How to Install Laminate Flooring Like A Boss
This savvy guide will teach you how to install laminate flooring like a boss. Print this out and follow it alongside the manufacturer’s installation guidelines you received with your new batch of laminate floor.
Acclimation 72 Hours
Hold your horses. Before getting caveman with your laminate flooring installation you must allow the planks to acclimate in the room for at least 72 hours. This is because laminate flooring can expand and contract according to humidity levels in the room. The last thing you want is for the flooring to significantly expand or contract after it has been installed. This could cause the floor boards to separate or buckle.
Use the acclimation time to unpack the planks and inspect the product. Look for defects such as chipping, splitting, warping or broken tongues and grooves. It is always savvy to order 5 to 10% more than your required square footage to account for damaged boards, waste and spares for future repairs.
Top Tip – use the acclimation period to mix up planks from different boxes to give you the best visual effect, e.g. if you’re using 10 boxes, spread the contents of each box randomly over 5 separate stacks.
Select Your Weapons
- jig saw and circular saw for cutting the boards
- miter saw and table saw to make it even easier
- safety glasses
- dust mask
- knee pads
- tape measure
- duct tape
- weight to put on the flooring in place whilst you’re working on it
- tapping block and dead ball hammer to help join the planks
- flooring installation kit (which will include your spacers and pull bar)
- spirit level
- wood glue and silicon sealant (needed for detailing)
- finish nails, a nail set, a hammer and a filler for the transition bars
Make Ready the Subfloor
Rip out the old floor – whether it be carpet, tiles or hard wood planks you need to get to the bare subfloor.
With the old floor ripped up, use the spirit level or a straight edge plank to make sure the subfloor is level. Any high or low spots will cause unnecessary stress to the floor boards and cause potential damage so you’ll need to sort those out. For a floating floor (a floor that doesn’t need to be nailed or glued like laminate flooring), any height difference should not be higher than a quarter inch more over any eight foot span of floor.
If the floor needs levelling you can apply a self levelling thin set mortar to fill in those low spots.
Get Painting Done Now
With the floor torn up and the place looking like a ghetto this is the best time to get any painting or other work done so you don’t need to worry about making a mess. The wife would certainly approve.
Lay the Moisture Barrier
There are two types of subfloor – concrete and wood. If your subfloor is concrete then you’ll need a moisture barrier. Moisture barriers prevent any moisture in the concrete subfloor from penetrating your new laminate flooring. If moisture corrupts the core-board it will warp the planks over time.
Vacuum the floor to remove grit and dirt then lay down the moisture barrier ensuring that each row overlaps, it covers every corner of the floor and is held together with duct tape.
Lay Soundproof Underlay
If your laminate flooring planks don’t come with pre-attached underlay you may want to lay a separate underlay before installing your laminate flooring. This will reduce the noise of foot fall penetrating to the floors below.
Unlike the moisture barrier, when you lay underlay DO NOT overlap each row when you duct tape them together. Just make sure each row is tight and flush.
All Systems Go
It’s time to commence the installation! Before you begin make sure you look over the manufacturer’s installation instructions to familiarise yourself with the steps I’ll be going over in this guide.
Choose a Starting Wall
For aesthetic purposes it’s best to lay the boards in the same direction as the longest straight wall. If however you have matching flooring in a next door room it is better to lay them in the same direction. For square rooms lay the boards in the direction of incoming light.
Once you’ve decided on the direction of the flooring you should start from the left corner of one of the walls you choose.
Trim the First Row
First make sure the expansion gap spacers are in place along the starting wall. Then measure the width of the room accounting for expansion spacers on either side. You can simply measure the width of the room and subtract the gap the expansion spacers create on either side. Generally expansion gaps are about a quarter of an inch.
So many installation guides on the internet forget to mention the importance of making sure you trim the first and last row of planks so they will be the same width. This way you avoid the terrible squeezed in look which can easily happen if you haven’t measured right from the start and the last row ends up being just a couple of centimeters wide.
Now that you’ve measured the width of the room you can calculate how much you need to trim evenly off the first and last row.
Use a saw (preferably a circular saw or miter saw) and trim the first row. Make sure you trim the tongue side and not the groove side, because the groove side should be the side facing out to the room when you lay the first row.
Lay the First Row
Now that the boards for the first row have been cut to size you can begin piecing together the first two rows. Do this about two feet away from the starting wall from the left to the right.
Two important things to remember when laying the floor:
- Stagger the boards
- Ensure you maintain a minimum length for end boards
As a rule you never want the seams of adjacent boards to be less than 8 inches apart (I recommend 12 inches for a better look).
To cut the flooring place the plank on its face (sunny side down) to reduce chipping and use a saw blade.
Best routine for laying:
A) Enter the tongue of the long side of row two into the groove of row one.
B) Use a slight angle and press downwards until the joint locks
C) Attach the next piece of row one, join the tongue and groove of the short side at an angle and press down. Make sure the planks are perfectly aligned.
D) Add the second piece of row two. Enter the tongue into the long side of the groove, slide the plank to align the end joint, rotate downwards and lock the joint. Make sure there are no gaps and no raised edges. Continue until the first two rows are assembled.
Top Tip: After installing the first two planks of each row place a weight or a carton of flooring on top of the first plank of each row to hold it in place
Once the first two rows are assembled slide them flush against the starting wall maintaining the quarter inch expansion gap using spacers.
continue installing the rest of the floor!
It’s highly unlikely that you’re not going to face any obstructions like pipes or cabinets when laying laminate flooring. Use a jig saw to cut the flooring to fit and make sure you include the expansion gap around any obstacles you need to work around.
When negotiating a toilet or tub make sure you apply a silicon sealant to form a water tight seal, otherwise water could get in an warp your laminate floor. If you read my guide on how to clean laminate floors you’ll learn why it’s so important to avoid water like the plague. If water corrupts the HDF core-board then its only a matter of time before the flooring will start to warp and will need replacing.
Laying the Last Row
When you get to the last row you will need to cut your board length wise to make it fit. You should ensure you still allow for your expansion spacer (measure the distance between the wall and the last installed row), then subtract the expansion gap – this is the width for the last row.
When marking the cut line do not measure from the tongue (but the edge) then cut the plank along the line. If needed you can use a pull bar to insert the last row because it can often be a little awkward. It’s kind of like using a shoe horn.
Attach the Baseboards and You’re Done!
Last step is to attach the baseboards to the wall, NOT the floor. Moulding should never be attached to the laminate floor because the flooring still needs to expand and contract and won’t be able to do that if there’s a big nail or wood glue holding it in place. So for baseboards simply cut to size with a jig saw and nail to nail the wall.
This guide includes everything you need to know to install laminate flooring like a boss. All I haven’t included is precise instructions on how to add other moulding pieces such as transition bars and stair noses. I will update this guide in the future to include more detailed information on how to install these, in the meantime you can check out this video.
I’ve worked hard to make this written guide the best resource around! If you’ve spotted any mistakes or have any questions about how to install laminate flooring feel free to shoot me an email richard [at] laminatefloorblog.com