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Learning how to install laminate flooring is an ideal project for DIYers and can instantly help upgrade your home. You can easily lay DIY laminate floors in almost every room in your home, including kitchens, since it doesn’t have to be glued down and doesn’t involve grout or mortar. Planks can be cut with a hand saw, circular saw or flooring cutter, so you don’t need many tools. Plus, most laminate flooring comes in planks that simply snap together with a tongue-and-groove system, making installation a quick and relatively trouble-free process.
From how to cut laminate floors to how to lay laminate floors, this guide will cover the basics of how to install laminate flooring in any room of your home.
Prepare the Area
Before you begin, ensure your subfloor is ready for install. The base floor should be clean, level and smooth.
- Remove the existing flooring, baseboards and moulding.
- Check that the subfloor is solid, flat and clean. Fix concrete subfloors with a patching compound. For wood subfloors, remove protruding nails and replace any damaged boards.
- If you are installing the flooring below grade or in a room with high humidity or moisture, such as a basement, lay down a vapor barrier before you install the flooring.
- Lay out the unopened boxes of laminate planks in the room. This will allow them to acclimate to the room’s temperature and humidity. They should acclimate for at least 48 hours.
- For slightly uneven floors, use a foam underlayment as the base for your laminate planks. If you determine you need to level the floor, sand the floor and apply a patching compound.
- Some underlayment comes with an attached vapor barrier, eliminating the need to lay two separate products. This barrier will prevent moisture from seeping into the fiberboard of the flooring, which could cause it to warp over time.
- Remember to wear the appropriate safety gear as you work. Wear eye protection and ear protection when cutting laminate planks and wear knee guards when laying the planks.
Prepare the Door Jambs
It’s much easier to cut the trim around doorways than it is to cut the flooring to match the moulding’s irregular shape. Once the door jamb is cut, the flooring will slip under it, leaving a more finished look.
- If needed, take a plank of flooring and a section of the underlayment and lay it finished side down next to the door’s moulding. This will show you how high up you need to cut the moulding.
- Trace a guideline along the surface of the moulding with a pencil.
- Use a jamb saw to cut along your guideline.
Plan the First and Last Rows
- Install flooring parallel to the longest wall or focal point in the room.
- Measure the width of the room from the longest wall and divide the distance by the width of the planks. This will tell you what the width of the final row of planks should be. Leave a 3/8-inch gap along both walls to allow for expansion of the flooring. If the last row is going to be less than 3 1/2 inches wide, consider distributing the width needed between the first and last rows.
- To calculate the width needed for the first and last row, add the width of a full plank to the width needed for the last row. Divide that number by two and cut each plank in the first and last row to that width. Don’t forget to allow for the 3/8-inch gaps along both walls.
Cut the First and Last Rows
Before cutting the planks, check the cutting instructions for your particular flooring product.
- If you are just learning how to cut laminate floors, understand that you don't need a special saw. In fact, you can cut the planks using a table saw, miter saw, circular saw, hand saw or laminate cutter. However, using a diamond blade is recommended as laminate can be tough to cut through and may damage another type of blade.
- Typically, you will cut with the finished side up. Use duct tape to mark the plank more easily and reduce splintering.
- Use clamps to help hold the planks steady while cutting.
Tip: You can use a finishing blade for the cleanest cut, but keep in mind that moulding will cover all the cut edges when the project is complete.
Install the Underlayment
Some laminate planks are made with an attached underlayment, allowing you to skip this step. If your laminate flooring didn’t come with an attached underlayment, install a separate underlayment to help preserve and insulate the floors, dampen noise and protect against moisture.
- If you are installing the flooring below grade or in a room with high humidity or moisture, such as a basement, install a vapor barrier as well as underlayment. Some underlayments come with an attached vapor barrier.
- Roll out two rows of your choice of underlayment and trim it to size with a utility knife.
- The underlayment should meet but not overlap, as overlaps in the underlayment result in bumps under the flooring. Duct taping the seam will hold the underlayment in place and help maintain the vapor barrier.
Install the First Row
- The first thing to know when learning how to lay laminate flooring is that all laminate flooring will expand and contract due to temperature and humidity fluctuations. To allow for this expansion, place 3/8-inch spacers along the wall to leave a consistent gap around the edges of the floor.
- If the door to the room is located on one of the shorter walls, start laying the planks on the door side of the room. This will ensure you have the clean, uncut edge at the threshold.
- Begin the first row of flooring by placing the planks with the tongue side facing the wall. Install the second plank next to the first by aligning the tongue into the groove and press the plank down to snap it in place.
- When you come to the end of the first row, cut the length of plank needed to complete the row. When measuring, remember to allow for the 3/8-inch gap at each end.
Install the Remaining Rows
- Use the remainder of the laminate flooring planks you cut at the end of row one to start the next row, as long as it’s longer than 1 foot. If it’s not, start the row with a plank cut to a length greater than 1 foot.
- Start the second row where you started off the first. This will stagger the seams, which results in a more natural look. It also gives the flooring added stability. The seams should be staggered at least 12 inches from any adjacent seam.
- Hold the long side of the second-row plank at an angle and feed the tongue into the groove of the installed row. Press down and snap the plank into place.
- Since the fiber in laminate flooring is susceptible to water damage, make sure there are no gaps between the seams. Some products require you to use a tapping block to close these gaps.
- Continue snapping planks into place until the row is complete, trimming the last plank to size.
- Lay each row beginning with the remaining pieces from the previous row that are longer than 1-foot until the room is complete.
- If you’re using a separate underlayment, install additional rows one row at a time as needed.
- Once the laminate has been installed, remove the spacers and install a matching threshold, baseboard and quarter-round moulding to the walls using finishing nails.
Learning how to install laminate flooring doesn't have to be complicated. Whether you're looking to update kitchen flooring or installing wood laminate in a busy hallway, laminate's waterproof and scratch-resistant features make it an ideal option. When you’re ready to upgrade your home with laminate flooring, consider a flooring tool rental to get your project done. Use once, then bring it back - no maintenance required and you won’t need to store it either. Or leave all the work to our professional laminate flooring installation services.