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Laminate Floor Installation Tips

by Crystal Hosking - Hosking Hardwood Flooring, Inc. © 2014, Copyright Protected. All Rights Reserved

Laminate Flooring is a godsend to the modern DIY-er. These days, most laminate floors have click locking edges and ends for incredibly easy and quick installation. There's no glue and no mess. In an afternoon, you can install a laminate floor yourself and save yourself the high cost of a professional installer.

Remember that these are just general guidelines and tips for installing a laminate floor in your home. For manufacturers' specific requirements, make sure to visit that manufacturer's website for their own installation instructions or contact the manufacturer of your laminate floor directly. In all cases, use the manufacturer's installation instruction specifics over any other advise.

 

 

Here are some installation tips when it comes to laminate flooring:

Ordering a Laminate Floor

First, you need to know how much laminate flooring you're going to need. Here's How to Measure a Room for Laminate Flooring. That page features an easy to follow diagram for measuring a room yourself, including tips for odd spaces, waste factors and ordering extra cartons of material.

Your laminate floor is only as good as your underlayment. Make sure to choose an underlayment that fits the requirements of your room and your expectations. A cheap, thin underlayment is going to have a cheap, thin feel (less than desirable). Some subfloors will require use of a moisture barrier along with a pad, some don't. If you live in a condo, you might be required by the association to use a cork underlayment. If your new laminate flooring has a pre-attached underlayment, never use a second underlayment. With pre-attached underlayments you can only use an additional moisture barrier. Learn more about different types of underlayments here: Underlayments for Laminate Floors.

Decide whether or not you want to remove any wall base pieces or moldings for the installation of your new laminate floor. If you choose to carefully remove existing wall base and reuse it to cover the necessary expansion gap around the room, that's great! If you want wall base or quarter round to match your new laminate, manufacturers typically make ones to match the specific color you're interested in. You can order these moldings at the same time you order the laminate floor or you can wait and decide after installation, as these are generally the last finishing pieces to be installed.

Room Conditions for a Laminate Floor

Laminate boards are best suitable for rooms that are kept between 50 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and between 30% and 60% relative humidity. Generally, laminate planks need no time to acclimate, but if you're installing in an extreme climate, it's never a bad idea to let the laminate flooring adjust to your specific conditions for at least 48 hours.

 

The ideal subfloor condition for installation of a new laminate floor is that it is flat. Although the required underlayment will work to smooth out the surface of your subfloor, you want to make sure that there's no unevenness greater than about 1/8 IN. over the area of 40 square inches. If your room has a slope greater than this in any areas, it needs to be fixed prior to installation. There are self levelers for concrete floors. If you're working with plywood, maybe it's just sunk in a bit from age --- you can add stability by adding a layer of 3/8 IN. or 1/2 IN. plywood but to fix the problem you need to add supports to the joists from up under the subfloor. For more information on subfloors: All About Subfloors.

A second ideal condition for new laminate flooring is that the environment is dry (do a moisture test), that the subfloor is stable (no flexing when you walk across it) and clean (no nails sticking up). Any issues with these conditions must be fixed prior to installation. If you're working on an newly poured concrete floor, it MUST be allowed time to cure. To most laminate manufacturers, this means at least one week per 3/8 IN. thickness. If your concrete is thicker than 1-1/2 IN., allow for two weeks per 3/8 IN. thickness. Again, most manufacturers have stipulations in their installation instructions which will address installing over new concrete.

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Different laminate boards are different thicknesses. Make sure that, once the laminate flooring is installed, all the doors in the room have enough clearance to open and close (typically at least a 3/8 IN. space recommended). If you're ripping up an old floor covering and replacing completely with this new laminate floor, height of the new floor shouldn't be a problem. If you've thrown caution to the wind and decide to install your new laminate floor right over your old floor covering (wood, laminate, vinyl or tile **LAMINATE CANNOT BE INSTALLED OVER CARPET**), the new total height of the laminate floor may inhibit the doors' movements. In this case, you will have to either cut the bottom of your doors to allow for clearance or take up your old floor covering prior to installation.

Everyone loves radiant in-floor heating systems! The great thing about laminate is: most laminate flooring options work really well over radiant heat. Refer to the specific manufacturer's installation instructions, but as long as the systems are used properly with surface temperatures not exceeding 85 degrees Fahrenheit, there's no downside to using laminate flooring over radiant heat.

During Laminate Floor Installation

The first step in installation is to install the underlayment. If the underlayment you're using has an attached moisture barrier make sure to read the underlayment installation instructions to determine which side should be facing down. With most of the underlayments with attached moisture barriers, you install with the moisture barrier side facing up. Shown to the right is Silent Stride (red part is the attached moisture barrier).

Never use a board that you don't like. Once you install a board, you deem it acceptable. If there's a visible manufacturer's defect in the board (warranty issue), it's much harder to file a claim with the manufacturer if you saw but defect but installed the laminate plank anyways. Since laminate flooring is a man made product, unlike real wood coming from nature, there is very little chance that there will be an "ugly" board you don't want to use. This is a huge benefit of laminate flooring --- what you see is what you get.

If you're installing over old wood floor planks, you can run the boards in either direction (as long as the existing floor is flat). For more information on different types of subfloors: All About Subfloors.

The old idiom still rings true: measure twice, cut once.

Lay out a few rows of laminate planks prior to starting the install. Laminate flooring is basically a detailed picture of a real wood floor. It depends on the specific manufacturer how many different board images are used for each product SKU#, but board patterns will definitely repeat. The best looking laminate floors have a balanced mix of the laminate images (there are no boards with identical images right next to each other).

Expansion gaps are a must! Changes in seasons brings changes in moisture, which means natural expansion and contraction. Without proper expansion gaps at the walls of the room and at any other immovable objects, the possibility of buckling increases. During installation, use spacers or carpenter shims to ensure the proper expansion gap is maintained along all walls of the room. These spacers/shims will be removed after you're finished installing your new laminate floor.

For most laminate floors (check with your specific manufacturer), an expansion joint is required for larger rooms. Usually the limit for running continuous laminate is about 40'. If your room is longer or wider than 40', a t-molding is usually required to break up the floor. Usually manufacturers recommend the use of a t-molding under doors to allow for an expansion joint between different rooms as well.

During installation, it's important to make sure that the ends of the planks are not lining up all at one place. Not only does it look bad, but it's going to decrease the dimensional stability of the floor as a whole. Stagger board ends for best look and best stability. See below.

The first laminate board laid down should be a full plank. Cut the tongue off the end and edge which will be closest to the walls. The use of spacers will ensure the proper expansion gap is maintained around the walls of the room.

A tapping block comes in handy when installing through the room (you can buy an actual tapping block or just use a spare 2x4). A pull bar is handy when you get to the end of the row or if you're installing the new laminate under cabinets or other spaces where it's difficult to use a tapping block to tighten the locking system.

In a perfect world, the cut off from the last board in a row can be used to start the next row of laminate boards. If it's too short or if you don't need to make a cut at the end of the row, make sure to cut the first board of the next row to allow for staggering of the seams (remember that thing about staggering the seams of the planks within the floor mentioned above).

When you're nearing the end of your project and are at the last row of boards, if you're lucky, you won't have to cut a board lengthwise at all! But, in most cases, you'll have to cut the laminate plank the long way to make it fit. Keep in mind when you're measuring the width of that last board that you still need to allow for that expansion gap against the wall for the last row.

Finishing Your Laminate Floor Installation

Once you've finished your install of the laminate floor, you can remove any spacers used for the expansion gap spacing.

Cover up the wall expansion gaps with either your old wallbase, a new wallbase or quarter rounds. More about different types of moldings here: Molding & Trim Guide for Hardwood and Laminate Flooring. Make sure when you're installing the wall base or quarter rounds that you're not attaching them to the actual laminate flooring boards. These moldings are to be attached to the wall instead, allowing room for any floor movement during expansion and contraction of the new laminate flooring.

If you ran your new laminate flooring around any exposed pipes, columns or poles, you can fill in the expansion gaps there with flexible silicone chaulking. The flexible silicone will still allow for minimal movement during expansion and contraction.

Laminate Floor Maintenance

Although laminate flooring is much more durable than a real hardwood floor, you still want to take precautions in order to protect it from damage. If you're moving heavy furniture back in, make sure you're not dragging it along the floor. If it's heavy enough, there is a possibility of it scratching or denting your new laminate floor.

Chair glides and hard surface flooring go hand in hand. These little circles of felt give homeowners peace of mind every day. Chair glides are inexpensive and easy to attach; there's really no reason not to have them on all your chairs and tables.

Keep your new laminate floor clean! To make sure the surface stays pretty, make sure you're getting any dust or dirt cleaned up regularly and use a cleaner specifically meant for laminate flooring. You can see some laminate floor cleaning options here: Laminate Floor Cleaners. Never use waxes, polishes, oils, soaps or water on your new laminate floor. There are lots of fad cleaning products on the market today (OrangeGlo, Steam Cleaners, etc.) but spray cleaners made specifically for use on laminate floors are typically the most beneficial. OrangeGlo tends to build up a film and the steam cleaners have the potential to actually force steam (moisture) between the seam of laminate flooring.

Make sure to clean up spills right away. There's no need to cry over spilled milk --- as long as it hasn't been there for weeks and has already seeped into the seams of the laminate boards right down to the subfloor (cue horror film soundclip). Laminate flooring is pretty resistant to liquid spills, but standing liquid needs a place to go and eventually travels through seams to find it, potentially damaging the laminate flooring, the underlayment and the subfloor underneath.

More laminate maintenance tips here: How To Clean Your Laminate Flooring.

Repairing Damaged Laminate Flooring

Repairing a damaged laminate board is generally pretty simple. Find the wall where the flooring was ended (usually it will be the wall where the last row of flooring was cut narrower), unclick the good laminate boards until you get to the damaged ones, replace the damaged board/section with new laminate boards cut to fit in that space and then reclick the good boards. It varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but many laminate boards can be unclicked and reclicked up to three times before they lose structural integrity.

If the damage to a board is very minor, there are also touch up kits for laminate floors which typically contain some sort of putty, touch up marker and/or some sort of finishing product. These work well for hairline scratches, but they won't fix discoloration or buckling due to water damage.

Laminate manufacturers are constantly updating their click locking technologies. Because of this, a product visual that you purchased two years ago may still be made, but it might include a different locking system than the one you have. If you're looking to purchase more laminate to replace damaged planks or if you're looking to get matching laminate for an addition, keep in mind that the visual may be a match but locking systems do change. Many manufacturers denote a change with a suffix to the product SKU #.

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Overall Rating: 4.8 stars - 13 reviews

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Date: June 13, 2017
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
Excellent source of information.
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Date: January 6, 2017
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
hi, do you know what the moisture levels of laminate wood floors should be? I have a pinless reader General MM8 which is showing me readings of 25-30%. Is it too much? If so what can be done about it? I dont see any bubbling or warpage or cupping etc. It rained here last few days does that have an effect? Are these meters the right ones to use?
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Date: August 26, 2016
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
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Very informative!! Cant wait to purchase and install new floor.
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Date: April 12, 2016
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WE have slab i bought coek to put under leminate floor .do i need anything under the cork as barrier. And what kind of extension joints you recommend.
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Date: November 14, 2015
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Great information, covered all the bases without confusion.
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Date: July 26, 2015
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excellent article highly informative and easily understood. thank you
By:
Date: July 13, 2015
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Very informative. Best information on laminate flooring Ive read. Easy to read and covers all the details thoroughly. Thanks
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Date: June 12, 2015
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
Excellent! Thank you for putting this informative article together!
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Date: April 23, 2015
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Comments:
Excellent Laminate Flooring Tips....cleared all the doubts I had in my mind...
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Date: January 20, 2015
Page Rating: (4.5/5)
Comments:
Very helpful for a novice

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