Laminate flooring offers an affordable way to give your home a face-lift. Once installed, the room will have a clean look, and maintenance will be quick and easy. It’s great because you can re-cover a large area in a short amount of time, and professional help is not required for most homeowners. Your living room or dining room will have the look of natural wood, but you won’t have the large bill afterward, and you won’t have to baby it to keep it looking nice. Due to the ease of installation, overall look, stain resistance, and durability, this type of flooring is quickly becoming a favorite among contractors and do-it-yourselfers alike. If you are about to rip out some old carpet in order to replace it with this economical and sanitary alternative, make note of the tips that follow to ensure a successful project.
What is Laminate Flooring?
Originally introduced under the brand name Pergo, it is a synthetic flooring material that was invented in 1977. Some people refer to it as a floating wood tile because it most often mimics a natural wood look, and it does not attach directly to the material beneath it. It is manufactured by layering synthetic material and fusing it together. A picture is then layered on top and covered with a protective coating. The inner layer is typically melamine resin or fiber board, and that is what provides much of the weight and durability. It was originally glued in place, but everything you find today sort of locks in place with a tongue and groove system. The individual planks or tiles are said to be floating because a layer of foam material is used between the sub-floor and what you are installing to reduce sound and moisture. For more in depth information, check out Wikipedia.
Ask For Help – Although it is quite possible to do the whole floor yourself, way less swearing and sweating will ensue if you have at least one extra pair of hands. In an ideal world, and for maximum speed, a three or four person crew will be the easiest and fastest option. Have two people laying the planks, one person running material, and one person doing the cutting. You could always switch gears and jump from one job to the next, but you could easily cut the time in half if you bribe your buddy to help.
Timing Is Everything – This is one of those jobs that ends up taking twice as long as originally planned. Instead of getting mad when the time runs out, allow for plenty of extra hours or days, and be happy if you get it done sooner. Also, you will want to acclimate the flooring prior to starting the job. It would be a bad idea to take boxes of cold tiles straight from the garage and begin installing right away. Let them hang out in the room you will be working in for at least one day. It will probably take you a day to remove old flooring and clean afterward. It will then take another day to do the actual install, and then one more to replace any trim and put the room back together. If you plan enough time before starting, the whole project will go more smoothly.
A Prepped Sub-Floor Is Your Friend – There is nothing worse than starting a big project and skipping a key first step. A clean and level sub-floor is your first step to a successful job, and if not prepared properly, you can set yourself up for disaster. Once your old flooring has been removed, take the time to thoroughly sweep with a good broom to remove any dirt and debris. If you find nails or screws sticking up, tap or twist them flush to prevent any bumps or high spots. For squeaky areas that you encounter, you can drive a screw through in the noisy spot to prevent any further sound. Before moving on to the actual install, you should also check several spots to ensure the surface is level. Slight imperfections can be fixed with extra underlayment, but larger problems will require grinding in the high spots and/or some sort of filler in the low spots. Because this material is not actually attached to anything underneath, having things clean and level is pretty darn important.
Give Yourself Room To Work – If there was already another hard floor type in place, then you probably have some sort of shoe molding around the perimeter of the room. Regular base board molding can stay in place because it will allow plenty of room underneath, but this quarter round extra trim should be taken out to ease the installation process, and ensure that it looks professional when you finish. It is important to be careful when removing it because you will most likely want to re-place the trim once the flooring is in place. If you use some sort of pry bar, you should be able to lift it off without any damage. When you put it back on afterward, it will cover the small gap between the baseboard and floor, but make sure to nail it to the molding and not your laminate planks.
Doorways Can Be Tricky – One of the key signs of an amateur install is flooring that goes around door casings. You don’t want to cut the floor material to fit around door moldings, you want to cut the molding at the bottom so that the floor can slip underneath. This is easier cutting-wise, but it also makes the finished product look way more professional and clean. If you are not sure how much to cut away, just lay down a piece of the underlayment, pop a board on top, and then mark where they reach to. Now just take your favorite saw, and cut away the little piece so that everything fits in nicely.
Don’t Forget The Underlayment – It has a pretty lame name, but it’s function is crucial. You should not attempt to save money or time by skipping the plastic or foam layer that should go over your sub-floor and beneath your new laminate. It will absorb moisture and sound to make the material last longer, and make the room quieter and more insulated. You don’t really need to attach it in any way, but it should cover the whole surface before you get started. In most cases it will come in large rolls, so simply spread it out and cut to size where necessary. When rolling it out, make sure the edges touch, but do not overlap. Applying some masking tape at the seams can make this a bit easier.
Sawing Is For Suckers – Although it is a totally viable option, most folks in the know would never use a saw to cut this stuff down to size. The MDF material that makes up the inner core is basically glued together saw dust, so when you cut it with a saw, you will end up with fine dust everywhere. You can buy or rent a special tool that chops it, and you will easily get the straight lines you need, but there will be no huge mess in the process. They look like large paper cutters, and essentially operate the same way. A large blade will clamp down to quickly cut the plank to whatever size you need. As an added bonus, the tool is also much quieter than a circular saw, and requires no electricity.
Tippity Tap Tap Tappy – Because the planks do not attach to the floor, a tight fit is essential to a good install. Each piece sort of snaps into the one next to it, and you will find yourself needing to give it a tap or two in order to lock the parts into place. You could use a mallet or hammer directly on the material, but putting a larger piece of wood or something similar in between can spread out the impact and prevent any damage. An adequate block can be made out of some scrap wood, but you can also get one direct from the manufacture in most cases, and those will be a better fit for the exact flooring you are working with. The real deal is generally made from a plastic resin and not wood. Use to gently tap each piece into place, and use again to close up the end-butt joints.
Drop It Like It’s Hot – The last piece is usually the most difficult and nerve racking to put in place. You will basically want to sort of drop it down into place, but a certain technique will ease the situation, and prevent damage at the last minute. First, you want to make sure all of your planks for the last row are connected end to end. Now align the whole row, at an angle, right along the next to last row. Once in place, fit the tongue and groove slots together, and press down to drop the whole row into place at once. It can be tricky, and you may need to use a pry bar under the baseboard in order to get it all the way down and connected to the piece next to it.
Oh Yeah, Clean Up – One of the most commonly overlooked parts of this job is clean up and disposal, but it is pretty important to worry about. If tearing out old carpet or something else, it is going to have to go somewhere. Also, all of the boxes and scraps from the new install will create quite a pile all on their own. Gloves and goggles can be a good idea when hauling out all of the trash, and dangerous stuff like nails and tacks are important to watch out for. If doing a single room, you may be able to toss everything into your regular can, but for larger jobs, and roll off container, or heads up to the garbage company may be in order.
Welcome To The After Party – Doing a good job putting it in place is great, but if you don’t maintain it afterward, your new floor will begin to resemble the old one before you now it. One of the key benefits to this material is how easy it is to maintain, but proper tools and techniques will always save time, reduce effort ,and make it look better. One of the best tools for removing dirt or sweeping up hair is a rubber broom. It will not harm the surface, and it has the ability to sweep up all dry particles in a single pass. For a more thorough cleaning, a microfiber mop will offer a quick and simple way to get the surface incredibly clean in a short amount of time. Use dry for light dust mopping, or get damp with just water to remove 99% of all dirt and germs down there while polishing to a glossy finish. If you keep your new floor clean, you can guarantee many years of service and a great look that will not fade.
Have any secret techniques or helpful tips not mentioned here? Use the comments section below to help everyone else out.