How to Stagger Floating Floors

When laying any type of solid or engineered hardwood floor, even a laminate one that floats above the subfloor, it's both visually and structurally important to stagger the ends of the boards in adjacent rows. It makes a difference visually, because maintaining a stagger avoids distracting lines that run across the floor. In terms of structure, staggering helps keep boards together so gaps don't develop. Engineered and laminate floor boards come in fixed lengths, so you have to plan well to ensure a random pattern.

Racking the Floor

Before actually installing the flooring, it's a good idea to lay out several rows or the entire floor, and one of the main reasons to do this is to achieve the optimal stagger pattern with the least amount of waste. The stagger pattern should exhibit these characteristics:

  • The minimum stagger distance is 6 inches. Some manufacturers recommend that the distance between end joints in adjacent rows be twice the width of each plank. Laminate planks are typically 8 inches wide, which establishes a 16-inch stagger requirement according to this rule. Other installers recommend 6 to 12 inches, which is more realistic.
  • The pattern is irregular. You should avoid stairs -- sometimes called lightning bolts -- which is a pattern created by keeping the same stagger between adjacent rows. Equally unsightly are H's -- matching joints in rows separated by one or two other rows.

Minimize Waste, But Keep It Random

When you lay out the first row, you have to cut the last board in that row to fit -- do this with a circular saw or table saw. Depending on the room dimensions, you can usually use that board to begin the second row, but you can't keep using the off-cut from the previous row to start the next one without creating a step pattern. To avoid this scenario:

  • Cut the board that begins the third row a random length that is at least 6 inches shorter or longer than the board next to it but doesn't create a noticeable pattern.
  • Use the off-cut from the third row to start the fourth row.
  • Start the fifth row with the off-cut from the second row, and use the off-cut from the fourth row to start the sixth row.
  • Begin the seventh row with a full board and use the off-cut to start the eighth row.
  • Cut the board in the ninth row a different length than you cut the one in the third row.

Chris Deziel

Chris Deziel

Chris Deziel has a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in humanities. Besides having an abiding interest in popular science, Deziel has been active in the building and home design trades since 1975. As a landscape builder, he helped establish two gardening companies.