Laminate flooring has risen in popularity over the past few decades. While a surprising array of styles, colors, and textures are available, laminate flooring is most often seen as an affordable alternative to solid or hardwood. Put simply, laminate flooring can offer a wood-look floor, but at a fraction of the cost.
In its most common form, these floors are engineered, that is they are composite products, typically manufactured by pressing, or laminating, multiple layers of digital imagery to a core of HDF or High Density Fiberboard (basically recycled wood fiber). These products are often treated chemically to promote spill and moisture resistance.
Not to be confused with its higher priced and more mature older brother, "the engineered floor," laminate flooring still yields comparative benefits including stability (general resistance to expansion and contraction), plus additional benefits like protection against scratching, denting, scuffing, burning, and fading. Most manufacturers offer substantive warranties, usually ranging from 5 to 50 years.
This category of floor can generally be considered fastenerless because it doesn’t need nails or screws. The most popular configurations do not require glue and are click-type. With these glueless, click-type products being the most readily available, this article focuses on installing just that--a "tongue and groove" floating, wood-look floor.
Note: Popular brands of laminate flooring include Pergo, Bruce, Armstrong, and Shaw.
|Materials||Skill Level||Estimated Time|
|• Tape measure||Intermediate||8 to 10 hours|
|• Miter saw, circular saw, and jigsaw|
|• Utility knife|
|• Straight edge or carpenter's square|
|• Hammer or flooring mallet|
|• Beater block|
|• Flooring bar|
|• Caulk gun|
|• Flooring material|
|• Coordinating transitions and molding|
|• Underlayment (depends on manufacturer and installation location)|
|• Water resistant caulk|
|• ½-inch spacers|
As mentioned above, this how-to article focuses on the installation of a click-type laminate floor. While click profiles (the tongues and grooves that fit together in a floor) vary greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer (and even from line to line), following these basic steps should ensure success.
Plan the Layout
1. Buying Your Material
In your layout phase, you should consider how much flooring you'll need to cover your given room. Square footage yield is typically printed right on the packaging of your purchase. Some makers will also offer online calculators to assist with your buy. Because lots, the run of a given product, may change within a given product line over time, it is often a good idea to buy one full box more than your installation requires.
2. Find Your Vantage Point(s) and Create an Exit Plan
When planning for installation, you should consider "vantage point"--the point(s) from which a floor will be most prominently or most frequently viewed. It is a good idea to decide on a single, primary vantage point--usually a doorway, stair landing, or other room entrance.
Beyond incorporating a medallion or some other bit of design pizazz, laminate flooring, because it is fastenerless, also gives you a ton of design flexibility. You have the option to run your flooring parallel, perpendicular, or even diagonal to your vantage point(s). Though it does not present the same challenges as tiling (where a floor being installed cannot be disturbed), it is always a good idea to "plan your exit". Plan to work back towards your primary vantage point.
Prepare the Surface
3. Prep the Substrate
Laminate flooring is generally seen as one of the most versatile of all flooring options. These products may go down over almost any surface. The substrate on which you lay your product can range anywhere from unfinished plywood to an existing wood floor, and all the way to bare concrete. (It is always a good idea to check the manufacturer's installation instructions for requirements given what you plan to go over.)
Compared to solid wood, laminate flooring is generally thinner, meaning preparation is of added importance. You should strive to minimize the possibilities that imperfections in your substrate will broadcast to your soon-to-be newly installed and finished floor. Again, different measures could be required depending on your given substrate. (e.g. Concrete patching and leveling for concrete, screwing and sanding for a wood floor, etc.)
4. Installing Your Underlayment
Follow your manufacturer's recommendations for underlayments. These underlayments are meant to provide cushion under foot. Additionally, they take up some of the irregularity that can be expected in any substrate. Options include sound reduction and moisture control or both. These products typically come in three- to four-and-a-half-foot wide rolls, and can be cut easily using a utility knife and a straight edge.
Roll out your underlayment such that your entire substrate is covered, following the requirements of the underlayment. In most cases, you will not be overlapping seams. While some products will call or allow for taping, gluing, or fastening, it is not typically needed. Fastening, in fact, may be a no-no given the thickness of your new floor. In most installations, the weight of your floor will simply hold the underlayment down.
Cut the Laminate Flooring
5. Set Up a Cutting Station
Working with laminate flooring couldn't be easier. While laminate flooring can be cut (if your selected product fits) within a miter box or by using a back saw, speed up the installation process by employing a chop or miter saw. While this project could easily be considered a one-person job, grab your spouse or a neighbor and set up a "cutting station," where one person cuts and one person lays.
Lay the Laminate Flooring
6. Check for the Square Footage of Your Room and Plan for Expansion and Contraction
Arguably the most important phase of your install is laying your first row of flooring. At your starting point, typically a wall, you'll be employing ½-inch spacers. Many manufacturers provide laminate flooring installation kits that include these needed spacers. Alternatively, cut them from ½-inch thick plywood or otherwise sacrifice a board from your flooring package, possibly ganging multiple pieces together to achieve around a ½-inch measurement.
Important! Prior to laying anything check the squareness of your walls and room! This can be done by simply measuring your room near the floor or by striking reference lines and using math. Make adjustments as needed.
While traditional thinking calls for a ½ inch of space at all walls (to account for expansion and contraction), the stability of these products may allow you to get away with slightly less. (Again, refer to your manufacturer's recommendations.)
7. Laying Your First Course of Boards
Put your first board in the top left corner of your room with the "tongue" out, facing the center of the room. Remember, we hope to achieve a ½ inch space at intersecting walls as well.
Most products are manufactured such that a tongue is not only present on the long edge of boards, but also on their shorter end. Work carefully as you place your second board. Running along your starter wall, you'll snap these "end-joints" together. Ensure that corners of boards line up and touch. Continue this process until you come to the other side of the room.
8. Cutting Boards
More than likely, this is the first point at which a cut will be required. Measure and cut your last piece, again remembering to subtract a ½ inch. You can use your cut-off here as your first piece in the second course, providing it is at least 10 inches long.
To snap this cut piece into place, the last board in your first course, you may want to reach for a flooring pull bar, applying gentle pressure or lightly tap it with a hammer to force it snug to the rest of the flooring.
Important! The key point here is that if you take care and get this first course perfect, the rest of your installation will go smoothly, and you won't end up with a funky angle in your flooring when you look downward from your primary vantage point.
9. Getting in a Groove: Laying your Second Course of Flooring
As mentioned above, you are likely to use the leftover from your first cut piece to start your second course (again, providing it is 10 inches long). As you set your second (and all additional) course(s), make sure that your end-joints are staggered by at least 8 inches.
Your second course is your first opportunity to fully employ your product's click system. Angle the boards in this course (as well as all subsequent courses) to around 45 degrees and carefully snap them down into place. In some instances, you may be required to lift the previous row slightly to help with angling successive courses into place.
As you work, use a beater block (or similar tool) and a flooring mallet. Tap the edge and end of your boards lightly to ensure that your installation is tight. Warning: Don't over tighten.
Finish Laying the Flooring
10. Installing the Rest of the Field
Continue by using the methods described above throughout the rest of the room, periodically ensuring that your floor boards are fitting snugly together and securely to the floor.
11. Fitting and Installing Your Final Course
For your final course, your flooring may require rip cuts. To measure these pieces:
- A. Take a piece of your flooring material (Board 2) and sit it immediately on top of your last installed piece (Board 1).
- B. Grab a third piece of your material, and place that tightly against the wall, remembering to include your ½-inch spacers.
- C. Transfer a mark using a pencil from this third board to your second board--this will give you your needed cut line.
- D. Cut using a circular saw or a table saw.
Once cut, slide this board into place. Again, a flooring pull bar will ensure it will fit snugly.
12. Dealing with Other Obstacles in the Field
Typically the floor in your room will contain an air vent or a pipe. Accounting for and fitting boards around them can require finesse. These "cut outs" can typically be addressed using a jigsaw, a router, a multi-tool, or a drill fitted with an appropriate hole saw.
13. Caulking at the Perimeter
Some would advise caulking around the perimeter of your flooring installation. This is absolutely advisable in locations prone to water. When caulking, select a high quality caulk rated for porous fiberboard and that provides not only water resistance but also flexibility.
14. Finishing at Transitions and Molding
Manufacturers often provide matching materials for finishing your floor as they meet other flooring materials, carpet, or tile. The most common components here being reducer or transition (T-) strips. These are often nailed, screwed, or glued into place. Look for these as you make your initial flooring purchase and plan to grab additional tools and supplies as needed.
Similarly, manufacturers often provide quarter round, or shoe molding, which yields a finished look at your walls. Remember, you'll need to cover at minimum a ½ inch space at your walls. These are typically cut with a miter saw (at your cutting station) and installed with a pneumatic nail gun.
Level of Difficulty
As outlined, laminate flooring is a great option for those intent on achieving a "wood-look" for a fraction of the cost of wood. Throughout this article, other benefits beyond cost are mentioned. If these few basic steps are followed laminate flooring installation is well within the reach of any DIYer with a moderate, but still modest, skill set.
That said, it may be a good idea to consult with (or even hire) a floor installation pro when installing laminate flooring in wet locations (like bathrooms) and in locations (like basements) where there has been a history of moisture.