room and subtract 3/4 inch for the expansion space (3/8-inch gap along each wall). Then divide by the room width by the width of one plank. That’ll give you the number of full-width planks needed to cover the floor, plus the fractional width of any remaining plank. If the remaining width is less than half a plank, you must use a table saw or circular saw to rip down the flooring in the first row so that the last row will be at least half a plank wide. Sound confusing? It isn’t really. Here’s an example:
Let’s say the room is 123 inches wide, and the plastic-laminate planks are 7½ inches wide. Subtract 3/4 inch from 123, then divide by 7½ to get 16.3. That reveals that you’ll need 16 full planks to cover the room, plus 3/10ths of a plank. So, if you start the first row with full planks, the last row would be only 2-1/4 inches wide, which is 3/10ths of a plank. In this case, it would be necessary to rip 2 5/8 inches off the first row so that the first and last rows would each be 4 7/8 inches wide. Get it?
When setting down the first row of planks, be sure the edge with the tongue faces the wall, and the grooved edge faces out into the room.
Use a Tapping Block
The laminate planks fit together with tongue-and-groove joints, which snap together. But in most cases, you’ll still need to close up the joints using a hammer and tapping block. Never hammer directly on the edge of the plank or you’ll crush it, making it impossible to install the next plank. Also, be sure to use the tapping block when striking the ends of the planks to close up the end-butt joints.
You can make your own tapping block from a scrap piece of hardwood, but you’ll get much better results from a tapping block specifically made for laminate flooring. The tapping blocks are made from super-tough plastic that will easily last throughout the job. You can buy the tapping block from the flooring dealer.
Cut the Planks
You can use virtually any carpentry tool— including a power miter saw, portable circular saw, jigsaw, or even a handsaw—to crosscut plastic-laminate planks to length. And don’t worry if the cuts aren’t perfect, the shoe molding will conceal them. However, sawing through the planks creates a lot of super-fine dust because the core of the flooring is made from medium-density fiberboard (MDF). So, consider renting a manual laminate-flooring cutter, which resembles a giant, guillotine-style paper cutter. Its long handle provides the necessary leverage to quickly and quietly slice through the planks without creating much dust. And if you use the manual cutter, you can work right in the room without creating a mess of sawdust.
As you work your way across the room, be sure that all cut ends of the planks go against the wall, never in the middle of the floor. Don’t cut any plank shorter than 12 inches, and stagger end-butt joints from one row to the next by at least 6 inches, though 12 to 18 inches looks better.
Install the Last Row
The easiest way to install the last row of flooring is to first snap together all the planks end-to-end. Then tilt the entire row into place against the next-to-last row. Align the tongue-and-groove joint, and press down on the last row. If necessary, slip a pry bar between the last row and baseboard. Slide a thin piece of plywood or hardboard behind the pry bar to protect the baseboard, then apply pressure to force the joint closed.