Dummies' guide to installing laminate flooring
December 21, 2009 5:18 AM   Subscribe

Hot tips on laying down laminate floor?

So we have decided that we are beyond sick of the disgusting carpet in our living room and boring vinyl in our kitchen and want to replace both with some kind of laminate flooring (the kind you click together, not the kind that needs glue). For cost reasons, we need to do it ourselves. We are utterly clueless in these matters, so I'm looking for any advice from people who have done this themselves. Also, if anyone knows of a really, really good step-by-step guide on the net, please point me to it.
posted by feathermeat to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
We found that it goes together much easier if you attach the pieces together end to end before clicking the whole row into place. Also, be sure to have a place outside to do your cutting because the dust is horrible. They aren't kidding when they tell you to leave a gap around the edges because our friends cut it too close and it buckled up in the summer.

I found I didn't like the bounciness you get using the white sheet of packing foam they recommend as underlay. We substituted roofing felt, which isn't too bad but I'll find out what the alternatives are if I ever do it again.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:46 AM on December 21, 2009

It's pretty easy, I put down a bunch of the stuff in our living room. Important factors:

* The floor needs to be fairly level; if there are any big dips or humps that happen in a short distance, you'll either have a bouncy spot where the laminate goes across, which can put undue stress on the joint between the pieces, which isn't meant to work at an angle. We had a couple of spots where we wound up using floor leveling compound, which is sort of like runny concrete.

* Be sure to put down underlayment foam. Apart from acting as a moisture barrier, it cushions everything just a little bit.

* Buy more laminate than the exact square footage you need; between trimming pieces to fit around the edges, and the occasional wrong cut or chipped edge (it will happen, no big deal) you'll need a little extra.

* We didn't have to buy one because my dad had one left over from an earlier project, but there's a tool you'll need to facilitate tapping the sections of laminate into place. It's basically a block with a lengthwise groove in one side. You put the tongue of the piece of laminate into the groove, and tap the other side of the block with a hammer, thereby applying force without mangling the tongue.

I don't know if there's a name for that tool, but I would think any place that sells laminate flooring ought to have them, and should be able to offer you some tips. It would be worth seeing if any of the Home Depots in your area are doing a clinic on laminate floor, too! I don't know of any specific how-to pages online, but I imagine diynetwork.com might be a good place to look. Good luck!
posted by usonian at 5:51 AM on December 21, 2009

DO NOT fit the flooring tight against the walls. Always leave at least 1/8" to 1/4" gap between the flooring and the wall to allow for expansion/contraction. Otherwise, your floor will buckle or crack when it expands.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:19 AM on December 21, 2009

the kind you click together, not the kind that needs glue

Read the fine print on the box carefully. The last time I did this, we learned that the warranty for the click-together stuff was only valid if one also used glue, and the manufacturer's brand at that. We were thrilled.
posted by fatllama at 6:27 AM on December 21, 2009

I would just like to add, after having done this in multiple rooms myself, to just be patient. Chances are you'll do a few rows and then something will be messed up and you may have to take it all apart and start anew. But it's not a super difficult project, you just have to take your time with it.

Also seconding doing the cutting outside because the dust is AWFUL and it gets EVERYWHERE.
posted by trinkatot at 6:29 AM on December 21, 2009

Do you have a Home Depot nearby? They usually have free classes for things like this. When I was planning to do it I went and it was only me and the instructor and it was very helpful. I thought about the lesson for a while and then went back for another class with all my questions and again it was a one on one. You need a tablesaw with a really good blade but apart from that it was really easy and it did come out really well. The cat was a bit confused due to the lost traction but she adapted ;-)
posted by Ferrari328 at 6:35 AM on December 21, 2009

Note that if you have vinyl flooring that is before 1972 then it most likely contains asbestos. If it's intact, laminate over it instead of trying to tear it up and releasing the asbestos. Here is an article about whether or not you should remove it, test it, or leave it. Good luck. I too am a carpet hating pet owner. Wood floors and tile are my nirvana. :)
posted by stormpooper at 6:35 AM on December 21, 2009

Be careful not to create an unwanted pattern, especially if your flooring is a wood grain. My husband just used pieces one after another from the same box when he laid our floor. After about 20 pieces were down, we realized he had a checkerboard-esque pattern developing. I guess the key is to have several different boxes in use at one time, and also to rotate the individual pieces periodically, to create something that looks random and natural. Obviously disregard this if you are going for a pattern on purpose.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:42 AM on December 21, 2009

I love the laminate floor I installed in my office. The one mistake I made: I started on the far wall and worked towards the door, which turned out to be completely wrong. When the time came to fit the last piece, it was insanely difficult to get the last piece in place. If I were to do it over again, I would start with the complicated door cut and worked out from there.

The other thing I can recommend: get spacers to go up against the wall (as mentioned above, you don't want the flooring to go tight against the wall), and as you are working be sure to regularly look back and check that the floor isn't drifting. I found that from all the tapping to get the pieces in place, the floor started to skew away from the wall where I started and I had to tap the whole thing back into place. As it turns out, floating floors tend to, um, FLOAT, during construction.
posted by Lokheed at 7:41 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've installed both the glue and click types, and I think that for most people, for most applications, the glue might be better.

It's messier, but with the click type, the boards can shift around a bit and you can get gaps opening up between the boards over time.
posted by reddot at 8:03 AM on December 21, 2009

Seconding Lokheed. The spacers are critical (just use half inch strips of flooring) to ensuring the your joints don't come apart.

You especially need spacers on the wall that the pieces are sliding towards when you are tapping them in place on the short end. If you don't have these spacers, then when you are tapping the next row into place, it will grab on to the previous row and cause it to slide apart slightly.

Just remember to remove the spacers when you are done.
posted by SNACKeR at 8:05 AM on December 21, 2009

We used the kind of laminate flooring that had the foam layer already attached. You still have to lay a plastic vapor barrier. We only had to glue a few odd pieces along the edges when necessary. It helps to have a chop saw. Also since it is winter, you will want to let the flooring acclimate to your rooms if it has been stored anywhere cold. We bought abought five extra boxes of flooring in cases anything bad ever happens in the future like the dishwasher leaking. It was harder than we thought it would be to install but within the range of our amatuer skill level. The color looks different once you get it home so buy one box and check it out against your cabinets first. We ended up taking a whole trailer load back and exchanging it. The samples aren't big enough to tell.
posted by tamitang at 8:44 AM on December 21, 2009

For the love of God and all that is Holy, beg, borrow, rent, or steal a small table saw so that you can cut pieces to fit, as needed.

Seriously, all the other advice in this thread is excellent, but the one thing that added hours upon hours to laying down laminate in my bedroom was the lack of a proper cutting tool. Hand saws, utility knives, etc, won't cut it (rimshot); you'll need a good mini table saw with some sort of T-Square attachment so that you can cut boards width-wise and length-wise.

The ability to measure, mark a board, cut it, and place it without ever having to leave the room would have been a Godsend. I won't lay down any more laminate until I can get my grubby little hands on one.
posted by jpolchlopek at 9:10 AM on December 21, 2009

Consider the baseboard in the room, if there is baseboard. As others have said, it's critical to leave room for expansion, but also make sure that you are not leaving too *much* room such that you can see the gap under the baseboard.

Echoing what SuperSquirrel said above: make sure to use random lengths throughout for the first piece in each new row as to not create a pattern where there are ends in line with each other. We have a few planks in alternating rows that look like that and it bugs me every time I see it.

Apologies if this is obvious, but run the planks in line with light from the outside. In our house, we have a window at one end and the front door at the other, and the planks run parallel with those sources.

We installed our floor with a chop saw (for cutting off ends for random lengths), jigsaw (to cut round ends for the fireplace), and a circular saw (cutting boards lengthwise, not the best way to do it), but, ugh, a table saw would have been incredibly helpful. And, yeah, the dust will make a mess.
posted by jroybal at 9:17 AM on December 21, 2009

Buy the best knee pads you can find/afford. I originally bought some cheap knee pads when we installed our flooring - the kind that were just a thin layer of rubber with some elastic bands- and within 30 minutes was back at Lowes for the biggest, beefiest knee pads they had. That made all the difference in the world.
posted by ralan at 9:18 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

i've now done a few of these.. here are my tips, some of which have already been listed:

-get the tapping block and a rubber mallet. you'll find that sometimes you really need to whack a section into place, and the block mostly prevents damage to the boards. i've found variances in the joining tabs, and sometimes you gotta give it some love to snap it in.

-level is important. otherwise you'll spend hours trying to get a section to snap in right and it will just refuse

-when you get to the end of a row, you have to chop it to length.. if the piece you chop is over 12", reuse it as the start piece for the next row. it creates a variance in the pattern, cuts down on waste, and helps you move quicker through the process. you notice that the chopped piece has no connecting tab on one end, but the other end can connect to a new piece.

-measure measure measure. then cut. and cut with a proper table saw. you just won't even believe how much cutting you'll have to do. and re-do.
posted by ninjew at 9:27 AM on December 21, 2009

I just layed down a laminate floor and these are the tips I would give myself if I went back in time about a year.

1. Get the proper laminate tools including spacers to keep the board the proper distance from the wall, a plastic block for tapping, and a metal bar for tapping in the pieces at the end. You can usually buy these in a pack together.

2. Use a regular hammer, not a rubber mallet, especially for the last piece. The tapper bar and block will absorb shock and the extra effort it takes to whack in that last piece with a rubber mallet will chip the finish off of the piece and you will have to cut a new one. Joy.

3. Have a plan and realize that you may have to finish the floor in the closet before you finish the hallway. These pieces only go in one direction, you know.

4. Make sure your last piece isn't too thin or it will not lay flat!

5. Do not get a cheap pad. They feel springy under your feet and will totally ruin the illusion that the floor is solid wood. For the sake of good neighbor relations, get the best sound-proofing pad you can afford.

6. If the underlayment feels thin, add more underlayment before you get started. Best decision I made. Guy at the store told me that, if my floor has too much give, the joints might crack over time so I put down 5/8" plywood. Now my floor feels so incredibly solid that I could jump rope in here.

7. I could have purchased a thicker laminate with the pad already attached and skipped steps 5&6 but I saved money and got a better floor by going through the trouble of doing all three. separately.

8. I found a compound miter saw to be easier to use for the bulk of the floor. It is far more portable, quickly cuts across the boards, and less intimidating. However, at walls, you will need to cut board length-wise but I used a hand-held for that.

9. I had no outside space and no garage so I had to do all the cutting in the room I was working on, hence my tool choice. It made an unholy mess but it was manageable.

10. Save a pile of that sawdust. I had a few minute gaps in the closet and under the heater. I squirted some wood glue in them, wiped them level then swept some sawdust over them to dry. They pretty much disappeared. Probably only a solution for a low-traffic area and probably only something a dunderhead like myself would do.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:31 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can't stress this enough: Wear padded gloves (or put a 1/4 inch bit of dense foam covering your entire palm into some work gloves). You will be slapping boards for hours. Sometimes the laminate really needs to be whacked in place hard for it to fully click.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:12 PM on December 21, 2009

If you're using "laminate" as a synonym for click-together floating wood flooring, consider the engineered hardwood kind - instead of an image of wood grain on top of shaped press-wood, it's a plywood sandwich (sheet pine?), with a top layer of actual oak/maple/etc. which is a bit more durable, can be refinished once if you're careful, and entirely avoids the problem of making a checkerboard with your repeating images of identical woodgrains. Of course, "nicer" does mean more expensive, but the lower-end ones (basic oak, not crazy walnut mahogany etc) are comparable to the higher-end laminates.

We used the foam underlayment, the kind with a plastic bottom layer and thin white stuff that looks like the foam sheet that some electronics comes wrapped in - and yes, it's a little bit springy, but not distractingly so.

Points above I agree with - be very careful to leave the right size gap around the edge, and absolutely, must have good knee pads, you'll need them again when you install the baseboards afterwards.

To Lokheed's point about which side of the room to start on, I'll add that if you walk into rooms done by DIY homeowners, you can usually tell which end they did first, because the planks don't fit together as tightly. I had the benefit of a really talented father-in-law, so there's only one questionable spot, but because we started in the back corner instead of in the doorways, that spot is under a sofa.
posted by aimedwander at 8:37 AM on January 18, 2010

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