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Homework: How to install a laminate floor

Follow these steps to install a laminate floor.

Follow these steps to install a laminate floor. Credit: iStock

Laminate floors are nearly two decades old, and the products are getting better each year. The materials used to create them are more durable. The technology used to reproduce the look and feel of real wood has advanced so much that many of the laminate floors can fool even a seasoned carpenter from a distance.

Perhaps the biggest advantage when using this type of flooring is the speed of room transformation. You can have a bare subfloor in a room at 8 a.m. and by 4 p.m. be sitting on your couch in the room watching the game. It's possible to install a laminate floor and move in the furniture on top of it in just hours.


Stop and read the instructions that come with your flooring. Pay close attention to the part that talks about the flatness of the subfloor.


Check your subfloor for flatness using a long straightedge. Do not skip this step and do not underestimate the importance. If you fail to get the subfloor flat, your new laminate floor pieces may not interlock properly, and your floor may snap, crackle and pop as you walk across it.

Flatness is not the same as level. Flatness refers to the surface of the subfloor being in the same plane with minimal or no humps or valleys in the floor. Low spots must be filled in. Use the materials called for in the written instructions to fill in low spots.

Thinset used to install ceramic floor and wall tile is a good product to permanently fill in low spots on subfloors. It usually bonds well, and it sets up quickly. Self-leveling floor compounds may be used, but some of them are difficult to work with. If you add too little water, the products will not flow, and if you add too much water, the product will be unusable.


Once the subfloor meets the minimum flatness specification in the instructions, the easy part begins. You'll usually have to install a thin foam underlay. Install only one strip of this, or it will get in the way.


Laminate floors are floating floors in almost all cases. This means they do not get glued or nailed in place. They expand and contract under baseboards where the flooring contacts the walls. Be sure to create the needed gap between the walls and the flooring as called for in the instructions. Normally, it's one-quarter inch.


Most laminate products are designed so there is little or no waste. The leftover piece you have when you cut a piece to finish one row can almost always be used to start the next row. If the flooring you're installing resembles strip wood flooring, space the joints in the rows so they look random.


Be sure to cut the flooring with a sharp saw that has a fine-toothed blade to minimize chipping. If using a handheld circular saw, cut the pieces face down with the blade cutting up into the finished surface.


Be sure the room's baseboard, which rests on top of the flooring, does not pinch the laminate flooring. The flooring needs to be able to move. Create a 1 / 16-inch gap between the bottom of the baseboard and the flooring.


When nailing toe stripping at the bottom of the baseboard, which creates a finished look, the nails must never penetrate the flooring. Be sure all nails are horizontal into the baseboard.


Pay attention to care suggestions, including using the recommended cleaners.


The biggest reasons for failure in laminate flooring jobs can almost always be traced to subfloors that are not flat or rookies that don't maintain the gap along the walls. Don't be that rookie.

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