Laminate Flooring Installation & Care
Plastic Laminate Flooring
Installation Tips / Floor Care Suggestions
Every 5 to 10 years or so there is an innovative building product that appears. The product is so good it becomes a classic material. All others products in that particular category strive to imitate or they struggle to compete against the wonders/efficiency/beauty of the new product.
Examples of such products, in my opinion, are fiberglass batt insulation, plywood, Low-E glass, washerless faucets, etc. I believe that plastic laminate flooring just might be one more of these excellent products. It seems to take the best qualities of other flooring materials and combine them into one easy to install and maintain material.
Not Your Average Countertop!
My first impression of plastic laminate flooring was to compare it to the standard plastic laminate countertops. Big mistake! The basic composition and manufacturing process is virtually the same, however, the clear wearlayer applied over the printed patterned paper is nearly 20 times thicker than the clear plastic wearlayer found on the average countertop. Plastic laminate countertops have proven themselves for years as being durable. The plastic laminate floorings, when cared for, will also perform as well as their cousins the countertops.
Benefits of the New Flooring
One of the things that impresses me the most about the laminate flooring is the built in resiliency of the system. All of the laminate floorings require you to install a foam pad similar to carpet cushion beneath the flooring. This cushion enables the plastic laminate flooring to absorb shock much better than if it were simply installed directly on the subfloor. The pad also enables your legs and feet to not ache as much at the end of each day.
Laminate flooring comes out of the carton prefinished. An average room can be completed in less than 8 hours. The next day you can move furniture back in and use the floor. Only wall to wall carpet can offer a quicker turnaround time.
Many of the laminate flooring products are impervious to most stains. Some even resist cigarette burns! Most other flooring products cannot make this claim.
What happens if you stain or burn a carpet or hardwood floor? Usually the entire floor must be replaced or refinished. Not so with laminate! The damaged piece or pieces are simply cut out and news ones are fit back in their place. The repair job can often be accomplished in less than 2 hours.
Level Sub-floors are a MUST!
Laminate flooring has very critical fit tolerances. When two pieces are mated together, the seam virtually disappears. To maintain the seamless appearance, it is important that your existing subfloor be very level. The level requirement, as defined by most manufacturers, means that the maximum difference in height between any two points in a circle with a 20 foot diameter is 3/16 inch. That is a tight tolerance. If your floor exceeds this limit, you must fill low spots or somehow grind down high spots. Keep this tolerance in mind if you are building new. Make sure that your carpenters use floor joist with little or no crown. Concrete floors must be installed carefully to achieve this nearly flat tolerance. Make sure everyone understands the plan!
Gluing the Floor is Important
If you don't already know it, the laminate flooring is not nailed or glued down to the subfloor! It simply floats over the lower floor. However, the individual pieces of laminate are glued to one another. Special glue provided by each manufacturer performs two important functions. The glue holds the flooring together to create the seamless look. It also seals the edges of the exposed hardboard core to prevent moisture infiltration. This is vitally important if your laminate flooring is installed in an area where water might sit on the floor for extended periods of time.
The gluing process during installation is important. Too much glue can cause the flooring pieces to not mate tightly. Too little glue can cause areas where water will enter the fiberboard core. If water gets into the fiberboard, you will have problems. The flooring will swell and not return to normal when it dries.
Take your time to read all of the installation instructions. Do this whether or not you intend to install the floor yourself. Remember, knowledge is power!
Plastic Laminate Flooring Manufacturers
Here is a current list of manufacturers of plastic laminate flooring. I'm quite sure that the list will grow within the next 6 - 12 months. I would call these manufacturers and ask for any and all product literature. Don't forget to look in their literature as to the makeup of the fiberboard core. You want written proof in their literature that you are getting a product with a high density fiberboard core.
- Armstrong World Industries ... 800-233-3823
- Bruce Floors ... 800-527-5903
- Formica Corporation ... 800-FORMICA
- Perstorp Flooring ... 800-33-PERGO
- Wilsonart ... 800-433-3222
Laminate Flooring Types / Descriptions
Wood Grain.... Which Species and Tone!
One of the remarkable aspects of laminate flooring is the varied choice of wood floor looks you can choose from. Traditional hardwood flooring is primarily oak. You would achieve different "looks" by using different colored stains. However, you always were left with oak graining. Not so with laminate!
The reproduction capabilities of the modern presses which print the paper that is beneath the clear wear layer of the laminate flooring is incredible. It is virtually impossible to distinguish a piece of real walnut flooring from a piece of laminate "walnut" flooring. I know, as I am looking at two pieces as I write this!
Here are several wood species that are available: Cherry, Walnut, Beech, Maple, Ash, Curly Birch, Pine, Knotted Pine, Oak, and Mahogany. In addition, there are often several shades/ grain variations in each of the above species! Try to buy prefinished walnut hardwood flooring for $3.99 a square foot.....Good Luck!!
I almost forgot, do you like painted, wood grained floors? You can get those too, blue, green, and rust!
Marble, Granite, Tile & Terrazzo
If you want the look of a stone floor it is possible as well. There are many patterns and colors. What's more, you can mix and match! Choose a granite pattern for the center of the floor and create a walnut border around the rest of the room. Your house will look like one of the many at the Biltmore estate!
Plastic Laminate Flooring Installation Tips
Installing laminate flooring is a great DIY'r project if you have some patience and are willing to sit down and follow manufacturer's instructions. The following tips, in addition to the mfrs. instructions, will help you produce first class results.
Layout - All Important
Laminate flooring can be installed in any direction. However, there are some things to consider. Every manufacturer would like to see you install it so that the planks are parallel with the direction in which natural light streams into the windows. Installing the flooring in this manner will make for a better looking floor. Why? If the sun beams enter the room at a low angle during early morning or late afternoon and travel perpendicular to the planks, it can sometimes make the floor look like it is wavy.
In addition, you must think of long hallways. The laminate planks look much better if they are parallel to the walls in the long hallways. If a hallway is part of your installation, you may wish to chalk a line parallel to one of the walls in the hallway and let this line extend into the adjoining room. Measure from this line to the wall in the room where you intend to start. See if the starting wall is parallel to the chalk line. If not, you will want to cut the first row of starting planks in the room at an angle so that when you come to the hallway, you are in line! Remember, you can NOT tweak the planks as you install. They must be glued tightly against one another. So, if you start wrong, you will have a major problem as you continue to lay the floor.....
Straight lines from the get-go are imperative! The tongue and groove nature of the product dictates that the planks interlock with one another and be straight. If you install the first row to conform to a wall you think is straight (and is actually crooked), the next row will not fit tightly! Most of the written instructions provided with the flooring cover this aspect very clearly. The First Three to Four Rows
All of the manufacturers recommend that you install three complete rows of flooring before you continue with the rest of the floor. After gluing the first three or four rows, most manufacturers want you to wait an hour. They would like to see those planks drawn tight to one another and be in a straight line. The primary reason is to allow those planks to form a rigid foundation for the remaining flooring. If you were to just continue to lay the floor and hammer and tap, you may get all of the planks slightly out of alignment.
Expansion / Contraction
The laminate floorings are not to be installed tightly against the walls of any room. Why? Because they will expand and contract with changes in humidity. By leaving a 1/4 inch gap around the flooring you will be in good shape. This gap is subsequently covered with a decorative toe strip. Most of the manufacturers provide you with handy spacers which will keep the flooring gap consistent. The spacers are removed once the glue is dry.
Gluing the Planks
The laminate floors are floating systems. They are all installed on top of a foam pad. The pad and the laminate planks are not attached in any manner to the subfloor or old flooring you are covering. The only thing that holds the flooring together is the special glue which is applied to the grooved edges of each plank. The glue also performs an important secondary function. It seals the inner wood fiberboard core. For this reason it is important that enough glue is applied to each grooved edge. However, if you apply too much, you may have a problem fitting two pieces of flooring snugly against one another. The ideal glued edge will produce a thin bead or line of glue on top of the flooring once two pieces are mated together. This glue should be removed immediately with a wet rag. Wipe in one smooth motion down the joint. Don't rub in a circular fashion. Rinse the towel/rag and wipe again. Have a dry towel handy to dry the joint. This way you can check for excess glue and to see if the flooring pieces are fit perfectly.
The joints will swell ever so slightly in response to the water in the glue. This swelling will go away within 21 - 28 days.
Plastic laminate will chip readily. As such, you need to use a saw blade with fine teeth. If you use a power saw of any type, the saw blade must cut down into the laminate, not up as the blade advances. This means cutting the laminate upside down in most cases when using a hand held power saw. If you use a hand saw, cut with the good side up, but only use pressure on your down strokes. When pulling the saw back up, don't let it contact the uncut portion of the line.
If all goes well, you should have very little or no waste. Why? Because the outfall from the first row is the piece that starts the second row! The only time this doesn't work is if the outfall piece from a cut is less than 8 inches long. Most manufacturers like to see you start a new row with a piece at least 8 inches long. Never throw waste pieces away as they can be used in closets, odd corners or other weird places as you progress with the installation.
When to Walk
You can't walk on the laminate floors immediately after completion. Most manufacturers like to see you wait at least 8 to 12 hours. Of course 24 hours would be better. Use common sense. The glue must be allowed to cure and adequately hold the floor together. If you break a joint open, it is tough to get it tight again!
Kneepads are a NO-NO
If you need to protect your knees during the installation of the toestrip, fold up an old blanket and use that. Hard plastic knee pads or even rubber ones can sometimes trap a sand particle and scratch the new flooring! Vacuum the floor before installing the toekick or at the very least sweep it with a broom.
Furniture Glides & Mats
It is a great idea to install heavy felt discs or pads on the feet of all chairs, tables, or any other furniture. You can scratch plastic laminate as you would any flooring material. The felt pads will really do a fantastic job of protecting your flooring investment. Check the felt pads on the chairs regularly for wear. Invest and clean on a regular basis floor mats at each door. Sand and grit can be tracked in. These particles, next to water, are the worst enemies of a laminate floor. Regular removal of grit will keep the floor like new!