How to Install Laminate Flooring

In the early days of laminate flooring, it was common to have to glue the boards together, but most contemporary products snap together, which makes it possible for virtually anyone to install them. You may still need glue to fit boards into tight places, but in most cases you simply need to perfect the technique of click locking, which sometimes isn't quite as easy as you expect. You definitely need two specialty tools -- a nylon tapping block and a pull bar. You may be able to get them from the dealer that sold you the flooring.

Installing laminate flooring
credit: PaulTessier/iStock/Getty Images
Laminate boards rarely fit together tightly without some persuasion.

Subfloor Preparation and Acclimation

Before laying laminate flooring, make sure the subfloor is clean, dry and flat.

  • Level depressions with floor-leveling compound and knock down humps with a belt sander. Even small irregularities can cause gapping between boards and even cracks.
  • Vacuum the floor to remove all debris -- especially construction debris such as drywall chinks, which can cause as many problems as poor subfloor leveling.
  • Lay a moisture-blocking underlayment over the subfloor. Some types should be stapled or taped to the subflooring, but with standard foam underlayment only the foam strips are taped together and are not adhered to the subfloor. Some types of flooring have a foam layer attached to the flooring boards and an underlayment is not used. Underlayments can prevent moisture damage to the flooring while making the floor more comfortable for walking.
  • Unpack the flooring and spread it around the installation space. Leave it for 3 to 5 days to acclimate. Maintain the normal temperature and humidity conditions for the entire acclimation period.

Layout Tips

The first row of flooring should go against the longest wall that runs in the direction you want the flooring to run. The tongue-sides of the boards should face the walls. Make straight cuts with a table saw or circular saw. The table saw is the best tool for ripping boards in the final row to fit.

  • Measure the distances between the walls that run parallel to the flooring at both ends of the room. If the room isn't square, decide on the best way to compensate. If the difference is small, cutting the last row of boards at an angle may be all you need to do, but if the difference is more than an inch, it's usually better to angle both the first and last rows to make the angles less noticeable.
  • Use spacers to keep the first row 1/4 inch from the wall plates when you lay it out. They prevent the row from moving as you assemble the floor. Make sure the spacers are easy to remove.
  • Cut the last board in the first and all subsequent rows to fit, using a circular saw. Maintain the 1/4-inch gap on both ends of the row.
  • Start each row with a board that has a different length than the one in the row next to it. This creates a stagger pattern that makes the floor more stable, and it prevents unsightly perpendicular lines across the floor.

Assembling Boards

Laminate boards seldom snap together tightly without some tapping. You may be tempted to do this with a scrap piece of wood, but you should resist this temptation and use a nylon tapping block instead. It's designed to fit snugly over the edge of a board, and it won't split when you hit it with a hammer.

Step 1

Snap a board onto one that has already been installed by holding the tongue-edge of the board you're installing to the groove-edge of the board on the floor. Keep the board you're holding at a 45-degree angle while you join the edges, then let the board fall gently to the floor. The boards should click together, but there will probably be a small gap between them.

Step 2

Tap the new board with a tapping block. Fit the block over the far edge of the board, hold it securely and hit the block with a hammer.

Step 3

Use the tapping block to tap the board into the previous one of that row. A pull bar can also help you tighten seams.

Working Around Obstacles

Before you start the installation, take down all the doors that open into the room and undercut all the door jambs with a back saw or Japanese-style pull saw to make space for the flooring.

  • Cut notches to fit around doorjambs and cabinets with a jig saw. Lay tape on the boards and saw through the tape to minimize chipping.
  • **, such as fireplaces and and curved walls, using a scribe to mark the curve on the boards. You can also draw the curve on a piece of paper, cut the paper and use it to draw the curve on the boards before cutting them.
  • Leave a 1/4-inch expansion gap between the flooring and any obstacle.