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How to Install a Laminate Floor

Laminate floors are nearly two decades old and they've really become mainstream. As you might expect, 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, 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 8:00 am and by 4:00 pm be sitting on your couch in the room watching the game or show of your choice. It's possible to install a laminate floor and move in the furniture on top of it in just hours.

Degree of Difficulty: hammer-3-5

Step One: Stop and read the instructions that come with your flooring. If you're a man, then read them twice. Pay close attention to the part that talks about the flatness of the subfloor.

Step Two: 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 out 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 very difficult to work with. If you don't add the exact amount of water, the products will not flow, or if you add too much water, it ruins the product.

Step Three: Once the subfloor meets the minimum flatness specification in the instructions, the easy part begins. You'll usually have to install a thin foam underlayment. Only install one strip of this, as it gets in the way otherwise.

Step Four: 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 out in the instructions. Normally it's one-quarter inch.

Step Five: 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, make your joints in the rows completely random.

Step Six: Be sure to cut the flooring with a sharp saw with a fine-toothed blade to minimize chipping. If using a hand-held circular saw, cut the pieces face down with the blade cutting up into the finished surface.

Step Seven: Be sure the baseboard around that rests on top of the flooring does not pinch the laminate flooring. The flooring needs to be able to move. Create a one-sixteenth-inch gap between the bottom of the baseboard and the flooring.

Step Eight: When nailing toe stripping that creates a finished look, the nails must NEVER penetrate the flooring. Be sure all nails are horizontal into the baseboard.

Step Nine: Pay close attention to the recommend care suggestions. Use the recommended cleaners and your floor will look good for decades.

Summary: 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.

Column: HT004


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