I am not a professional laminate floor installer, but my friends and family must think I am. After installing about 10,000 square feet, I thought I would post things that I have learned along the way.
Time Consideration :
The most important tip I can give you is: TAKE YOUR TIME!
Be realistic, if you think or need to lay 1000 sq ft in 5 hours you will be disappointed. If you have little or no experience it will take about 8 to 10 man hours to lay 150 sq ft. If there are two people that work well together, about 4 to 5 hours. And for each additional person “helping” add 5 hours. Anymore than two people working in one room will only cause confusion and slow down the process. Of course the more complex the room the more time it will take.
Tools General Information :
Saws and saw blades
Minimum, you will need at least two saws, an undercut saw and a jig saw.
Saw Blades: Avoid the trap of buying the very expensive blades for laminate floor. The surface of the laminate is made out of the same stuff that is used to make sand paper. It’s very hard and will dull every blade on the market. I usually get a new cheap blade to start a project. As the blade dulls it will cause more and bigger chips in the flooring, if cutting gets too slow or chips too big you may need to replace the blade.
Undercut Saw: A handsaw designed to cut the door jambs.
Jig Saw: Used to make curved cuts. My blade of choice is a bi-metal blade, since the laminate flooring is very hard a wood cutting blade dulls easy and the chips the floor.
Compound Miter or Chop saw: This is the most common saw used to crosscut (cut the width) laminate flooring, it is fast, easy and very accurate. A 10in chop saw works well with smaller planks. For planks larger than 5 1/2 inches you will need a 12 inch chop saw or 10 inch sliding chop saw.
Circular saw: I use the circular saw to make angled cut on long planks. If a wall has an angle many time the chop saw will not be able to make the cut. Typically angled walls are 45 degrees (Don’t believe it, they are 40 to 50 degrees) so you will need to a mark a line and I find it easier to use a skill.
Table saw: Just about any table saw will work. When you get to the end of a room it is likely that you will have to rip (cut lengthwise) the last row.
Hammer: I like to use a framing hammer. It has a bit more weight than an average hammer, making it easier to snap in the planks.
Drill and masonry bit for concrete floors.
Tapping Blocks: Plastic block used for tapping the planks
Pulling Bar: A metal bar used pull the planks
Spacers: Used to maintain the expansion gap.
Knee Pads: A life saver or knee saver at least. I use knee pads that will slide easy on the floor, this makes it easier to move around.
Tape measure: Most of the time you will not need it.
Square: This is important, not the I have every found walls that where square, but you will need it to mark the planks.
Pencils: More than one. I use one at the saw, two on the floor and never carry one.
Razor Knife: For cutting the under lament, opening flooring packages and sharping pencils…
All the safety equipment recommended for each tool you are using!
Laminate Floor Selection:
This is where it all starts and is a very important step. Setting the look of the laminate aside, something to think about is the size of the planks. The larger planks go down faster, since there will be less cutting and fewer trips to the saw and each planks covers more area. But they will have more waste and can be more difficult to manage in small areas, such as hallways and closets.
The smaller planks will have less waste and will be easier to manage in general. The cuts are usually less complex, but you will have twice as many trips to the saw.
If you are skilled with a saw and drawing more complex cuts then I would go with the large planks. If you are less skilled with a saw then the smaller planks would likely give you better results and less waste. But you will have more trips to the saw.
There is also the flooring with or without padding attached. I prefer flooring without padding for floors that will require a moisture barrier, since you will need to lay down some form of under lament you can choose the quality of the padding.
Also do not forget, the flooring needs time to acclimate. Check with the manufacture for the amount of time needed. Usually it’s about 48-72 hours.
Floor Preparation :
Before you rip up the old flooring make sure you understand the task involved to lay the new floor. This is not a figure it out as you go project. If you have carpet, you will need to pull up the carpet and padding. Then the tack boards (the thin board with all the nails sticking up) along the walls. Best thing I have found is to use a pry bar and jam under the tack board at each nail. This will either pop up the nail or break the tack board. And sometimes the head of the nail will pop off.
You can use the pry bar to pull up the nails. Most of the time, on concrete floors the nails will leave a small divot which is no problem. For the nails with no head you can hit them with a hammer and most of the time they will pop out, bend over or sink flush in to the floor. As long as you can slide a board over the nail with out the board touching the nail your good.
Next you’ll need to clean up the mess, and sweep the floor. Make sure you have a good pair of gloves to pick up the tack boards, since the have sharp nails facing both direction it’s easy to get cut by the nails.
Depending on the under laying floor you will need to fill in any low spots with the recommended fill and remove the high spots. No one ever gets the floor completely level, if you can notice a difference when walking on the bare floor then it needs to be fixed or it will be more noticeable once the floor is done and can cause the flooring to show gaps at the seems. And you do not want to pull up the floor to fix a problem that can be fixed now.
At this point you should have a relatively clean and level floor.
Base Board Moldings :
You have two choices here.
1. Leave the your current molding alone and add a 1/4 round to cover the expansion gap.
2. Pry off all the base board moldings.
Typically I opt for number one. You can use the existing molding to back the spacers then tack up 1/4 round after the floor is down.
However Number two looks better, but is more work and time. If you choose to remove the molding you will need a dry place to store them and many sections will be 10 ft or longer. And you will need to store them in order or number them, since you will need to but them back in their original location. I usually will number them in the order they are remove. Then writing the same number on that section of wall so that the number will be covered when the molding is reinstalled. If a molding breaks (this is very likely one or more will break) you will need to have a replacement. Also in some construction there maybe a 3/4 inch board that is used to keep the drywall off the bare floor. You do not want to remove this board, if you do the spacer will slide under the drywall, which will make it difficult to maintain the expansion gap. As you can see removing the molding can be tricky, but if you have the time it does look better.
Door Jambs :
You will need to remove all doors, including closet doors. The door jambs will need to be cut (regardless to your molding choice) with an undercut saw so that the flooring can slide under the door jamb.
This task can be very frustrating and time consuming. You will need a scrap piece of the laminate floor and lay it along side of the door jamb. Using an undercut saw, cut the bottom of the jamb off using the laminate as a guide (this will give a space slightly thicker then the laminate).
You will need to cut IC1 (both sides) , IJS and DS (see fig above) until they fall off leaving a 8-13mm (depending on the thinness of the flooring) space at the bottom of the door jamb.
Once you have the door jambs cut it is very important to sweep up the debris. The cut molding typically breaks up if a piece of the molding gets under the floor it will cause problems or if you kneel on one you will know it. Then vacuum the floor to remove most of the dust.
Now you are ready to setup the tool area and work area.
I like to have a saw area outside of the work area. This makes for a cleaner work area. I set up everything I need to ahead of time. Try to give each saw it’s own work space so it can handle the full length of the flooring.
The jig saw and skill saw area will need to support the flooring and have an open space below to allow for the blade. I use quick clamps (never under estimate the usefulness of quick clamps! ) to hold the plank while cutting.
The chop saw area needs to be flat and uncluttered, if a piece of debris is caught under the plank it will cause the cut to be out of square.
The table saw area should be big enough to allow a full blank to the clear the blade and be supported the whole time. If not the flooring may bind with the blade causing burn marks or a kick back sending the flooring across the room.
I use a large portable workbench that I built from this article I also incorporated a table saw. If you like building stuff, this bench is 100% worth building.
Once you have the tool area set up, it time to start working….
Work Area and Work Process:
Lay the under lament and/or moisture barrier down per the manufactures specs.
There will are four sides to each plank and two types of edges. To make it easy to remember, I will call them the inny and outy. I will reference the four edges of the flooring by the following; long side inny, long side outy, short side inny and short side outy.
Making the cuts without a ruler.
In most cases, you can install your entire floor without ever using a tape measure. All you need is a square and a pencil. When marking the cut line you will want to use a T shaped line (see fig below)
This T shaped line is very important. When you make a cut you will need to know which side will keep the line. Meaning blade will cut through the plank leaving the line on one of the two pieces. If you cut on the wrong side of the line your plank will be off by about 1/8 – 1/4 in. By using the T shaped mark you will know to leave the T and pass the blade across plank at the top of the T, making a perfect cut every time. If you look at the picture of the cut line above (click on the picture to make it bigger) you will notice that the two planks in view are facing long side inny. Which means the plank with the mark is facing the wrong direction. This is how you will mark every end piece and never come up short or long. When you reach the end of a row, you will need to cut the last piece in the row.
Step 1. Take a full plank and turn it the wrong direction facing up (long side inny to long side inny)
Step 2. At the end of the row you will want to line up the surface edges. (since the grooves (inny and outy) are different width you will always want to use the surface of the floor and not the edge)
Step 3. Line up the plank to be cut with the last plank of the previous row. You will have the plank to be cut over lapping the last plank you installed and the surface of the plank to be cut lined up with the end of the last row. The make the T line where the over lapping plank and the plank to be cut line up, as in the picture and cut.
I like to start out with the wall that is straight and has no obstructions. Once you have decided on the starting wall, place one or two boxes of flooring, on each end, a few feet from the wall. You will work from left to right, starting with the outy edges facing the wall, snap the first few pieces together, do not worry about the spacers yet. Once you have the first row down, the end piece of the first row will need to be cut. But before you make the cut put the spacers along the wall (at each joint and at the mid point of each plank) and press the first row against the spacer. To mark the cut line take a full plank and line it up with The left over piece will start the second row.
NOTE: Now this is where trouble can start. If the left over piece is going to be too short to start a new row(per mfg rec.) or the end piece on the first row is going to be too short, you will need to make an adjustment. The easiest fix is to simply cut the outy of first plank by the minimum minus the length of the last piece. So if the last piece would be 3 inches and the minimum required length is 8 inches you would cut 5 inches off from the first piece.
Now that you have the first two rows done things should go quickly. At this point you should have two rows with staggered joints. Basically you just repeat what you did for the first two rows. The end left over from the end piece starts the next row and as you start the next row add a spacer at the row joint. In the event you end up with a short piece at the end or start of a row, see the note above and adjust row that caused the issue.
When snapping the flooring together I find it’s easiest to insert the new plank at a 30 degree angle and slide it towards the last plank until the outy just about meets the surface of the previous plank. Then using the tapping block, lightly tap the plank inward while moving the tapping block toward the inny end. Once you’ve reached the end slide the tapping block to the inny end and tap the plank in to it’s final position. There is one snag here and that is sometimes the while tapping on the end the other side may not be align vertically. To solve this issue, simply have someone press down on the ends as you tap them together. Or you can place your left foot on the two end while tapping them together.
Once you have a few rows down, you will want to shift your work area. Start moving the laminate on to the few rows that you have down. This will help hold them in place and provide easy access to the supply of planks. Also you will want to keep at least a couple of open boxes at each end randomly drawing from the open boxes, this will help mix up the flooring.
As you move towards the end wall, chance are you will need to rip (cut lengthwise) a full row. Make sure you measure each blank and each end. I have yet to find a straight wall. As you move down the row the width may get wider or narrower.
Now that the floor is down it’s time to add the trim. You can nail it back with a hammer and finish nails, but that will take a while and is not easy on the knuckles. If you can get a compressor and finish trim nailer it will save you lots of time, look better and you will not leave hammer marks or have to counter sink the nails.
If you pulled the base molding simply replace each piece back to it’s original location.
If you choose to add 1/4 round and you do not have a chop saw, you will need a miter saw. You will have three angles for a square room; inside 45 degree, outside 45 degree and 0 degree or straight cuts. All your cuts will be 45 degrees except for cutting end caps.
Where two pieces come together you will want to make each end 45 degree, one an inside 45 and the other outside 45. When butted together they will form a perfect seam add a dab of glue and nail it to the wall. When you reach a doorway you will want to finish the end with end caps.
Now that you have your floor completed I also have a few other tips.
The floor will last a very long time. However you will need to be ware of things that will reduce the life of the floor and other issues with laminate flooring.
1. Office chairs. I installed laminate floors in my office more than 10 years ago. My office is a very high traffic area, after the first year I noticed the floor had a big round dull sport under my chair. I have a Herman Miller Aeron chair with hardwood casters. I thought the hardwood caster would keep the floor in perfect condition. As it turns out caster wheels will pick up small grits of sand and over time the casters will dull and scratch the floor. I use standard floor wax, the kind you get a grocery store and the starches where gone. But I knew they would be back. My solutions was to add a low profile rug under my chair.
2. Bathrooms and kitchens: ceramic tile is better suited for these areas, however some people want laminate. In this case you will need to glue the flooring to help fight the moisture. I use tight bound II or III
3. Dogs: Big and small dogs have a problem with laminate flooring. They don’t damage the floor, but the floor will damage the dog. What happens is the floor a very slick and the dog will constantly try grip the floor with it’s nails. Which can cause permanent damage to the dog’s hip. An easy solution is to add a few rug runners in the area where the dog travels. Once the runners are down you will notice that the dog will always walk on the runner and not floor.
4. Slippery when wet! You will wan to make sure all spills are dried up as quickly as possible. If liquids seeps in to the seams it will cause the flooring to swell around the seam.