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Installing Laminate Flooring…Even With No Experience

I knew from the first time that I laid eyes on the interior of my current home that all of the carpet and vinyl flooring would have to go. The trouble is, we had no prior experience and no big budget. All I could do was watch YouTube videos and dream of renovations until I was able to work up the courage and budget plan to go for it. More than two years later, most of the flooring in our home is complete. We still plan to replace the linoleum floors in our bathrooms. Now, I won’t lie– it was rough and tedious. The kitchen alone certainly took longer than the proposed ‘day project’ that a specific video that we had watched suggested. In the defense of the video, it doesn’t help that we had absolutely no know-how. I kid you not (and this is embarrassing), but we actually spent more than an hour trying to figure out how to connect the laminate planks. We kept watching the videos, watching them some more, and re-watching them again until we had our “duh” moment (I’m fairly confident that you won’t experience this same issue/brain lapse). Regardless, allow me to reassure you: we (two novices) pulled this whole renovation (nearly an entire house worth of flooring) off alone–I know that you can, too! One of the biggest questions that I am asked pertaining to home projects is: “how did you install your floors?” So before you think about hiring a professional, let me share what I know:

Before proceeding with anything, you first need to decide on the type of flooring that you want. As much as we would love it, we simply don’t have hardwood floor money. Laminate or vinyl would be our options. Vinyl planks are overall easier and more durable that laminate. Simply put, vinyl can withstand water, heat, and stands up to cleanings and traffic better. Depending on where you are installing, you may want to go with vinyl (such as bathrooms). They are priced similarly. In the end, we went with laminate because the look presents more naturally than vinyl. It’s also more environmentally-friendly if that is a factor for you. Laminate does have an overall nicer, more comfortable feel. Fortunately for everyone in the same budget-boat as us, both of these options are actually quite attractive, so don’t worry if you can’t afford the real stuff. I know, I know–you can’t beat the authenticity of real wood, but I promise that you will still be content. In the end, the floors will add a sleek, modern, and clean appearance to your home.

I asked my husband to compile a list of supplies that we used for the job. He surprised me by providing me a detailed account of the process that we used to complete the job. I think he did beautifully, so for the most part, the rest of the information will be his own summary. Remember, since we opted for laminate, I’m not sure how much of this post will apply to you should you opt to go with vinyl. You should have no problem at all finding alternate resources and instructions online to guide you through the process of installing vinyl floors, though. Don’t forget, before you start gathering any supplies, to measure the area that you will be covering, so that you know just what you need, how much you’ll be spending, and have a bit of an idea of what to expect.

Supplies and Tools Used:

  • Laminate Flooring
  • Underlayment
  • Vapor Barrier
  • Rubber Mallet
  • Flooring Pull Bar
  • Tapping Block
  • Large Putty Knife
  • Miter Saw
  • Oscillating Saw (for cutting into the bottoms of the doorways or other similar structures, where needed)
  • Jigsaw
  • Flat Head Screwdriver
  • Crow Bar
  • Box Cutter
  • Vinyl Flooring Knife (if removing linoleum or vinyl)
  • Caulking Gun
  • Caulk
  • Liquid Nails
  • Impact Drill (if screwing transition pieces into concrete slab)
  • Baseboard trim and quarter round for the perimeter (optional if you manage to salvage your old stuff, but I recommend you replace the old trim with new trim)

* P.S: Don’t forget to purchase a big area rug (that’s the fun part) for your new space! 😁

  • Step 1: Remove Baseboard

Use flat head screw drivers to wedge the baseboard away from the wall. When you have a large enough gap, insert the crowbar and gently pull away from wall. Don’t completely remove it just yet–you’re just loosening it up. Work your way down the entire length of the base board. Once you loosen the length, use the crow bar to remove the baseboard. Be careful not to put too much force against the wall, especially if it is dry wall or you expect water damage, as it is very easy to put a crowbar-sized hole into your wall.

* Tip: We ended up saving and reapplying our old base board once the new flooring was completed, but you really are better off just buying new baseboard. The advantage to using what we already had was that there was no need to go to the store and transport supplies back here, no measurement or cutting required, and no spending money. But if you are going through the trouble to revamp your flooring, you might as well start fresh. You’ll likely need to purchase quarter round to nail onto the baseboard either way.

  • Step 2: Remove the Old Flooring

If you are removing carpeting: Use your box cutter to make drawing cuts into the carpet, cutting it into sections or strips. Carpet is deceptively heavy, so cut and work with smaller areas at a time. You will have to deal with the carpet itself plus the padding beneath. After removing the carpet, use the crowbar to remove the tack boards along the perimeter of the room. There should be a nail securing these every 6″ or so. You are going to have tons of nails and carpet strip tacks to remove. The strips are fairly annoying and easily splinter. We found that chiseling them out with a screwdriver and hammer was the most effective. Lastly, pull up the padding. A good pair of gloves and a mask are recommended for this task, as this stuff can be pretty nasty…especially if you’re not the first owner of the home.  The putty knife is great for scraping us the last bits of the padding still stuck to the adhesive on the floor.

If you are removing linoleum: Cut manageable strips of linoleum and just start ripping it up. There’s no sophisticated way of doing this (that I know of). Keep in mind that the edges of this stuff can be sharp, so be careful (it’s a smart bet to wear gloves).

*Tip: Carpet is heavy and likely dirty, dusty and smelly. Be prepared.

  • Step 3: Clean All Debris.

You’re going to have lots of tack strip remnants, nails, dirt, possibly concrete chunks, etc to deal with. Some of the nails can be challenging to remove. Using the leverage of the crow bar was the easiest way for us to do it, but there were also many spots where chunks of concrete were chipped in the process (this didn’t effect the outcome any). Sweep and vacuum the area.

* Tip: Use a shop vac. You really don’t want to kill your household vacuum cleaner with this task.

  • Step 4 : Lay New Underlayment or Vapor Barrier

We live on a slab of concrete so, we needed to put in a vapor barrier. This is essentially a plastic sheet under your floor to prevent water damage due to humidity and condensation. We used Pergo Gold Flooring Underlayment. We later realized our laminate had underlayment built in but, this added layer did enhance the overall comfort level of the floor. I recommend the additional underlayment, but this isn’t a requirement, and will save you a lot of time and money if you skip it.

The underlayment is easy to measure and cut (it’s marked out in a grid line pattern). Once the vapor barrier and underlayment are in place, seal with tape.

*Tip: Try to keep this layer as dirt free as possible. You don’t want to deal with the possibility of hearing dirt crunching beneath the floor once it’s already laid and too late to change. In all honesty, we became very lazy towards the end of this, and we haven’t suffered any adverse effects from doing so.

  • Step 5: Laying the Laminate Planks

Try to have your planks run in the direction of the longest dimension of your room. This isn’t a steadfast rule, though. You can technically choose whichever direction that you want your planks to run. Regardless of what you decide, be sure to begin in the upper left corner–whatever you determine that to be.

With a miter saw, cut three planks in to three differing sizes: cut one plank in half, one at approximately a third of the length, and one at around two thirds. These boards will be your starting points for your first four rows. Begin each row with one of these cut planks, followed by full-length planks until you reach the wall or end of the room. By doing this you make sure the seams do not line up and cause a weak spot in your floor. It also looks nicer and provides a more natural flow. In general, you want there to be at least six inches between each seam. At the end of each row where you can no longer fit a full plank, flip a board around and mark the overlap with the plank at about 1/2 to ¾ of an inch away from the wall. Again, this gap allows room for swelling.  For each ending plank that you cut to fit as needed, save the other portion to begin your next row. Doing so is both less wasteful of your resources, and more aesthetically pleasing. Also, when laying your boards, make sure that you hear the ‘click’ to ensure that you have correctly locked them into place. Use the oscillating saw to make cutouts around door ways for the laminate to be pushed under for a cleaner look. You can use a scrap piece of laminate to get the height right. For any awkward cuts that need to be made directly into the inanimate plank itself, use a jigsaw. If a plank is at all ‘off’ or chipped prior to laying multiple subsequent rows, remove and replace the deformed plank before continuing any further. You will not be able to change this later.

*Tip: This process runs much more smoothly with a teammate. It becomes easier as your partner and yourself develop a rhythm to your work, so to speak. My husband was typically busy measuring, marking, and cutting the planks, while I laid them.

  • Step 6: Doorways and Transitions

You will need transitions anywhere that you have a doorway, or where the flooring style changes. As stated above, you have to leave a gap between the laminate flooring and the wall. This is easily concealed by the trim that you will apply afterwards. In most doorways, the transition piece will provide the same gap concealment, but we were a bit confused about how to hide the gap where the floor meets an entry (such as a front or back) door. In the end, we used a piece of quarter round to bridge this gap. Be aware that there are multiple transition styles to choose from, depending on what you are connecting. We went with a multipurpose transition piece, such as this one. It is also recommended that you use a transition to break up large areas (I can’t remember the recommended square footage that was cited). The logic behind this is: laminate will swell and contract with temperature changes, so you have to allow stretching room for the planks, otherwise you may eventually end up with a warped floor. This is also the same reason that you need to leave a space where the laminate meets the wall. Despite this recommendation, I actually wish that we had opted not to use three of the transitions that we used. I think we would have been just fine without, and the look would have been more cohesive and polished.

To lay the transitions: measure and place in the middle of each door way and give about ¼ inch gap between the middle of the transition and the laminate floor to, again, avoid binding when the wood shifts or swells. Once the flooring is completed use the screws provided with the transition pieces or liquid nails to mount the metal runner to the base floor. Push the transition into the metal slot. With ours, the gap was so large that I had to glue the transition directly to the laminate floor. 

*Tip: Plan, measure and purchase transition pieces before laying the flooring! This may seem like completely obvious actions to you, but not to inexperienced, impatient me. We roughly planned where transitions would go, but we had no idea how they would actually be installed. Worst of all, we roughly measured. We guesstimated 🥴 (and it did work in a few spots). Don’t do what we did. The most obviously incorrect portion of our flooring consists of a weird seam that now runs alongside the actual transition itself. This is all because we left a gigantic gap between flooring that connects our kitchen to our living room that I initially claimed “the transition would fill.” I say this while rolling my eyes, because it didn’t fill the gap.

The weird seam in the transition
  • Step 7: Applying Baseboards and Trim

Nail baseboards and quarter round trim in place. Finish by caulking all seams and nail holes.

* You’re probably going to want to have a nail gun and an air compressor on hand for this

And there you have it–a completely new house ❤! Despite some stress and one big argument over tools (I asked Zak to put “these tools” in the garage, but he couldn’t understand why I was demanding that he carry “the stools” out to the garage–I couldn’t comprehend why he so vehemently objected to cleaning up his own tools…there may have been a number of other choice words involved before eventually realizing that it was a ridiculous miscommunication), I am so glad that we replaced our own floors. I definitely do not regret it tackling this project. Overall, I love the outcome (minus a few mistakes that we made along the learning curve), and even plan to do more. While it’s never easier to do-it-yourself (and hiring a pro generally guarantees fewer mistakes), it’s totally worth it. I’m proud that, even as a middle-class family, we are able to find ways to make things happen. I never mean to take on a project and brag. I feel blessed. My goal to share the knowledge and tools that I’ve gained through these experiences and projects. You don’t have to have the perfectly staged, Instagram-worthy home to create something worth being proud of. I just hope that you can gain some knowledge, inspiration, and confidence to take on those things that you’ve been dreaming of taking on!

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