Introduction: How to Install Laminate Wood Flooring
If you're reading this, you're probably looking for a change from stained carpets and just don't know how to go about making the change. Or maybe you got way too ahead of yourself with the home renovation project, bought a bunch of laminate flooring because it looked nice, and have no idea what to do with it.
No matter why you're doing this, I should warn you that installing new flooring is a lot of effort. It's a lot of doing the same thing over and over while bent into semi-uncomfortable positions. I found it worth the effort, as it improved the look of my living room tremendously.
Now that introductions have been made, let's dive into the decisions and instructions.
- Laminate flooring (as much as you need for your project, plus a little extra to be safe)
- Tapping block
- Safety goggles
- Plastic sheets (to cover furniture)
- Laminate glue
- Tape measure
- Underlayer (not necessary if your flooring comes with a built-in underlayer)
- Various saws (table, miter, circular, hand, jigsaw)
- Tile cutter
- Laminate floor cleaner
- Vice grips
Step 1: Choosing the Right Flooring
Quite a few things go into deciding on the right flooring. While color, style, and price are all factors in this decision, the first thing to consider is whether or not laminate flooring is right for your project. Laminate wood flooring simply won't work in rooms such as bathrooms, and aren't recommended for basements, kitchens, or anywhere else with high moisture levels.
There are several different options for installing new floors that aren't carpet. The most common are vinyl planks, laminate wood flooring, and hardwood. Each of them have their good qualities, but, like most things, they do have downsides.
- Vinyl Planks
- They are extremely durable, but can tear when something heavy, such as a couch, is dragged across it.
- While they are waterproof, you still shouldn't leave standing water on it.
- Vinyl should be cleaned with a steam mop or a wet mop. Never use harsh cleaners on this flooring, as it can speed up fading and overall damage.
- Prone to fading in sunlight and wearing down in high traffic areas.
- While you can buy it with a tongue and groove option, many vinyl planks are peel and stick, making it the easiest of the three floorings to install.
- Tends to be more expensive than the other two options. This does depend on what kind of wood you are using.
- Good for most rooms, except bathrooms.
- Can be scratched up by pets and moving furniture around. This type of flooring tends to wear down in high traffic areas, but can be refinished multiple times to hide any damage.
- Special cleaning oils are recommended for this type of flooring.
- Tends to fade unevenly in sunlight.
- Ideal for high traffic areas like living rooms and hallways, but not usually used in bathrooms and other high moisture areas.
- Resistant to scratches, but can chip at the corners over time.
- Special laminate cleaners and steam mops should be used on this floor. Wet mops are a no go, as laminate is not waterproof.
- Doesn't fade easily.
Step 2: Preparing the Subfloor
Before you begin, you should move all furniture out of the room and cover up anything you can't move with plastic drop cloths.
To lay down the new flooring, you should start with a clean slate. While laminate wood flooring can be placed over tiles, wood, and other kinds of laminate as long as they aren't very thick, the flooring cannot be installed easily over carpet.
Removing carpet is actually fairly simple. It is tedious though, and if you have any kind of back problems you will most likely be a little sore after the removal. You will need an Exacto knife, a hammer, vice grips or pliers, and a large flat head screwdriver. You will also need several large trash bags, the exact amount depends on the size of the room and the amount of carpet you are removing.
Using the Exacto knife, cut large squares of carpet. Underneath the carpet there is usually a thin layer of foam that might also need cut, although you could just tear it. Once the carpet is up, go along the floor using the vice grips and pull up all the staples. (Maybe it was just my house, but in my experience there is usually a ridiculous amount of staples.)
After all the carpet, foam, and staples have been taken up and put in trash bags, I would recommend sweeping or vacuuming really quick. Moving the carpet shakes loose all that dirt that would normally be stuck in the carpet, and can make it hard to breathe if you have any sort of respiratory conditions (asthma, COPD, CF, etc.). If you do have any problems with breathing you should wear a face mask of some kind.
The next step is to remove the carpet tacks, which should be all along the perimeter off the room. To pull them up, just place the tip of the screwdriver at the edge of the strip right where it meets the floor. Use the hammer to tap the end of the screwdriver and get it under the carpet strip. Be careful not to angle the screwdriver to far down so you don't mess up the floor. Once the screwdriver is under the strip, move it up and down like a crowbar to pry the carpet tacks up.
Once that is done you need to sweep again.
Step 3: Staggering the Planks
When laying the planks, you need to make sure that the edges of the planks don't line up. Not only would that look bad, but it would ruin the integrity of the planks, making them more susceptible to breaking.
Step 4: Cutting the Planks
Whether you've reached the wall and a full plank is too big, or you need to stagger, at some point you'll need to cut a plank. You can use a table saw or a guillotine tile cutter to cut straight across. (I prefer the tile cutter, as I found it easier to use.) For cutting abnormal shapes, like a small section for a water pipe to go through, you would have to use a jigsaw or a hand saw.
Always double check before you cut and make sure you measured it the right way. If you cut the wrong end off the board, the planks won't connect properly. The other half of the board that you cut can be used to start the next row.
Step 5: Laying the First Row
If your planks don't have a built in foam back, this is when you roll out the underlayer. You roll it out then put together the planks on top of it.
Placing the first row is relatively easy. Place planks end to end in a straight line up against the longest wall in the room. Make sure that the ends of the boards aren't overlapping more than they need to, otherwise they might break.
Step 6: Tapping and Connecting the Rows
Connecting the rows is relatively simple.
When you want to make your second row, you should usually start the row with whatever was leftover from the last rows last piece. To attach that plank to the first row, you need to tilt it up at a forty-five degree angle and place the tongue in the groove. Slowly lower the plank until it is flat, make sure that the seam stays tight the entire time.
If you're placing this plank in the middle of a row, there should be a click when the board is flat, meaning it connected to both the boards near it.
If for some reason the plank won't stay lined up, use the tapping block to put it in place. (The tapping block is a chunk of rubber or wood that is used to spread out the impact of a hammer so you don't break your flooring.) Insert the plank at a forty-five degree angle and use the tapping block to seal the two rows together. If you do that right, the plank should move down by itself.
If you try the tapping thing several times, and it still won't work, vacuum out the groove. There have been several times where a stray piece of wood made its way in there and blocked the next plank from connecting.
Step 7: Laying Flooring in a Closet
The beauty of most closets is that people don't really go in them. Unless you have a walk-in closet, the chances of feet touching that floor are pretty small. Because of this, there are a lot of corners you can cut.
Chances are, you will have several chunks of pretty much unusable wood left over from the main floor. Closets are the perfect time to put them to work.
If some of the pieces fit together like they should, great, if they don't, that's what laminate glue is for. Put together all the pieces that fit together properly, then just glue down pieces wherever they fit.
The closet I did this in is opened so rarely that no one has even noticed the mish-mash of random planks. If you're closet is walked in, you'll probably want to use the installation method you use for the main room.
Step 8: Cleaning the New Flooring
While laminate is very durable, it is a bit finicky when it comes to cleaners and cleaning methods.
Any cleaners you use on the floor should be made for laminate wood flooring. Wet mops (the kind of mop usually used in businesses) will destroy the floor quickly. All you need is a mop with a simple cloth head (ideally one you can change out if needed) and a cleaner you can spray on the ground.