Installing laminate flooring is a relatively easy project for most homeowners, suitable for beginners and experienced DIYers alike. However, there are a few things you need to know before you get started, no matter what level of DIY experience you have.
This guide is designed to help you install laminate flooring yourself, avoiding the most common mistakes and working efficiently and effectively every step of the way. Below, you’ll find a list of the tools and materials you need, followed by detailed step-by-step instructions for installing laminate flooring. Let’s dive in.
Considerations Before Installing Laminate Flooring
We know you’re excited to get to work, but there are a few things you should think about before you get started.
Laminate floors are extremely popular — for a good reason — but you need to make sure they’re the best option for you and your home. They’re affordable, especially compared to hardwood floors, look great, are durable, and come in a tremendous variety of colors, making them widely appealing.
However, laminate floors are often slippery, presenting a challenge to homeowners who own pets. Textured options are available, but most pet owners avoid laminate floors in favor of flooring with more traction, like vinyl plank flooring or carpet.
Laminate floors also aren’t the best option for people who live in moist climates. Humidity can wreak havoc on laminate floors, causing unevenness, bumps, and buckling. For a similar reason, laminate floors aren’t great for people who have small children since repeated spills can easily damage laminate flooring.
If you decide that laminate flooring is the right option for you, you might want to consider purchasing an installation kit. These kits are available from most local hardware stores like Loew’s and Home Depot, and they can make your life much easier.
Using an installation kit is much easier than acquiring the necessary flooring products and flooring material piecemeal, especially if you don’t have much experience with flooring.
Tools & Materials Needed for Laminate Floor Installation
It’s a good idea to gather the tools and materials you’ll need before you start your installation. Nothing is more annoying than having to stop in the middle of a project to run to the hardware store for something you thought you already had.
Here’s a list of all the tools you need to install laminate flooring.
- Rubber mallet
- Tape measure
- Speed square
- Saw (circular saw, handsaw, miter saw, table saw, or jigsaw)
- Oscillating saw
- Utility knife
- Chalk line
- Duct tape
- Pull bar
- Tapping block
- Eye protection
- Ear protection
Make sure you have the following materials before you begin.
- Laminate flooring
Laminate Flooring Installation Steps
Installing laminate flooring is a surprisingly straightforward home improvement project and one that’s more than doable for most homeowners—even if you don’t have much DIY experience.
- Step #1: Make the necessary preparations
- Step #2: Cut the moulding around your door
- Step #3: Measure the room
- Step #4: Cut the first and last row of planks
- Step #5: Install the underlayment
- Step #6: Install the first row of planks
- Step #7: Install the remaining rows
- Step #8: Install the last row of planks
Step #1: Make the Necessary Preparations
Before you can install your new laminate flooring, you must first remove your old floor, make sure your subfloor is in good condition, and prepare the room for installation.
One of the first things you should do to prepare to install laminate flooring is to lay out the laminate planks in the room to give them a chance to adjust to the temperature and humidity conditions in the room. This process needs about 48 hours, so try to lay them out at least two days in advance.
After you remove your existing floor, check your subfloor to make sure that it is clean, free from mold and mildew, and level. If you have a wood subfloor, make sure to check for protruding nails; these should be removed before installing your new floor.
Tips for preparing the area
- An uneven floor could be a superficial problem, or it can be a sign of underlying foundation issues. Have a foundation specialist take a look if you have other signs of foundation problems.
- If you want to install a vapor barrier, do it before you install the underlayment. Before you start is the best time to inspect your subfloor for signs of water damage.
- Your subfloor doesn’t need to be perfectly level, although you usually want less than ¼ inch of unevenness across a 10-foot room.
Step #2: Cut the Moulding Around Your Door
You need to trim the moulding around your doorways if you want your laminate flooring to sit flush against the wall. Lay a piece of laminate flooring on top of a piece of underlayment against the moulding. Mark where the top of the laminate reaches on your moulding in pencil, so you know where to cut.
Use your oscillating saw to cut the moulding to the proper height. Repeat the process for all of the room’s entryways.
Tips for Trimming the Door Jambs
- It’s much easier to cut the moulding and install laminate flooring underneath than it is to cut a laminate plank to fit around your door jamb.
Step #3: Measure the Room
Most people prefer to install laminate flooring so that the planks run parallel to the longest wall in the room. This orientation is more pleasing to the eye and cuts down on waste by reducing how much you need to trim your laminate strips.
Calculate how many pieces of laminate you need by measuring the width of the room, starting at the longest wall and dividing by the width of each laminate plank. It’s unlikely that your result will be a whole number, but that’s totally normal. You should also include space for a ⅜-inch gap against each wall to allow for expansion.
Since it’s unlikely that your room will accommodate a whole number of planks, you’ll have to trim each piece in the last row widthwise so that they fit flush with the other planks and the wall.
Tips for Measuring the Room
- If you need to trim the last row’s pieces to under 3 ½”, it might be easier to trim both the first and last rows. Take the amount of space you need to fill and divide it by two. Then use that number to figure out how much you need to trim each plank to fit.
- Laminate flooring will expand and contract as the humidity and temperature change, so don’t forget to leave a little extra room.
Step #4: Cut the First and Last Row of Planks
Cut the pieces that will go in the first and last row using your preferred saw. We recommend using a diamond blade if you have one since some types of laminate are extremely hard to cut with a regular blade.
Tips for Cutting the First and Last Planks
- Don’t worry about making a clean cut since you won’t see the edges once you install the moulding.
- It’s useful to clamp the laminate pieces when you’re making the cuts to stop them from sliding around.
Step #5: Install the Underlayment
If your laminate flooring doesn’t come with a pre-attached underlayment layer, you’ll have to install one separately yourself. Underlayment offers some protection against moisture and adds a bit of insulation to your floor. It can also make your floor quieter to walk on and more comfortable underfoot.
Roll out the underlayment so that consecutive sheets are touching without any overlap. If your underlayment overlaps, it will make your floor uneven. Use tape to secure the underlayment in place and prevent it from moving over time.
Tips for Installing the Underlayment
- If you’re installing laminate flooring in a basement, consider putting down a moisture barrier first to help protect your floor from water damage.
Step #6: Install the First Row of Planks
Now it’s finally time to start installing the floor itself. Getting the first planks right is essential for a good result, so take your time here and don’t rush.
Don’t forget to leave a ⅜-inch gap between the first row of laminate and the wall to allow for expansion. This is extremely important. If you forget, you’ll wind up with buckling floors as the laminate expands. Place ⅜” spacers along your wall and attach them with duct tape, so they don’t move during the installation.
Start laying pieces against the wall, taking care to position the cut edge towards the wall—if you had to cut the first row by width—so it’s harder to see in the finished product. Otherwise, orient the pieces so that each piece’s tongue faces the wall.
Snap the pieces together by pressing them firmly; you don’t need to use much force to connect them.
You’ll have to cut the final piece to make it fit in the remaining space. Don’t forget to account for the ⅜” gap when measuring and making this cut.
Tips for installing the first row
- It’s crucial to remember to leave a ⅜-inch gap between your walls and floor.
- Make sure to start with the tongues facing the wall.
Step #7: Install the Remaining Rows
Now for the fun part. Lay out the available pieces of laminate to get a sense of the variety of colors and shades you have. Organize the pieces into groups to make sure the overall look is consistent and to avoid clumps of certain colors, grains, or patterns as desired.
Laying out the second row is similar to the first, with one primary difference. Make sure to stagger the seams so that one row’s seams sit roughly in the middle of each adjacent piece; you want to avoid having two seams right next to each other. Ideally, each seam will be approximately one foot away from any other seams.
Snap the second row’s pieces to the first’s by attaching each piece’s tongue grooves. You shouldn’t need to apply much pressure, so make sure the pieces are aligned properly if you find yourself pressing hard.
You’ll have to trim each row’s final piece to size to ensure it fits snugly at the end. Don’t forget to leave a ⅜-inch gap at each end of every row.
Some people like to encourage a snug fit by using a pull bar to pull the planks together as they go. Some people also like to use a tapping block and a rubber mallet to lightly tap the planks together while they work to get a tighter fit. While neither technique is strictly necessary, both can help you achieve a crisp, clean look.
Tips for Installing the Remaining Rows
- You can save time and reduce waste by using the leftover piece from the previous row as the starting piece for the next row. This makes it easy to keep your rows staggered and reduces the number of cuts you have to make.
Step #8: Install the Last Row of Planks
Almost done! Installing the final row is much like installing the first row. Start by attaching spacers along the wall if you haven’t already done so. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, don’t forget to leave a gap.
Don’t forget that the cut edge of this row will be hidden by the moulding, so don’t worry if your cuts look a little ragged.
After you’re finished installing the last row, congratulations, your laminate floor is finished. The only remaining steps at this point are installing some quarter-round moulding and baseboards and remembering to caulk the edges of the baseboards for a polished look.
Tips for Installing the Last Row of Planks
- If the last row of laminate doesn’t fit, don’t panic. You can always trim the row’s width to make it fit if your calculations from the beginning were slightly off.
- Don’t force the last row to snap if it doesn’t seem like it fits. Taking the extra time to trim the pieces will save you from lumps and buckles down the road.
Common Mistakes When Installing Laminate Flooring
We all make mistakes, but with a little extra prep work, you can avoid the most common mistakes people make when installing laminate floors. Here’s a quick look at the most common mistakes we see.
- Forgetting to leave a gap. We’ve said it countless times throughout this article, but it still bears repeating. Laminate floors expand as the weather changes, so leaving a little wiggle room in the form of an expansion gap during installation is essential.
- Not taping down the underlayment. It can be a real pain to fix a lumpy floor after you’ve finished the installation, so don’t forget to tape down your underlayment and make sure it’s free from lumps and bumps before you start laying out your planks.
- Not letting the flooring acclimate before installation. It’s tempting to skip the acclimatization step, but that would be a big mistake. You want your laminate flooring to adjust to your room’s climate before you install it, so it has a chance to expand and contract. If you skip this step, you’ll wind up with uneven floors and will have to redo the entire installation from scratch.