Let me start by saying that installing laminate floors is not an overly difficult job but it is time consuming and you’ll need to have the right set of tools. Having said that, don’t be in a rush when doing this type of work nor focus on making every cut perfect: it’s okay to make mistakes when installing flooring. Even the most seasoned veterans of the trade still make mistakes from time to time. So remember to show yourself some grace and realize you will make mistakes but that’s okay because that’s how we learn. In the picture you’ll see the tools I use for installing laminate flooring. However, the tools I did not take a picture of are the table saw with an 80 tooth carbide tipped blade and the jig saw with a laminate/hardwood blade. These two tools, combined with the ones in the picture, allow you to tackle just about any laminate flooring job. A side note here, a table saw is a must when installing laminate flooring on a large scale. I’ve performed small laminate flooring installs without one but a job of more than one room will make the job go much quicker having one. The next step is sub-floor preparation. In a mobile home where carpet or linoleum flooring was previously installed you’ll need to first remove all of the previous flooring.
Let me make a side note about floor preparation. Some installers simply lay laminate flooring directly over linoleum flooring and it turns out great. However, I prefer to take the additional steps to verify my sub floor is solid and level before I lay additional flooring over top. In a cement slab home where the linoleum might be glued to the floor I would not recommend removing all of the linoleum unless there were adhesion issues with the linoleum. Once the carpet and linoleum is completely removed, I use fencing and lineman pliers to remove ALL remaining staples and nails out of the wood sub-floor. This is very tedious but extremely important because any sharp objects left in or on the sub-floor can cause punctures in the vapor barrier: which the vapor barrier protects your laminate flooring from excessive moisture which can lead to buckling and gaps. The simplest way I know how to make for sure you’ve gotten all of the staples, nails, jagged edges, etc. is to use a 3-4″ scraper which will hang on all of the above mentioned objects if there are any remaining in the floor. It actually goes rather quickly especially when you’re fortunate enough to have a son old enough to take care of that for you.
There is one more step I do before laying down the vapor barrier, and that is taking a belt sander or hand sander and leveling any high points in the wood sub-floor. Usually this is only needed where some of the 4’x8′ sheets of wood flooring butt up together. In the pictures I’ve already sanded them so that they are PRETTY much smooth and level. The last step is to take a shop vacuum or broom and clean up the dust.
A couple more steps to take care of before laying down the vapor barrier. The first would be cutting out the bottom of the door jambs as shown in the pictures below. This allows you to slide the laminate flooring under them. The easiest way to do this is using an oscillating hand saw but I chose to use a door jamb saw because that’s what I had available. Simply take a scrap piece of the laminate flooring you’re installing and lay the saw upon it while cutting out the base of the door jamb. This will allow the laminate flooring to slide underneath it.
The second step I chose to do, since we are re-flooring a double wide mobile home, was fill in the void where the two halves of a mobile home meet. I removed the thin metal attached with nails that lays over the void and filled the gap with door and window expansion foam. After filling the void, and letting it dry, I took a hand, held drywall saw and cut it even with the floor.
Now you’re ready to lay down the vapor barrier. I use white, silicone 5mil vapor barrier connected at the seams with laminate flooring red tape (do not overlap the vapor barrier because it can create bumps in the laminate flooring). Lay the vapor barrier with the silicone side (slick side) facing upward. Use a box blade cut off any excess vapor barrier and cut around any obstructions.
One final detail to take care of before you lay your first laminate board is to decide the offset pattern you will use when laying your flooring. If you simply lay all of the flooring with none of the boards being offset from one another you will undoubtedly end up with buckling and/or gaps in your floor. You MUST stagger your laminate boards in order to minimize the chance of this happening. I prefer to lay the laminate flooring from left to right so I start by measuring the distance the boards will span from left to right. If the distance is 10′ then I know I must stagger my boards so that none of the end cut boards are less than 12″ (although some times in order to keep your pattern in rooms that are not square or are odd shaped you will end up with less than 12″ board ends). I prefer to use a pattern of 4-1-3-2 to stagger my end seams so that none of my end seams line up within 12″ of each other and so that none of my end cut boards are less than 12″. However, some manufacturers say it’s okay as long as the end seams are no less than 6″ from each other, but most say every board should be a minimum of 12″ long (follow your manufacturer’s instructions). You’ll have to adjust the lengths of your pattern based on the length of floor you are spanning. As you begin to lay the floor it will begin to look like the side of a pyramid because the first board is 4′ long and then you’ll snap another 4′ piece to the end of that. Next you’ll snap in the 1′ piece along side of the first 4′ long piece, and then you’ll snap another 4′ piece to the end of that. Next you’ll snap in the 3′ board along side the 1′ board. And finally, you’ll snap in the 2′ board along side the 3′ board and so on. You’ll quickly realize that the row of boards above must be longer than the row below it you are laying for them to snap together correctly: remember, think pyramid. I’ve probably beat these points to death but hopefully it helps someone. I like to start by laying the first piece in the upper, left corner of the room with the long, male side facing the wall (long, male side of the board shown below). You will actually need to trim off the male edge, just to the laminate, to allow for the correct gap between the laminate flooring and your wall. Each manufacturer has their own requirements for expansion gaps needed around the parameter of the flooring, but usually it will be a minimum of 1/4″-3/8″ gap. This is the range I place all of my flooring at when making my cuts. It snaps together rather quickly yet take your time when snapping the pieces together in that it can cause small chips in the laminate where they butt up together if not installed correctly. Regardless of how precise you are you will have some small chips that happen at the edges; but don’t worry it is a simple fix using a marker with the color match of your floor.
This picture shows the male side of the long side of the board being inserted into the female side of the board at about a 30 degree angle. As mentioned above, the long, male side is the edge you’ll trim off when facing it along the wall as your starter piece. As a general rule, you should always cut off the portions of the wooden grooves that stick out past the laminate when they will come up against any obstruction (ex. wall). This allows you to maintain your correct expansion gap while not creating too large of a gap that your trim will not cover it.
Once you begin snapping the boards together I like to give them a tap on both ends of the long side of the board using my tapping block, and sometimes in the middle, just to make for sure they are snapped together tightly. Important to remember to use the tapping block against the underside of the planks NOT against the laminate face which can cause chipping. Then I’ll take my pull bar and tap/pull them together on the ends: this usually takes 3-4 good hits on the pull bar to accomplish.
The pictures show the basic steps I take when installing the laminate flooring. I would encourage you to mix up the planks between boxes in order not to have too much of one pattern in a certain area of the floor. Also, by removing the planks from the boxes you’ll need to watch out for damaged planks especially around the edges from transporting. A final thought before snapping the pieces together, check plank grooves for any damage from the pull bar or tapping block, as well as any debris that might keep the planks from completely snapping together. Every so often I’ll snap a chalk line to verify the floor is straight and not beginning to bend. One area of our home stretches for over 35′ and although I couldn’t find a manufacturers spec I was able to keep the floor to within about an 1/8″ of being perfectly straight: but then again, it is a full floating floor which will have some movement no matter how straight you get it.
One last finishing step is installing the transition moldings that transition between two different types and/or heights of flooring. Many transition pieces today can be used for either height variation or same height applications. Simply follow the instructions for the transition molding you choose. A few things to remember: make sure to leave enough room to attach your transition molding between your two types of flooring, cut the molding to the exact fit of the transition needed, and make sure it is not loose when finished. Seeing as how I was installing my transition pieces over a wood sub-floor I used 1-5/8″ coarse, wood screws to attach the u-shaped metal, transition channel to the sub-floor that my transition molding snapped into. I left about a 1/4″ on both sides of the metal channel to allow the transition molding to snap into it without rubbing/hitting the flooring on either side of it. Once I cut the channel and molding to the transition opening, and attached the channel to the sub-floor, the transition molding snapped in.
Depending upon your application it will vary how you attach the transition molding. If you’re using a transition channel design that the transition molding snaps into then you’ll most likely use screws of some kind depending upon your sub-floor, or glue. Remember, take your time, re-check with a chalk line every 1/3 of the floor installed for straightness, re-check your wall expansion gaps every so often to ensure the floor is not shifting on you. Seeing as how the average cost of having someone install your laminate flooring is about $1.50 and up per square foot, you can quickly see how much money you can save yourself by doing it yourself. But either way, if you choose to have someone else do it, or tackle it yourself, you’re better prepared to make that decision now that hopefully you’re comfortable with the basic process of installing laminate flooring. Good luck!