The days of having to spend exorbitant amounts of money to hire a professional to install your new flooring are over. These days you can give yourself a beautiful brand-new floor in a day with the proper tools and knowledge at your disposal. I’m going to give you the knowledge today by walking you through the steps of how to install wood laminate flooring, what tools you need, and some tips and tricks along the way. Settle in, because, after this, you are going to have the confidence to get out there and do it, and then YOU are going to give yourself a huge pat on the back while sitting on your gorgeous new flooring with a well-deserved cold bevy in hand. Because you are a DIY star!
But, first, story time!
Before I begin, I’ve got a little story for you about the guy I first learned how to lay floors from, and a bit of the wisdom he passed on to me regarding DIY. So, if you want to skip ahead to the how-to, by all means, we’re all busy people, but I would be remiss if I shared the steps to install wood laminate flooring without also telling you all about Stole.
Several years ago, while I was living in Vancouver in a tiny basement walk-out on 13th and Cambie, I heard several loud noises coming from the upstairs apartment and outside. Naturally, being the nosey early 20 something year old I was, I went outside to investigate and found my landlord, along with an elderly, Eastern European man, unloading a truck full of wood laminate packs.
The Eastern European man was named Stole, and he was going to be completely gutting and renovating the upstairs apartment. Now, Stole was 76 years old, and I am not intending to be rude when I say that he also looked 78 years old. The upstairs apartment was accessed by a set of narrow stairs, essentially three floors up. I wondered how he was going to get along with doing everything himself, but figured if my landlord had hired him, he would be fine.
At this time, I was already dipping my foot into the DIY bug and had recently built a cabinet unit, along with several other pieces of furniture, specifically fitted to my tiny, basement apartment. Avu, my landlord, had seen these pieces and was aware that I loved crafting things. Several hours after hearing the noise outside, I got a knock on the door.
Avu, my landlord was there to ask if I might lend Stole a hand if he needed it during the renovations. Avu had known Stole for several years and had hired him for all of the repairs and renovations on Avu’s properties, but, he knew that Stole was slowing down, and this project might be a bit too big for him to manage himself. I was, of course, game to get my hand on any tools and learn a thing or two.
And that is the story of how I first got to work with Stole.
At first, I was a bit nervous, I had been on several worksites before and, being a young, 5 foot 2 female, often suffered the brunt of jokes (at the best), a complete distrust for my capability to do the job at hand, or downright abuse (at the worst.) I didn’t know how an elderly gentleman would react to being helped by a young woman, in what has historically been a man’s field. But, I was wrong to worry, in fact, after my first day working with Stole, he told Avu that he needed to pay me more.
While working with Stole, ripping up floors, painting, grouting, cutting trim, and laying new floors, I got to hear his stories of how he ended up working as a handy man. He told me, in his slow, heavily accented English how he had immigrated to Canada in his mid-twenties sometime during the 1960s with his wife. He related how he didn’t know anything about the trades, and spoke very little English, but started off accepting small jobs from people here and there – fixing a doorknob, painting railings, etc. If he was asked to do anything he didn’t know how to do, he told me he would always accept the job, and then go to the library and research until he knew how to complete it. What a guy!
After the third day working with Stole, he brought me three books on carpentry, electric wiring, and plastering. He told me that these were books he purchased early on and read several times. Turns out, Stole taught himself everything he knows and recognised the same drive to learn in me. I still fondly remember at the end of the day, when Avu would drop by to see the progress on the apartment, and Stole would excitedly walk around the apartment, proudly showing off the things “Raiff (this is how he pronounced my name) did today.”
It is amazing what having someone who believes in your potential can do for you.
Stole ended up being one of the seminal influences in my life in regard to DIY, renovations, and general outlook on life, and I still regard the several weeks that I got to work with him as one of the most enjoyable work experiences of my life. And my favourite piece of his advice?
Please read this in the best Slavic accent you can:
“Ifv you don know how to do sumpsink – go to tha library ahnd find a boook to learn how to do it.”
Of course, I mostly use the internet now. 😉
So without further ado, here is everything Stole taught me on how to install wood laminate flooring!
Why wood laminate flooring?
Laminate has come a long way in the last several years. No longer the tacky, peeling, cheap-looking stuff that was plastered on kitchen floors, you can now find quality “snap and lock” laminate flooring that looks incredibly realistic and beautiful.
Here are some great reasons to choose laminate flooring:
- It’s relatively cheap – in comparison to other flooring options, high-end laminate regularly comes in cheaper than higher-end carpet, and well below natural wood flooring. Furthermore, having the option to install it yourself, can save quite a lot as well!
- It looks good! Laminate has come a long way in the last several years. It is no longer the tacky, peeling, cheap-looking stuff that was formerly plastered on kitchen floors, you can now find quality “snap and lock” laminate flooring that looks incredibly realistic and beautiful.
- It’s hypoallergenic, easier to clean and isn’t prone to stains or mold
- Quick and easy to install – no need for professionals, and the job won’t take you too long either!
- It can last a long time – a high-quality laminate flooring can last between 15-25 years. Furthermore, if you manage to damage one piece, it is possible to replace the single piece without having to replace the entire floor.
Some quick tips before you begin
- Once you have purchased your laminate flooring packs, place them in the room where they will be installed and allow at least 48 hours for them to acclimate before installing. This helps to avoid a surplus of movement after you have installed them. All laminate will expand or contract but allowing this time before installation decreases drastic movement.
- As you lay the flooring, take panels from various boxes to vary the colour and allow for a more randomised, natural look.
- Door jams
- Instead of trying to awkwardly cut your laminate panels to fit around the jamb of a door, cut the door jam to fit overtop of your panels. To do this, place a piece of your underlay down on the floor with a piece of your laminate over top. Take a flush-cut saw or jam saw and simply cut through the jam and remove the piece. Your laminate will now slide beneath the jam and create a more finished, professional look than had you tried to cut the panel itself to fit.
- Drop and Lock vs Angle Angle
- There are two main types of floating laminate floors: the drop and lock and the angle angle. The difference between the two is the way the joints connect – and depending on which type you have, the installation will be different. I will touch on the different ways to install the two types when I get to how to attach the rows together further on in this article. The important things is that you know which type you have, which should be listed in the product documentation or on the box.
What tools do you need?
- Utility knife
- Rubber mallet
- Circular, table, or jigsaw (or handsaw if you truly want to work)
- Tapping block
- Pull par
If you don’t have these, there is a good package on amazon with a pullbar, tapping block, rubber mallet and a whole slew of spacers here :
Prepare the room
In terms of setup, you’re in luck if you have anything other than carpet as your current flooring. That’s because laminate can be placed over any substrate except for carpet.
If you have carpet, you’re gonna need to rip the ol’ sucker out – but do it with glee, because if you are replacing the carpet it’s probably high time it got chucked, amiright? And imagine how much easier it’s going to be to keep your new floors clean!
Clean and prepare the subfloor
Your floors need to be free of all the dirt and debris before you place the floor – laminate doesn’t do well with irregular surfaces so give it a good clean, and if you have any serious dips or irregularities, fill them with a leveling agent before continuing.
If you have trim, remove it before laying the wood laminate down. Use duct tape or some type of soft covering over your pull bar to avoid damaging your wall as you remove the trim.
If you are adamant that you don’t want to go through the hassle of removing it, you can also simply lay the laminate down and attach a quarter round trim to the existing trim after – it’s the arguably easier, but more expensive option.
Plan your layout and measure your room
There is a bit to think about when deciding the orientation of your panels. Generally speaking, the panels, if possible, should run parallel with the long wall in the room, or the direction of the light source/focal point when entering the room. This creates a long, uninterrupted look which makes the overall end result more pleasant to the eye.
If possible, it’s also best to have the panels running in the direction of the main doorway in the room. If all of these factors aren’t possible; however, just go with the panels running parallel to the long side of the room.
Once you’ve decided on the orientation of the panels, measure the width of the room from wall to wall, accounting for a 10mm gap on both sides (we’ll touch on this gap later, but it’s best to check the installation instructions for your specific laminate to determine what size gap is necessary for expansion. 10mm is generally enough, but some products suggest more.)
When you have the width of the room + the gap, divide this number by the width of your laminate panels. This will give you what the width of your last row of panels will be.
Ex – 600cm room width / 17.5cm width of panel = 34.29 rows
Therefore: our last row will be .29 of a panel or 5.08 cm.
If you find the last row of your floor will be less than around 6cm, I would add the width of the last row that you got in the above calculations to the width of your panel and then divide it by 2.
(17.5 + 5.08) / 2 = 11.3cm
This will give you the width you should cut both your first and last rows to, which will create a more uniform look and allow you to avoid trying to lay a tiny sliver of flooring as your last row.
Put down the underlay
Underlay is essential for laminate flooring that doesn’t come with attached padding. It provides an even surface for your “floating” floor to sit on, gives support for the tongue and groove lock system, and helps with moisture control and reducing noise.
For concrete subfloor
If you are installing over concrete you will need to lay down a vapor layer as well as an underlay, some underlays come with a vapor barrier, and if so you only need the one product.
For padded laminate
If the laminate you are installing comes with padding – the underlay is unnecessary and will actually hinder the proper laying of your floor. However, extra care needs to go into preparing the surface that the laminate will lay on if you aren’t using underlay, as any irregularities can potentially cause the floor to not float properly and buckle at the seams.
Laminate floors with padding that are being installed over concrete will still need a vapor barrier – but make sure that you are installing just the thin vapor barrier and not an underlay with a vapor barrier included.
To put down the underlay, unroll it and run it in the same direction that the panels will run. Allow a bit of excess to run up the wall and use one of your laminate panels to press the underlay into the corners. Use a utility knife to cut off the excess against the wall. When your first row of underlay is down, immediately secure it by starting to lay your panels. As you lay your panels and begin to reach the end of your first row of underlay, unroll your second row. Make sure not to overlap the two layers as any unevenness can cause the laminate panels to buckle. You can join the two pieces with duct tape or another thin layer of tape.
Installing the first row
If your calculations during the planning of your layout require you to rip your first row to a certain width, you should do so now. When ripping the panels to length, cut so that the tongue side of the panel is the waste on each piece. Make sure you are cutting the same side on each piece! The tongue side, unlike in regular woodworking, is actually the side with the shorter extrusion.
For your very first panel, you should also cut the tongue off the short side of the panel that will jut against the wall.
Place your first panel with the cut side towards the wall and begin to assemble your first row. To attach the second panel at the ends, hold the panel at an upwards angle and insert the tongue into the groove of the first panel. Once the joint is snug, press the panel down to secure it in place. Continue building this row until you reach the last panel, ensuring there are no gaps in your joints.
You have your first row of panels put together, minus the end piece. Now you need to place your spacers. Because all laminate expands, you need to leave a gap along all the edges to account for movement – if you don’t do this, your floor will buckle and the joints won’t sit properly!
Some packs of laminate flooring come with spacers, but if they don’t, check to see the manufacturer’s recommended expansion gap and use this size of spacer. Most laminate flooring that I have installed calls for at least a 10mm gap. The spacers can be strips of wood, plastic, store bought spacers or anything that fits the measurement.
At this point, take your spacers and place them at the starting end (the short side) and along the length of the wall, press your first row into place and measure the distance from the end of the row to the wall including the spacer. Cut your last piece to this dimension – but again make sure you are cutting the right end off! (can you tell that I made this mistake a few times? I am clumsy Raff, after all)
Your first row is now finished!
Offset your joints
If your offcut from the end of the first piece is longer than 25 cm, you can use this piece to start your next row. If not, cut a piece longer than 25cm to use as the beginning of your second row – ensuring that you cut off at least more than 25cm!
The length of this piece is important as you don’t want the joints in your rows to line up, and you want a large enough overlap. Part of the stability in floating floors is provided by the offset of the joints. Without it, your floors won’t have the same amount of strength to withstand buckling.
It also just creates a more natural look once the floor is completed – so don’t allow your joints to line up!
Start your second row
Slide the tongue of the second-row panel into the groove of the first row’s plank at an upwards angle, mimic how you attached the pieces end to end on the first row. Ensure there is no gap in the seam and press down to lock.
The second piece can be a bit more finnicky, and this where the installation differs between drop and lock vs angle to angle laminates.
For angle to angle, first attach the short side of the second panel to short side of the first panel using the same angle method as you used in the first row. Get the corner of the second piece as close as possible to the first row, and before placing the panel down, line up the long side seems. After placing the panel down, you’ll have to lift the panel slightly to close the gaps along the seam in the long side panels, tapping with your palm as you go if necessary.
For drop and lock, instead of attaching the short side first, you slide the long side of the second panel into the groove of the first row – then position the short side over top of the groove in the first panel of the second row and simply lock it into place. I think drop and lock is an easier installation, but it isn’t as common as angle angle.
Use a tapping block
If the seam still has a gap, some laminate panels require a tapping block.
Sometimes manufacturers will include a tapping block with the laminate panels – if they do, take advantage of it, as they will often be profiled to fit the grooves of the panels to minimize damage! In fact, if you don’t want to make a tapping block yourself, I would recommend purchasing one from a laminate floor supplier or Amazon – they aren’t expensive.
If you really have the DIY bug though, you can make a tapping block yourself by taking a scrap block of wood and creating a rabbet along the side that is slightly larger than the groove on the laminate panels. Align it along the long side of the panel over top of the groove so that you aren’t tapping on the groove itself.
To use the tapping block, place it next to the panel and gently tap it with a mallet until the seams close. You can also use this method on the short ends of the panels. Take care not to damage the grooves of the panels as you tap, gentle tapping is all that you need!
After tapping, go back to check that your spacers haven’t shifted and your gap is still sufficient
Continue this process, row by row, until you reach your last row, making sure to check seams as you go to make sure nothing has shifted out of place. It’s difficult to fix a seam three rows in if you progress without fixing it as you go!
Install the last row
If you did your calculations right, you should be able to cut your panels to the same width as your first row. Measure the width including the spacers to make sure, and then cut the groove side off of these panels.
Place your spacers and use the same methods as before to attach your last row panels to the previous rows, using a pull bar in the gap instead of the tapping block to pull the seams together.
The process of laying the floor is finished! You can now reattach your trim using finishing nails or, if you didn’t remove the trim, install round molding to the trim to cover the gap.
Make sure you are attaching the trim to the wall as opposed to the floor itself – otherwise all your hard work to account for expansion will have been for nothing!
Lastly, attach a piece of floor transition trim in the doorway, and you are good to go!
You’ve done it! Have a lie down on your brand new floor, crack a beer, and pride yourself in a job well done with your own two hands!