Laminate flooring, as the name suggests, is manufactured in layers, and the core layer is the one that most concerns the installer. Most products have a fiberboard core that is engineered to form an overlay/underlay locking mechanism, which is roughly analogous to the tongue-and-groove milling of hardwood boards. You install the flooring by snapping the planks together, which is more or less easy to do, depending on quality of the product.
The locking mechanism is stable on a solid, flat subfloor, but when the subfloor has bumps or has too much give, the joints can separate when you walk on the floor. This generally contraindicates against installing laminate floor over carpet, on broken tile or on cupped and crowning hardwood. However, in some cases, it's okay to install laminate over short pile carpet, which can save a lot of work if the carpet is glued to the subfloor.
Preparing to Install Laminate Flooring
If you read the instructions that come with your laminate flooring, you'll notice the recommendation to level the subfloor before installation. If the subfloor is plywood or concrete, it's usually already level and doesn't need any extra work, unless you've removed old flooring and glue residue remains. In this case, you may need to spread sand the subfloor or level it with leveling compound.
Once the subfloor is level, you must lay a moisture barrier, which protects the porous laminate core from moisture seepage from below. If you're installing laminate flooring over carpet, you can usually forego the moisture barrier, but remember, the carpet must be short pile. Installing laminate over Berber carpet is a bad idea, because even that is too thick to provide proper stability.
Using Laminate to Create a Dance Floor Over Carpet
Because laminate flooring isn't fastened to the subfloor, it's technically possible to disassemble and remove it after it has served its purpose. One reason you might want to do this is to turn a carpeted floor into a dance floor. However, if you use laminate to create a dance floor over carpet, you should do so only if the carpet has a short pile. Otherwise, you should lay a thin, smooth surface, such as 1/8-inch Masonite, over the carpet before installing the laminate.
You install the flooring by clicking the planks together. To uninstall it, you simply reverse the procedure. If you do this carefully, the planks are reusable, and you can store them for your next dance event.
Some Tips and Tricks for Installation
Laminate flooring is designed to snap together, but this is something of an idealization, because you almost always have to tap the planks to get them to connect. But beware: never tap the planks directly with a hammer, or you'll ruin the fragile locking mechanism. You can buy a tapping block from the laminate dealer, or you can use a spare piece of flooring as a sacrificial tapping block.
Cutting laminate flooring can be troublesome because the plasticized surface can chip out. You can prevent this by cutting planks from the back or laying tape on the surface along the cut line. An even better idea is to use a laminate floor cutter, which looks and works like a heavy-duty paper cutter.
One of the toughest parts of the installation job is fitting the flooring around doorways and cabinets. One way to simplify things for yourself is to start the flooring installation along the wall with the most doors or cabinets, so you'll leave yourself less precision cutting and fitting when you come to the end of the job — when it's more difficult to do.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.