Remodeling 8: How to Install a Laminate Floor

These days a laminate floor is a popular item. It is inexpensive, easily installed and does not need to be sanded or finished. My nephew, a hardwood floor installer, calls it a disposable floor. That is exactly what it is. When the floor is worn out and all scratched up, it is easily ripped up, discarded and replaced. Laminate refers to the material it is made from - plastic laminate. Yes, the same stuff, the plastic laminate of cabinet counter top fame, known as Arborite, Formica, etc.

The difference in the laminate floor and the laminate counter top is the HDF base. HDF is high density fiberboard. Most of us have heard or worked with MDF, medium density fiberboard, so are familiar with the terminology. With the HDF base, the flooring is less subjected to dents from falling objects. The finish is protected by many layers of polyurethane coatings. If you respect the flooring, wear socks instead of leather shoes, it will stand up a long time. You can even use this flooring in bathrooms, after applying additional coats of polyurethane, as advised by the manufacturer.

When laminate flooring first came out, the boards were glued together in their tongue and groove joints. Now, they are manufactured with click together tongue and groove joints. They are just as easily dismantled, no glue is needed, no fasteners are used to attach the flooring to the sub-floor. It remains a floating floor, usually laid on top of a thin Styrofoam blanket to add cushioning, fill in small hollows and prevent passage of moisture to the fiberboard and upper layer of laminate. Moisture and laminate do not get along well together. Whether the moisture is from below or above, so use only a slightly damp cloth for cleanup. Most times use a dry mop for best results. Okay, now we know the basics of the product, let's install it. Like any typical flooring job, a good layout is essential. Remove any baseboard and nails from the walls. Measure the width and length of the room, so you can see if the length of the room will give short ends or the width of the room will have a narrow strip on the far side. You can prevent this with a little planning by cutting the first board in half to allow a bigger piece to be left at the other end. Likewise, by ripping a piece off the starter board a larger piece is left at the other wall, when we are finished.

Photo of how to scribe to a wall along a laminate floor.Notice if the first strip of laminate needs to be trimmed for a crooked wall or slight bow. By scribing the first starter strip, we avoid having air under the baseboard instead of a consistent piece of laminate against the starter wall. You need an even margin of 1/4" between the wall and the laminate all around. This stuff needs to expand and contract, so allow for that. The laminate should go under any door jambs, so cut these off, before getting too close to them. I usually, lay a scrap piece of laminate, upside down on the floor, against the jamb, rest my reciprocating saw blade on it and proceed to cut the bottom of the jamb and casing off. Allow 1/4" expansion, to the wall, under the jamb, as well.

Photo showing how to use shims to tighten laminate boards on a floor.Once the first strip is laid against the wall, things will go a bit faster. Prepare some 1/4" shims to use against the laminate and the wall, at the sides and the ends. Stagger the joints by at least 9" by using the cutoff piece from the end, at the start of the next row.

Photo showing floor vents in a laminate floor.Some manufacturers suggest doing a complete row, from one wall to the other. Assemble the strips end to end, cutoff what you need to have 1/4" space from the wall on the last strip, tilt the entire row up enough to get the whole length started in the groove of the existing row and carefully bring the row down, with a slight pressure into the groove. Extra hands are helpful to do this. A block of 2x4 x 12" to 18" is handy to tap the strip into the existing one, by keeping the block flat on the floor and pivoting one end out and quickly slap the strip to tighten the joint completely. A small slap is all that is required to tighten the joint. Don't beat the tongue up by mushrooming the HDF material by hitting the strip, too much. Continue in this fashion across the room, ripping the remainder of the strip to allow a 1/4" space for expansion on the ends and the sides.

Photo of applying finish to the base of laminate flooring.Photo of baseboard installation along a laminate floor.

When finished the entire floor, replace the baseboard and enjoy what you have completed with your own hands.

Photo of a finished laminate floor.


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